What is your own sign of growing up? What was the step that made you feel like you have left youth behind and moved into a new sphere? Like an initiation into adulthood – how does or did this look for you? For me, the symbol of settling down is a heavy, expensive sofa. It will make you want to move around less, it is a financial investment, it requires some other furniture to go with it. Some of my friends had the guts to get a sofa at the age of 18 – I remember the feeling of panic that grew in my stomach when I imagined having to buy a sofa myself back then!
So for the past decade, I have either not had any sofa, bought the cheapest and smallest Ikea sofa that was available (100 bucks, a real catch) or have lived off cane furniture the last five years (a whole sofa set for under USD 200, also a real catch). The latter is made by the apt Sierra Leonean Abel – Abel and Cain/cane, rings a bell? He has become a friend over the years, and I have recommended him and his business to many other people, to which he thanked me by naming his child after me. It was a boy though, so the name Naomi wasn’t fitting – he turned it into Nami (which in Krio means “this is me”). Nami is now nearly three years old, and he is talking, a conversation that goes like this:
Someone: “Hi little man, how are you?”
Nami: “fine, tell god tenki”
Someone: “and what is your name?”
Someone: “yes, but what is your name?”
Someone: “yes, I know this is you, but what is your name?!”
Nami: “Mi name Nami!”
I really feel sorry for inflicting this confusion on Nami – but he seems to grow up strong and healthy, so I am confident he will fight off any confusion easily.
So, back to sofas. Nami’s father made me the first beautifully colourful sofa in Sierra Leone, which has lasted me five years. I have recently found out that I will be in Sierra Leone for another four years – for reasons I cannot explain to you yet – and that was the moment I realized that I am ready. I am ready to invest in a sofa, to settle down (at least for four years), leave youth behind me and carry the weight of a heavy sofa around my neck (figuratively). An Ethiopian friend of mine designed and built a massive grey sofa with storage unit and colourful pillows together with talented Sierra Leonean carpenters and upholsterers.
Photo 1: Blen, the designer, on the new sofa.
Photo 2: Snapshot from the official sofa inauguration sunset drinks and snacks event.
I had a little inauguration event of the sofa, to mark this significant event – to which Jayne commented: “Ah nice, the last inauguration event I have been part of was for a church altar – food is better here!”
While I think I am growing up and growing older (less than a month to go before the big #THREEZERO hits me), clearly the folks in the Ministry of Health think differently. Several people have greeted me with “Good morning, young lady” in the corridor the last few weeks. Something about this really works me up, and I have replied quite harshly to all of them that I am actually not that young anymore and anyway, my name is Madam Naomi, in case they have forgotten.
On Friday, I was waiting with a group of other people for a meeting with the Minister, when the deputy Minister of Health came out and greeted me with “Good morning, young lady”. I tried to remain friendly, but also told him that I am actually not that young anymore. He laughed and said but I can’t be 40 yet – which I had to agree to. Seems like anyone below 40 is considered young in Sierra Leone. Few minutes later we are walking into the Minister’s office, and he greets me with “Good morning, tall lady”. I told him this is better than “young lady”, to which he laughed and said but I can’t be more than 37 or 38? When I told him I haven’t reached there yet, he said “well, that means I should call you baby – I just thought because of the kind of work you do you must be at least 37”. What is wrong with just calling me Madam Naomi?! My face must have clearly told him that I do not approve of “baby” – when I left he said “Good bye, smart lady”. Small victories.
No matter if I am young, deemed young, or old, my thirst for adventures is never quenched. We recently went on supervision, to support district Human Resource Officers and assistants across the country to better manage and motivate the health workforce. CHAI (where I work) have helped government implement this reform to further decentralize the health system, and increase transparency and accountability, as well as improve service delivery.
I thrive on these trips, not just because it is very rewarding to see the change on the ground, but also because there are all sorts of adventurous experiences that make me feel alive. On our recent trip, we had to cross to Bonthe Island, which is where the government hospital is for Bonthe district, a very remote and challenging district for service delivery.
I have made this journey before, but always in chartered speedboats, which take you across in 45 minutes, but also cost about 100 dollars, one way. This time, we decided to take the “ferry”, which costs LE 15,000 per person – less than 2 dollars, for the 90-120 minute journey, with two stops on other islands in between. The actual government ferry is not used, as the fuel costs of running it are too expensive – so a wooden boat is used instead. The rules are clearly indicated on the top, with fines attached to it. My favourite one was “I don’t want palava – fine 50,000” / “I don’t want any gossip/big talks – the fine is LE 50,000 (about 6 dollars)”.
We headed off on our journey with a goat, motorbike, 30 people and bags on board. We stopped at a “service station” and were offered smoked shrimps, fish and nuts for sale. Right next to me, there was a guy solely responsible for draining the water that filled the boat in regular 30-minute intervals – whenever the water was just about to reach my feet, he started pouring it out again. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Photo 3: Waiting for the ferry at Yargoi.
Photo 4: getting on the ferry. Note the bike on top of it.
Photo 5: I dont want palava – fine 50,000.
Photo 6: pit stop on the way, to buy smoked shrimps.
Photo 7: On Bonthe Island.
Photo 8: Eating Swiss apples waiting for the ferry to Mattry, sponsored and delivered by Rachel!
Photo 9: Team in Mattru, at the District Health Management Team offices.
Photo 10: team with the deputy Mayor on Bonthe Island.
The other part of growing up is not celebrating Christmas with family – because of expensive flight prices, and other planned trips, I will not come to Switzerland over Christmas this year. It will be my first time celebrating without my family, and I am dreading it, while at the same time being excited to be in Sierra Leone for this celebratory season. I have some time off, so feel free to come join me here over Christmas! Beautiful warm weather guaranteed 🙂
All of you – thanks for bearing with me while I am growing up!