I think I made some comment yesterday about how air-conditioning isn't really all that necessary. Well, less than 12 hours later I felt like one of those hot dogs we used to push steam through at Tastee Freeze. My daughter will be pleased to know that her father is actually drinking water and plenty of it, largely because I haven't yet found anyone who sells Diet Coke. Even if I did find some I figure it would be lukewarm for half the day while the generator is off, and the other half of the day it would be just so-so. Still, right about now so-so sounds really good.
I got some sleep and woke up early to get ready. I had to meet the government official within the Ministry of Health who's in charge of approving expatriate physicians to practice in Sierra Leone. He was a really nice man who signed off pretty quickly, which was actually unfortunate because his office was air-conditioned. I would've enjoyed just sitting there with him a little while longer. Instead we headed back into the sweltering heat (did I already mention the heat?) and piled into the car along with three mothers and their three young children, aged two, three, and five.
They were returning home to Bo after treatment and evaluation in Freetown. Two of the children had nasogastric feeding tubes and the other one looked emaciated. They and their mothers, who couldn't have been much more than 19 years old, were quiet the whole trip, never complaining even though the back of the van got almost no ventilation.
I was feeling pretty furnace-blasted sitting next to an open window. One look in the mirror afterwards convinced me that a haircut would've been a real good idea. I've asked some of the other people I've met where a good place to get a haircut might be, and while they haven't actually discouraged me from getting one, every one of them has suggested that if I choose to get one I should do it as soon as possible so it has some time to grow out.
About halfway through the five hour drive we stopped at a gas station to get some petrol. Within seconds of stopping the car was surrounded by young and old people selling peeled oranges, bottled water, bread, bananas, plantains, dishtowels... you name it. There were so many beggars I couldn't even begin to count. Older women in beautiful gowns and headdresses were sweeping the dirty pavement around their booths with bundles of straw tied together.
I hadn't intended to buy anything but then decided to get some bottled water. I had just paid for it when a young kid came running up to me and said, "Hey mister! I asked you first!", as he had asked me just as we pulled up and I had told him I didn't want anything. I ended up buying another bottle for the road, and had finished it by the time we got there.
All along the highway to Bo there were clusters of hut-like houses with thatched roofs, sometimes in groups of 15-20, more often in smaller groups. I asked the driver, who is from Sierra Leone, about them and he told me that each group of houses is a village, and even though each family farms on its own the people of the village consider themselves a family as well. He said he grew up in a village like that and thinks of all the children he grew up with as his brothers and sisters.
Once we arrived I had another series of briefings. I've been briefed to death, no kidding. But I got to meet a lot of other MSF expatriates from all over the world and they've all been welcoming. So I start working tomorrow. I'll be on call for the first time on Wednesday. I just hope that the shit doesn't hit the fan the first night while I'm still trying to figure out where the scrub suits are.