Monday, February 6, 2012

Please remain seated at all times and keep all arms hands, legs, and chickens inside the car at all time.

Hello friends!

It’s been too long… far too long, wouldn’t you say?
Firstly, I want to wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope 2012 brings you and your loved ones bundles and bundles of joy.

Now let me take a step back to 2011 and update you on what I’ve been up to. I think the last time we left off it was around Thanksgiving, right? Well, after that delicious weekend, I headed back to da village for some wrap-up teaching in Term 1. When I arrived home, I was not too pleased to find eight baby rats in my water well. That’s a welcome home gift I hope to never, ever experience again in my life. After the baby rat situation was resolved, I wrote my exams and before I knew it I was on the dusty road again. (Side note: I’m not kidding about the dust! It’s Harmatan season now, which means the winds from the Sahara Dessert are blowing through my neck of the woods and stirring up all of the dust. After one trip down a dirt road, it looks as if you were being dragged behind the car and not actually riding safely inside.)

I headed to Bo, the second biggest city in Salone and the capital of the Southern Province, with my colleagues for a Peace Corps In-Service Training (or IST because it’s the government and you have to have an acronym for everything (ET)). I spent about a week and a half in Bo catching up with other volunteers, brushing up on my Krio, learning new ideas to enhance my Peace Corps experience, and trying to (stillllll) figure out how to effectively teach in this country. The last two days of the workshop were spent with someone we invited from our school to talk about some serious issues that nearly all of us are facing in the Sierra Leonean education system. I invited my vice principal, who was very excited to join me. We were able to openly discuss some problems at my school and figure out possible solutions.

One thing that I really want to tackle in my school is how discipline is handled. After the training, I met with my principal and vice principal and convinced them to start assigning detentions to students(a small victory!). Teenage pregnancy and girls dropping out of school is also a big problem at my school, so we also decided that I am going to start a girls club. It will be an opportunity for me to interact with the school girls on a more personal level. The main aims of the club will be to enhance academic performance, to raise awareness about health concerns (in particular reproductive health), and to build confidence. I think for the last aim I might try to push for us to work towards performing a play. What better way to practice English, to build confidence… and to get our DRAMA on!! Ah, I’m getting off topic, so needless-to-say, the workshop and its aftermath have proven to be a success.

Also, while I was in Bo, I had the opportunity to travel to Moyamba (about 2 ½ hours west of Bo) to witness a girls conference that the volunteers from last year (otherwise known as Salone 1) organized. It was a two day conference in which volunteers brought girls from their schools and came together to empower the young woman and build leadership skills. They did a great job and our group is hoping to follow in their footsteps and continue with the conference this summer.

After Bo, my original plan was to head back to Madina, but with some (very small) persuasion from my friends I was convinced to go to this little slice of heaven called Banana Island. To get to the island we had to hop on a small boat that could just barely fit the 15 people and our over-sized luggage. The ride was about 40 minutes and thankfully we made it safely. We reached the guesthouse to find that we had the whole place to ourselves. Fresh fish for dinner, a private beach, and a loft to gaze up at every star that God created – now that’s a vacation. On the second day, about six of us girls went for a “nature walk.” Yeah, yeah you can say you saw this coming, but yes, we got lost. We didn’t see a single person for the 5+ hours that we were walking. Eventually we ran into some of the boys that went on a “nature run” and who apparently have a much better sense of direction than us.

Again, after the Island, my original plan was to go back to Madina for Christmas, but with some (very small) persuasion I was convinced to head to Freetown. Oh, peer pressure – you do me wrong, you do me right. I’m glad I went though, because it was nice to be able to talk to people back home. We also made a huge feast and played Pollyanna. I got a nice necklace that I will bluff around with (bluff = strutting your stuff).
Finalllllly (with no persuasion), I went back to Madina, but before I knew it I had to pick up and head out again to pick JJ up at the airport! My first visitor had arrived and I was pumped to show someone from America my new home. I decided that we would stay in budget accommodations, so that we could spend more money on good food. : ) But lesson learned, budget accommodations in a developing country aren’t allllways the best idea. Let me elaborate, budget accommodations in a developing country could mean: no running water, shaky electricity, no mosquito net, a murder scene bathroom, a bed in which you can feel every base board in your back, and a strange man walking around in his underwear all day. Like I said, lesson learned! It was an experience nonetheless. I was so happy to have a visitor, so I could finally do some of the more touristy things in this country. Yes, there are touristy things in Sierra Leone, they might be few and far between, but they’re here! We went to the national museum, the special courts, the Peace Corps compound, and the chimpanzee sanctuary. We walked around all of the different areas in Freetown and ate some delicious food. JJ and I also had a night of debauchery on New Year’s Eve with the other volunteers. We ended up spending boatloads of money on food, drinks, and club covers, which is saying a lot for two big cheap-o’s in a third world country.

After Freetown, we headed to Madina. Now this is the part where JJ REALLY got to experience Sierra Leone. We boarded a vehicle in the capital – the two of us sharing a front seat with our luggage and got dropped off in Kambia. I jumped at the first vehicle heading to Madina… well, I’m not sure you can even define it as a vehicle. It was a poda-poda and let me tell you this poda-poda has seen better days… back in the 1970s. Since it was JJ’s first poda-poda ride to Madina I thought it was only proper that he get the steel bench between Africans in the back and I get the cushy front seat. Hey, he was the one who wanted an adventure! Unfortunately, the door he was sitting by was hanging by a twine of rope and he could feel the dirt and rocks by his feet as the “vehicle” trafficked through pothole after pothole. In the 25 mile distance, the “vehicle” broke down roughly ten times.

One of the many, many breakdowns – Now this is big pimpin’ riding in Salone.

What is normally a 2 hour drive turned into about a four hour journey. There came a point where I thought we were going to have to sleep at a random village or go on foot to Madina through the bush. By the grace of someone up there, we made it.

JJ was able to see my school, my town, and my house. He met my friends, students, neighbors, principal, and co-workers. Everyone received him with warm welcomes. After a couple of days in the village, we needed a break. On the way out of Madina, transportation again served as both a source of frustration and entertainment… well, it’s funny now looking back on the situation. It was a basic Nissan car and I was squeezed in the front with one man, one woman, and the driver. Lucky for me, I got the pleasure of sitting on the stick shift! JJ was crammed in the back with three not so small people. In the middle of the bush, we stop the car for some reason unbeknownst to JJ and me. I assumed there was an issue with the car. We step out of the car to watch three grown men chasing a chicken down the road. Let me tell you folks, I have had some interesting experiences with transportation in Salone, but never have we stopped the vehicle to catch an animal on the loose. Fifteen minutes later the chicken was retrieved, praise Allah!, and the journey continued. We reached Kambia and JJ got to enjoy some chicken and chips at Kambia Africana Village – something I look forward to about once a month. We then headed to a beach, River No. 2, for the weekend. Another slice of heaven – who would have thought there would be two slices of heaven in the same country, dang! Here’s a picture for proof:

River No. 2 = Pure Bliss

After a few days at this place (and losing half my toenail after hitting a rock in the water), we were feeling refreshed and ready to head back to Madina. Unfortunately, classes still hadn’t begun, so JJ was not able to watch me teach or give a guest lecture. On the last day he was here, we decided to make a big piñata for the little cuties in my neighborhood. Days before we decided to pass out glow in the dark lights and man oh man, I could’ve sworn a second civil war was going to break out over these lights. Not only the kids but the mothers were swarming us, pushing us over, and reaching into our pockets to retrieve these lighted treasures. Another lesson learned! We set up the piñata in the middle of my semi-private compound and I only invited the “good” kids in the neighborhood. It was a real treat to teach the children how to play and see them get excited over the falling sweets.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and the following day I set JJ off on a motorbike and prayed that he would eventually reach America (which he did after 3 days of delays/traveling). I’m getting better at predicating my mood fluctuations in this environment, so I knew I was going to be feeling sad and lonely after JJ left. What’s the best solution for a case of the blues? Well, a new puppy of course. I hopped on over to a counselor’s house and picked me up a one month old mutt. Now knowing that musicians’ names are bad luck, I decided to play it safe and go with a fictional boxer’s name, Rocky. He’s really adorable and being a mother (again) filled the small puppy void in my heart.

The fiercest dog in town, Rocky

Also, the day JJ left classes started for second term. In Sierra Leone, Term 2 is also known as “sports term,” because classes are put a halt in the middle of the term for track events and soccer games to take place. The whole school splits up into four different houses and I am officially the house mistress for the blue house. We didn’t have classes for a whole day, so we could hold a parent teacher association meeting. A good chunk of the meeting was spent talking about how one of the boys in the boarding home pooped in the kitchen and what we should do about this. Oh, life. Classes were also stopped for head boy (school president) campaigns, speeches (or as they call them “manifestos”), and elections. We also had to stop class to talk about the elections the next day. Luckily, amongst all of this, I managed to squeeze in a couple Integrated Science and Biology lessons. We are now having our mid-term examinations and then these highly discussed sports will be taking place next week.
I’m managing to still keep busy despite these school interruptions. I’ve made a personal goal to try to visit all of the villages in my chiefdom, Tonko Limba. Last week I went to Kafutorie, a village of about 30 houses two miles away from Madina. I was welcomed by a SSSIII student and a friend from church, Sorie, and his family. He gave me a tour of the village, which took 45 seconds to walk down the street. When I arrived at his house, there were a couple of certificates he earned over the years conveniently laying on the porch by my designated seat. After a few hours of listening to music and eating bananas, it was time for me to take my leave. As I was leaving, my friend said (or rather what I heard him say), “I have fallen for you.” To my surprise, I didn’t know how to address this proposition, so awkwardly I just said, “Uh.. what?” Then Sorie says “I have a cock for you.” Instantly, I was thinking I need to nix this personal goal if that’s what these villagers have in mind for my visit. After some cleaner thoughts and muddling through his accent, I realize he had said, “I have a fawn for you.” Thankfully, he was talking about a chicken and not the other kind of... well, you know. You would not believe how many times a day things get lost in translation – I really need to work on my Krio/Sierra Leonean accent. After I pieced together what Sorie was telling me and saying my goodbyes to every man in the village who all happened to be his uncle, we tied up the chicken’s legs, flopped it right on the handle bars of my bike, and off I went back to my home. I’m sure you’ll be wondering how the rest of my village visits go, so I’ll keep you posted.

Whoa, I think it’s safe to say that this is my longest blog post to date. I just had so much to tell you I couldn’t help myself! As the days carry on, I find myself becoming more and more used to Salone and thinking of America as a “foreign place.” It’s really intriguing how humans can adapt and adjust to new environments despite some despairing conditions. It’s hard to believe I’ll be in that “foreign place” in 3 months for Ryan’s weddings. However, I don’t think I’ll be in Freetown for a while, so I hope y’all don’t forget about Hurricane Veronica plugging along in this small corner of the world. Letters are very, very, very, very, very much appreciated! I heard they cost less than a buck to send a little love in an envelope over my way. I love to hear about what everyone is doing (whether or not you think what you are doing is boring, because eating Jioio’s pizza on a Saturday afternoon sounds really darn exciting to me). I also like to hear about movies, music, sports, (sometimes) a little bit of politics, and pretty much anything that has to do with America the Great.

In lieu of my writing, I have a super long ending quote to go with this super long post.

Stay true to yourselves cats and dogs! I’m out.

“A man goes out to the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water. ‘What are doing, son?’ the man asks. ‘You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.’ The boy paused thoughtfully and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. ‘It sure made a difference to that one.’ He said.” – Haiwaiian parable

Gloria, one of my students in SSS1, and myself in my new shiny lappa suit