Monday, June 25, 2012

Welcome to the good life

Kushe-o friends and foes!
I have found myself in Freetown again a little sooner than I had anticipated.  I had to get another X-ray on my wrist today.  It is officially broken, womp womp.
Since I wrote, 45 new volunteers have arrived.  YAY WELCOME!!  I spent a week and half with them helping with training.  The first couple of days were spent doing orientation at the National Stadium.  I even got to weasel my way in to meet the president, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.  After the visit to the president, the Ministry of Education hosted a dinner for the new volunteers and that night ended up being really fun – full of good food and dancing!  We then travelled to Bo where they are going to have their Pre-Service Training.  As we all were, Salone 3 was warmly welcomed by their host families.  The newbee’s were eager to explore the city and try out their Krio.
It was great to be a part of their training.  As I answered their never-ending questions about the Peace Corps and Sierra Leone and told them about my experiences, it was an truly affirmation of why I’m here.  I was invigorated when I was surrounded by these fresh, new perspectives - they were eager to learn everything possible about this wonderful country.  I kept reassuring them that they will learn so much in their own time and they didn’t need to know everything in the first couple of days, but hey, I was the same way!  As I look back on my last year here, I realize that I actually have been accomplishing something.  Although the something might be small and difficult to put into words sometimes, I realized as I was talking to the new volunteers how much knowledge I’ve gained about the world and myself.  Now if I can keep this positive attitude up for the year, I’ll be golden!
After Bo, I headed back to Madina to finish up the third and final term.  My school’s exams ended on Wednesday and I speedily graded my students’ final exams and turned in their final grades before I came to Freetown.  On my final exams, for bonus I had the students draw a picture of me.  Here is a picture from one of my best students in JSS 2.  I think it’s a picture of me teaching at least that’s what I’ve gathered by the drawn blackboard (with actual notes from one of my classes on balancing chemical equations, boo ya!) and the labeled chalk:

It’s been a relaxing and productive weekend in the capital.  I officially turned in two grant proposals that I’ve been working on for the last couple of months.  The one is for a national girls conference that a bunch of my friends and I are planning for December.  The other is a project to refurbish my school’s library.  The second one I need donations from people back home.  When the proposal is approved, I’ll post more details about the project if you’re interested in helping out my school!
I’m headed back to Madina tomorrow morning.  Hopefully my peeps haven’t forgotten about me since I’ve had to travel so much lately.  Then in two weeks I am headed back to Bo for a 4th of July cultural celebration that the Peace Corps is planning.  Hopefully all injuries will be avoided for this next Bo adventure (fingers crossed!).  As far as the rest of the summer break, I’m going to try to take advantage of the free time and visit some of my friends around the country and explore some other parts of Sierra Leone.  There is still sooo much to see.
I hope you all are doing splendidly where ever you find yourself as you read this.
All my love and hey.. even a little more than that. <3
Today I’m going to leave with a quote that my dear friend Dado sent me.  I think I mentioned her before – she’s just full of wisdom, this gal!

Monday, June 4, 2012

To America and Beyond!

Yo yo yo whut up??? DJ RAY IN DA HOUSE!

We have lots and lots to catch up on friends, so let’s dive right in: Way back in April, I had a two week break from school and choose to use it traveling around a bit. My journey started off out East in Kono District, where I met up with eight other boys at a friend’s village. It took me two days of travelling and seven different vehicles, including a taxi car, a poda poda, and a 12-wheeler shipping truck (still trying to figure out how that last one happened). Kono District is considered to be one of the roughest areas in the country. This area was where most of the diamonds were and is close to Liberia, both reasons causing it to be hit pretty badly by the Rebel Army during the civil war. While driving through the district capital, this was evident by the number of destroyed buildings and the conditions of the road. We did some major hiking and had a great time exploring another part of Sierra Leone. I’ll leave some details out just for my mother’s sanity. : ) Here’s a picture from that trip though:

After the expedition through the wild, wild East, we headed to Freetown, where unsurprisingly I ended falling a little ill. When my friend was purifying unfiltered stream water, he might have read the directions incorrectly for the aqua tabs. Apparently after you put the tabs in the water, you’re supposed to wait 30 minutes not 5 minutes. Who would’ve thought?? Anyways, after a little rest in the Peace Corps hostel, I was feeling just well enough to still carry on with my break plans and head to the beach, River No. 2. After taking in the picturesque view of white sand, swaying palm trees, and a background of forested mountains, a couple of us decided to try out one of their overly priced excursions called the “Waterfall Tour.” We hopped in a canoe… well, more so gingerly climbed aboard a canoe and paddled down the river – that is to say, River No. 2. Didn’t really spot any wildlife unfortunately, but eventually we came to a large gathering of rocks and our “tour guide” says, “Here’s the waterfall!” The thing is I’ve seen a couple of waterfalls in my lifetime and this was not a waterfall by any means. Then our “tour guide” explains that water comes over these rocks in the rainy season. There was no drop though, so I’m sure in the rainy season there is a “waterflow”, but now in the dry season we were just staring at a bunch of rocks. Such is advertising in Salone! There was a fresh water stream on the other side of the rocks where we were able to swim around and of course I thought this was the perfect opportunity to take some photos of my male friends modeling (See Facebook pictures if you dare). Despite the manager’s disapproval, we slept 12 people in one room the first night (“But sir, we’re poor, poor Peace Corps teachers. We no get money.”). The second day most people bolted back to Freetown mostly because of financial struggles, but I stayed with two friends and slept in a low-budget tent on the beach. : ) I woke up, took a shower in the ocean, and ate some fresh lobster for lunch. Ah, vacation in Africa.

I headed back to Freetown to meet up with the rest of those goons just in time for a Peace Corps conference. The conference was about life skills – how to teach the youth in our community the skills necessary to lead a healthy, successful life, like decision-making, communication, relationship, and goal-setting skills. We had about 20 volunteers come with a person from their community who they invited. I invited the vice principal of my school to the conference mostly because he reminds of Santa Claus… well, that is to say a black Santa Claus. He’s round and jolly and heck, who wouldn’t want to spend more time with blank Santa Claus. We even lead a session on why it’s important to delay sex. As practice, we gathered all the senior girls at our school and taught them the lesson. They’re constantly being told don’t have sex or use condoms, but they never are taught why it’s important, what are the long term consequences, and what are some of the strategies young people can use to delay sex. Fortunately, they were pretty perceptive to the lesson… that might have also been because they were getting out of the school’s cleaning day. Whatever! It was good they heard it and I enjoyed presenting the information again to my peers and their counterparts. I enjoyed the conference and got a lot of great ideas for my girls club and some other activities I want to do at my school.

The rest of my break was spent in Freetown on the beach, “junking”, and participating in a beach bar crawl. I don’t think I’ve explained junking to you yet. Basically there are vendors on the streets with piles and piles and piles of clothes that come mostly from the USA and European countries. Typically the clothes are rejects from thrift stores and let me tell you, you people are rejecting some great clothes! There’s also a bunch of factory rejects and clothes that were made for various sports teams who lost championships. If you thought Forever 21 is overwhelming, watch out! Junking takes a great deal of patience for shopping, which is something I unfortunately never acquired with my XX genetic make-up. I’ll go junking with some girl friends who inspire me to keep looking through the pile of 50+ shirts on the ground for the right one. All in all, break was filled with both business and pleasure, which in my opinion made it well spent. You know that feeling you get on Sunday night after recovering from your weekend hangover on the couch watching football and eating pizza when you suddenly remember you have to wake up early the next morning and go back to work. Take that feeling and multiply it by a billion and that’s how I feel when I have to go back to Madina after a great break with my Peace Corps friends. Don’t get me wrong, I love my town, but sometimes it’s difficult to switch from American 22 year old having fun with other American 20-something year olds to American role-model/outsider in Sierra Leone. Such is life as a whitey in Africa.

My school was starting the third and final term of the academic year. The first week consisted of final exams leftover from the second term. My school does this in order to get the students to come back to school on time. I tell you those kids are sneaky. Would you believe that all of the 1,000+ students can connive on what day they’re not going to show up to school? Believe it, because I’ve witnessed it. Darn the cell phone revolution across Africa. Anyways, I just had a week of that and then... and then... and then… I WENT TO AMERICA!!!

Now brace yourself for this village girl’s realizations about the States. First of all, did it get colder?? I swear it was never that cold in May in the 21 years I lived in Pennsylvania. Also, why does everyone have an iPhone?? It seems like they are the hot pocket item of 2012. My mother was telling me about all of the various applications and I felt like a 70-year-old immigrant grandmother in the ‘90s as her tech-savvy granddaughter told her about a Personal Computer. I haven’t been gone that long have I? Anyway, the food definitely got better – this I am sure about. My first sign of this observation: my first morning, I was with my parents in a hotel in New Hope, PA and they told me to get ready because we’re going to go get breakfast. I exclaimed, “Woohoo!” They reassured me that it wasn’t anything special, just the hotel’s continental breakfast with cereal, bagels, waffles, etc. Again, I exclaimed, “Woohoo!” A continental breakfast is something that I have reoccurring dreams about in Sierra Leone. Needless-to-say, I was not counting calories and did not care about others’ judgments of my overeating for my week in America.

Why did I venture to America at this particular time, specifically May 5, 2012? Oh yes, it was my dear brother Ryan’s wedding and boy oh boy was it a hoedown!Everything was absolutely perfect from the rehearsal dinner to the ceremony to the church to the reception. The bride and groom also looked pretty great! Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling very well that day. Can you believe that?? I’ve been eating this…

....for the last year and I get sick eating the most delicious food in the world. Such is life! It was wonderful to see family and friends and to witness the auspicious occasion. After that wedding business, I headed to my favorite place in the world – LATROBE! Shortly after arriving home, I was greeted with Dino’s wings and Jioio’s pizza carried by none other than my best girlfriends. The rest of the trip was mostly spent out to eat at restaurants, relaxing at home, and walking around Walmart with my mouth wide open gawking at all the shelves. My entire checked bag was full of food. : ) The trip home was everything I wanted and more. It was refreshing to know that people didn’t forget about me and that I haven’t missed tooooo much – pretty much just propaganda for the presidential hopefuls. I was ready to go back to my current home and get back into my now “normal” life. Oh, but before I leave this America talk, let me say THANK YOU to everyone! So many people told me how they have been keeping up with this blog, which definitely gives me incentive to keep writing and makes me a little nervous that people are actually reading these ramblings. Good to hear though!

Back to Africa for this gal! My friends in my district, Kambia, refer to our little family as “Kambia United” or “KU” for short. Upon my return to Madina I was in luck and ran into a KU party on the way! Obviously, I had to stay for this:

I eventually made in back to my town. My first night back I was sitting outside on my veranda reading when a sudden downpour started to come down. This was the first big rainstorm I’ve seen since uh… November maybe. I looked out and saw all of the neighborhood kids stripping off all of their clothes and running out into the rain. They were chasing each other, jumping in puddles, and making up games. It made me happy to see them happy. On my way back to Madina, I drove by a couple of children riding down a piece of metal down a dirt hill, what I like to call “dirt riding.” I always see kids running around with sticks while they push an old bike tire around. It’s amazing what these kids find to play with. For that day though, all they had was the rain, but the rain was enough… the rain was all they really needed. I understand that there is a higher rate of malnourishment and pediatric health problems that have easy fixes in developed countries. But as I watched those children playing in the rain, I wasn’t thinking about that, I was thinking about how wonderful it is to be a child… when life seems so simple, when your parents have all the answers, and when the first big rainfall of the year comes it’s the greatest day ever. I think people underestimate how much you can learn from children and that day I learned it’s okay to take your clothes off in public and dance around. Okay, sorry sorry I was trying to be serious. Let me rewind, I learned that when you get bogged down with computers, televisions, video games and all the like you forget how exciting the changing of the weather can be and how far your imagination can really take you on a rainy day. Those kids are crazy, but they’re wise without even knowing it.


I stayed in Tonko Limba chiefdom for a couple of weeks and finally visited my closest neighbor, Alex, in Kamasasa (about 13 miles away from Madina). Our tribe is well-known as the elbow benders in Sierra Leone and his small village struck true for that repetition. He was showing me around and most of the people who we greeted invited to share some palm wine with them. Probably wasn’t the best idea to ride home, but I lived despite the heat cramps that followed. I eventually made it through another Peace Corps milestone – I taught my last class of my first academic year! My students even commented on how happy I seemed that day. After I brushed all the white chalk off my body, I headed to Bo for a short training to be a resource (mentor) for the upcoming training for the new volunteers coming to this wonderful African oasis. We, the female volunteers, also had another reason to come together and that was a bachelorette party and our one year anniversary for coming to Salone. Two of the volunteers in Salone-2 (my group) are getting married in Freetown in July, but we had to stay true to some American traditions. It actually happened to be my first bachelorette party and it was a doosey until I fell into a ditch and fractured my wrist and sprained my ankle. Whoops! Now I’m in Freetown recovering and getting ready for the new group to come. On Thursday, I’ll be going to the airport to welcome them and be with them through their first week and a half of training. I hope they like me and all my other personalities!

Alright folks, I got some work to do, so I’ll be leaving you meow. In light of my one year anniversary for my arrival to Sierra Leone, I’m going to leave a quote my dear friend, Janis, sent me: “Don’t let the fear of time it will take to accomplish something stand in your way of doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might as well put the passing time to the best possible use.” – Earl Nightingale