Monday, September 28, 2009

More on Makeni - September 25

So this is now my fourth day in Makeni. Unfortunately, the internet hasn’t been working very well all week in the UN office, so I’ve had some trouble getting online. Heidi assures me that it’s not usually like this, I guess I’ve just picked a bad week to be here. Too bad, I was looking forward to a more reliable connection than I have in Mapaki, but I guess not.

The issues with communications (bad internet connections, lack of cell phone signal, my inability to send text messages to Canada) has been one of my biggest frustrations with being here so far. It’s difficult not to be able to communicate with people when you want to, especially with my friends and family back home. It also makes it difficult to get work done. Poor communications prevent you from doing work because you need to communicate in order to do it, and they also waste time because you spend time fiddling with the internet or your phone or whatever instead of working on something. Sigh. I know I will be more appreciative of our reliable telecommunications network when I get back home!

I want to describe Heidi’s house, where I am staying while in Makeni. The house is a compound, meaning it has walls around it and a gate. In addition to the main house, which has about 8 rooms plus a big living room and a bathroom, there is a second, smaller house in the back. Lecturers that work in the mental health program that KK works on stay in the back house when they are in Makeni. Everything is surrounded by the wall. The gate is always kept locked for security reasons, and there is a guard at night. All of this makes it sound like Makeni is very dangerous or something, but that isn’t really the case. I haven’t felt unsafe or worried for my security the whole time I’ve been here. It’s more to guard against theft. Especially since it would be known that white people are living in the house, there is a greater risk for theft because it is believed that there would be more to steal.

A few other stories from the past few days: Two nights ago (Wednesday night) we went to the launch of a new Amnesty International campaign to reduce maternal mortality in Sierra Leone (I mentioned this in a previous post, along with a link to some information about the campaign). This kick-off event was part of a tour Amnesty is doing around the country – the first stop was in Freetown, and they were going to a few other places in addition to Makeni as well. The launch was held outdoors at the football “stadium” (it’s not a stadium in the sense that you would normally picture it – it was just a huge dirt pitch with some goal posts where football is played). The event started about 2 hours late. This seems to be fairly typical here. The Secretary-General of Amnesty was here though, as well as the Paramount Chief in the area and a few other dignitaries. Following the speeches, there was entertainment, local Sierra Leonean dancers and singers. It was fun, pop type of stuff with some dancing as well. There was quite a crush of people there, but we managed to situate ourselves right in the front, so we had a pretty good view of the entertainment.

I think that a campaign around maternal mortality is a good thing - according to the WHO statistics, the rate in Sierra Leone is one of the highest in the world. The two main issues I think are the inability to access medical care because of cost or distance, and the poor availability of care because of staff shortages or poor training, lack of supplies, etc. For example, I visited a clinic in Makonkorie in Gbonkolenken chiefdom when I was there - they had almost nothing there. They didn't even have scissors or forceps to use during a delivery. From what I have seen from the Amnesty campaign so far, it focuses primarily on cost and transportation barriers. In my opinion, the supply side problems in health care here are equally as important.

Speaking of health and access - I got conditional approval from Carleton's research ethics committee on my research today! Yay!! I have to make a few changes and send it back, but they are minor, and it's nice knowing I'll be able to go ahead as planned. I'm hoping to start interviews within the next couple of weeks.

Oh, I also had my first taste of something called a killdriver at the Amnesty event. It’s a cookie, very similar to a shortbread cookie taste. You can buy it from sellers on the street. It’s called a killdriver apparently because it’s so good that when drivers eat it they crash and die. Funny, hey?

Last night we had a fun evening. In the late afternoon we went over to the Wussum hotel, the nicest hotel in Makeni. They have a pool, and you can swim for only 10,000 Leones (about $3). I didn’t swim, not having a bathing suit with me here in Makeni, but the others did. Then we sat around and had supper and drinks (chicken shwarma, yum!) and watched “Africa Magic” – movies from Nollywood (Nigerian Hollywood – apparently the third largest film industry after Hollywood and Bollywood). The Africa Magic films are generally terrible, or so I’m told. The one we half-watched while sitting around wasn’t much of a gem. The acting is bad and the stories are silly. But it’s still neat to see African popular film. I also very much enjoyed the tv, electricity, cold drinks and food available at Wussum. All in all, a good night!

p.s. no new photos until I am back in Mapaki as I didn’t bring the cord for my camera with me.

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