Sailing to Sierra Leone
The private sailboat experience attracts a lot of people who do well by doing good. Meet Karen and Tom Asher, surgeons who do missionary work in Sierra Leone six months of every year. They are avid sailors who enjoyed a relaxing cruise near Williamsburg while on vacation.
I asked Karen, “Did you get Ebola?” “No, or I would have died!” she said.
“Don’t worry, we’re free of Ebola. Actually 80 percent die, but there are other viruses that kill 40 percent of those who get it and you don’t hear about that. Every clinic and hospital has someone out front who checks people’s temperatures as they arrive. If it’s too high, they’re redirected to the Ebola hospital for treatment. Ten people a day still contract Ebola, but that’s down from hundreds a day. Many of the Ebola hospitals are now closed because they have it under control. Doctors Without Borders got it right.
“Hepatitis is a big killer, but HIV is no worse there than here. Malaria is a much bigger killer, one out of every five people in Africa. That’s thanks to the U.S. for banning DDT, which kills mosquitoes. Other countries followed suit.”
Karen specializes in delivering babies by C section, and Tom does bowel blockages and reconstruction as well as C sections. They also double as advisors for 12 hospitals and 37 clinics throughout Sierra Leone. A 13th hospital is about to open.
“We get medical students in rotation, and they do well. They soon discover that unlike in the U.S. they can’t order every test they’d like in order to cover themselves. But there are no lawyers out there second-guessing us, so we’re not worried about that.”
I asked what Karen misses most overseas. “Salad,” she replied without missing a beat. “They have no vegetables to speak of, just some cucumbers and bitter tomatoes. They don’t have the means to raise vegetables. We learned not to ask what kind of meat they’re serving when they host us for dinner. Tom did that once and it turned out to be a type of muskrat. We keep cats at home to go after the rats. When we fly back stateside, the first thing we do is go to a restaurant for salad and meat. And we don’t even like meat.”
They don’t eat much chicken over there. “The chickens are pretty scrawny. They eat it all, chewing the bones for protein since there’s no milk.”
They played down the hardship by saying they work in an Operating Room and live in decent quarters. “I have to have a bed and I have to drink cold water,” Karen said. “I can’t drink water that’s 95 degrees. Really, we are fine. Doctors Without Borders are the one working in the bush.”
Tom talked wistfully about buying a sailboat, as they have a home in St. Petersburg. They’ll be returning to Africa in September and are taking some canned goods with them. For more, check out their West African Education and Medical Mission Inc. at www.waemm.com.