“survival” has a whole other meaning in a country where people die randomly and all the time, life expectancy is half of what it is in Europe and there are unknown dangers waiting in every mosquito, behind every corner and in every drop of water. It also literally has a whole other meaning if you want to survive in your work place, where there is no functioning system, you are walking on eggshells everyday trying to juggle your bosses’ interests, your own and what you think the people’s interests are and there is no electricity, super slow internet, the toilet is not flushing and when it rains, your office gets flooded. My sister told me, she has the impression that the dramas in my life here are never-ending. However – living in this environment for two years now, I became an expert in surviving and I am now trying to reach the next level: thriving on top of surviving. Enjoy some of my countless survival stories!
Theresa is one of my quirkiest friends here. She is a forty-something woman who runs her own small shop, right on the main road and close to my house. I often stop by and chat a bit, drink a lukewarm beer or cider and we chat about God, love and the world. One day and probably one too many drinks, I had to pee urgently and asked her to show me the bathroom. She started grinning (this should have been my first warning sign) and led me away from the shop, telling everyone “Naomi has to ease herself”. You can imagine how red my head turned. She leads me behind the shop somewhere with a half open door and about ten women sitting in front of the door, who obviously all were informed about the white woman who needs to pee. Theresa shuffles me through the door and tells me to piss there. I am lost – behind the door, there is NOTHING. No roof, no toilet, certainly no running water (not even thinking about toilet paper), no sign on where to pee, no hole and also no protection of sight from the main road. While I am trying to orientate myself and not too think too much about how many people might have eased themselves right where I was standing, Theresa comes and JOINS ME. So I am squatting there trying to avoid the main street (so thankful that I was wearing a skirt that day) with Theresa next to me who keeps telling me to “Piss piss”, “piss piss” and being obviously proud that she is pissing together with a white woman. Oh Salone. And yes, do not even ask me about hand washing facilities…
The sad thing about this story is that the sanitary situation of the majority of Sierra Leone is actually exactly like this: non-existent. No wonder diseases like diarrhoea, Cholera and Ebola are thriving.
One morning, my left arm suddenly went numb. It got better and worse again, but I went about my normal business. I was having lunch with a friend when my right arm also got numb, then my feet fell asleep and finally my face and my lips – I didn’t feel the food anymore and had problems talking. Me being a fan of Dr Google and self- treatment, got into high panic when the first diagnosis that came up upon googling my
symptoms was STROKE. I went on to google if I could even have a stroke at my age and came across hundreds of stories of young people unexpectantly having suffered strokes. By that time both me and my friend were close to freaking out and went to see the Doctor, who luckily was just across the street. While they are taking my medical history (a must, especially in times of Ebola), I start hyperventilating and finally faint – all the drama. After an injection in the butt to get me going again and all the medical tests, the Doctor tells me I am having Malaria and he probably hasn’t seen anyone being so happy about having Malaria – at least it wasn’t a stroke!
PLEADING FOR MERCY
I was driving a friend’s car and dropping off someone. Traffic rules in Sierra Leone exist, but are implemented on a more case-by-case basis. I therefore didn’t think a lot, when I stopped in a roundabout (it was a big one, to my defence) and let my friend jump out. Stupidly enough, I did this RIGHT IN FRONT of a police station. The police officer was more than happy to charge me with violation of traffic rules, guide me to the station, let me park my car and have me go inside to give my statement. Inside the police station, it was SO incredibly hot, that I have problems thinking clearly. I give my statement while dropping with sweat and keep thinking about how to get out of this situation (and the hot room). At the end, an officer comes up to me and asks me: “So, Madame, shall we take you to court or do you plead for mercy?” I was confused and he repeated his question: “Shall we take you to court or do you plead for mercy?” I thought that is not really a choice, so said I would rather plead for mercy. His response “Mercy granted, have a nice day, mylady!” Quick justice, amazing grace!
I went back later with a small fan to say thanks and let them cool down the room for any other criminals.