Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Welcome to the world Rachel Conteh

 Hello All,

Life is good back in my usual stomping grounds!  When I got back from my summer shenanigans, I had to do some major cleaning in my house, which meant I checked for rats and swept away the cobwebs. 

Not sure if I’ve mentioned before, but I got a new neighbor from this batch of Salone 3 Volunteers.  Of course, we had to throw a party for him to welcome him to the best district, Kambia United.  A bunch of friends were able to make it to Madina for the festivities.  We bought a couple gallons of palm wine, because you know it isn’t a party until you do.  Just disregard the bugs floating at the top of the sweet white liquid – they’re extra protein!  We fired up the coal pot and made some burritos and corn on the cob, yummy!  And you really know it isn’t a Peace Corps party until you stay up ‘til three in the morning discussing moral dilemmas and developmental issues.  Also, on the agenda for that evening was to “force” our new friend to get some traditional tribal markings.  (You might be wondering, “Traditional tribal markings, huh?”  Stay tuned.)  I talked to a woman about getting the marks who then talked to a man who talked to another man to arrange the work.

Unfortunately, our man, Unisa, didn’t show… until the next afternoon.  We bought our own razors and Unisa came with the medicine.  He said he had to get the medicine from the bush.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think the medicine was charcoal dust.  (Activated charcoal actually has medicinal purposes, which I learned while reading the “Where There Is No Doctor” book.)  Anyways, our man, Unisa, takes the razor and makes slits in your skin and then jams the medicine into the fresh wounds.  I affectionately call the marks Limba Lines, but they’re not specific to the Limba tribe.  If you get the marks above your waist, they will protect you from dying from something called a witch gun.  If you get them below your waist, they will protect you from dying from a snakebite.  The marks exemplify how traditional beliefs in witchcraft are heavily rooted in Sierra Leonean culture.  Unisa sliced me up on my back and my ankles.  When he was doing the ankles, it legitimately felt like he was carving into my bone.  OUCH!  There’s a nice video of Unisa marking my one ankle and let’s just say I’m not speaking like a true lady so I won’t be showing that to any of you. : )  After I told my parents about my marks, Subby reminded me of my nationality, “Just don’t forget you are an American, not an African.”  But they call me Yainkain, Mom!

After church one day, I headed into town to have a semi-cold pop.  I was sitting there enjoying some pleasant conversation with the one Indian man in town when all of a sudden, I hear a lot of commotion from the center of town.  Guys were zooming around on their motorcycles with megaphones blaring gibberish and horns honking strange melodies.  People decked out in green from head to toe were dancing in the street.  Once I saw the green I knew exactly what was going on.  We are in the heat of the political season as the presidential election is quickly approaching.  One of the main political parties, Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), is associated with the color green.  It was very strange to see a SLPP demonstration in my northern town, which is predominately comprised of All People’s Congress (APC) followers.  I quickly learned that the SLPP flag bearer and president-wanna-be was rolling through town.  It isn’t a true Sierra Leonean extravaganza unless you have a traditional devil make an appearance.  This particular devil was on stilts and I was very nervous one of the men with a megaphone in one hand and a plastic gin packet in the other was going to bump him.  As I was sitting there observing the crowd, people kept on telling to me, “I like your color” or “You support SLPP.”  I was a little confused at first because the dress I was wearing was blue, but then I realized the hand fan I was using was green.  Of course...  I kept on saying, “I’m not a part of your political party, I’m just hot.”  After about ten of these exchanges, I figured it was my time to go home.  Later on in the day, I wanted to go for a run, so I asked my neighbor where the crowd would be and assured me they would be at the Court Barrie.  Well, I ended up running right into the middle of the crowd and stopped to ask one of my students where this SLPP dude was.  She told me he still hadn’t come (this was 6 hours later).  Turns out he never showed up that day; thus, the green people did not go to bed pleased that night.  Nonetheless, it seemed to me that they still had a good time with their megaphones and their dancing devils.

Despite all of this fun, I swear I’ve been working too!  Before the school year began, we had a staff meeting, which turned out to be pretty productive.  The principal assigned everyone their classes.  I told him a couple of weeks ago I want to move up with my classes.  I will be teaching JSS 3 (9th grade) Integrated Science and SSS 2 (11th grade) Biology.  To spice things up this year I’ve added SSS 1 (10th grade) Mathematics.  I will also be the “Form Mistress” a.k.a. the homeroom teacher for one of the SSS 1 classes.  We also discussed the cholera epidemic in Sierra Leone.  My principal decided that the first day of school was going to be devoted to cholera sensitization.   Nothing like talking about some of the runs to start off the school year!  But in all seriousness, it’s a huge problem here in Sierra Leone.  And by huge problem I mean it’s an epidemic that has wreaked havoc in every district and unfortunately hasn’t reached its peak yet.

After my cholera talk on the first day of school, I tried to catch up with my students after our three month separation.  I asked them what they had done over the holiday.  One of my best SSS 2 students said, “I went to Freetown over the holiday, but I had a bad experience there.  I was accused of impregnating a girl.”  Hmm… I had to ask, “Well ___, is it true?”  “Yes.”  Welcome back Ms. Rachel!

Likewise, I learned that the president for my girls club got pregnant over the break and won’t be coming back to school.  On top of that, the secretary failed, so she’s transferring schools.  Just in case you are wondering, my student did not impregnate the girls club president… at least I don’t think so.  I am really disappointed in my students.  Although I know mistakes happen and sometimes the students want to get pregnant, they completely disregard how important their education is.  I think this year I am going to devote some more time to sexual reproductive health.  This pregnancy business has got to stop!
The other day after school I was doing my afternoon chores when I heard several people in the compound laughing.  I go to the back to find a bunch of neighborhood kids surrounding a monkey on a leash.  One of them looks at me and says, “Luk Rachel, i de timap lek mortal man.” (“Look, he stands like a human being.”)  Poor little guy was being tortured.  I tried to feed him some of my spaghetti, but he wouldn’t agree.  I asked the young owner what his name is – Bingo.  Hopefully if Bingo sticks around, we can become buds.

The last weekend I headed to Makeni to celebrate one of my friend’s birthdays.  It was a great time and best of all, no one got thiefed, woohoo!!  Aaand the most recent good news, my namesake, Rachel Conteh, was born last week!!  My old neighbor and tailor gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and with some (small) provocation from me decided to name her Rachel.  We had a small Pul-Na-Do (naming ceremony) a couple of days ago.  The chief and some village elders came to perform the ceremony, which consisted of Islamic prayers, whispering into the babies ears, sharing of bread and kola nuts, and shaving little Rachel’s head.  Later in the evening, I came back to pierce her ears.  Boy oh boy, we got a tough cookie on our hands – she didn’t even cry!  Here are some pictures from that wonderful day:

Thanks for reading as always!  I’m sure this school year will be nothing short of interesting.  Take care meow.

‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson



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