‘Summering in Salone: Part III’

And here we are, folks.  The third and final chapter of my ‘Summering in Salone.’  A quarter of a year isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it was enough to count.    There are plenty of things I’ll miss about the place, but, chief among them is the people I’ve met along the way.

At times it was a bit intense, but that always makes the observations and memories a little sharper.  That said, I’m excited to head back.  I can’t wait to catch up with my family and friends, but I’m also eager to try some new things once I’m back in Tucson.  With a year of school remaining, I want to make it worthwhile.

I’ve been able to learn a few things about small-scale fish farming, which is great, but there is one huge take away from my time here that I hope to cling to and that is to slow down.  This country has one of the lowest life expectancies on the planet and spending some time here has been as good a reminder as any to appreciate all that I have and enjoy myself more.  Cliche?  Without question, but it’s true.  And with that, I would like to thank each and every one of you who’ve made this experience for me a special one!

Wishing you all as much good health and good fortune as you can handle.

Your pal,

‘The Joe’

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‘Farmer John’

This is how I spent (most of) my last Saturday in Makeni.  I don’t know much about agriculture, but I certainly believe ‘Samura San’ and I have a strong suspicion he will only grow more and more successful as time goes on.  John, if you read this, thank you again for taking me out there!

Keep it up, partner and see you stateside. 😉

 

 

‘Bureh Remix’

Round two of Bureh.  This trip was very different than the last, but no less enjoyable.  The weather gods smiled upon our pale faces, as we didn’t get so much as a drop of rain during a three day stretch, which is very unusual for this time of year.  In fact, I got a pretty good burn on day one and had to exercise a little caution the rest of the way.

I wouldn’t mind swinging through Bureh one last time, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be content with how I went out.

*Here’s a another little video, featuring Scott ‘Oyster-Man’ Riley.

‘You scratch my wrist, I’ll….’

A couple friends of Scotty and mine recently had a going away house-party.  It was very well put together, complete with the compulsory oversized speakers and snacks.  At around half-past midnight, once everyone was full of libations, as my buddy Bill is known to call them, and it was time for a change of venue.  The new playground was ‘Plaza,’ which is, more or less a debaucherous parking lot.

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Some of the crew.

On one side of the parking lot is a kind of deserted shopping mall.  In it are a couple of bar-type places to grab a drink.  There is also a popcorn guy hanging around, and, of course, multiple speakers playing African dance tunes so loud they rattle your teeth.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.  If you’re a man and in need of a quick tinkle, you make your way to the overgrowth next to the lot and do your thing.  It’s a simple and silly recipe for a laugh.

What makes Plaza really shine though is all the people watching you can do there.  It really doesn’t kick off until 1am or so, but once it does it’s a free for all.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the place, because it a well known pickpocket’s paradise.  A buddy of mine had his wallet lifted a few weeks back.  Another, his mobile phone.  You’ll just have to take my word for it when I say it’s a scene.

Once we located our little group, we herded together like cattle.  I was already out of it and ready for bed before we even got there, which I attribute to the post illness drag, but I did my best to pretend to dance.

Soon after, I spotted a dude I’ve met a few times out and about.  He is always friendly and goes out of his way to greet me, which is nice, but also a little odd since neither one of us have every exchanged names.  One thing I’d like to add is that this fellow is, according to another friend of mind, and I quote, ‘the biggest gangster in Makeni.’  This gangster and I chat for a minute or two about the gym and some other unimportant stuff before we decide to shake hands and go our separate ways.  Before I go on, it should also be noted that this is a rather strong, muscular man and every time we’ve slapped hands it’s been more a display of grip strength than a friendly hand shake, which is still preferable to the ‘dead fish’ style most people give you these days.  This time however he added a new wrinkle, or should I say, a new scratch.

This new move involved a series of three scratches with his pointer finger along the inside of my wrist.  As this is happening every muscle in my body is cinching up and I’m imagining my skin turning ghost-white.  He then added, ‘I’ll be over there’ and winked a couple of times for emphasis.  I panicked, smiled (grimaced?) and said the first silly thing that came to my mind…’uh,um, ok, I’m not sure what that means.’  He laughed and then went and sat down with his buddy on a nearby chair.

After another gentleman made a pass at me, a bisexual pal of ours wandered over to my rescue.  I told him about the uncomfortable encounter I had moments earlier and he got a good chuckle out of it.  I then had a quick flashback.  Years and years ago in middle school, my friend Rene used to jokingly tease me with this same move, so I was familiar with the meaning.  This being West Africa, I was very much hoping it meant something else.  Nope.  Turns out the scratch is a universal sign for, ‘I want to jump your bones.’  Gulp.

My buddy then informed me that if that should this ever happen again, the way to shut it down in a polite way is to offer up your fist.  Not to the other person’s nose mind you, but rather, when the aggressor goes to shake your hand, you offer up a closed fist instead of your own open hand.  I could’ve used this information a lot sooner. :/

 

‘Join the club!’

It took a couple of months, but I’m officially in.  I hadn’t been feeling well for nearly a week and there were moments during that week where I could barely keep my eyes open; falling asleep at the drop of a hat.  I just chalked it up to a poor sleeping habits.  When I started feeling achier than usual however, I knew something was off.  Two Thursdays back I decided to get a lift to one of the local hospitals to confirm my suspicions.

When I arrived at Holy Spirit hospital it was 8:30am.  I was given a number on a small piece of cardboard by the ground’s steward and instructed to wash my hands with a more than slightly used bar of soap lying next to the water cooler, which was located outside two pop-up tents.  If the appearance of the soap was any indication, I figured my hands to be dirtier post washing than they were when I’d first arrived, but rules are rules.  I then waited around for approximately 15 minutes until I was told to enter one of the tents.  A woman with bright pink painted lips jotted down my information while another gentleman took my vitals.  My blood pressure was taken with a standard cuff, but with the aid of a very thin black plastic bag that had been torn in half, presumably to protect the skin around my arm.

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So clean you could eat off it!

After that formality I was ushered into the main building to fill out more paperwork, and then I waited…and waited.  An hour or so passed before I made my way to the cashier’s office.  I settled up my first set of fees with the attendant who was jamming out to Bob Marley’s greatest hits whilst having a little rice n’ something.  The cashier then instructed me to head over to the lab across the hall.

I was already feeling pretty bad at this point; weak, shaky and skittish.  Every instinctual bone in my body was telling me to stumble out of there and find the first motorbike home, but I’d made it this far and this needed to be done.  The woman who was to withdraw my blood was dressed in hospital garb and, somewhat confusingly given that this was a Catholic hospital, a hijab.  I told her I hate needles.  She said, ‘don’t worry, it won’t hurt at all.’  She lied.  There wasn’t a ton of blood taken, but enough to give me the willies, especially since she took it from a spot just next to where every other medical professional in my life has taken blood. When she withdrew the needle, a little extra squirted out.  Let’s call it a bonus.  She lapped it up with a cotton ball and told me to wait in the adjacent room.

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Ouch!

In this waiting area I had two wildly different conversations with two very different individuals.  The first was with an older man that explained that he was a retired primary school teacher.  He’d recently been told by his doctor that he needed to get checked for sugar.  Sadly, he informed me after his test that he did in fact have diabetes.  The second conversation was with a younger man that was waiting for what I took to be his wife, or one of them anyway.  We were discussing the World Cup and the absurd amount of money pro athletes make. Given my condition, I honestly couldn’t have cared less at that moment, but he had a point.  I love sports as much as anyone I know, but goodness, over a hundred million dollars to play a game!?  While we’re having this conversation, a little boy exited the lab.  His stomach was bloated and visibly protruding through his neatly tucked-in red plaid shirt.  He didn’t look well.  I watched as he dutifully trailed his mother to the reggae loving cashier.  Without warning, the boy vomited all over the hallway floor.  It was then that the sports conversation really hit me.  The fact that some guys are making a hundred million dollars to bounce a soccer, excuse me, ‘futbol’ off of their collective foreheads while this poor kid’s family likely struggled to even pay for this medical care is mind boggling.

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It’s what’s for breakfast…and lunch…and dinner.

Anyway, this tale has gone on long enough, so let me jump ahead to the punchline.  I tested positive for both malaria and typhoid.  The ol’ one-two punch if you will.  The aftermath involved a rather hellish few days and I’m now extra paranoid about mosquitos, not to mention what I’m consuming, as I would very much like to avoid a repeat of the experience.  If there is any positive takeaway it’s that moments like this make you appreciate just how lucky we are to be in good health.  And let’s be honest, I can now add this to my list of ‘I’ve had that(s)’ travelers the world over seem so proud of.  To come home from Africa not having had a bout with malaria and/or typhoid would’ve been like a trip to Disney without meeting Mickey Mouse.  Be well, my friends.

‘Gym’iny Cricket’

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Like me, ‘Under Construction.’ Perhaps indefinitely.

I’d heard about this mysterious hotel gym for weeks, but it didn’t sound like anything I was in need of, so I kept putting it off a visit.  For one, I was still content doing my little Jane Fonda-workout at the office here, particularly since I could dictate the time I did it.  I’m morning guy and rumor had it that the gym hours were from 14-21:00; strike two.  Finally, I’d grown weary of the insane vanity of a lot of gymgoers back home.  Exercising outdoors, free of the distraction of watching grown boys and girls admiring their muscles in a gym mirror is where it’s at.  For the friends that have heard this rap of mine before…multiple times, do forgive me.  Anyway, I joined the gym a week and a half ago.

First thing to report is that, much to my surprise (and disappointment), that culture of ‘look at me heave this heavy, inanimate object with my muscles and, hey, while you’re at it, why don’t you snap a few photos of me doing it,’ is not relegated to the U.S.; bummer.

Day one in the gym and I immediately see two guys pounding away on their pecs from every possible angle.  One fella had what can best be described as a spaghetti-strapped tank-top.  The ‘Franz’ to his ‘Hans’ was wearing a skintight sweatshirt, even though it was sweltering inside and out.  I dress like a hobo at the gym.  Some may argue out of it as well, so I’m not judging.  Ok, I am judging, but I want you to get the scene.  As these two were training they took photos of one another from at least as many angles as they hit their chests, which was substantial.  Mind you, this isn’t a huge space with private nooks.  This was on display for all to gawk at, and yet, no one seemed bothered?

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Machines…yuck!

And here’s the beef of the story if you’ll pardon the pun.  I’m nearing the end of my session and am now sitting on the floor with my headphones on and my shoes kicked off.  My legs are stretched out in front of me and I’m attempting some gymnastics move called an ‘L-sit.’  Well, I have a severe tightness in whatever muscle it is that allows one to lift their legs off the ground in this position.  Of course, I already know this, but I attempt it sometimes just for giggles. I would soon get plenty of them.

Out of nowhere, I see rather robust African gentleman squatting down in front of me.  Without warning he starts lifting up my dirty socks…with my feet in them!  He’s trying to tell me to push through the pain and lift my legs.  In response I tell him, unsuccessfully, that my legs do not in fact go in that direction at this time, but it’s simply not translating.  Before you know it, I’m attempting to pantomime my entire medical history to explain why it is I cannot perform this exercise properly.  We finally reach an understanding.  He surmises that it’s my lower back that’s at fault.

The good gym Samaritan, this ‘Gym’iny Cricket,’ then begins to take my arms and twist me rather vigorously in different directions.  At first, I resist, not sure I know the rules of this little game.  He goes off balance a few times and then I tune in that I’m meant to stay loose and relaxed.  Easy for him to say!

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The scene of the crime.

The real comedy starts when he demonstrates the next prescribed move.  For this demonstration he stood, arms at his side, feet together.  Did I mention he was one of these fellas sporting a massive upper-body with legs that defy the laws of physics?  How he balances on those things with that bulk on top is beyond me.  In any event, I’m now facing him with the same body position he has and I can’t help but picture us looking like a salt and pepper shaker.  From this position he starts gyrating his hips in small circles…rapidly.  He then starts gyrating mine…gulp.  All during this I’m straining more attempting not to laugh than I did during my actual workout.  He was quite serious though, so I played along until I couldn’t take it anymore. I simply had to get outside and laugh. I humbly suggest you all do the same.

‘Summering in Salone: Part II’

Today marks the halfway point, which leaves a mere 6 more weeks to soak up this experience (& and leave with some semblance of a finished project for school).  Month two brought with it a few highs, as well as a few…lulls.  As is often the case in these types of situations, the ambiguity of it all can occasionally make the time drag a bit.  Still, the there is much to be done & not a whole lot of time to do it, so I anticipate the remaining weeks to be busy ones.  Fortunately, the laughs keep things entertaining!

Here are a few more photos from the journey so far… *lovely song is compliments of my boy John S.’s church choir.  I’m not much of a church man, but loved some of the music!