I was up and out of the house early this morning even though this is supposed to be one of my two days off in the week, because I knew I had to take care of a boy at school who had cut a gash in his left big toe on a piece of glass. Depending on how well it was healing, I planned either to change the dressing or to take him to the local clinic. I was hoping for the former because I didn't want him to have to make the half-hour walk to the clinic. I also knew that I had to find the oldest student in the school in order to take him to the government clinic in Lumley, the part of Freetown in which I live, because he had come down with a fever of 102 yesterday afternoon and probably had malaria. I couldn't take him to the local clinic, because they will treat children under 14 only. I knew it was going to be a busy day, but I hadn't expected it to be quite so breathless.
When I arrived at school I found that the class 6 teacher, Mr. Suaray, was out with malaria and no one could find the keys to his classroom. The big toe was better, though the gash was still huge, so I changed the dressing while the other teachers searched for the keys. When I had finished and told the boy to come to school tomorrow morning so I could change the dressing again, the keys were still nowhere to be found, so I set off with two class 6 boys, Abdullai and Amadu, to ask a student who had not yet arrived whether Mr. Suaray had given him the keys. And we were off... but then Idrissa in class 5 stopped me and handed me a black plastic bag filled with sweet cookies, bananas, a bottle of apple cider, a card and a plastic rose - my gifts for Valentine's Day. It was such a surprise that any of the children would be giving me gifts, but then the Class 2 teacher, Mrs. Bendu stopped me to give me another card from one of her children! I was overwhelmed. Then we were off in earnest, me lugging the quite heavy bag that Idrissa had so proudly handed over.
Abdullai, it turns out, is a very fast walker. He is a bone-skinny boy, about five-and-a-half feet tall, but his stride forced both me and Amadu to race to keep up with him and winded us both as Abdullai led us through the labyrinth of walls and houses, drainage ditches and proper roads on the way to Bassie's house, where we thought the keys would be. We weren't gone two minutes on the way before we met the first group of late students. We hurried them along only to meet another group just around the corner. We encouraged three more stragglers to hurry up and then met our first student who hadn't even bothered to dress to go to school today - most likely because it was a half day and no lunch would be served!
After about 10 minutes we spotted Alhaji, also in class 6. He was sitting on his front porch looking poorly and was not dressed to go to school. He told us his whole body hurt, he couldn't eat and he had diarrhea. I asked his grandmother whether I might take him to the hospital. She agreed, and I told Alhaji to get dressed and wait for us; we would return to take him to Lumley Government Hospital - it was by that time too late to get to the local clinic in time for their daily registration. Next stop was Bassie's house, but there was Susan in class 5, also not dressed for school, but obviously not sick either, though she vaguely claimed her stomach hurt. After reprimanding her and telling her to hurry up and get dressed, I turned to Bassie, a well-built boy of about 15 with a broad white smile he was not showing off for me this morning. Did he have the keys? No, he had given them to the class 3 teacher, Mrs. Taylor. Why wasn't he going to school? A sheepish smile with no teeth visible was the only answer. "Go to school, Bassie!" I called as I hurried to catch up with Abdullai, who was already on his way to Joseph's house. On the way we passed countless cooking fires with groups of women and small children around them, mostly just relaxing in the thin shade of their house's eaves as the morning heat grew.
Then Abdullai stopped short and said, "Look at Joseph!" There he was, Joseph, the oldest boy in the school sitting on a chair on his front porch, bent over in discomfort. Joseph has the muscles of someone who does hard labor for a living, which he does to supplement his family's income, but he is in school just about every day despite this. He is a handsome, confident young man who holds himself with pride and also has a broad, white smile when he is feeling better than he was today.
I greeted his mother and asked her whether I might take him to Lumley, she agreed, and I told Joseph to dress. He did so quickly, and Abdullai led us back to Alhaji. Amadu was by this time pretty worn out, but he kept up. Alhaji had not been able to change out of his torn and dirty clothes as his clean clothes were at his mother's house near the beach. We didn't have time for him to go get them, so I told him not to worry about his clothes and we headed off. He kept his arms crossed over his chest for the rest of the morning.
Abdullai raced us to the main road, where I dismissed him and the panting Amadu off to school with bananas and cookies from my Valentine's gift. My hair was plastered to my head with sweat at this point, but there was not much I could do about that. Joseph, Alhaji and I headed in the opposite direction to get a taxi to Lumley.
The first driver we asked was willing to take us all the way to the hospital, so we were off quickly, the three of us squeezed into the back seat of a compact sedan with another passenger. Alhaji sank down with his arms crossed over his chest and leaned into me for the entire thirty-minute bumpy ride.
The Outpatient Clinic at Lumley Government Hospital was very quiet and nearly empty, so we were able to register and be seen by the doctor immediately. They were both diagnosed with malaria; Alhaji also had worms. Cost Recovery drugs from the hospital pharmacy meant that I spent only le 8,000, about $2.50 for medication for both boys. We had to stop at another pharmacy for some more medication, but even these retail priced drugs cost only le 44,000 for both boys, about $15.
After going over again with the boys which medicines to take when, (Joseph is really old enough to be responsible about this for both of them) I bought them each 4 oranges and got them into a taxi to go home. I had to head in the opposite direction to downtown to pick up my extended residence permit, and it was only 10:20 a.m.