Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Normalcy of It All

Wali wali!  (A little Limba for ya!)
As the months pass, I find myself struggling to write these blogs.  I didn’t think I was getting lazier and I didn’t think people stopped reading my blog.  After some thought, I realized the problem was that life had become ordinary for me in Sierra Leone.  Although the awe-factor of “Rachel living in Africa” might still exist to many of you over there in the developed world, the life of malara-transmitting mosquito bites, poda-podas, and rooster wake up calls are not just a reality but are all normal to me now.  I struggle to write in this blog or even to talk to my parents on weekly phone calls, because now everything seems (to me) mundane and boring.  Speaking of my chats with my parents, I was telling them this problem a couple of weeks when shortly after we switched topics they asked me if I ever see monkeys.  I told them I see monkeys sometimes, but usually just in the market when people are trying to sell them to me so I can put them in my dinner.  They both started laughing and said that’s exactly the kind of stuff you can write about in your blog because that’s not normal… at least to us!  Long story short, I’ll continue to write, but I think it will be interesting to look at my attitude and reactions towards Sierra Leone when I first started writing compared to now, after being here for a year.  Life is still exciting here, but I’m finally fully comfortable in my home here and like to think of myself as half Sierra Leonean (a.k.a. Yainkain Murray).
Now that I’ve told you about my life being normal here, I can tell you about my life as a bug exterminator.  I think I’ve mentioned before about these repulsive cockroaches that have found their home in my latrine, but because of the rainy season they have multiplied!!  I had to tip-toe around them any time I walked into to go the bathroom.  Cockroaches really aren’t that bad until you’re trying to do business in the office (if you know what I’m saying) and they tickle your behind with their antennas – then they’re bad!  When I was getting way too much tickling in all the wrong places, I knew I had to put an end to it or rather put an end to them.  I bought some insect killer in the market and sprayed down the latrine.  All of sudden in swarms, like something out of a scary movie, the cockroaches came crawling out the latrine ready to destroy whoever was wreaking havoc on their home.  I hurriedly sprayed around the latrine area and shut the door.  Did you know cockroaches can fly?  Well, they can and good thing I was equipped with my newly American purchased fly swatter.  After several minutes of pure massacre, I opened the latrine door to kill off the rest.  Also, did you know that there are albino cockroaches?  Sick creepy crawlies.  I swept up about 50 cockroaches (not counting those that fell to their very stinky death).  What a great way to spend an afternoon!
Now that I’ve talked about some bug/animal, I’m sure you’re wondering about my health grievances.  Oh, you weren’t?  Well, I’m going to share anyways.  I had a little case of a sty a couple of weeks ago, but once that baby came to a head it was a walk in the park.  I had a little rash thingie on my arm, but that cleared up fine!  I took my splint off my wrist after wearing it for a month – had a bit of muscle atrophy, but nothing some wrist pumping can’t cure.  My ankle’s also doing better.  Actually, my ankle is doing so good that I started running again!
This brings me to something I want clarified.  The last time I went running was probably back in September, so about 10 months ago.  How much time has to lapse before you switch from saying “started running again” and “just started running”?  I think a year, which means I’m in the clear to say, “again.”  Alrighty, now that we’re on the same page, I want to illustrate what running is like in Sierra Leone.  I’ve gone running at some of my other friends’ villages, so I have a pretty good idea what it’s like everywhere.  I try to run in modest clothing, i.e. loose t-shirt and shorts that go pass my knees, especially in my town.  Everyone stares because they don’t understand why you would be using that energy to run to nowhere in particular when you could be using that energy to work on a farm.  No matter where you are, Freetown or a small village with the population of 30, people will yell random things at you and expect you to respond.  The latter is a little difficult for me to get a grasp on.  Like I said I just started running AGAIN, I’m a little more concerned about my failing leg muscles and my heavy mouth breathing than trying to respond to whatever this little lady with the saggy tatas is saying to me from her veranda.  Never-the-less, I try to be polite and give the universal five-finger greeting.  Some of the things that people say are pretty hysterical – here are some of the most common:
“Can I help you to exercise?”
“Thank you for jogging.”
“You look fresh.”
“Run faster!”
“How is your body?”
“Where are you going?”
“Can I come with you?”
“Oh white girl, you are so beautiful.”
And one of my favorites, “Come and eat!”

I’m sure I’ll have some interesting running stories as time goes on (and I keep running).  Like I said before, I’ve been visiting some of my friends since its school break and I have some more downtime.  I was in Kambia a few weeks back and my friend there is volunteering in the Government Hospital.  She gave me a short tour and we also had the opportunity to sit in and observe a nurse’s training.  It reminded me a lot of the hospital I worked in in Tanzania and brought back memories of the doctors and nurses I connected with there.

A few days later I headed to Bo for a cultural celebration for the fourth of July.  It was great to see the trainees again and see how much they’ve learned in their first month here.  We enjoyed some All-American cuisine as we were being entertained by local dancers and drummers.  The Sierra Leonean staff played a soccer game against the American trainees. – unfortunately, America lost. : (
I came back to Madina to take a break from travelling and relax.  I got caught up on my rain storm watching and reading!  When I’m in my town, my favorite time of day is in the late evening.  When I was working on the world map painting at my school, at this time the bats would start flying out of the classroom ceilings and I knew it was time to clean up.  Before the map project and presently, I usually take a walk or ride my bike around the town.  I like to do some serious people watching at this time. Families are gathered on their front porches distressing from the day.  Fathers are typically listening to B.B.C. or enjoying a cup of sweet palm wine.  Mothers are cleaning up from what activity they engaged in that day as the children are running around with their neighborhood friends laughing and making up games.  After my evening exercise, I try to take advantage of the last moments of daylight to take a bucket bath.  I then sit on my porch listening to the sounds of the Islamic prayers in the mosque.  My neighbor, Alhassan, usually comes over and we discuss our days.  After some time, I read and fall asleep to crickets chirping.  Sometimes I can hear the drumming and singing of the secret societies in the nearby bush or coming through the town.  Everything seems peaceful in the late evenings.  No matter what happened that day, people in Madina just want to relax before they sleep and start a new day of trading, farming, or however they spend their days.  I think many Americans forget what it’s like to sit in silence with your family or friends.  At the end of the day, it can be extremely calming to surrender yourself to the noises and distractions we are constantly experiencing and reflect on what happened that day and think about what is going to come the following day.
In other news, I am in Freetown now.  Before coming here, I went to Bo to represent the Peace Corps in a national science and mathematics education conference.  It was great to openly discuss some of the problems and brainstorm solutions regarding the education system here with the Ministry of Education people, exam council representatives, university officials, principals, and teachers from around the country.  That was all fine and dandy, but let me clue you in on my journey from Madina to Bo.  I boarded a poda-poda first thing in the morning (around 8 AM) in Madina.  I was the lucky one in the back in the seat that pulls out from the metal bench.  The journey to Kambia took 4 hours… we travelled 25 miles in 4 hours!!  The road is a lot worse due to the heavy rains.  Then we were also stalled because we had to make several stops in various villages along the way to pick up people and cargo.  Sometimes cargo can include live animals, like goats.  The apprentice heaved seven goats on top of the poda-poda and tied them down.  During our journey, I’m sitting there in my small space by the window enjoying some crackers when all of a sudden I feel some wetness on my head.  I look up and there is a flood of fluid coming out of a hole in the ceiling right above my head.  I hear the woman yelling, “Goat piss! Goat piss!”  Since we were (like always) packed like sardines I couldn’t move out of the stream of goat urine.  Just when I think my life can’t get any worse at the moment, what seems like rain starts spraying through the window into my face.  Goat urine all over me……..  This was a definitely an FML moment in Africa.  To make matters worse I didn’t arrive to Bo until 8 PM that night.  Yep, a nice 12 hour journey smelling like goat pee.  Such is life, right??
I also had another FML moment the other day in Freetown.  I was shopping downtown, walking down a very, very crowded street.  I go to take a step off the street onto the sidewalk when all of a sudden my foot and ankle sink into what I can only describe as sludge.  My dear friends, this was not the sidewalk, but a one-foot deep drain that was completely filled and clogged up with all the filth of the street.  Then, my flip-flop got sucked into the vortex of the sludge and I had to reach down… almost elbow deep to remove the shoe.  At this time, all the Sierra Leonean observers are staring and making sounds like, “Ehhhhh.”  Smooth, oh so smooth.
And last but not least, we had a very momentous occasion occur.  Two Peace Corps Volunteers in my group got married last Saturday.  Almost everyone from Salone 1 and 2 were there dressed to impress in Africana-wear.  It was a beautiful ceremony and we all had a great time dancing the night away to the beats of a local Reggae band.

Me, Lansana (my Limba teacher), and Christina (my Limba buddy)
That’s all I have for you meow!
Hope everyone is enjoying summer over there in that ol’ U.S.A.
I’m going to leave you with two messages today.  One I received from a Dove chocolate.  The other is from a classic movie I hope you all recognize.
“Smiling is free.” – Dove Chocolate
Cute girls from the neighborhood!

“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’” – Forrest Gump

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