On Saturday I received a call from Claire's husband Miguel.
(See post from 10/24/2014)
Miguel had spoken briefly to Claire, just long enough to get a few snipets of information, mainly that she had arrived safely in Kono District from Port Loko.
As it turned out the trip took only 6 hours, not the potential 11 hours, but it was a hard 6 hours all the same as the roads were so rough and rutted that Claire and her travel mates -3 others came with her from Port Loko - spent most of the trip being thrown about and against each other in the truck in spite of seat belts.
When the team finally arrived they were shown to their quarters at the Diamond Hotel - aptly named, as Kono is the location of Sierra Leone's diamond mines.
Claire learned that the Diamond Hotel is owned by Russians and that Paul Farmer has rented out the whole hotel to house Partners In Health medical workers. She told Miguel that it's a beautiful hotel - there was hot water and electricity when she arrived but unfortunately no internet - and that she thought that this location may be her permanent assignment while she's in Sierra Leone.
And that was all Miguel could tell me.
I tried doing a bit of internet detective work to see if I could put together a little more information about where Claire might be and what might be going on there.
I started by googling "Diamond Hotel in Kono, Sierra Leone." I found nothing at first - the hotel apparently has no web page - but after scrolling around a bit I came across a publication put out by the State House Communications Unit of The Republic of Sierra Leone on November 25, 2014 entitled, "Enforce the Bye-laws to Eradicate Ebola, President Koroma urges Kono Chiefs".
Within the article was the following text and photo:
"The issue of the role of paramount chiefs and religious leaders in the fight against Ebola was once more the focus of the town hall meeting held by President Ernest Bai Koroma with Kono stakeholders at the Diamond Hotel auditorium, Yengema, in the eastern diamond rich district of Kono".
1. This must be a photo of the auditorium of the Diamond Hotel where Claire is staying. Unless the Diamond is a chain of Russian-owned hotels in the Kono district, which would blow my whole deduction, but assuming there's only one Diamond Hotel and it's located in Yengema, then
2. Claire must be in Yengema.
I tried to locate Yengema on a map but couldn't find it marked anywhere. In fact all I could find out about Yengema was this from Wikipedia:
"Yengema is a diamond mining town in Kono District in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, lying approximately 30 miles from Koidu Town (the largest city in Kono District), and about 260 miles east of Freetown. The major industry in and around Yengema is diamond mining. The town is home to Yengema Airport, the main airport serving Kono District. The population of Yengema was 3,621 in the 2004 census and a 2012 estimate is of 13,358 people.The population of Yengema is largely Muslim."
I also learned after some internet research that Kono District appears to be the up-and-coming Ebola hotspot, but that it's been hard to assess because there are no Ebola treatment units in the district yet, only local clinics to treat the sick. But the numbers of sick and dying in Kono have been on the rise.
And so I expected that's why Claire's team has been sent there.
As it turned out the opportunity popped up yesterday, Sunday, morning for Claire and I to Skype again.
It was afternoon for her, as Sierra Leone is 5 hours ahead of us, and several staff members including Claire had traveled during their work break from their clinic to a another nearby clinic where it was rumored that there was internet.
The rumor turned out to be true, and so Claire and Tom and I were able to skype, though without any video, as the video would eat up too much charge on Claire's iphone, which she wouldn't be able to re-charge until after work when the electricity came on in her hotel that evening.
I asked her if she was, in fact, now in the town of Yengema.
Claire didn't know exactly where she was. All she knew was that she was about half an hour outside the city of Koidu (which reminded her of a much smaller version of the city of Leon, Nicaragua), in what she described as "the outback of West Africa". Her hotel is close to the diamond mines and she's seen the workers entering the mines with their picks.
A Kono diamond mine, theguardian.com images.
Anyway, Claire's hotel is, in fact, the same Diamond Hotel mentioned in the above article. She described it as a "palace" used by the "diamond heads", as she called the diamond magnates, when they came to visit the mines. She has a beautiful private room with a huge bed and for about 12 hours a day there's running water, electricity, and air-conditioning, but no internet.
Claire will be working as a clinical mentor in a community care center staffed by local nurses. Her job, among other duties, will be to help the nurses learn how to effectively triage suspect Ebola cases, treat them if they in fact have Ebola or send them elsewhere if they don't. She'll also try to determine what their educational needs are and what they would like to learn. Claire says everyone is so nice, the Sierra Leonean nurses are lovely and enthusiatic and call each other "Sister". And so Claire is "Sister Claire."
There is heavy security everywhere, soldiers armed with rifles and pistol-shaped forehead-scanner thermometers which they don't hesitate to use (the thermometers, not the rifles).
And so Claire says she feels safe and in good hands and all has been well with the exception of one harrowing experience the night she arrived in Kono.
She was getting ready to go to bed and decided to open the window as the air conditioner was on down time.
As soon as she opened the window a small winged worm-creature flew into her room, headed straight for her bed and zipped under her bed sheet as if that were his planned destination.
Claire calmly procured a glass from the bathroom, carefully pulled back her bed sheet, deftly trapped the worm in the glass, escorted him to the window, gently dispatched him out the window, then slammed the window shut, ran to her bed and whipped the mosquito netting over her bed like a house afire.
As Indiana Jones would say, "Why'd it have to be flying worms?"