Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hooked on Temne

The last month has certainly had its ups and downs. The biggest challenge I have faced so far has been losing my four-legged companion, Shady Baby. Whether he was serving as my guard dog or my playmate, he brought a unique joy to my life here in Salone. His death was completely sudden. On a Wednesday night he vomited, and then the next morning he was out of it. When I returned from school that day, Shady didn't greet me at the door as usual. As the hours passed that evening, I watched as my puppy's life drained out of him. I've never felt so helpless in my life. There was no one I could call, there was nothing I could give him and there was nowhere we could go. He died after a series of violent seizures in my arms.

While holding my dead dog, an epiphany came over me - these are the realities of living in one of the poorest nations in the world. I cried for Shady. I cried for all the mothers who would be finding themselves in the same situation that night, but instead of an animal they were holding their deceased child. I cried for the comforts of home and the warmth of my family and friends who would've been surrounding me. And finally I cried for the people I share this would world with who have never known what "the comforts of home" truly mean.

It was certainly a sad day and unfortunately the next day wasn't any better. I went to school in an attempt to get my mind off my sorrows. I told my principal what happened who then made an announcement to the whole school. Before first period had even began, the whole town had heard that "the white girl's dog died." The unwanted attention made me more upset, which was quite unusual for everyone because they had never witnessed a person crying over an animal.. until then. I wasn't able to teach, so I went home feeling very much alone and misunderstood. The next couple of days I had to deal with people asking me where Shady was and would start snickering. They knew that he had died, but laughed because I cried. Luckily that has all faded but it definitely was not fun times. On the brightside, it seemed to be an interesting cultural lesson for the people of Madina!

In other news, teaching has proven to be a very slow process. The level of competency of my students as well as their understanding of the English language have proven to be big hurdles in the beginning of my two year teaching career. A lack of resources and effectively discliplining (without flogging which is the most popular/only form of punishment at my school) have also been challenges. As difficult as this job may be sometimes.. er, all the time, it's definitely worth it when I see faces light up in my class when they comprehend what this dramatic, white girl is trying to explain.

I've gotten my hands into a couple other projects/activities. I started tutoring my neighbor who is in the 5th grade and essentially illiterate. He lives with his uncle (one of the other teachers at my school) and his family. His uncle told me that the boy was attending a small village primary school and was not receiving much of an education. He told the boy to move in with him and has been sending him to a better school. The only issue is he far behind his classmates. My friend calls him a "temne-addicted boy" (Temne being his tribe and language he speaks), which means he does not speak English or even Krio well. In our sessions, a lot of patience is required.. and of course well-versed acting skills from actressextreme89. : )

Besides tutoring my neighbor, I have also started holding tutoring/study sessions for the students at my school. The Catholic Missionaries have a perfect space that they permit me to use twice a week. I've also started working on my school library and trying to get it up and running. The library consisted of a building with empty bookshelves and tables. The librarian (another teacher) showed me the boxes and boxes of books just sitting in storage. This past week we started sorting and cleaning all of the books. Although it was very generous for whoever donated the books - many of them are in poor condition or inappropriate/inapplicable for the students. Some examples, "Jobs in an Airport," "Research on Protozoology," and countless "American History" books. Although these kids living in rural Africa would read these books, it would be nice to get books that are more at their level and that they could relate to. I'm currently contacting some organizations to get some donations, so hopefully I'll get a bite.

So that's life in Madina. I was waiting for transport to Freetown this morning in my town and witnessed something very interesting. There was a boy, maybe around 5, wearing only his underwear and covered in a white substance with one adult and a bunch of kids following him banging on plastics. He was crying while leading the crowd through the streets. I asked my friend what was happening and he said they make children do this when they do something "bad." He said this particular child took something from the Central Mosque, but usually this punishment is used for children who urinate in their bed. It is supposed to embarrass them to teach them a lesson. Lord only knows, I would've been walking around the streets of Latrobe more than I was in school when I was younger.. and had bed wetting issues. Ah, TMI...

Anyways, so I'm in Freetown for a couple days which is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the Northern Province. Today I am going to leave you with a quote from one of my best friends. She wrote this in an essay her freshamn year at Penn State (we'll forgive her for that one). I like to read this quote sometimes when I'm feeling homesick. My best friends have been giving me amazing encouragement and support and I'm already looking forward to being united with them in 21 months.

Until next time folks.

"Finally, consider your best friends. Whether you have one close friend or ten, the people you choose to spend your time with shows a lot about who you are. I consider my closest friends to be some of the greatest people I have ever met. We can look at each other and laugh for no reason, and when one of them is upset I feel pain right along with her. Their families are my family, and I love having extra moms, dads, brothers and sisters through my friends. If I've learned anything in the past 18 years, it's that truly good friends are hard to find. When I tell peole that my best friends are members of my family, I really mean it." - Nicole Dado (aka da TOE)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Spiders Bites and Witches... Spider Bites caused by Witches?

Yo America,

Things have been going fairly well in Madina. School started two weeks ago, but the first week was dedicated to cleaning and then we spent the second week getting organized. I have 3 classes in JSS II - each consisting of around 80 students. I also have 2 SSS I classes, but I think I will only have 40-50 students in each. Wait, did I just say "only"? Oh my. It will be good when school really kicks off though.

Speaking of school, I was sitting through a 5-hour staff meeting yesterday when in the middle of the meeting I hear a bunch of commotion outside. One of my fellow teachers looks out the window and says, "We got trouble." Uh.. trouble like a stampede of animals or a gang of zombies? Well, actually maybe what I witnessed was not to far off from either of those ideas. I see a woman being excorted by a crowd of people past the school. I was told that someone has accused her of being a witch and she was being taken to gather all her witch-friends (?). I cannot tell you what the outcome was, but the short experience was quite strange for me.

Shady Baby has been going through some rough times. I knew it was getting time for him to get fixed when he started humping a towel on a regular basis. So I set up the date for the big C-day (Castration-day) with the chiefdom vet. He came over to my house for the procedure. When he arrived, he told me to go gather two boys to hold the little pup down. I ended holding him with a 10-year-old boy, probably very experienced. Shady was given an injection of... something and the whole procedure was done with a bare blade. The whole thing took a couple of minutes and then before I knew it Shady's goods were just lying on my front porch. The vet left and Shady and I were left just looking at them waiting for someone to make the first move to clean them up.

My health has been fairly well. Unfortunately, I joined the "Boil Club" and got an abscess on my armpit. Some warm compresses and intense washing helped with that problem. I also received a spider bite on my eyelid. My eye swelled up, so it looked like I had a nasty black eye (which I was pretty excited about as I'm sure some of you expected).

Since my last post, the only trip I've made has been to Kukuna (9 miles away from Madina) to visit my friend Tammie. It was cool to see her village, see her school, and meet her principal's family, her neighbors, and the local chief. I am also now in Freetown for a short weekend trip. I ate some REAL pizza last night, ah it was amazing. We're going to head to the beach soon, woohoo!

I probably won't be back on until Halloween weekend. I need to find a good costume that's appropriate for Sierra Leoneans. I'm guessing I shouldn't dress up as a witch?

Till next time ladies and gents.

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." -Aesop