Thursday, September 8, 2011

Column No. 39 - Life and Death

(Editor's note: This column includes some pieces from the blog entry a couple weeks ago by the same name, but it's still very different. And much better.)

Life and death
By David Krueger

Last Thursday was really weird. My friends and I all attended the funeral for the late father of one of the members of our group. It was a sad day. I don’t think many people look forward to funerals.

We first heard of the passing on the 19th of August, which also happened to be the birthday of another one of my friends. She rearranged the plans so that we could all spend the night together. Meanwhile, another friend left work early to be with David, a local Sierra Leonean.

I did the only thing I could think of to help: I went to the supermarket and bought whisky.

Sometimes, you just need a drink. This seemed like one of these times. Plus, as an American, I feel like while abroad it’s my job to bring whisky to any monumental occasion, good or bad.

That night we all hung out at the YMCA, drank whisky, listened to music and pretended like it was any other Friday night. We were all thinking about the same thing, but didn’t say it. Eventually, the music (I’m going to choose to account the rest of the night to that…but in all honesty it was probably the whisky) led us down the street to Krio Wendy’s, our go-to bar.

We danced and laughed and had a legitimately good night.

For the next couple weeks we didn’t discuss the death of David’s father much. It was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t know a good way to approach the topic. Heck, I didn’t know if I even should.

We learned that there would be a funeral on the 1st September and all pledged our support to David. One person went in the morning before she had to leave early to catch a flight to return to Germany.

That’s how great our group is. We’re like a family. When one person goes through a tragedy, we rally around that person to help in any way we can. Whether it’s with whisky, or something else.

I really don’t like funerals. I know that they’re meant to honor the deceased and say goodbye, but there’s no escaping the sadness of the day and the thought that the person is really gone.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but funerals here are a bit different from those back home.

The first striking difference was the presence of cameras. Pictures and video were taken, which doesn’t usually happen back home. Perhaps a camera may make an appearance at a reception after the service, but in the church there usually aren’t any pictures taken.

Before the church service started there was a gathering of family and friends at Josiah Square in Lumley.

There, everyone assembled and received programs and pins, something we don’t do in the States but I wish we did. I liked that way of honoring the deceased. It also created a sense of unity among those at the funeral, most of whom I had never met before.

While there, I was asked if I would be comfortable taking a picture with David, his father lying in the casket and the rest of our friends. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I was. I had never taken a picture with a deceased person before. But, it was obvious that it was something that would help David, so all the guys in our group obliged. One of the four girls went up.

Then we waited as three vehicles took the large group over to the church for the service. Appropriately, the rain was pouring down, harder than I’ve ever seen it rain before in Sierra Leone. I couldn’t help but feel like God was sad, and crying along with us here in Freetown.

Eventually, we all arrived at the church and the service began. It was very similar to the funeral s I had been to in America. The family read bible verses and the pastor talked about how David’s father was now in a better place.

I feel like during funerals in the United States, there’s a lot more talking by the family, instead of just the leaders of the church. Usually a family member gives a eulogy, where he or she speaks to each person of the family on behalf of the deceased. For example, when my maternal grandmother passed away my mother read the eulogy, and said to my sister and me, “and to David and Emily, just know that your grandmother loved you very much and was very proud of you.”

In my experience, the person reading the eulogy rarely gets through it without crying. In fact, I don’t ever think I’ve seen that happen.

After the funeral we went to the burial in a nearby cemetery. This was almost identical to burials back home. The deceased is buried, as prayers and bible verses are recited. When my uncle passed away it was just like it. I even had a few flashbacks to that day during David’s father’s service.

Then it was time for a reception and some food, again, very similar to how funerals are done back home. The gathering was much shorter than it would be in America, with people getting some food, hanging out for a short time and then leaving.

At my uncle’s funeral people spent the whole afternoon and evening together. I’m not entirely sure that was planned though. Somehow we all just ended up at my grandparents’ house, and the number of people there grew and grew throughout the course of the afternoon, eventually resulting in my paternal grandmother not having near enough food to feed all those people dinner.

From all accounts, this was the first time in the history of the world that my grandmother had run out of food. Normally, when I go back to North Dakota and visit during the summer, there’s more food than I know what to do with. Rarely do I return home without gaining some weight.

In the end funerals across the world all serve the same purpose: honoring the deceased. That doesn’t mean it’s ever easy though.

I had a really strong desire to talk to my parents after the funeral, but was able to corral my nervousness until the usual Sunday night chats.

My biggest concern while I’m here is that something will happen to a loved one back home. I worry more about that than malaria, break-ins and food poisoning combined. It’s always on my mind back in the U.S. too, but here the distance seems to amplify the feeling.

It seems like there’s no shaking that feeling. Really, you just have to take solace in the fact that once someone dies they go to heaven (or whatever your religion’s equivalent is) and get to enjoy a better world.

I guess I always felt that death is kind of like a Monday. You know it’s going to come, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. So you might as well enjoy the weekend.

Column No. 38 - My Two Hours with Malaria

My two hours with malaria
By David Krueger

There are two events I’ve wanted to write about but haven’t gotten around to yet because of the stories about Tiwai Island and the Sierra Leone-Egypt football game. The next two columns will be about two occasions that happened last week.

I suppose the first one could serve as the epilogue for the Tiwai Trilogy.

When I got back to Freetown I was really sick. I spent most of Monday lying in bed until I was ordered by a couple of friends to go get a malaria test. I should have immediately known that it was not going to be a simple experience.

The first clinic a friend took me to was closed. We hurried up the road and managed to get into another one as the staff was preparing to go home. I felt bad for keeping them at work longer than they were supposed to be, but my friend was adamant I needed a test done, and told them that.

Unfortunately, because the clinic was closing, they wouldn’t have the results until the next day.

“That’s fine,” I thought. I was pretty sure I didn’t have malaria because I felt a lot better after getting some sleep and taking some medicine I brought from America to lower my temperature.

Tuesday was Pray Day, a national holiday where not many businesses in Freetown were open. The clinic was among those offices that were closed.

“That’s fine,” I thought again. I felt even better on Tuesday and was even more confident I didn’t have malaria. I decided I would stop by the clinic on the way to work on Wednesday to get my results.

It turned out the next morning would not be that simple. I arrived at the clinic a little before 10 a.m. and asked about my test results. They had taken them to the YMCA (the address I put on my form), which wasn’t very far from the clinic.

I wandered over to the YMCA to see if they had the results. They didn’t. My friend had picked them up and he wasn’t around. I called him to see if he was close.

“Yes, yes, I’m coming,” my friend said over the phone. “You have malaria. Yeah. I’m coming.”

My heart sunk. I felt very sad and exceptionally angry at the same time. I didn’t want malaria. I take medicine every day that’s supposed to help prevent me from getting the disease, and it has some rather unpleasant side effects.

The pills tear my stomach apart, making me feel sick almost as soon as I take it. It also makes me more susceptible to sunburns, which is something that my pale skin needs absolutely no help with.

I also sleep under a mosquito net every night, just like I was instructed. I was confused as to how this could happen, and unsure what to do next.

My friend arrived and we went back to the clinic. He had to depart because he wasn’t feeling very well either. In order to get medicine I had to wait for the doctor to arrive and write a prescription. The only problem was he wasn’t due in the office for another half an hour.

So I went to the Awoko office and dropped my bag off. I informed them of what was going on and I’m pretty sure they could tell by the look on my face that I was having a rather difficult morning.

At 11 I went back to the clinic to see the doctor. I waited for 20 minutes, swearing under my breath and still frustrated that I couldn’t just be at work right now writing about Tiwai Island. Finally, he called me into his office and performed a checkup. Then he asked if I was allergic to medicines with sulfur in them. I had no idea, so I said “probably not.”

You’ll know if you are because you’ll have black spots appear on your skin, he informed me.

That’s awesome, I thought. Is there any medicine I could take that won’t alter the color of my skin?

I didn’t have enough money with me for the two prescriptions he wanted me to take, so I had to go back to the office and walk back to the clinic (for the third time in less than two hours) to pick up my prescription so I could fill it somewhere else. While at the office a coworker told me I should go to another clinic nearby and get it checked out. The doctor is really good I was told.

At this point I figured why not? I was pretty sure I was never going to be done going to clinics and pharmacies. All I really wanted to do was just stay in the office and get to work.

A short time later I was waiting in my second doctor’s office of the morning. I had already had my finger pricked so that the nurse could take some blood for a quick malaria test. By this point I was getting used to those.

However, this time the doctor prescribed cold tabs. No anti-malaria medicine. No black spots. It was just a cold he said.

Happily, I took the prescription and got up to leave. I looked back at the doctor, sitting behind a pile of papers, and couldn’t keep from asking.

“So, uh, I don’t have malaria?” I asked, in an obviously weird tone that mixed confusion and enthusiasm.

“No,” the doctor replied, picking up the malaria test and showing it to me. “Very negative.”

I couldn’t contain my smile as I left the office, right around noon, and went with my coworker to pick up my medicine. That took another half an hour, and then we went to get some lunch because the morning’s events had kept me from eating anything up until that point.

After what seemed like forever, but was really only about three and a half hours, I returned to the Awoko office around 1:30 and was just so happy to be done with doctors and malaria tests.

I quickly thanked God (and apologized for my parade of swear words earlier in the first doctor’s office) and got to work. I was so excited to finally be able to work that I wrote the entire Tiwai Trilogy, and had it edited and ready to go in about two hours.

After work I headed back to the YMCA to tell all my friends the good news. I got to the balcony, with an incredible view overlooking Freetown, and just sat down.

Immediately, they all began to ask me how I was feeling and how the malaria test went.

“Was it positive?” They asked.

I just sat back in my chair and smiled.

“You guys won’t believe the morning I had,” I said.

Column No. 37 - Football Frenzy

Football frenzy
By David Krueger

Saturday was probably the most fun that I’ve had in Sierra Leone. The day featured a pretty important football game between the Sierra Leone Stars and Egypt Pharaohs. Maybe you heard about it.

I had the distinct pleasure of helping cover the game for Awoko. I had been asking about the game since the week I arrived, and made it very clear that I would love to help out in any way I could on September 3rd.

The newspaper helped facilitate my request, further proving that my job is awesome.

Bernard Turay, the Awoko sports reporter, and I headed to the field around three p.m. It was already crazy outside the National Stadium, with people (who may or may not have had tickets) fighting to get past security (and their big metal doors) and into the field to see their hometown team play the defending African champions.

Once we finally got in and down to the field, I felt like I was in heaven. I just walked around the field taking pictures. I snapped everything. I got images of both teams warming up, as well as the crowd jumping up to cheer.

I got a picture of me in the players’ tunnel and even found some friends up in Section 17 and captured a few shots of them waving.

The pregame events were fun as well, with Sierra Leone Vice President Alhaji Sam Sumana and Brazilian football legend Marta making appearances at the game.

However, as much fun as the afternoon was, nothing could top the excitement that was about to come.

From the first whistle on it was loud and exciting in the National Stadium. It only got crazier in the 14th minute when Sheriff Suma put the Stars ahead with an incredible corner kick that bended toward the goal, deflected slightly off an Egyptian defender, and found its way into the back of the net.

Then it became one big party in Freetown.

Water packets (and whatever else fans happened to have in their hands) rained down onto the pitch as Sierra Leoneans celebrated their lead.

Unfortunately, the party only lasted about a half an hour. Egypt equalized right before half to stun the crowd and send them into a somber mood during the break.

By the 70th minute everyone in the stadium was getting a little antsy. Fights were erupting between supporters as they watched patiently for someone to break the tie.

When a close Sierra Leone corner kick failed to yield a goal, there was a universal “oh” that echoed throughout the stadium. Everyone stood up, seemingly just so they could throw their arms down in frustration.

That frustration finally ended in the 88th minute. Mohamed Bangura, aka “Poboski,” was breaking toward the goal when he was taken down from behind by a defender, while in the penalty box.

The referee signaled for a free kick and I never heard cheering so loud in my life. If I didn’t know any better I would’ve thought the Stars had just won the game, but I was pretty sure they still needed to take the lead.

One minute later they had that lead, and three minutes after that they had the win. The stadium (and country) proceeded to go crazy.

In the United States there’s a popular saying among sportswriters who like to think they are completely unbiased toward the team they are covering: “there’s no cheering in the press box.”

Fortunately, I wasn’t sitting in the press box. I was sitting in the stands with the rest of the fans, as they stormed the field before the game had even officially ended. As they cheered, I cheered. Not only did Sierra Leone pull out a win, but they did it with quite a bit of drama and tension.

Eventually, I made it onto the field as well. This was good and bad. It was good because I had to cut across the field to get to the locker room to interview players and coaches. It was bad because I had to sneak through a riot that was developing at midfield.

With Bernard keeping me close, we moved swiftly across the pitch, dodging fighters and debris. We finally made it through the tunnel and into the locker room, where another party was going on. I tried to talk to the head coach, but he was busy celebrating with players.

After briefly chatting with Ibrahim Tetah Bangura, who claimed he “knew we would win,” I was able to find the man of the hour, Poboski himself. I don’t think you could have taken the smile of his face if you tried.

“I’m so happy,” Poboski said. “We have been suffering for a long time.”

Then Poboski said what everybody in Freetown already knew: “There’s going to be a big party tonight.”

My interviews were cut off, as the team celebrated and prepared to leave before the mob of fans outside the locker room were able to break the door down. Feeling a little sad that it was all over, we took off for the Awoko office.

On the way back we got caught up in an impromptu victory parade. The highlights were a guy doing backflips in the street (while moving with the pace of the parade, which I found very impressive) and a little kid with a lisp who was screaming “Egypt suxth.”

Horns were honking, traffic was all but stopped and nobody seemed to care. It was time to celebrate!

The 2-1 victory in the African Cup of Nations qualifier means Sierra Leone is in a better position to qualify for the final round of the tournament, which could land them in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. A friend and I are planning (actually “hoping” might be a more appropriate verb) to go to that tournament.

We made a deal last year to go to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, both in Rio de Janiero.

Later on (i.e. Sunday) I had some time to digest what I had witnessed the night before. The more I thought about it the more I realized what an incredible spectacle I had seen.

After some careful consideration, I’m pretty sure I’m ready to declare Saturday the most exciting moment here. I think it overtook the feeling I had getting off the airplane right around the time Poboski rocketed the ball past the Egyptian goalkeeper.

It was so exciting because both teams had something to prove. Egypt, fielding a particularly young team, wanted to show that they belonged in the tournament, and fought hard the entire game.

On the other side of the pitch, Sierra Leone had one of its strongest teams ever, and wanted to show it could win a game it should win and continue its quest to keep playing games all the way up to the next World Cup in Rio de Janiero.

With any luck I’ll be in Brazil in the summer of 2014. If they keep playing like they did on Saturday, the Sierra Leone Stars just might be there with me.

Column No. 36 - Tiwai Trilogy Part 3

The Tiwai Trilogy Part 3: Getting home
By David Krueger

The final installment of the Tiwai Trilogy chronicles my first (and last) morning on Tiwai Island, and the miracle from God that allowed us to finally get home.

The decision was made (without me) to leave while the others were either eating breakfast or on their nature walk. I’m not quite sure which. I was asleep. But I woke up and they were all standing around asking me if I was ready to go. I wasn’t, but I quickly packed my stuff before my headache came back and we left the tents.

I had woken up with a temperature that is about equal to the total number of goals Lionel Messi will have in two weeks: 39.4 (a couple will bounce off the crossbar, we’ll call those worth .2 goals). I also had a headache that made it feel like someone had punched me in the head, decided that wasn’t enough and smashed a chair over it.

On top of that my nose still had its stuffed/runny situation going on, and I continuously had to go to the bathroom, which was challenging.

This led me to get up in the middle of the night, during which it rained the entire time, and try to walk to the bathroom, only to step into a giant river of water. Eventually, I just stood at the end of the campsite and went to the bathroom.

I hope the people I went to Tiwai Island with don’t read this column.

Despite all of this I was really sad to leave. I felt terrible (and still feel terrible) that we had to leave a day early because of me. The staff all waited in line to shake our hands and say goodbye as we left the visitor’s area. They wished us well and told me to feel better soon.

The rain continued and I quickly would wonder if I would have been better off (and healthier) just staying at the campsite.

I knew it was going to be one heck of a journey home when the boat made it upstream and across the river, then stalled about 10 meters from the bank. Just as we were wondering who was going to give me a crash course in swimming, the engine inexplicably blasted back to life.

We walked up the path and waited a few minutes for a group of three motorbikes to get together to drive us to a nearby village where we were to catch a puda puda back to Bo. Eventually, they picked us up and we went on the bumpy 45-minute ride.

Meanwhile, the rain continued to pour down. I’m not going to write this sentence again. It makes me sad. For the rest of this column, assume that while everything is happening, rain is pouring down.

After the motorbike ride, where we had to stop to fix the chain after it fell off, I was fairly certain I was well on my way to hypothermia. My friend pointed out that my lips and face were purple, matching the color of the University of Washington shirt I was wearing. I thought this was amusing and felt better for about three seconds, then I started shivering again.

I was shaking and trying to warm up when I saw without a doubt, the eeriest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Three children came up to wave at us, with “666” marked on their foreheads. I don’t think it was permanent, but regardless, the mark of the devil is rarely soothing.

More eager than ever to leave, our wish was finally granted 30 minutes later when a puda puda going to Bo stopped and picked us up. I sat in the front first, but my friends moved me to the back because the open window really didn’t help me warm up.

I think I would have preferred to stay in the front. I ended up by a very sick little girl, which broke my heart. She vomited several times, both on her mother and me. I knew she wasn’t okay and wanted to do anything I could to help. I held my arm out for her to rest on while my friends gave her mother a cup of water and a roll of toilet tissue for the girl.

The girl never let out a scream, nor did she make any noise. I looked over and saw tears rolling down her face, and wanted to tell the puda puda driver to hurry the heck up so this little girl could get wherever she needed to go.

That, coupled with my own sickness and inability to warm up, meant I spent the better part of the puda puda ride just trying not to cry. I haven’t cried for about nine years but Sunday was pushing it. I was able to distract myself when I saw the American flag in the front of the vehicle. Silently, I began to sing the United States National Anthem to myself.

It worked. I felt a little better. Or, at least didn’t feel worse.

About 120 National Anthems (and a nap) later we made it to Bo and stood on the side of the road (I’m not going to say how the weather was, but you know) for a good 40 minutes waiting for a taxi. We talked to a man who said he’d arrange a vehicle for us and thanked him. Forty-five minutes later I wanted to punch him in the face.

I was about to give up all hope of ever returning to Freetown (or ever being healthy again) when my roommate and good friend Dr. Mohamed Alpha Jalloh, or “Maj” as he’s known by around the house, came out of nowhere and called my name, literally answering my prayers.

He was heading home from Bo and saw me on the side of the road. He pulled over, and was ready to give my friends and I a ride back home. I was so happy. Until the jerk trying to get us a taxi, who we’re just going to call “Mr. Grumpy” from here on, declared Maj had to pay him a fee because apparently he owned the road in Bo.

Maj was not happy. Neither was I. We yelled and argued (Maj yelled, I argued) and ended up at a police station pleading our case against Mr. Grumpy’s fee of Le15,000. I’m still not sure who won. I’m inclined to say us, because we didn’t pay anything. The officer appeared to take Mr. Grumpy’s side, but his breath smelled of alcohol so we were pretty sure we could still dodge the fee.

A brilliant plan was developed: Dr. Maj would drive up the road a couple hundred meters and then we’d sneak off and jump in the car and take off. The plan worked flawlessly.

We began walking away from Mr. Grumpy, and even stopped by a cinema to “check” the score of a football game (I know, we could do this for a living). We walked down the road, looking at stands like we were going to buy some food.

Then it appeared someone was following us. If nothing else, he was just staring at us. We slowed down and allowed him to pass us. Once he passed the car as well we sped up, jumped in the car and headed home.

Relief spread over me. It was seven at night. We had been on the road (or trying to get on the road) for about six hours, and I was not feeling much better. However, Dr. Maj had the best mix of music going over the speakers, so I soon calmed down and felt much better.

At least, until I heard the Manchester United-Arsenal score.

“That’s terrible,” I thought, “but at least I’m going home.”

Column No. 35 - Tiwai Trilogy Part 2

The Tiwai Trilogy Part 2: On the Island
By David Krueger

The second part of the Tiwai Trilogy talks about the 20 hours we spent on the beautiful Tiwai Island.

Looking back I wish I would have paid more attention to the walk from the river to the Tiwai Island campsite more. It was pretty much the most exploring I would get to do on the Island and the best I would feel (at least after we ate a snack).

After getting off the boat we hurried to the Tiwai Island visitor’s center and met the staff. They were some of the best and nicest people I’ve met in Sierra Leone. They explained the area to us, some activities we could participate in and told us what would be the best time to go exploring for pygmy hippopotamuses.

They told us to discuss our options among ourselves and let them know what we decided we wanted to do. While having a group discussion to plan our next two days we quickly realized we had one big problem: we didn’t have enough money.

We had overshot our estimated budget for the trip pretty much by Sunday night. That wasn’t too bad if we wanted to sleep in the grass that evening and not be able to afford to get home on Monday. We didn’t really want either of those things to happen.

So we were able to negotiate with the staff of Tiwai Island to get a lower price for the campsite for the second night, which saved our trip and made us fall in love with the island even more.

Tiwai Island is incredible. Seriously. Go right now. Well, finish reading the newspaper, then go.

There are nature paths to walk along, a shower and toilette to use and a covered area to cook, eat and hang out under. For sleeping there are tents grouped into campsites. The tents include mattresses and are a lot cleaner than you might expect for being outdoors.

The people working on the island made us feel welcome and at home. We spend our first hour eating (which we hadn’t done for hours) and cautiously walking around a few of the paths.

Before we get too far into this I want to stress something: I’m not really big on camping.

I don’t hate it or anything, I just didn’t do a lot of it growing up. I know how to start a fire, as long as I have a lighter. I also know first aid! I’m really good at putting band aids on bleeding wounds, as long as they’re relatively small.

Fortunately, the tents were already set up for us. I thanked God for this because had the tents not already been erected, we probably wouldn’t have spent that night in them. None of us trusted our abilities to adequately pitch a tent, least of all me.

There were so many options, but our first activity on Tiwai Island was pretty easy to agree upon: eating. We were all very hungry and whipped out some bread, cheese and jam that we had brought with us.

This is another funny story. For some reason we thought we had to bring everything with us to the Island, from water to whisky. We bought hot dogs and pasta for our two dinners, and enough bread to feed the entire YMCA breakfast.

It turns out Tiwai Island has a restaurant somewhere (I didn’t see it) that also serves pasta, as well as favorites like Cassava Leaf. They also have cold beverages, including soft drinks and Star beer. I felt foolish because half of the weight on my back was food and drink-related.

We laughed and decided it was better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. I agree. I’d rather have my choice between the whisky we brought and Star, then have nothing to drink at all. Of course, we had water too. Don’t worry.

After the snack we wandered along some of the trails, careful not to go too far into the forest and get lost. While walking we heard rustling in the bushes which made me a bit uneasy. I had heard there were monkeys, birds and bugs in the forest and I wasn’t sure if they liked Americans and Germans.

On this particular trip I found myself travelling with three Germans, as well as a Sierra Leonean that speaks fluent German. I speak no German but hoped that my last name (Krueger) would make me an honorary German.

Our group explored for a while and then came back to the main center of Tiwai Island, where I got my first ever juggling lesson.

I want that last sentence to really sink in. I came all the way to Salone, and the then travelled all the way to Tiwai Island, where I spent a good ten minutes of my life trying to learn how to juggle. This proves that sometimes you just don’t know what life has planned for you.

It became very apparent that I wasn’t going to be good at juggling, but I was good at one thing: shuffling playing cards. After wowing the group with my skills, we played a few hands before an all too familiar feeling hit.

After a game the two girls with us began to look uneasy. I turned around and there it was: the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life. This spider could have eaten the spiders in Kambia and not even been full. I’m not sure “spider” sufficiently describes the creature. Maybe “super spider.”

Just then the power went out, as if on cue. We put one flashlight toward the entrance and another on the super spider, careful to track its movements. One by one we bolted out of the covered area (and right by the spider). Only one of us fell down while this occurred (me).

We decided this would be a good time to eat, and cooked the hot dogs we bought from the supermarket. They were horrible. I mentioned before that one of us (again, me) got very sick during this trip, and I still blame those awful hot dogs for it. The best way to describe the taste is dirt, hot dirt, old dirt and a dirty wind all combined.

I don’t remember what brand the hot dogs were, but if I did rest assured I would warn you all against them forever, because I care (and because nobody should have to eat something like that).

Determined not to let the world’s worst hot dogs ruin our night, we headed back to the tents and got ready for bed. We sat around, sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and I told a bedtime story eerily similar to “The Lion King.”

Eventually, the tent emptied out and one by one we fell asleep.

Well, most of us. I remained awake for most of the night with a stuffed and runny nose. I’m not sure how those two seemingly opposite symptoms occurred at the same time either, but it tends to work that way.

The next day my nose would be the least of my problems.

To be continued…

Column No. 34 - Tiwai Trilogy Part 1

The Tiwai Trilogy Part 1: The road to Tiwai
By David Krueger

The first of three columns describing two days traveling to and from Tiwai Island, as well as the approximately 20 hours I spent there.

My trip to the South featured a lot of the same things as my trip to the North. There was a new regional nickname, an uncomfortable ride back in a puda puda and, of course, giant spiders.

However, the trip to Tiwai Island was actually quite different from that to Kambia. The biggest difference was I wasn’t going for work. Four friends from the YMCA and I decided to take a three-day weekend and visit the wildlife sanctuary in the hopes of seeing some pygmy hippopotamuses.

You know what that means: the return of Tourist David!

Friday night we mapped out our final plans and went to bed, eager to wake up early (five in the morning) and head out on our way to Tiwai Island for three days.

Our plan didn’t quite work that way, but we’ll get to that later.

The next morning came and we set out to the bus station at 5:30. We got on a government bus, which absolutely annihilates puda pudas in terms of quality, comfort and safety.

That bus took us as far as Bo, the city I’ve heard so much about since I got here. I didn’t get to explore a whole lot but I got to have some delicious groundnut soup while we were trying to figure out how to get to Tiwai. Then two funny things happened.

The television was set to SLBC, and “Inside the Media” was playing with my editor, Mr. Kelvin Lewis on it. I was very proud and told everybody who would listen “that’s my boss! I work for him!”

After that program, a meeting began showing on the television. I lost interest because my boss was no longer on the television, but my friend Eric jumped up and grabbed a camera. It turns out he had been at this meeting, and wanted to get a picture of himself on the TV.

Eric spent at least 30 minutes standing in front of the TV watching for himself. When he finally saw his face, he couldn’t snap a picture quick enough, only getting part of his nose in the picture. Oh well. We all saw him so we can back up the statement, “Eric was officially on SLBC.”

All the while we were trying to find a vehicle to take us the rest of the distance we needed to go and were presented with two options: hire a taxi to take us or ride with an intoxicated police officer in his vehicle.

Believe it or not there were pros and cons for both sides. The police officer was cheaper (Le 150,000, compared to Le 175,000 for the taxi) and had a jeep that we assumed could handle the bumpy roads better. But it also came with an intoxicated police officer who didn’t seem to know where exactly his vehicle was or when exactly it might show up.

The taxi was more expensive, but could leave immediately. We were assured it could handle the road and the driver seemed genuinely nice (and sober). So we sat around and decided what to do.

What would you have done in this situation? We chose the police officer. I know, I know but wait for the rest of the story. We voted 4-1 for the policeman and I think we told him, but I’m not sure if he heard us.

We waited for an hour for his car to “show up,” not exactly sure where his driver took it and why the policeman wasn’t a little more upset that his car was missing. I feel like he would get in a lot of trouble if he didn’t return it at the end of the day.

Finally, we got sick of waiting. He informed us the car was having some “problems” which was enough to sway the vote to a unanimous 5-0 for taking a taxi. The driver even lowered the price to Le150,000 and our minds were made. We hopped in and left.

I wish I would have enjoyed my last few moments standing up before we left. It was the most comfortable I would be for the next three hours.

I piled into the front of the taxi with one of my friends and the other three sat (much more comfortably) in the back and we set on our way. It was decided that we were the two smallest so we’d fit the most comfortably up front. I disagree.

The trip wasn’t so bad until an hour in when the road got more than a little bumpy. It felt like the next two hours took forever because we had to go very slow over some pretty large dips in the road. Each one was felt by my bottom until it went numb about halfway through. It was a weird feeling but I think it was probably for the best.

As we drove through the small villages on the way I heard many kids shouting my new name: “pumui.” Having flashbacks of my ampoto adventures in Kambia, I smiled and waved to the children as we drove through. They all seemed so happy to see us, and we were more than happy to wave hello to them.

Eventually we made it to the river and the “ferry,” a motorboat that had a sign that said “5 maximum” on the back of it. We pushed that a little bit with six, but two of us weren’t very big. After all, we had both fit in the front seat. So we decided that combined we equaled the weight of five people.

The ride across was incredible. The weather was perfect, the captain was nice and funny and the scenery was gorgeous. It was one of those “I can’t believe I’m here moments” and found its way to my “Favorite Places in Sierra Leone” list quite quickly.

Smiling and taking pictures we arrived to Tiwai Island, and eagerly waited for our captain to anchor (i.e. tie a rope around) his boat so we could venture into the incredible jungle before us.

We were excited to spend the next two days of our lives there. Little did we know that not even 20 hours later we would be leaving Tiwai Island prematurely due to the rather severe illness of one of the members of our party.

One of us woke up with a temperature above 39 degrees, a severe headache and no desire to eat or even move. In fact, moving a toe pretty much drained all the energy the particular individual had.

Take a wild guess who it was.

And, of course, the quest to get home wouldn’t be nearly as smooth as the trip to Tiwai Island was. In fact, it would turn into one of the longest days of my life.

To be continued…

Friday, September 2, 2011

Column No. 33 - Dear President Koroma

Dear President Koroma
By David Krueger

Hello Mr. President. You don’t know me (or maybe you do if you ever read this column) but I’m an American college student having the time of my life spending my summer working at Awoko Newspaper.

I’ll just cut right to the chase: I really, really want to talk to you.

I’ve never interviewed a head of state before, but I think that would be the coolest thing a journalist can do. The most famous people I’ve talked to are professional baseball players and Rick Steves, who has a series of books in the United States about travelling abroad.

You would obviously skyrocket to the top of that list.

I have about 1000 questions for you, but would happily scale that back to fit whatever time window you have. Whether it’s 10 minutes, 30 minutes or even (if I’m incredibly lucky) an hour, I feel like a conversation would be mutually beneficial.

I want to be a politician one day. After an illustrious journalism career, I hope to venture into the turbulent world of politics. I want to do a lot of things to make millions of peoples’ lives better because more than anything I just want to help people.

From what it looks like, that’s exactly what you’re trying to do. Your presidency is a much different one than that of U.S. President Barack Obama. However, you both have many of the same goals. Improving the lives of your citizens and insuring that there are proper educational and healthcare facilities are just a few.

I’m not coming at this from completely out of nowhere. While before I came here I mostly covered high school sports, I did spend three months in my state’s capital of Olympia covering the state government. I attended press conferences by the governor (sort of the President of the State of Washington) and worked on numerous stories about government.

While there my desire to be a politician was solidified. I saw how they interacted with each other and how they attempted to get things done (and block those on the other end of the political spectrum from getting their own things done).

I saw how the process works, and I know I can be successful in it.

It’s very similar here. I’ve read the newspapers, I’ve attended meetings of Parliament, and I’ve even traveled to Kambia and Port Loko to see the effects of your Free Healthcare Program. I’ll admit I’m by no means an expert on life in Sierra Leone, but I’m trying my best to get there.

I want to talk to you about everything, but can contain myself. I’d love to get your thoughts on everything from the 2012 Presidential Election to the Sierra Leone national football team. I have questions about the free healthcare as well as your soon to be released biography.

Most of all, I want to know how you got to where you are, why you want to be there and what you hope to keep doing while in power.

I don’t know if this is going to work. It probably won’t. But I think I’d win the Intern of the Year Award (which isn’t a real thing but should be) back home if I did. Interviewing you wouldn’t just be the highlight of my trip, it’d be one of the highlights of my life.

And a great story to tell my grandchildren one day.

I know you’re a very busy man. I understand that. You have an entire country to run. You have people to help, decisions to make and probably many more important things to do that would take precedent over talking to a foreign journalist who is only here for a few months.

However, I think the conversation would be fun for both of us. Any questions you have about American politics I’d be happy to try to answer, even if it’s just “did you vote for Barack Obama for President?” I’m not going to answer that question now, but will happily divulge that information during a chat.

I’m not trying to trick you or make you look bad (or good). I just want to be a journalist. I have questions that I’m just curious about. Many questions aren’t related to politics or presidencies at all. For instance, I’d love to know your favorite food. Mine’s jelof rice. I’ll share that information.

So I implore you to consider this request. If you don’t want anything written in the newspaper about it we can talk about that, although I’d beg you to not make that a condition of the interview.

This is a chance for the people to see the real Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. Plus, it would give me the opportunity to be able to call my mother and professors back home and get to use the phrase: “I interviewed the President of Sierra Leone today.” It seems like a win-win situation to me.

Take some time and think it over and then please decide “yes.” Feel free to call or e-mail the Awoko office. I’m sure if they get a message from the President, they’ll get it to me quickly.

No matter what you decide good luck. You have an incredibly difficult job, and taking it on shows how much you care about the country of Sierra Leone. As the future President of the United States, I admire all that you are doing for this great country.

And I’d really love to talk to you about it.