So… I haven’t written a blog post in 3 months.
My last blog post was the morning of August 14th, 2017 – the day that 1141 people died in the largest disaster in Sierra Leone’s history. Sierra Leone had been through a war and an Ebola outbreak, but she had never had this many people die in one day. Never in her history.
I had just returned from a trip to visit my mom and my aunt in Senegal and Gambia and took the Monday off from work to get things together at home. It had rained heavily that night – I woke up to a beautiful morning, sat on the verandah and wrote a blog post about my trip. I was relaxed. I was happy. I was settling at home and things were really going well. I went to visit a friend in the morning and saw ambulances and some sirens – I wondered what was going on. I later learned that there had been a landslide and that a lot of people had died. I called in to check at work and that is when I learned that the Emergency Operations Center had been convened, that a major disaster was unfolding.
The next few days and weeks were a blur. The heavy rains had triggered a massive landslide that wiped off a piece of Sugarloaf mountain and the water and rubble forced its way to the sea, taking along everything in its way. Over 300 houses were submerged or washed away as the mountain tumbled into the sea and swept people with it – mothers, fathers, sisters, children, babies, friends. One thousand, one hundred and forty-one people dead or missing. Gone, without even identifiable remains to mourn. We prepared for survivors, for the injured, only to realize that there were very few.
I ended up working on infection prevention and control in the hospital, where instead of injured patients, there was a never-ending stream of bodies, and body parts into the morgue. A never-ending stream of families searching and leaving without their loved ones. I saw first hand the resilience of our people, where women and men from all around the city recovered bodies with their bare hands, and showed up in droves at the morgue and at the burial sites to help organize and to help provide a dignified rest for the deceased. I watched them push through unbelievable horrors and unbelievable trauma. I watched a nation come together to recover the dead and provide for the living. Young and old alike, mobilizing, organizing their communities, and organizing food, shelter and clothing for the needy. I watched our officials put lessons learned from Ebola into action and mount a response in record time. I watched them work tirelessly around the clock over the next few weeks to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of people, and stave off a cholera outbreak – an operation that had only been done in a few places in the world before.
I needed to write. To process what had happened, but I could not put my fingers to a keyboard. So I just forgot my commitment to writing a blog throughout my first year of this journey back home. My commitment to bringing people along with me on this ride, so that others could see my challenges, my successes and the possibilities of a move back home. A disaster happened. Life happened.
I have been busy traveling. Training doctors, midwives and nurses in Freetown, and Makeni, and Bo, and Kenema. I have been traveling nearly every week, but thankfully, I have been home on weekends, which has made things bearable. I have gotten to see the beauty of the country and to understand the health facilities so much better.
I have continued to visit my Papa and his goats, and I realized recently that one of them is REALLY pregnant! The black one – because her goat boobs are huge, and I actually saw the baby goat moving in her belly. I was well on my way to recapturing my OB/GYN credentials that were suspended earlier this year after believing that a goat belly full of poop, was a pregnant goat belly!
I have organized three birthday parties for my kids in one month. This is what happens when you have four kids, and three of them are born around November, because … um … Valentine’s Day.
I didn’t realize how deeply the landslide and the morgue experience affected me. As a doctor, I have been around death, but I have never seen hundreds of dead bodies in one place before. Never experienced this kind of suffering and desperation. The cholera vaccine campaign allowed me to go to places in Freetown that I had never been to before – up the highest mountains and under the bridges, where people struggle for life and cling to life, and yet find a way to thrive and be happy. It taught me to go under the bridge and reminded me that we have to do better.
So the baby goat was born this week. Black and beautiful with a small white patch on his side. Following his mommy with shaky feet. Struggling for life and clinging to life, but finding a way to thrive. The kids are working on names – Billy is the favorite so far. This new birth reminds me of the promise of life. The need to keep living, keep thriving, and keep writing.
Because … life happens.