Monday, September 18, 2017

The Weddings

" I love you to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond, forever and ever."

To say that this has been quite a year is an understatement.  Adventures galore; so very grateful to be celebrating instead of surviving.  My last post explained the trials, tribulations, and magic of finding “the dresses” for a Wedding I truly never thought would happen (for so many reasons).  In early March Kristi and I set off with those dresses to wear in Sierra Leone (along with gifts, shoes for the groom, and the rings!).  After a very long, but easy trip thanks to Air France, we arrived into the most cacophonous airport of my life: Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Thank God, Katie & Songor were there to great us.

The Country Lodge

Upon meeting our wonderful driver, Mohammed, we encountered more adventures along the dark dusty roads, a ferry, the crowded, the loud streets of Freetown, to finally reach our hotel, The Country Lodge.  Having a late dinner on the beautiful balcony-restaurant, we were
"entertained” by the formal proposal as Songor finally had the ring to place on Katie’s finger!  

On day one we were escorted and driven by Mohammed around Freetown.  I will be forever grateful to this special Man as he was Katie’s driver for the two years she lived in Sierra Leone.  Being a family that loves to drive, none of us would be brave enough to conquer those roads.  First stop was an interesting time at the dress shop of a family member, Musu, who was to make one of our ensembles for the Wedding.  One buys lapas (fabric) then has ashobis (“a cultural attire of the same pattern”) made.  Each group (family, etc) wears its own ashobi to special events so you then know how all are related.   Finally meeting the good Team at Partners in Health headquarters filled me with a Motherly pride for all of these amazing Professionals who had truly put helping Folks in need over their own comfort.  Impressive.

The Cotton Tree in Freetown
Katie requested no pictures be taken of the markets, the people, etc as she experienced the lack of respect by journalists during her time there and I understand that.  We were able to see the beauty through the dust (end of dry season), and Katie’s sense of love and pride.  I wish I could describe it perfectly in words.  This little country has been through so much, and it is economically not rich to say the least.  A Civil War took up much of Songor’s adolescent, growing years.  Ebola has most recently crippled it.  And then, just about a month ago, floods destroying homes, taking lives, hit again.  But, all the people I met were gracious and beautiful fully wanting to make sure we were comfortable and felt welcomed.  The sense of pride (in the most positive sense) was overwhelming, and humbling.  (The heat, the dust, the beautiful people prepared me for a later adventure I would have during the summer that wasn’t even on my radar yet.)

Day two had us driving to Kono where Katie had been living since the Ebola crisis ended, doing what PIH usually does: setting up sustainable health care. On our way, we stopped at Port Loko.  The government had given the site of a former school as a treatment site for one of the clinics to be used for the treatment of Ebola.  Oh, Dear God, we from the West cannot even imagine.  Using my imagination, it looked like a very rustic Mash unit.  I had a flashing memory of the time I drove by Dachau on the outskirts of Munich…the feeling I had, the sadness, the pit in my stomach… But, this time, the thoughts that “my Baby” came here; helped save lives.  OMG, I simply cannot put it into to the right words.  After we left the site, Katie talked for the first time a little about her experiences; we listened.  I simply couldn’t talk if I wanted to.

Six? hours later we arrived at our little hotel, Shine On and Stay. Katie hosted a Goat BBQ at her home (a complex of 2 buildings with an outside kitchen) to say farewell to All who were a part of her life in Kono that evening. While the preparations were on, a lovely man, Daboh, one of the local healthcare workers who works with/for PIH, insisted on taking us for a walk to meet the Chief of the Village. It was beautiful as it was dusk, goats and chickens roamed everywhere.  (These beautiful animals were pets, then eventually dinner.)  Our experience had us cooing over babies who would then burst into tears?!  We were the first white people many of these lil ones had ever seen.  A gorgeous, cheeky, coquettish young Lady of about 3 discovered us on our walk and followed.  It turned out that her Mom worked with Katie at the Well Body Clinic.  We asked the lil lady’s name.  Hands on hips, chin tilted skyward with pride, she announced” “Mamie du Power”!  That quickly became our call-sign, motto, for the rest of our time in Sierra Leone!  We were Mamie’s du Power!  

Katie's home

Later, while my Ladies were getting ready, the screeches coming from Katie’s room were deafening.  Running inside I found my grownup Ladies cowering on the bed pointing at a very hairy spider in the corner.  A gentle-man came in to deal with it.  Katie then told the story of how she was recently walking into her bedroom from the kitchen building, heard a thud behind her, turned and a cobra was on the ground near her feet.  Again a gentle-man dealt with it.  Helping fight Ebola or not, that is heart attack material…The Party with very spicy goat was lovely; including the many speeches (Sierra Leoneans, I would quickly discover, love to speech) including one from me, with absolutely no heads up.   (I was told my speech was elegant?!) Later that evening the Chief roared into the BBQ on a motorbike with his two grown sons (on the one bike).

Kristi and Friends!
Our time in Kono was filled with eating at the few restaurants with Katie’s co-workers experiencing very limited menus, with French fries taking two hours.  It was awesome.   The best meal was lunch at Katie’s favorite lunch place, Mother’s Help.  We thoroughly enjoyed her peanut soup, a delicious broth with a whole fish floating in it!  A soccer game that was also the site of a political rally was interesting.  We explored the “Beach,” another interesting place in the woods where the river usually flows, but being dry season, not much water.  People come to listen to music, dance, and play.  We did get to experience a family panning for diamonds.  Kono is the site of many diamond mines, “Blood Diamonds”.  Clearly, Katie does not have a diamond engagement ring.
Diamond Mines

A very special day was spent experiencing the work that Partners in Health is now doing in Kono.  Kristi and I were very fortunate as we joined the Community Health Workers on their rounds.   The priority of the CHW’ers is to establish relationships with patients, encouraging them to be treated for their various health issues.  There is much stigma in this proud nation surrounding diseases (HIV, Tubercuosis, among others), thus preventing folks from reaching out for the care they need.  I met many beautiful people that day, all with a story.  We All have stories…

New Prenatal Clinic
Later that day, my heart overflowed as a proud Mom again as Katie gave us a tour of the Well Body Clinic and the Hospital.  Oh, the programs that PIH has set up, with my Lady being on the frontline; the respect and true caring the Folks all had for Katie again rendered me speechless.  Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.  Songor’s passion since Ebola was eradicated was delivering safe, healthy Babies to safe, healthy Moms.  A project Katie was instrumental in setting up is a Prenatal clinic where expectant Moms would come live before their due date so as to be close to medical care when ready to deliver.  A regret of Katie’s is that this beautiful 3-building complex complete with outdoor kitchen would not be ready before she left Sierra Leone.

Watching Songor play basketball with pals on his final evening in Kono was special and poignant. Basketball is his sport (Songor had to decide between professional basketball or medical school years ago).  He was on the board for this community sports complex.  Kristi ended up being the Pied Piper often on this trip and standing by watching Songor quickly turned into her teaching a young lady how to play.  You would have thought that lil Lady had been made Princess for the day.  Later she was to come back carrying a huge jug of water on her head for her family…(The things and sizes of said things that Folks carry on their heads is something to behold.)

Onward to Tokeh Beach for the main event!  Another long, dusty, entertaining ride (for Mohammed, I think!..the 3 of us did seem to entertain Katie’s crew) to where we settled into The Place, our home for the next week.  Oh, my, it was beautiful.  It is truly a shame that it is so far from the U.S. as it the type of respite that many would love.  My Ladies and I had exactly one full day and night to relax and be together here.  It was heaven.  Then the Wedding Festivities kicked in.  Being driven by our ever-patient Mohammed we went two dusty, but beautiful, hours to Freetown for the Bride and Groom to get their Marriage Certificate at City Hall.  Then, we finally met Songor’s Family at Parliament were we shared lunch.  Songor’s Father, Honorable, is a member of the Sierra Leone Parliament.  His Mom, Kumba is a Nurse who manages a hospital in the region.  

“Wedding Day”…the three of us were up at the crack of dawn, literally, to prepare for my Lady’s Day.  We had practiced the night before getting the dress on, playing with the hair.  Now, it was real.  Went well, all things considered…until the zipper in Kristi’s dress tore, totally.  Thank God for the cheap little sewing kits some hotels offer that I threw in a bag at the last minute.  (Later that day at the restaurant on the beach where the immediate family and close friends gathered for lunch, I literally had to cut Kristi out of my good sewing job with a large steak knife. Ah, the memories..)

Back on the road for the two hour ride to City Hall for the intimate Wedding ceremony (2 hours later than planned, in the heat, with little or no air conditioning) performed by a wonderful Women Judge.  (A family member, which in Sierra Leone is confusing.  Everyone seems to be a brother, sister, cousin, so you never know..but this Lovely Lady apparently is a blood relative.)  I loved her ceremony.  I feel like that was one of my only “out of body’” experiences.  My Lady was Married!  And, I now have a Son!  Pictures at a lovely golf course, followed by the afore-mentioned lunch; and two hours back to our beach rounded out “The Day.”

Memories of the next day spent on the beach with Songor’s Mom, Sisters, and Nephew was one I will relish always.  Songor was very busy preparing the Wedding Reception for Katie!  Songor’s Aunt is the Minister of Lands in Sierra Leone and very graciously hosted the Reception at her beach estate.  Under a full moon we celebrated, feasted (more goat!), listened to many speeches (including another by me and Kristi!), and danced.  (Katie & Songor had three changes of costume, the rest of us two due to ashobi’s etc!)  My cup ranneth over…

Our Mohammed and Friends from PIH!

“The day after” we all pretty much crashed on the gorgeous beach and watched with wrenched hearts as Songor bid farewell to his Family.  Getting back to the US during the last blizzard of the winter of 2017 was an adventure in itself.  But we all made it, eventually.  Instead of all coming together to NYC, Kristi and I came via D.C., renting a car for the final leg to NYC.  The Newlyweds got to Arizona via Chicago.

A few short weeks later the four us converged on Boston.  Immediate family met at a charming little restaurant, The Red House in Cambridge where a dear friend of the family, a Superior Court Judge, performed the U.S. Marriage.  This was the first Marriage  Mary had performed!  I am so blessed and grateful.  From there we meandered to a great little jazz club, Beat Brasserie, where friends and family from all stages of Katie’s life came to share their well-wishes.  Katie and Songor danced to their Wedding song again.  How many brides get to wear their wedding dress three times?!  It was perfect.