Monday, June 27, 2011

Why is my apoto skin sweating so much, yo?

I was looking back in my journal the other day and came across my last entry from when I was in Tanzania. The last line read, “God willing I will return to Africa someday.” Well, nearly two years later I have found myself in that very situation.

So, I am wondering where I should begin with my story? Most great writers start from the beginning, so I shall follow in their footsteps:

My adventure began in Chicago where I met the 48 (now 47 – miss you Jaci!) other Americans who I would share this once in a lifetime experience with. We boarded the plane as recent college grads and workers from every stretch of the imagination, and we landed in Sierra Leone as “Salone 2 (Sierra Leone in Krio and 2 for being the second group of volunteers since the civil war).” Plane, bus, and ferry rides later we found ourselves in the nation’s capital, Freetown. Driving through the dark streets, there were people everywhere, motorbikes swerving through the masses, and garbage cans filled with open fires… in other words, pure and utter chaos.

The next couple of days were spent in orientation. Unfortunately, we were isolated to the hostel and the adjoining National Football Stadium, so we weren’t able to see much of the city. We were given the opportunity to visit the Vice President, which was a great honor. We were also exposed to our first traditional Salone dish – plasas with rice. The plasas is chopped leaves and peppers cooked in palm oil. Sometimes the dish is prepared with chicken, fish, or beef. The word “beef” is in essence mystery meat and I’m not talking about the high school cafeteria’s meatloaf. Beef could be cow, goat, monkey, bushmeat, or even…cat.

After a few days in Freeton, we headed to Makeni, the third largest city in Salone. As soon as we arrived, we had our adoption ceremony. I Was greeted by my host mama and my host sister who is about my age. After the ceremony, I walked hand in hand with my new family to gather my luggage. I knew I was in Africa when my sister effortlessly heaved my 45 lb. suitcase onto her head and smiled at me like this was normal for me to see.

Our home is modest with no running water and electricity, but comfortable nonetheless. There is a large veranda where the family spends most of their day. In Sierra Leone, it is common to live with many members of your extended family and my home situation struck true to this tradition. There are several rooms in the house, but only myself and the grandmother get our own rooms. The kitchen is a shed-like area, where meals are made over open fire pits.

I have an outdoor latrine, which has served as a major obstacle in my adjustment. The problem is that no one uses toilet paper here – seriously hardly anyone! For number 2 situations, a technique called “kettling” is utilized where there is a pot of water and uh… well, I still haven’t quite figured it out yet. I managed to find some toilet paper in the market and splurged until I master these kettling ways. Another issue with the latrine is the family of 2 inch long cockroaches that have inhabited it. We’ve been amicable thus far, but I refuse to let my guard down.

My latrine is adjacent to my bathing area, where yes I take bucket baths. Water can be found in the water well in our backyard. Walking to my latrine/bathing area has served as an interesting part of my day. Here’s the thing, in Sierra Leone, greetings are HUGE! So as I walk the couple yards to my latrine in the morning I hear “Anchurno (my African name) aw yu slip? Aw di bodi? Aw di monin?” at least 6 times. Also, when walking the streets of Makeni, all I can hear is “apoto! Apoto!” coming from swarms of children that try to follow and touch me and from men and women from their porches trying to get me to come and talk to them. “Apoto” means white person, which usually is a term used more for curiosity and excitement than something to be offended of.

I have come to realize that I am my neighborhood’s evening entertainment. Heck, on my first night with my family, they put me in a chair in front of the porch and before I knew it there were about 30 pairs of eyes gather around me checking out the new apoto. Everyone laughs at everything I do from fetching water to brooking (laundry by hand) to cooking to attempting Krio and Temne (the local language here).

My family and neighbors also laugh when I sing and dance. I reassured them that everyone in America dances like this and that I am actually the best dancer from my country. No one spoil the truth! I taught the children two songs, “Do you believe in Magic?” (which probably isn’t culturally appropriate since most people believe in witchcraft… more about that later) and “Jingle Bells.” I have also played some interesting games with the children like “Catch the Apoto” and “Hit the Apoto with the Makeshift Ball.”

Besides the ridiculous amount of children.. everywhere, there also a great deal of animals (cats, chickens, and the occasional African dog) that roam in and out of my home. There really aren’t pets here, but rather dinner or animals that just hang around. My family laughs when I try to pet the cats. They asked me to name one, so naturally I named her “Latrobe” and told my family that is the name of my village in America.

My family Muslim, but it was no problem when I told them I am a Christian. Religion is also very big here – they don’t believe that there are atheists. Asking about my religion was the second question my family asked me. Luckily, there is an overwhelming religious tolerance here.

I’ve been to the market quite a few times. The way I like to describe the market is New York City during rush hour where there are no traffic laws and the cars are actually bodies. There’s also a variety of odors and usually gets really dusty so it’s hard to see. Basically, I look like a chicken with it’s head cutoff.. oh, headless chicken – that’s aisle 5. I have been having trouble eating the food mostly due to the spiciness, the unknown meats, and the fact that locals eat it everyday for every meal. In spite of this, a couple of weeks ago I walked very, very far for a small pack of oreos. And guess what, I don’t even like oreos that much in America – ha! So it goes in Africa.

Training has been going fairly well. Our days are filled from 8 am – 5 pm with language classes, cross-cultural training, and learning on how to teach exactly in Salone. I taught my first lesson in a JSS (middle school) Muslim school. It was basically practice for us, so I taught the little kiddies the Organization of Life (going from cells to organisms). They seemed pretty responsive to my lesson, and yes I made up a catchy jingle to help them remember the order (but unfortunately ran out of time!). It got me really excited to teach and I’m glad summer school is quickly approaching. I’ll write more later about the differences between schools here and in America, but that will probably be its own blog.

I’m running out of time on the computer, so I’ll just make a list of some other fun things I’ve been doing/experiencing:
1. Playing basketball = whites vs. blacks. We won!
2. going to church with my friend = I have no rhythm
3. walking up a nearby mountain = turned into rock climbing basically = had 6 children essentially carrying me down
4. my aunt gave a “money witch” 50,000 leons because she said she could turn it into 50,000,000 leons… we never saw the witch again
5. 10,000 leons = highest form of currency = $2.50
6. learned a lot about the cause of the war and the major events, but haven’t talked about people’s personal experiences yet
7. fat = fine
8. eeeee boooo = sorry (in Krio – it’s really fun to say, try it.. now!)
9. around 900 of the 10,000 roads are actually paved here = the roads the dare devils of Western Pennsylvania wouldn’t even “off road” their quads on

Okay, so I know there’s a bunch of typos and parts that don’t make that much sense, but I’m out of time!

Here’s my first parting quote from Salone:

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” – I think this sufficiently defines why I am sitting in the middle of the Sub-Saharan Africa… and I’ve come to terms that I am crazy for signing up for this.

Miss and love you soooooo much! : )