(ORS is Oral Rehydration Salts, which are used commonly in community health programs as treatment for children with diarrhea, cholera patients, and now Ebola patients. When I told one of our Sierra Leonean drivers that I am loving the coconuts here, he said “It is good for ‘d’ body, it is our ORS!”)
The expat world in Sierra Leone is very surreal. You have a driver, you live in a place far above local purchasing power, you eat at restaurants that cater to expats. It’s very insular and it exists entirely parallel to life as a national. I’ve found it very hard to have any authentic experiences here.
Coconuts are my one exception.
I sneak out of the office compound and take a walk down one of the busiest roads in Freetown, cross the street and hope not to die (I try and wait for a local to dart into the traffic so I can cross at the same time-safety in numbers, right?), and stop at the petrol station where several people are selling items to passers by.
I go and ask the gentleman for a coconut, who has a wheelbarrow full of them. He asks me which one I want (sometimes, sometimes he just chooses for me) and proceeds to use his machete to whack off the outer layer, tap on it (to hear how much liquid is inside?), and cut a round hole at the top. I say thank you, take it from him and stand there to drink the contents and then hand it back. He whacks it open and scrapes out the meat and hands it to me. I pay him 2,000 leones (about 40 cents) and remain standing there eating the meat and then toss the husk into the back of the wheelbarrow with all the others.
And then I dart back across the street, feeling really proud of myself.
It is my one activity that makes me feel like I’m actually experiencing something of Sierra Leone.
I’ve never had fresh coconut before coming here and now I swear by it. I’m sure going to miss it. It just wouldn’t be the same buying it from a grocery store (nor do I have the machete skills for such a task).