I guess I will start with our long and eventful journey from Kono to Freetown yesterday. Our travel team included Phebian, myself, our driver, a guard, and a young mechanic to baby sit our truck. We left Kono at 8:30am and 200 miles and 16 hours later, we finally arrived in Freetown in the middle of the night.
Our truck broke down 3 times. The first time was in the middle of a huge muddy spot. Basically a front wheel ball joint broke and our wheel was dangling in the mud. I figured we were stuck for days. No triple A or tow truck to call. However, our team went to work. The guard took off his uniform and got down in the mud. We had to ride a motorbike to the nearest village to rent some tools, come back to the vehicle, remove the offending part, and then ride to a different village where a welder could fix it. Finally, we got going again only to break down 2 other times. I was very impressed at how in each case our team basically figured out a way to fix the problem with the limited resources available. Somehow we to Freetown safely. You have to be creative to survive in this country. If it was me, I would still be stuck in the mud hole and would be pretty angry by now. This country definitely teaches you patience.
Driving through the heart of Sierra Leone in the dark was crazy. Sometimes we had to get out of the truck with a flashlight to check the road to see which way to go to avoid getting stuck. There were unmarked vehicles just parked everywhere. We had to travel through quarantined areas around Makeni and navigate numerous Ebola checkpoints in the dark. Rural Sierra Leone has no electricity so as we passed through villages all we saw in the houses were people crowded around flashlights and an occasional generator. I read recently that New York State uses more electrical power than all of Africa and last night powerfully illustrated this disparity.
Complicating our travel troubles was an email Phebian received yesterday morning as we were leaving Kono that basically said that Ebola is out of control in Freetown and the surrounding area called Waterloo. We needed to drive through that area. The report said that the hospitals and burial teams were overwhelmed and that the stench of death was everywhere with bodies lying in the streets. Needless to say we were worried.
Thankfully we did not see any bodies on the street in Waterloo and honestly as we traveled around Freetown today to visit the American Embassy and Ministry of Health, things looked pretty normal. People here do tell us that sometimes bodies are left on the street and the hospitals are overwhelmed because of the numbers of Ebola cases shooting up in Freetown and surrounding area. When you realize that there are 2 million people in this city one can only weep to think of how much suffering may still lie ahead for the people of this nation. It's almost too much to bear. Pray that the international response will intensify quickly and that God will intervene. God's people in America (I think we are called 'the church') need to put their own fears and problems aside, and be counted now to to be the hands and feet of Jesus to fight this plague. There is no excuse for inaction.
Our team does feel safe. We have decided to keep the whole team with us at the guest house (usually they are allowed to stay with family or friends here) in order to limit exposure. We are careful where we go (no souvenir shipping in crowded markets this trip). Phebian has decided to take me via ferry to the airport on Wednesday morning and then head back to Kono right away instead of staying in Freetown for a week longer as she originally planned.
Today we were finally able to meet with the US Ambassador to Sierra Leone (Thank you, Ed!). It was an exceptionally good meeting. We were able to introduce Phebian and our work as well as discuss medical evacuation plans for Phebian or any of our US volunteers if needed in the future. A common theme I have heard from every US medical person here and even from the Ambassador himself is that there is a fear of being stigmatized and discriminated against upon returning to the US. It was reassuring to hear him vocalize this concern for himself and to reiterate that the US government is not going to pander to the fear and that they really appreciate the sacrifice of the volunteer doctors and nurses. It was encouraging. The only bad part is he is from Boston and loves the Patriots and Bruins.
We also visited the ministry of health and have pretty much finalized our registration to begin operations as a health center in Sierra Leone!!
Last night as we struggled to get to Freetown, I especially felt your prayers and I felt the support of my wife who kept texting me to make sure that we were okay and who had the courage and faith to see me through. This whole trip has not been easy for her as you can imagine but I feel her courage rising and I'm truly grateful for those of you who have reached out in support these past two weeks. Also, Heather had given us a CD mix of songs that I think we had on the whole night. It will definitely be good to be home soon. Thank you to all who are praying for this trip and who are supporting Phebian and this work. You are making a real difference in this amazing place. God is indeed faithful.