(I wrote this some time ago, but never posted it.)
The call came in Sunday afternoon, November 27, the call I had been dreading that is. Pa Sanko had been in an accident with the van. I was dreading it because I knew how Pa Sanko drove, like a Sierra Leonean, but more importantly I knew how the others on the road drove. It really was not a question of if but when there would be an accident. This is why we pray so sincerely each time we set out on a journey.
The problem is that the van is our source of transportation, it is how we get people to and from the airport, it is how our mobile clinic team goes out, it is how we get to Freetown. Mr. Fobbie has his car sure, but often both are in use. Plus the van holds a lot of people and a lot of material. It is a true work horse and will make our job much more difficult without it. I had been dreading this day since April.
Sanko had been bringing home a group of women from the yearly women’s retreat at Masiaka. They tell me (I was not invited) that it had been a great weekend, very spiritual, and they were singing and praising as they neared Waterloo. Suddenly an Okada (motorcycle taxi) pulled out from among the traffic waiting to cross the highway. He pulled right into Sanko’s path. Sanko had no time to react or stop, and the van plowed into the moto. The unhelmeted passenger, a woman in her 50’s went flying off the bike. The driver fled, leaving a badly damaged motorbike and an unconscious, bleeding woman on the pavement.A crowd quickly formed around the van and the accident scene. The windshield on the van was smashed as was the radiator. The location of the accident had to be a God thing. It happened a hundred yards from the Emergency Clinic, and the local police station. There is an Italian NGO who has a very nice Emergency hospital in Freetown, and most accident victims are taken there. They have an orthopedic surgeon on staff (the only one in the country), and all care is given for free. They have also established several Emergency clinics, like the one close to the accident scene where accident victims are taken, triaged and first aid rendered, before being taken in their ambulances to the main hospital in Freetown. So the woman was quickly taken to the Emergency clinic where she was found to be unconscious, with an open depressed skull fracture. Fortunately, everyone in the van was fine.
The second serendipity is that the local police station is also located within a hundred yards of the accident. Sanko was immediately taken to the police station and placed in protective custody. At that point it was not clear if the woman would live or die, or how serious her injuries were. Mob justice is alive and very well in West Africa. In Tchad we were taught that if you were in an accident, especially if it appeared someone died, or might die, even if it was not your fault, you do not stop. You drive to the nearest police station. If you stop, the crowd will at best beat you to within an inch of your life, at worst kill you. This is not a joke, it is real. We were driving through a suburb of Freetown and noticed a commotion. Turns out some sap had tried to steal something and had been caught. They were beating the tar out of him, quite literally.
So, although this was a moment I had been dreading, God was way ahead of us. When we had our strategic planning meeting in April, one of the plans was to add a 4 WD vehicle and an ambulance. I, the skeptic, went along with it, thinking maybe in a year or two we would find the money for another vehicle. I really did not believe we had a prayer of getting an ambulance. But then in late September the Loma Linda Auxiliary chose us as one of their projects. That was great, they typically raise enough to give each of their projects $10,000. I was pretty happy. But they typically finish their fund raising by the following spring, and distribute the funds in April or May. Bekki and I had never met these ladies before, so when we were at the Global Health Conference in Loma Linda in October we asked if we could meet them. So it was that Friday afternoon we ditched out of the meetings and had spaghetti and mizithra cheese (not available in SL) with the leadership of the Auxiliary at the Redlands Spaghetti Factory. We got a chance to tell them the story of our little hospital, and they were so touched that they gave us the $10,000 on the spot. Furthermore, they really wanted to money to go for a 4 WD vehicle. They were very specific on that.
I let Fobbie and Koroma know the good news. They wasted no time and found a used Nissan XTerra in great condition, never driven in Africa, imported from Germany. It was 4WD, manual and diesel. An unbelievable combination. And they purchased it literally days before the accident.
We were taking Dr. Gaede, our board chairman, to the airport in the new Nissan and were able to stop by the hospital and police station. It was there that I got a first hand taste of how quickly things can get out of hand. Mr. Fobbie, Mr. Abu and I had walked over to the Emergency Clinic to try and check on the woman, but as we got to the entrance her family showed up, and recognized some of our ladies that had been in the accident. I am not sure what was said that acted as the spark, but suddenly I was in the middle of a major fight. The relatives were pushing and shoving and shouting, others were pushing back. Thank God that within seconds the police were there coming between the groups, getting people separated and kept the fight from escalating. I got out of there as quickly as I could. I kind of stand out if you know what I mean. And white skin is often a flashpoint when tempers are already thin.
Sanko was held for a couple of days, then had to report daily to the police office for a week or so until the police finished their investigation. The driver of the Okada never showed his face again. Neither did the owner of the motorbike. The Okada’s are usually owned by someone other than the driver, and if it was the driver’s fault the owner never comes to claim the bike, figuring he would be required to pay damages for the vehicle as well. I asked why they couldn’t track down the owner through the motorbikes registration. Ask a stupid question…I was told, yes that is possible, but you have to pay the police extra to do it. We have a saying for that TIA (This Is Africa). Eventually the police decided it was not Sanko’s fault and so he is not in trouble. The XTerra is working out great (I even drove it last Sabbath), and there was enough money left over from the Auxiliary donation to get the van fixed.
What about the injured woman? You will have to wait for the next blog.
For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou, and now we are adding videos of Sierra Leone. Watch a real Ebola survivor tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.
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