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Monday, 22 March 2010

A Sierra Leone Adventure - Page 4

Written by David Utekin
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There is an instinct inside many of us, a raw natural urge that draws us to the Road. It is a longing for the excitement of the unknown, the freedom a traveler feels when waking up in a place unfamiliar to him, not knowing where he will find himself tomorrow. It is the sense of liberty that comes with putting yourself in the hands of fate and waiting to see what life throws your way. A land of coups and diamond smugglers, Sierra Leone had always caught my imagination, and now that peace and stability has returned once again it is accessible to visitors. It seemed like the perfect antidote to the tedium and monotony of university life. On one dreary summer afternoon I found myself in Heathrow airport boarding a plane to Freetown with my girlfriend, Tash, and two close friends, Fred and Anwen.

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It was around this point that I started feeling somewhat under the weather. During supper I completely lost my appetite and began to feel strangely cold. By around 8pm, a splitting headache had set in so I decided to have an early night and sleep it off. The cold worsened and I began shivering uncontrollably in the warm equatorial night - a strange sort of inner chill completely unaffected by external temperature. At the same time, my own temperature rocketed and sweat began pouring off my body. My head and face felt like they were on fire. As the night went on my breathing became irregular and it felt as if I was inhaling hot steam. Drifting in and out of consciousness, I was unaware of exactly what was happening.

Tash immediately recognized the symptoms of malaria and was struck by the impossibility of getting me to a hospital any time soon. She did not sleep a wink all night; she tells me the worst thing was my color. Apparently it drained from my face once the fever began, leaving me a dull shade of grey. I was having nightmares and hallucinations and would every now and then start babbling incoherently. The headaches had become excruciating and were constant for the next five hours or so until the fever passed. By this point I was completely drained, my body exhausted from trying to fight it.

The next problem was what to do about it, it was one o’ clock in the morning and we had no idea if and when I would suffer another attack. We were completely cut off on the island - Tash’s phone had no reception and we had been told that only the guests stay there during the night. Tash and Anwen went off searching and thankfully managed to find and wake up one of the locals, who, it transpired, had stayed over after a party on the island earlier in the day. Unfortunately with the river in its flooded state the dugout canoe would not be able to make it to the mainland but luckily the man managed to contact his friend on the other side who could bring the motorboat. He arrived to pick us up at about 5am. I never did get to see the Pygmy Hippos. The crossing was eerie in the half-light, the river cloaked in a thick fog illuminated by the moon. Having taken us across to Cambama he hooked us up with his friend who took us by motorbike to Potoru. This ride was extremely uncomfortable - Tash, the driver and myself with our bags all balancing on one small motorbike. I was feeling dazed, weak and exhausted and just wanted to lie down in the dirt and go to sleep.

When we got to Potoru there was not a single car in the entire town, so we went to the island office where the helpful official in charge let me collapse on his bed. I had recuperated a little by the time Tash woke me around 9am. She had managed to arrange a car to take us back to Bo. A few hours later we were back in town and after dropping off our things in a hotel started trying to find a doctor. We asked around and were directed to a small Egyptian-run clinic tucked away in a backstreet. The doctor diagnosed me with Falciparum Malaria, the notorious West-African strain of the disease. He injected me with quinine and a painkiller and gave me several packets of pills to take. When asked what they were his unconvincing reply was, “No problem, no problem, just a little cocktail of my own making”! It seemed to help however and I began to feel better. I was still extremely weak and so we decided to stay on in Bo for a few days while I regained my strength, before moving on to Kono and diamond country.

The journey to Kono once again took all day. We sat packed like sardines in a bus for over two hours before even leaving. Eventually the bus left, only to be stopped five minutes later at a military roadblock where the officers made a point of humiliating the driver, making him kiss their shoes and beg for forgiveness before letting us pass. We never found out what his crime had been. It was hard not to feel sympathy for the poor man as we had also had a couple of bad experiences with the police. On one occasion I had broken my flip-flop, and was heading into town barefoot to get some more, when I was accosted by a bribe-hungry official who informed me that it was a criminal offence not to wear shoes in Sierra Leone! Later that day a different group of ’officials’ accused Fred of being a ‘defaulter’, hinting that a little ‘something-something’ would make the problem go away.

(Page 4 of 6)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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