The final installment of the Tiwai Trilogy chronicles my first (and last) morning on Tiwai Island, and the miracle from God that allowed us to finally get home.
The decision was made (without me) to leave while the others were either eating breakfast or on their nature walk. I’m not quite sure which. I was asleep. But I woke up and they were all standing around asking me if I was ready to go. I wasn’t, but I quickly packed my stuff before my headache came back and we left the tents. I had woken up with a temperature that was about equal to the total number of goals Lionel Messi will have in two weeks: 39.4 (a couple will bounce off the crossbar, we’ll call those worth 2 goals). I also had a headache that made it feel like someone had punched me in the head, decided that wasn’t enough and smashed a chair over it. On top of that my nose still had its stuffed/runny situation going on, and I continuously had to go to the bathroom, which was challenging.
This led me to get up in the middle of the night, during which it rained the entire time, and try to walk to the bathroom, only to step into a giant river of water.
Eventually, I just stood at the end of the camp site and went to the bathroom. I hope the people I went to Tiwai Island with don’t read this column. Despite all of this, I was really sad to leave. I felt terrible (and still feel terrible) that we had to leave a day early because of me. The staff all waited in line to shake our hands and say goodbye as we left the visitor’s area. They wished us well and told me to feel better soon.
The rain continued and I quickly would wonder if I would have been better off (and healthier) just staying at the camp site. I knew it was going to be one heck of a journey home when the boat made it upstream and across the river, then stalled about 10 meters from the bank.
Just as we were wondering who was going to give me a crash course in swimming, the engine inexplicably blasted back to life.
We walked up the path and waited a few minutes for a group of three motorbikes to get together to drive us to a nearby village where we were to catch a poda poda back to Bo.
Eventually, they picked us up and we went on the bumpy 45-minute ride.
Meanwhile, the rain continued to pour down. I’m not going to write this sentence again. It makes me sad. For the rest of this column, assume that while everything is happening, rain is pouring down.
After the motorbike ride, where we had to stop to fix the chain after it fell off, I was fairly certain I was well on my way to hypothermia. My friend pointed out that my lips and face was purple; matching the color of the University of Washington shirt I was wearing. I thought this was amusing and felt better for about three seconds and then I started shivering again.
I was shaking and trying to warm up when I saw without a doubt, the eeriest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Three children came up to wave at us, with “666” marked on their foreheads.
I don’t think it was permanent, but regardless, the mark of the devil is rarely soothing.
More eager than ever to leave, our wish was finally granted 30 minutes later when a poda poda going to Bo stopped and picked us up. I sat in the front first, but my friends moved me to the back because the open window really didn’t help me warm up.
I think I would have preferred to stay in the front. I ended up by a very sick little girl, which broke my heart. She vomited several times, both on her mother and me.
I knew she wasn’t okay and wanted to do anything I could to help. I held my arm out for her to rest on while my friends gave her mother a cup of water and a roll of toilet tissue for the girl.
The girl never let out a scream, nor did she make any noise. I looked over and saw tears rolling down her face, and wanted to tell the poda poda driver to hurry the heck up so this little girl could get wherever she needed to go.
That, coupled with my own sickness and inability to warm up, meant I spent the better part of the poda poda ride just trying not to cry. I haven’t cried for about nine years but Sunday was pushing it.
I was able to distract myself when I saw the American flag in the front of the vehicle. Silently, I began to sing the United States National Anthem to myself.
It worked. I felt a little better. Or, at least didn’t feel worse.
About 120 National Anthems (and a nap) later we made it to Bo and stood on the side of the road (I’m not going to say how the weather was, but you know) for a good 40 minutes waiting for a taxi.
We talked to a man who said he’d arrange a vehicle for us and thanked him. Forty-five minutes later I wanted to punch him in the face.
I was about to give up all hope of ever returning to Freetown (or ever being healthy again) when my roommate and good friend Dr. Mohamed Alpha Jalloh, or “Maj” as he’s known by around the house, came out of nowhere and called my name, literally answering my prayers.
He was heading home from Bo and saw me on the side of the road. He pulled over, and was ready to give my friends and I a ride back home. I was so happy.
Until the jerk trying to get us a taxi, who we’re just going to call “Mr. Grumpy” from here on, declared Maj had to pay him a fee because apparently he owned the road in Bo.
Maj was not happy. Neither was I. We yelled and argued (Maj yelled, I argued) and ended up at a police station pleading our case against Mr. Grumpy’s fee of Le15, 000.
I’m still not sure who won. I’m inclined to say us, because we didn’t pay anything. The Officer appeared to take Mr. Grumpy’s side, but his breath smelled of alcohol so we were pretty sure we could still dodge the fee. A brilliant plan was developed: Dr. Maj would drive up the road a couple hundred meters and then we’d sneak off and jump in the car and take off. The plan worked flawlessly.
We began walking away from Mr. Grumpy, and even stopped by a cinema to “check” the score of a football game (I know, we could do this for a living). We walked down the road, looking at stands like we were going to buy some food. Then it appeared someone was following us. If nothing else, he was just staring at us. We slowed down and allowed him to pass us. Once he passed the car as well we sped up, jumped in the car and headed home.
Relief spread over me. It was seven at night. We had been on the road (or trying to get on the road) for about six hours, and I was not feeling much better.
However, Dr. Maj had the best mix of music going over the speakers, so I soon calmed down and felt much better. At least, until I heard the Manchester United-Arsenal score.
“That’s terrible,” I thought, “but at least I’m going home.”