After five full days in the Koidu area, we're starting to settle well into daily life. That means smiling and waving at all of the little children who come to the street and yell "white man" at us (which is me and three girls, which doesn’t stop the children). They are all quite happy to see us. There are a few children who hang around the guesthouse we stay at. They range from four to about eight years old, mainly all boys. They seem to like hanging out with us and scoring the occasional piece of gum or candy. They also love to say "Snap, snap!" whenever a camera is produced (or if they know we are carrying one). Agreeing to take some pictures of them usually causes them to produce sunglasses from their pockets and look as tough and silly as possible. One or two of the more resourceful boys try and sell us cucumbers and fruit (at special white person increased rates). It's hard to feel bad about getting ripped off (usually by about 1,000 leones - or only about a quarter).
We've spent the better part of the last three days going to different areas of the city and meeting with contacts around different health facilities. Our Wellbody Alliance contacts have already gotten to know these people, so it makes our communication with them much easier. These health facilities are also important community centers, as each morning many people gather - especially mothers and young children under five years old. The government sponsors free healthcare for those groups, but as we've seen, medicine is often in short supply. It's tough to talk to people who run these outposts and know what they need - electricity to run lights to allow nighttime deliveries from mothers, drugs and IV solution, and more beds - but not be able to offer them any help. There have been areas that we will be able to possibly help with wells for clean water, bridges to stop children drowning on their way to school, and electricity for improvements in health service.
Adjusting to life in Koidu has affected each of us differently. We're almost all pros at getting on and off the okatas (motorbike drivers who shuttle us and the locals around the city with two of us on each bike for 2,000 or 3,000 leones). The taxis and poda podas which are all over Freetown don't fare so well on the dirt and extremely potholed filled roads of this town and are not available for hire. Motorbikes have great maneuverability to dart around the water filled holes. We've also managed to sample a good amount of the local food - groundnut soup, cassava leaf, and achekke. Most of the dishes are rice served with a thick soup of dark veggies, palm oil, and indistinguishable bits of chicken, beef, or small fish. Spicy is the norm here, sending most of the girls to their packs for a sache of water. The saches are half liter packets of water sold in the market, and the only clean water around. Rip off a corner with your teeth, and you're good to go. Lunch around here is usually a basic meal of bread, a hard-boiled egg, and a few groundnuts. The four of us can get lunch for about $3 total.
On the streets, you can buy just about anything you would imagine. Top off cards for prepaid phones are hawked by many young boys, and older businesses owners often sell an assortment of clothes, shoes, food, small electronics, and anything else that they can move through their shelves. Walking through the market in town is an interesting collection of local cloth (sold in two yard increments know as lappas - perfect for wrapping as a long girls skirt) and old castoffs from the US including a pink Donovan McNabb jersey from his days in Philadelphia we spotted yesterday. A lot of the guys can be seen around town sporting the jersey of their favorite Premier League team. Chelsea and Manchester United are the favorites, outnumbering the jerseys of the local Salone Stars national team substantially.
The weather has dried up since we left the capital. Sun and heat are the norm, with a brief light shower from time to time. Asking the local boys if they think the rainy season is ending brings few definite responses. They seem one step ahead of US weathermen and don't even bother trying, knowing the second they say it will be a nice day, a huge storm will roll in.
So long as the weather, and our health, continues to hold, we should be able to continue to get a lot done. Steph and Katie depart Koidu on Saturday, leaving Christine and I here for a final week of work. That means another week to see all the friendly waves and shouts of "white man!" from the children.