Between the click of the light and the start of the dream

While Georgie was battling with her nurses in Bo, I was facing somewhat more mundane challenges of my own.

First a disclaimer: this has been the hardest entry to write so far. I worry that it will read like the grumbles of a privileged westerner struggling with small niggles in a country of vast problems – especially in the light of Georgie's last entry. I suppose in my defence all I can try to explain is how these challenges present themselves. We never have running water here in Makeni. Our water is drawn by hand from a well and carried to our flat. This is the water we wash with and cook with. The quality is variable, and at the end of the dry season even the supply is unreliable. But this has never been a problem: we expected it and we adapted to it. The frustration comes when things that should work – or should happen in one way fail to, or happen in an unexpected way – or more often than not – and most frustratingly – fail to happen due to a persons deliberate negligence. The problem then is that you have none of the coping mechanisms that you would have at home and your reaction to the problem is – how can I put this – less balanced than it might otherwise be.

Enough of me trying to justify myself. I wrote this and decided to post this anyway, because it was part of our experience. I'm writing this paragraph now almost two weeks after the events below. It's 7am and the sun is just peaking out from clouds that tease the possibility of rain. The passage of time since I first wrote this has revealed one other possibility of why I was struggling so much to cope (another teaser for you, Philip), but that will be a story for another time. Onward:

The week had started well enough with dinner at Viviana's in the midst of the first rains of the season; a downpour that felt like being dropped in a bathtub and lightning that cracked across the hilltops like sparks from a Sierra Leonean plug socket.

After dinner homeward bound in the back of a LandCruiser, I confided to Georgie “I like our new life.”

The next morning we sprawled in languorous ease by the swimming pool at Makeni's one smart hotel, and even though we both got a little pink – and even though Georgie had to teach in the afternoon – all seemed very fine in the world.

That evening even a power cut couldn't dampen our spirits and we dined merrily by candlelight. But when the rest of the lights on the street came back on and our flat stayed dark, our moods darkened in sympathy. The power cut had knocked out our newly installed electric meter; an installation that had finally been achieved earlier in the week with the maximum amount of delay and frustration.

Defeated once again by the electricity – in the one city in the country which enjoys a constant and reliable supply – we sweltered through another long night.

We woke sluggish and sullen on Sunday, breakfasting in disconsolate silence and, despite a late rally planning our wedding over lunch, neither of us were feeling too good when it came time for Georgie to travel to Bo. I waved her off and then slumped onto the sofa, tried unsuccessfully to sleep in the thick afternoon heat.

When you're tired and grumpy here your options are limited. There's no quiet stroll, popping to the pub for a quick pint, retail therapy, cool shower, letting off steam with a friend; there seems almost no respite: on the blazing streets children call and traders hustle, the noise is constant always directed at you, always a response demanded; and in the flat the air weighs heavy, without power the drinking water is hot, you can't escape home in a film or a tv episode, catch up with the world online. You sit in semi-darkness, and you stew. I ate supper by the light of a single candle and crawled uncomfortably under the mosquito net.

By Monday morning I was neither asleep nor fully awake, gazing with a scowl at the world. My work – of which more later – seemed suddenly futile, an aggressive consumption of time without purpose or reward. In the afternoon I gloomily stomped the mile up to the hospital and grumbled to Viviana whilst I robotically took photos for her project proposal. I later learned she was concerned enough to call Carmen in Freetown and warn her I was struggling. The expats here have been so nice to us this week, they all say the same things – that it is the small things that wear you down, the unexpected difficulties. So it goes: implementing a training programme for community health officers from every chiefdom in the country can be done in a finger snap, but an argument about who is responsible for providing a new key for an office can rage for a week and still be unresolved.

I called Georgie on the walk home to find she had had a horrible day, too. We both needed to vent but were too frustrated with our own experience to have the energy to really hear the other's woes and when the connection broke I think we were both almost relieved.

It was unusual for us to be so out of tune, to struggle so to provide the support that we normally rely on.

I stomped home in darkness to a dark flat. Once again drank water that was body temperature, once again fell into a bed that was only as warm as a sauna.

I planned a late start at work the next day in the hopes of getting an electrician to fix the power, but despite promises to the contrary by mid afternoon I was still waiting; “You will be,” Adam responded when I texted him in frustration.

By this point I hadn't slept for two days, I'd had one frustrating day at work where all I had achieved was the contraction of an aggressive computer virus that humbugged my every attempt to remove it, I was trapped at home with our new fridge full of rotting food waiting for a man who might never arrive and I had no internet or credit to call anyone. I felt totally cut off. Georgie and I had spoken only briefly and I knew she was struggling too. I was worried about her, I felt powerless to help, and I felt bad that I hadn't been more support, and I could barely look beyond my own exhaustion and frustration.

The more you think about how much you need sleep the more elusive it becomes.

At 2 o'clock that afternoon I barked down the phone at Georgie, calling in the midst of her own struggles to try to offer me support.

At 3 o'clock there was a knock at the door and I opened it, with a face of thunder.

Alongside Georgie's travels and her lecturing she has also, in the last couple of weeks, been running a training session with community health officers here in Bo. They were into the second week and in Georgie's absence a yoga teacher from Freetown had taken over official duties. It was her I found on my doorstep wearing a look of friendly concern. Georgie had called her, pulled her out of the training session and sent her to check I was ok. She offered to stay in the flat to wait for the electrician so that I could go for a walk and refresh myself.

I went for the walk, and I felt better.

And at 5pm the electrician finally arrived, and even then he couldn't fix the meter but he must have seen my desperation – for a cool breeze, sleep and some sense of contact with the outside world – and rigged a temporary solution so the power would work. Half an hour later our yoga friend knocked again to invite me downstairs for a cold beer and she listened patiently whilst I poured out three days worth of frustration.

I came home to worried messages from Georgie who had been almost frantic as – leaving the flat without my phone – I hadn't answered her calls. I felt terrible.

I had to take the next day off work, too, to wait for the electrician to return, but by the time Georgie got home the power was finally back and all was well with the world, or at least it was until the following night when, still desperately tired, I woke at 2am violently ill and that was it for sleep for another two nights. Georgie fell ill soon after, and we both ended up sick enough to cancel our plans for the weekend and instead spent two delicate days at home, drifting listlessly from room to room like breaths of smoke.

On Sunday afternoon Georgie had to travel back to Bo. But this time I would travel with her.



5 thoughts on “Between the click of the light and the start of the dream

  1. Sarah Campbell says:

    What an honest account. Well done you – perchance someone with professional experience been chatting with you?! If it helps – and it is no way comparable in the sense of simple amenities – every ex-pat lives through something like this. God Bless the yoga teacher – keep her mobile number handy! You’ve got through this one – hopefully, the next one won’t be so bad. So proud of you both.


  2. pipcocampbell says:

    Wow! Tinks is right – – not that she has ever been an ex-pat herself – –But, it’s the small things; except your experience was not a small thing, all support systems breaking down, and then your own sickness. A very tough test which you both got through in tact. Bien Fait. I love the ‘lightning crackling like a Sierra Leonean plug’ – – not your plug, though, I presume.
    If it happens again, I think you should take on a new task. Go to the water engineer and initiate a reservoir for Makeni and a new pipeline infrastructure…. Especially now the rains are starting. that will both occupy and distract your energies,, as if you didn’t have enough to do already. Meanwhile, I had to wait in al day for Amazon to deliver last week. They promised the morning and delivered on the next one! Frustration? Perhaps not. Our lives are’ relative’. Well done for surviving yours. Philip. (M. Phil..etc and bar)


  3. murray104 says:

    Yes it is the simple things we take so for granted… To walk into a room and switch on the light. To go to a tap for a glass of clean clear, cool water. We are so rich and most of us don’t realise it. I remember on our travels stopping in Eastern Sudan by a group of Turkana people at a “waterhole”. You wouldn’t have dreamt of drinking that stuff and yet they had no option.
    Brilliant writing Ian. Love and admiration in equal measure to you both!…. Mike


  4. katie siviter says:

    oh my god , you poor souls !!! , little things !!!! georgie will get this little things please little minds little pants will fit litlle behinds , NOt much help , but im a bit spaced out. after teo nights in hospital. suposed to be an in out in one day opp turned into two opps and three days so not makeing much sence and a bit wobberly. love to you both katie xxx


  5. Jane Charlton says:

    This sounds like one of those really low points from which things can only get better! Rubbish comment. But be proud of yourselves that you are still there and still fighting! Love janie


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s