The Best Day Ever
The other day someone asked me about my experience in Sierra Leone. We started talking about the hard times: the poverty, the wild weather, the sickness and so on...routine things. Then she asked, “Now tell me about your experience there.”
“Hold on, we just talked about it,” I said.
“No, tell me about the other side of the coin. The funny side...”
I began to reflect on some of the beautiful moments of the past year living in Sierra Leone.
I remembered the time when first arrived in Waterloo and a group of almost 100 people awaited us, singing and laughing with super loud music. They were wearing colorful clothes, mostly worn due the roughness of everyday life, but they didn’t care—they were enjoying the moment. I even had a dance competition with a local boy who turned out to be a very good dancer. My old school salsa moves couldn’t compete with his African style. It was like his entire body moved in perfect harmony. Suddenly everybody joined in dancing and then I saw John Heers having a dance off with a man in a wheelchair. That afternoon everything was so genuine and funny. All my fears and doubts about what I was doing in Sierra Leone began to fade.
My mind then turned to the day when I began to understand that making new friends with locals or expats could be a big challenge. Daniel and I were sitting in an old tree trunk somewhere on one of Sierra Leone’s beautiful beaches, having a cheap beer and talking about life. Looking back nothing could have been better than that. That day I understood that I already had a very good friend by my side.
I remembered the evening after a long day of attending to patients in Waterloo. I was super hungry and my shirt was wet with sweat. Before leaving the clinic a group of kids came in, one of them with a mango in his hands. “This is for you!” he said. “We love you because you never shout at us, thanks.” An African kid giving me what was probably one of the most precious things he had that day was a genuine gesture of gratitude. I will always keep that in my heart.
Or how about the afternoon when I decided to go for a run around my community? The sun was shining a gentle but deep orange and the sky was blue with perfect unshaped clouds, like the ones I used to draw from my imagination when I was a kid. In that moment I remembered the joy and excitement for simple things that I used to feel as a kid. I put in my earphones with the song “Dougou Badia” by Amadou & Mariam and I started running towards the sunset. People around stared at me and laughed (I’m not sure if they were laughing at me or with me). Others screamed “docto, eeeh docto”. After the run I realized how strange the situation was—an “apoto” (non black man) running (nobody runs here) and smiling like a madman. Certainly the locals had a funny time, as did I. I felt free and part of my community that day.
I remembered the day when the Orthodox Christian Patriarch of Alexandria came to visit Sierra Leone. The Orthodox Mission was hectic with everybody frantically trying to prepare for him. I was running around helping Mary and searching for some cups in the kitchen I heard somebody call to me—it was him, the Patriarch. Because he is not a competent English speaker and my Greek is worthless, we clumsily conversed in Russian. We discussed family, life, Greece and Guatemala. At the end of the day he invited me to Alexandria (I’m still not sure if he was serious or joking) but I enjoyed the experience of interacting with such a highly acclaimed yet humble man. After lunch we played the guitar and sang together—all of us. Father Themi, Archbishop George, The Patriarch Theodoros II, Mary, Daniel and others sang me “Happy Birthday” and then we had a small jam session with people singing and laughing. Such a great and unpredictable day.
I then reflected on the time when Daniel and I played in the first basketball all-star event in Sierra Leone. Ironically, the locals expected us to play like Michael Jordan simply because we were foreigners. This was misconception that couldn’t have been further from reality, but we enjoyed (or, maybe not) wearing the sweat-drenched jerseys that they lent us. I had to deal with some weird dermatitis for a month after the game but the experience was certainly worth it.
I remembered when I played soccer with the locals for the first time and they were not wearing shoes but their legs moved almost as fast as Messi’s. We were playing in a dusty field with stones marking the goal area and with a very old ball. It was a super simple scenario but for every soul there it was like we were playing the world cup final. I scored a goal and everybody on both teams, the spectators and even some dogs came around me to hug me and congratulate me. That soccer match was more than a game, it was the moment my “team” accepted me as one of their own.
The memories are countless: the time when I left Sierra Leone for the first time after 6 months of being in the country and I felt the appreciation and love from my mission family. We had a small dinner together in the mission house and I could feel the love from everybody around the table.
The time when I fell in love.
A year ago I said goodbye to my old life and stepped head first into Sierra Leone.
Here’s to many more of the best day ever!