The past two weeks have been GREAT in Salone! When life is “great” in Africa, it usually means that the highs have been outweighing the lows. Let me break it down for ya…
One recent high was receiving my first package full of Latrobe Bullentins, peanut butter, and toilet paper. Now I ask you, what more can a girl ask for? (Thanks Ma and Pa!) Another high was having fun food day twice last week. We usually have one day a week at training when we are not served rice and plasas; therefore, those days are appropriately named “fun food days.” We also had a talent show on Friday of that week with all of the trainees and the staff. Some examples of the “talent” that was demonstrated by my peers were “magic” tricks, impressions and someone even made a pterodactyl noise (what a weirdo!).
Summer school also began last week. This experience has been a combination of highs and lows. I actually feel like a teacher, which is great, because that’s kind of why I’m here – uhh I think. I feel most like a teacher when I hear my students calling me “Ms. Rachel” or when I have to kick kids out of the class for mocking my American accent. I was never a teacher in the States, but I’m just going to go out on the limb here and say that teaching in Salone is very different than teaching in America. My classes for summer school are fairly small compared to the standard African classes (I have about 30 students now and will probably have about 70 students in each class in Madina – God Help ME!). I have to speak very slowly as most of my students know English as their third language and also no one can understand my darn Pittsburghuese.
Another issue with teaching in Salone is the structure of the classes. Usually a class consists of the teacher writing notes on the board, the students copying the notes into their notebooks (sidenote: hardly anyone has textbooks, so these notebooks are their textbooks and they go CRAZY about making their “textbooks” perfect – very frustrating as a teacher), the students memorize the notes and then regurgitate random bits of information on their 2 exams on the term. And voila, they get a grade based off those 2 tests. The students are not accustomed to homework, group work, in class activities/games, or actually critical thinking in any way. I guess I was feeling a bit ambitious the first day and thought I could get away with straying away from this system. I split my classes up into groups of two. We were going to be learning about the classification of matter, so I wanted each student to ask their partner three simple questions to demonstrate how we classify different people. After I explained the activity, I got the blank stares of doom that every teacher dreads. It was if I asked the students to explain Quantum Theory and that their final grade for my class depended on their response. Let’s just say I have my work cut out for me when the school year begins. The whole purpose of summer school is to help us figure out what the hell we’re doing, so this kind of experimentation is a little necessary. I already think I am starting to improve even after two weeks – uh, hopefully!
I’m going a little out of order, but let me tell you about this past weekend before I get to the biggest high of them all! We had a girls night on Friday night. We pigged out, gossiped, and the current volunteers even gave us all these traditional tribal waist beads that are suppose to give us dat African booty we’re all working towards. After we had our gal time, we met up with all of the guys at this club. African clubs are the bomb diggity! Yesterday we had a wine and cheese party, so obviously my bowels were going all kinds of crazy! Today I conquered Wusum Hill again, but still had some small little buggers guide me up and carry me done. So it goes…
I’ll briefly describe some of the lows: baby cockroaches invading my bed sheets, 75% of my students trying to cheat on my first exam, and developing a funky skin rash on my arm. The source is still unknown, but I don’t have to get my arm amputated so knowing the source doesn’t really matter. : )
Okay, okay let me try to hold back my excitement as I tell you about the best night in Salone (so far..)! My bumpin’ birthday jam was off the hookizzle!!! So back in the States, I liked to do things BIG – I think that’s a quality I get from Subby. I guess I just wanted to show Sierra Leone what “doing it big” really means for me.
The date was set, the location was identified, and the invitations were extended. My host family did most of the preparations with the help of some of my suggestions. I awoke last Saturday a little earlier than usual (5 AM instead of 5:30 AM) to the sounds of my host mother running around the compound barking out cooking and cleaning chores to everyone. As the day went on and the time was coming closer to the kickoff of the party, I was getting pretty anxious and realizing how big of a deal this was becoming. Also, after seeing the written agenda for the party, I realized these people do not mess around with birthday parties. A circle of chairs and benches were set around a middle table. The table was for me and the two chairmen for the evening’s events – and yes, there were chairmen for my birthday party. Guests started arriving when a truck pulled up with DJs from a local radio show and all of their equipment. The program naturally began with Christian and Muslim prayers, speeches followed, and then there was the offering of the gifts. We enjoyed gin drinks, ginger beer, Salone Star beer, and my favorite, palm wine. We also ate delicious African food prepared by my family – fried rice, acheke, and rice bread. The rest of the evening consisted of dancing with my new Peace Corps friends and my new friends and family of Salone. We played both Sierra Leonean and American music in order to fully appreciate both cultures. I’m pretty sure the whole neighborhood, if not all of Makeni was in attendance. It truly was a wonderful evening in which I will never ever forget!
I opened my gifts the next day and the most popular items were soap, crackers, and these framed happy birthday prayers. Practicality, I like that! I was so touched by the generosity of my new friends and by the effort my family put in to making the day special for me. Many of the Sierra Leoneans I have met go above and beyond to make me feel welcome and included. I often hear “you are not American, you are a Sierra Leonean now.” Granted I usually hear this when I’m wearing the traditional, multi-colored lappa suit and sporting a fresh new plant (braids). People always say, “You be bluffing,” which means you’re trying to look fresh. Another statement I often hear is when people put their arms up against mine and say, “Look there’s no difference!” The thought is very much appreciated, but I know this is an exaggeration. I’ve already been in Africa for 2 months now and have not even developed a slight tan. +17 points for being one of the whitest of the limited white people here!
That’s all I got for you for now folks! Thanks for stopping by!! This time I’m going to leave you with a quote from my favorite stuffed animal – Winnie the Pooh. : )
“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together, there is something you must always remember - you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart I'll always be with you.”
I love and miss all of you crazy Americans!