Friday morning was the first real working day and I had been allocated to the early shift, which started at 06:00 am. Not a problem on my part, as I am an early bird, but it meant trying to get a few slices of toast and some coffee before getting the bus at 05:30 am. We had been warned that the road was a bit bumpy, it definitely woke you up! Once at the ETC we changed into scrubs and clogs before heading to the laboratory. I was with JS and KL from my training (team 10), while we had two veterans from team 9 (D & F) to show us the ropes in the laboratory. The training in Salisbury had been quite intense and I was mentally prepared to give it a good go. D & F were fantastic; we started by setting up the laboratory: filling bleach buckets, checking isolators, cleaning the lab and updating ourselves on what needed doing in terms of samples etc. The previous evening’s crew had done a great job and we were left with 6 samples to process, thus a relatively quiet start.
First visit to the Port Loko laboratory, during our induction tour. The window was our sample reception in the “white zone” and the laboratory itself in the “yellow zone”, thus requiring scrubs and personal protective equipment (PPE). Some of my team 10 colleagues, with whom I would spend the next 4 weeks.
An advantage of the early shift was that it finished by 1 pm, thus we usually (transport permitting) got back to base camp in time for lunch and then had the rest of the day off. On this occasion the veterans D and F needed to go into Port Loko, as they had ordered some dresses from one of the local tailors and they kindly invited us along. Not an opportunity to be missed! On the walk into Port Loko we passed a carpentry workshop; no electricity, thus all manual sawing, planing & sanding. No prizes for guessing who the boss was 🙂
The ladies on the far left were attending college and they agreed to be photographed outside their “halls of residence”. I cannot imagine European students accepting these conditions, but this group was quite happy and chatty. Note the shy student looking through the blocks on the left – I think he was a visiting boyfriend! The young lady on the left was selling eggs, we found out later that these were hard-boiled, not fresh, eggs that the locals bought as a snack. She saw me on another visit into town and came to say hello – not unusual for the Saloneans, such a kind and warm people. Time to stop pfaffing and walk into town, the ladies had dresses to collect!
First, time for a cool-down drink in a pavement cafe, served by the lovely lady (right). It was a tad warm and very humid! A chinwag and about 30 minutes later we were off to meet Ibrahim, one of the local tailors. There were several tailor shops in Port Loko that would produce dresses, shirts, “crazy pants” and even ties. After measurement the tailors would advise on amount of linen, in yards, and we would then go off to one of the many linen shops. The tough bit, at least for me, was what pattern to choose; I messed up a bit with a shirt (the red and yellow pattern below, held up by Ibrahim himself – am I really that big?), but like my tie and crazy pants. Everybody in the shop was very friendly; I teased Ibrahim that he was a “gangsta” – he laughed!
The curfew had been lifted in Sierra Leone, which meant that team sport and socializing after sundown was again allowed. We passed a football pitch, where the “Survivors” took on another team. There was a wonderful sense of community, probably even relief that life could slowly return to normal. There was much singing and dancing through the night, I recall still hearing music at 5 am the next morning – understandable!
On the way back to base camp I was a bit behind my companions; an elderly gentlemen walked up to me and, with a cheeky smile, asked me whether all the gorgeous ladies were with me. I answered in the affirmative, also jokingly stating that I only needed one and was willing to trade for some camels. JS looked back at us and I said to him that she was worth at least 5 camels! He laughed and said that one wife was enough and walked off – I heard him talk to a Salonean and smiled when I heard him mention camels. I was later informed by JS that the local currency was goats, and she was worth at least 10 goats!!
Next time, a visit to a local orphanage