WAPF

I’ve been sucked into the foodie blogosphere, which is at once a yummy exploration and at the same time excruciatingly masochistic as my food options here in Sierra Leone are limited.

It isn’t a surprise to find that almost every food blog has an index of diet friendly recipes. But, what has surprised me is that every food blog has so many categories of diets.

It seems to be a very Western notion to describe one’s diet; like we are using our food choices as a way to add to our list of labels. It’s kind of a funny way in which we identify ourselves. “Hi, I’m Saundra and I’m wheat free, sugar free, and vegetarian though I eat fish…” (I’m none of those, btw).

Even for those of us who, thankfully, have no food allergies, we still tend to adhere to a diet or label our noshing habits. And inevitably, it changes with time, with age, with new research, and probably most often with new food fads.

I went from SAD, to vegetarian, to organic, to local, to whole foods, to omnivore (yes, I’ve always eaten dairy). These days, in my grass fed meat eating/raw milk/pastured eggs/organic/local veg eating life, I find the Weston A. Price dietary guidelines make the most sense.  They are research based and advocate grass fed meat, lots of good fats, and raw milk from pastured cows.

Any diet recommending butter is a diet for me! Check them out:

http://www.westonaprice.org

Half Way

I’m exactly half way through my time in Sierra Leone.

There were a number of reasons I chose to re-immerse myself in humanitarian aid work. If I am to be brutally honest with myself (and you), I came to Sierra Leone because I needed to feel purposeful again. I was in a place without meaningful work, feeling rejection and a loss of confidence from an abrupt fall out of a business start up, and generally feeling direction-less and unsure of where to find purpose.

I turned to what I have known in the past, what I spent years preparing for, for the issues I still feel compelled by (in this case the health consequences of the ebola outbreak). I was nervous and excited about returning to the field. I came with an open mind – and the question of whether this could be the beginning of a new chapter of global health work. I really thought it could be.

The answers have been loud and clear. I am grateful for such clarity and for the affirmation that the life of land and family that I dream of is just as valuable as any other pursuit.

When I’m not straining my eyesight with spreadsheets and feeling the ills of sitting 9+ hours a day, I am dreaming of settling into a place, the daily work of chores of home and farm, and starting a family.

I am very grateful I have had the opportunity to take this job. I hope the extremely small accomplishments I leave behind will be beneficial to the efforts. But I just don’t have the all consuming passion for it-to live this life of constant travel, of hours and hours of computer work sitting at a desk, the conversations with colleagues knowing that even the friendships made will never have the time to flourish.

It reminds me of the quote by Lawrence LeShan:

Don’t worry about what the world wants from you, worry about what makes you come alive. Because what the world really needs is people who are alive.

I know what makes me come alive.

I look forward to returning home with a new appreciation for the small things, for relationships, for a place in community, for work that I love (even if it doesn’t require a degree), for family.

The countdown begins.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

One of the best lessons I learned from my time in the Peace Corps is that it’s really good for people to be miserable. Good and miserable. For quite some time.

You learn you can tolerate not being comfortable or having amenities. You learn to sit patiently for hours (and you learn to always have a book on you). You learn that time passes the same every day whether you are miserable or not. You just get tougher.

That was over ten years ago for me. I’m trying to channel that toughness at the moment.

I just arrived in Koidu which is in Kono District in Sierra Leone. This is a major diamond mining area with several international mining companies who set off explosions about once a week making the buildings shake. It’s pretty bare bones here.

It’s the hottest time of the year and I am feeling it. I am laying on a mattress that is both foam and hard as a rock (seems odd but trust me on this). I have a fan about 6 inches away from my face. I’m relishing in the air as we only have a couple of hours of power and then the generator gets switched off. It will be a long sweaty night ahead with mosquitos buzzing around. The worst news? There’s no kettle. I have several days here and I am seriously concerned with how I’ll be able to function without coffee. I WILL figure something out in the morning! Even if that means I have to pay a child on the street to run home and boil some water for me.

I will be oh so grateful for Freetown again, just 24 hours after saying how I was ready to get out of Freetown (how ungrateful I was for the air con and omelets).

It’s somehow comforting to recall all of those really miserable days and nights in Turkmenistan, and then Chad, oh and that night in Sudan…yeah, I can do this.

Confinement Yoga

I’m not one who exercises-at least not in the gym rat sort of way. But I do practice yoga fairly often. My yoga practice ebbs and flows according to how much time and extra cash I have, since I’m terrible at motivating to get out my mat at home. When I’m living abroad, it’s another story. In most of the places I’ve lived, I’ve had little freedom of movement because of the security or context of the place. Taking walks is limited and there certainly aren’t any yoga classes around. So, I get into a routine of doing yoga regularly on my own. (Below is a photo of me with my mat in the deserts of Chad.)tamam My all time favorite video series is with Bryan Kest. You just have to watch a minute or two of his video to see why. The hair, the white suits, the oh-so hands on pose assists. I guarantee it will keep you on your mat for the entire 53 minutes. Enjoy!

Culture of Aid

There’s definitely a certain type of person that chooses to do aid work. It requires a lot of travel to difficult environments, leaving your loved ones for extended periods of time and often with very little notice. The work seems to attract wanderlusts and misfits. The cadre of responders to the Ebola outbreak are a slightly different group of recruits than in my past aid work, which recruited the typical humanitarian aid worker assigned to protracted crises. The expats here in Sierra Leone comprise a mix of humanitarian aid workers (like myself), many clinicians with varying experience in these contexts, those with military backgrounds for the logistic response, and emergency responders who thrive on the chaos of the immediate aftermath. It’s a strange mix and I have to say I don’t connect with most. This is the first post I’ve had where I am spending most of my time in the capital and while I appreciate the amenities, it’s such a surreal experience going to the Radisson after work sitting amongst a patio full of white people looking like they came from their DC office and begin their evening of alcohol and smokes.

There’s always an expat economy when we flood an area for a humanitarian response, but here it is stark. Usually, there’s some shopping at local markets, only a couple of restaurants available, and one or two hotels that journalists stay in. Because of the enormity of the response, many of us are staying at hotels, there a quite a few restaurants to eat at (and without a kitchen, we only eat out), and then there are the swimming pools.

I have to say that I do appreciate having a place to go outside of the hotel and office. Freetown is reasonably safe, but I’ve found the harassment to be far greater here than I’ve experienced elsewhere. It certainly isn’t relaxing to take a walk in town.

I think the adjective that best describes my feelings about the mission (external to the job itself) is disappointing.

I’ve seen a couple of episodes of prostitution-white male expats escorting Sierra Leonean women. Exploitation of this sort is absolutely not tolerated by the major agencies, which have strict policies about such behavior. It violates humanitarian principles and reflects on all of us. Unfortunately, I haven’t known who these men are or whom they work for or I would absolutely call their heads of office.

That sort of behavior also poses risk of transmission to others. We are under a strict no touch policy, those who are directly exposed to infected or suspected patients and those that work solely in the office. Those men obviously don’t care too much.

I feel disappointment that the environment here isn’t one of a team working together for a common cause-even though that’s surely what everyone is doing. Instead, it’s a bunch of misfits with habits that I don’t share or with dubious characters.

I keep mostly to myself and just try and concentrate on my job. May can’t come soon enough.

Kenema Isolation Kenema Clinic

Above (top) is an isolation unit for people who come to the community health clinic (below) and who are suspected Ebola cases. They wait until an “ambulance” comes to take them to a treatment unit. These were taken in Kenema District.

Milk Magic

My cows won’t be giving us milk until late summer (IF they were bred successfully in December). I can’t wait to have raw milk coming into the kitchen every day. It’s so comforting to have a jar full of fresh milk.

People who have never tasted raw milk are always a little squeamish. They want to know how it tastes different from the milk on the store shelf. The best comparison I can come up with is the difference in taste between a store bought egg and a fresh egg from a pastured chicken. They are both eggs, but certainly not equivalent. No one can possibly go back to store bought eggs once they taste a fresh egg. That’s my experience with milk.

Raw milk feels creamy, rich and full in your mouth. It’s lusciously thick and sweet.

Please do yourself a favor and find a (clean!) source of raw milk. It will enrich your life exponentially. This is no exaggeration.

With a cow in milk, having it in such abundance on a daily basis means there’s a lot of opportunity to turn that milk into something else delicious-it’s like magic!

Here’s a list of everything that you can turn milk into (well the cheese category is limited to a few, easy to make, fresh cheeses):

Cream (skimmed off the top)

Whipped Cream

Kefir (uses starter grains)

Clabbered Milk (ONLY with raw milk)

Butter (cultured or not, salted or not, pasteurized or not, flavored or not)

Buttermilk (cultured!)

Yogurt (cream on top, skimmed, strained or drinkable)

Creme Fraiche (cultured cream)

Cottage Cheese

Cream Cheese

Sour Cream

Quark (my FAVORITE farmer’s cheese)

Ice Cream (buttermilk ice cream is on the top of my list)