Food shopping for the week is always done on Monday in Koidu and I offered to go this week with the driver. It is a seemingly simple task that ends up taking most of the day. It is not uncommon to encounter an officer on the 40 minute drive to the town. The police system is unfortunately a bit corrupt and they set up checkpoints, which consist of a rope or vine strung across the road to stop vehicles, and ask for compensation. What I’ve learned from Alastair, since people in Sierra Leone love to talk, is to simply talk your way out of anything. People love to hear “maybe” or “next time” and never a harsh “no.” This was the first time that I didn’t have Al or Mic, the other British gentlemen, to do the talking for me. I was on my own and a little nervous when three or four people came to my window demanding tax. They apparently accepted my explanations because they let us pass without giving them anything. Koidu was even more nerve-wracking without the buffer of another experienced person handling all the palaver and haggling. Moreover, everything takes an inordinate amount of time. Even something simple like finding a couple of screws took me going to four or five stands and sorting through their boxes of junk, all the while being stared at or stopped and asked for something. Like anything, operating within such an unfamiliar culture takes getting used to and a supreme amount of patience. It was a small success for me to tackle an intimidating place like Koidu on my own. I hope to gain more confidence from taking on tasks by myself.
Back at camp, the walls of the office and bedrooms are infested with termites. First to be torn down is the office, while we’re still working in it, and the walls are to be replaced with bricks. I thought that I was handling my squeamish side well, watching as huge combs of termites in the walls were uncovered, but then Alastair called to me saying they had found the queen. In my mind, the queen would look like a very large ant. Instead, it looked like something straight out of the movie Alien and was as long as my hand. I won’t put up the pictures that Alastair eagerly took, for fear of making people ill. Stranger still, the workers were very excited about the find and planned to the sell the queen to the local witch doctor. All I heard was something about rubbing it on one’s body to make one strong for a battle and pregnant women eating it before I walked away.