Saturday, November 23, 2013

A de kam Swit Salone...

In case you haven’t gotten the memo or noticed my increased activity on Facebook, I’m home!!!... for about four months now.  I wanted to write a blog before I left, but leaving was so emotional and intense that this little self-appointed task got pushed to the back burner.  I also kept writing on my many “to-do” lists to write a little something about adjusting back to American life and being an official Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV).  I felt an inspired to finally check this item off my list after attending a meeting of RPCVs in Southern Arizona tonight.  Here goes nothing:

I have never felt so divided as I did when I left Sierra Leone.  I will never forget the blur of a day when I left Madina – the crying, the hugging, the confusion (mostly all coming from me).  There had been a lot of anticipation built up for this day and as per usual, I had tried to strategically plan out every goodbye.  The evening before my departure I walked all around the town to say goodbye to some of my favorite teachers, students and friends.  I can’t express the guilt I felt as I told them my time in Salone had ended.  Here I was essentially living the way my friends do for two years, but it was all pretend because I had a deadline and opportunities waiting for me on the other side of the Atlantic.  There was a pretty accurate phrase in Krio that summed up some of my emotions that I kept on repeating to people; “a de fel am,” which meant I’m feeling the loss, but didn’t know how to fully express in Krio what I had gained.  I wrote people’s phone numbers and thanked them for everything they had given.  My Salone friends had told me stories of Peace Corps Volunteers before the war who they had never seen or heard from again.  I was determined not to let that happen (although now I realize how hard that is).

One of my last memories leaving Madina was my good friend, Fatmata, walking me to the vehicle, holding my hand, and waiting until right before I left to give me money to cover my travelling costs.  It was SO Sierra Leonean of her and I can’t tell you how much that little gesture has stuck with me and how much it made me feel a part of the world I was now leaving.  I spent the night at my boyfriend’s house in the district capital.  His family was gracious enough to take my demon-possessed (but loving) dog, Lucky.  I saved the two hardest goodbyes for last, but they were challenging for different reasons.  Lucky was a dog and I don’t hold her to a higher standard than people, but I knew she would not survive long without me, for several reasons.  I felt terrible abandoning this creature that I cared about and one who had become, selfishly on my part, dependent upon my presence.  (Sidenote: To my surprise, Lucky is still alive and kicking.  Apparently, she calmed down after I left.)  Saying good-bye to Momoh was the hardest goodbye of all and one I am still struggling with.

Those two days were difficult and I felt lonely as I travelled from my town to the capital, where I would be departing from.  I had left my peeps wearing this amazing pant suit that Fatmata had made me as a departing gift.  As I was waiting for the taxi at the infamous Congo Cross junction to go to the Peace Corps compound, I heard some chuckling from behind and my good padi, Chels (a.k.a. Relsea) yelling, “Yainkain, what the heck are you wearing?”  I couldn’t tell you how much of relief it was to see my friends and be reminded that these guys were going through similar situations.  Our last few days in Sierra Leone were filled with paperwork and, for some, making final plans for their trips.  We went out on the town for a little, but the energy and enthusiasm we had once had grooving to Salone’s finest beats were lacking when our minds were preoccupied with how we were going to juggle these two worlds.

As I expected, that division did not cease after I landed in America – if anything the feeling of separation deepened.  I was so happy to see my family and see their feeling of gratitude for my presence and safety.  Unfortunately, I only had a short three weeks at home, before I was making moves again.  In case you haven’t noticed, which probably means I don’t know you very well, but I’ve been chilling in sunny Tucson doing the grad school thing at the University of Arizona.  To most people, it would be exciting to move to a new city and meet new people.  Usually, this wouldn’t pose a challenge for me, but just coming back from Salone, the last thing I wanted to do was make new friends.  I just kept on thinking I have friends, who I haven’t seen or spent time with in the last two years and now I have to make NEW ones.  Not cool.  I also didn’t have a lot of time to digest and reflect upon what happened the last two years.  I knew I had changed, but how?  How could I fit my new thoughts and new ways of doing things into American Rachel?  I struggled with this and felt awkward meeting new people while I wasn’t really fully confident in who I was.  I eventually grew out of this awkwardness a bit, so don’t worry friends and family in Pennsylvania, I’m not a total loser.

Another struggle has been calling people in Sierra Leone.  I’ve talked to Fatmata, my principal, and a couple others, but I mostly talk to Momoh.  It’s refreshing to hear the sounds of Madina in the background and be able converse in Krio, something I had been accustomed to.  Although it’s comforting to talk to him, every time I hang up, I still feel this emptiness.  I don’t know when that will go away or if it ever will.

I still have trouble being able to articulate my experience.  It wasn’t good.  It wasn’t bad.  It is INDESCRIBABLE.  How can I explain to people that I gained more than any Sierra Leonean I ever met or tried to serve?  I sometimes catch myself in class smiling as there’s this whole world spinning around me.  I’ll be completely immersed in a memory from Sierra Leone and right now it’s so easy to picture, smell, and hear things that were in my constant periphery for the last two years.  When I catch myself during these imaginations, I am forced back to reality to a windowless room to talk, talk, and talk.  I’m afraid for those days when I try to imagine a person and their features are blurred or when I try to remember a song that played on repeat on my little radio everyday but I can’t remember the beat.  I’m really dreading those times, but eventually, they will come.

For right now, I just want to remember.  I wanted to share this little part of my heart with you, because one that I learned in the Peace Corps is it’s okay to be vulnerable.  It’s okay to have doubts and questions and not to know things.  There’s so much to learn… a whole world of discoveries waiting to happen. 

I’ll leave you with a quote from 2011 in my first blog about why I joined the Peace Corps, “After living in a third world country, I didn't just want to talk to my friends about the problems in the world -  I wanted to do something about it.  I wanted to be a voice for people that didn't think they have a voice.  I wanted to be that person that hugged someone when the rest of the world turned their backs.  I wanted to be that lending hand where ever, whenever and for whoever needed it!”

WOW, Rachel of 2011, you were quite ambitious.  I think (and hope) I’m a bit more realistic now, but it’s nice to be reminded of this enthusiasm.  Another Peace Corps Fellow and I were having a conversation with an older volunteer from the ‘60s this evening and she remarked on how she loved of our fresh perspectives just recently returning from our services.  She served in Turkey and she was telling us about her times that she had went back to Turkey and how she showed her husband around her former hometown.  I was reminded that Sierra Leone will also be a home to me.  I will never forget my time there and although most memories will become foggy over time, the fact that I had the opportunity to make the memories in the first place makes me pretty lucky.



p.s. I fully believe things come full circle.  As I'm sitting in Arizona walking down memory lane, my replacement in Madina, Matt Solberg, is totally kicking butt!  I'm so happy the community is blessed with an amazing Volunteer.  Here's an update from his end in Salone: Go Matt!!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

STOMP Out Malaria

I’m alive!!!
I’m sorry for the lapse in blog updates.  Things have been crazy busy over my way, so I’m sure you understand.  I’m not even sure where to start…
At the end of March, we finished up second term and transitioned into April break with ease.  The break started off with a little 55 mile bike trip from Kamakwie to Makeni with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.  We were doing malaria sensitizations in conjunction with a continent-wide initiative called “STOMP Out Malaria in Africa.”  We stopped in 7 villages along the way doing dramas, bed net demonstrations, and playing lots of SPORTS.  I was one of the lead roles in the drama and just like my Tweedle-dum and Orphan days, I nailed the performance.  ; )  We had a lot fun going to the villages and talking to people about a very serious problem in Sierra Leone.  I also took a bit of a tumble on a bumpy patch of road and hit my head.  If later in life, I start saying words backwards it might very well be linked to my concussion in the bush.

After the trip, I headed to Freetown for our “Close of Service” conference, which entailed learning how to leave this country and getting back into American life.  Do I really have to pay a water bill and pick a shampoo out of a 100,000 options?  Seems quite daunting at this point…  But it was good to see all of the Salone 2ers back together again. 
The day after the conference I got a special visit from the Mommy and the Daddy.  Sub and Mike in the flesh!  It was great to see them and show them around my beloved home.  We went to Bureh Beach first, because I couldn’t think of a better introduction to this country.  We then headed to Madina and my parents got to meet all my village peeps.  Everyone was beyond ecstatic to meet and welcome them.  We spent a night in my district capital, Kambia, and then went to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary.  Then we ended in good ol’ Freetown and the trip was over before I could even blink.  I was glad I had the opportunity to share this experience with my parents and I now feel like they have a better understanding of what the heck has been happening the last two years.

Once I got rid of the adults (just kidding!), I had a couple more days in Freetown to enjoy and then headed back to Madina.  I started off third term (my last term) teaching my favorite topics, because I believe the ball is now in my court.  We’ve been studying the human nervous system in my biology class and I don’t think my students understand why I get so excited explaining reflexes, the hypothalamus, and neuronal impulses.  Maybe they’re just confused…
Two weeks ago I had a birthday party for two of my padi dem in my  town and had about 10 guests.  We had a great time cooking up taco salads, getting tribal marks, and crashing the local jam (dance).
After a month at site, I headed to Makeni to run a half- marathon.  It was super fun.  Well, actually not really running it because I was angry and tired, but it felt good to finish.  : )  Some of the other volunteers ran the marathon.. God bless them.  Now I’m in Freetown taking care of business.
I’m getting awfully close to leaving and I'm experiencing every human emotion possible in reaction to that realization.  I think that can be a blog post in its own, so I’ll save it for another day.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Another Day in Paradise…

Typically, the format of my blogs consists of a rundown of the latest happenings in my life (in varying degrees of detail).  For this post, I’ve decided to give you the ultimate, the highly exclusive “Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.”  Even after reading my ramblings for months now, I get the impression that many of you don’t have a firm grasp on what my day-to-day life is like, so I’m hoping this will give you a better idea.  Enjoy!
My day starts circa 6 AM when cross-eyed Pa Abu shouts the call for prayer outside my window (remember I live next to a mosque?).  I fall back asleep and wait for my alarm to go off at 6:40 AM, which is about the time that all of my neighbors are shuffling out of the mosque.  They’re  always jibber-jabbering at this time; I have no idea what they have to talk about, because they all saw each other before they went to bed for the evening prayers the night before.  Either way, I snooze my alarm and listen to the commotion which at this time my little Lucky jumps on the bed and proceeds to lick/bite my entire body.  I push her away and close my eyes for a couple more minutes.  If you know me well, you know I’m not a morning person, so I didn’t get out of bed until 7 AM.  First thing I do (after I tinkle) is open up the back door that leads to my compound.  I greet my compound-mates who are sweeping and warming up their rice leftovers for breakfast.  I proceed with my usual morning ritual which consists of dressing like a conservative 40-year-old woman, listening to the BBC World Service, preparing my lesson notes and making some kind of breakfast.  On this day, I ate oatmeal with sugar and cinnamon, which I make a lot.  I gave Lucky the leftover rice with a leafy sauce from the day before and some of my leftover oatmeal.
I live close to the school, so my morning walk is only about five minutes.  I greet every family in their respective languages (Krio, Limba, and Temne – unfortunately, I can’t get pass the greetings with the latter two).  When I reach the school, I go straight to the staff room, where all of us teachers have to sign in for attendance.  You are considered late if you come in after 8:06 A.M., but most teachers just lie about what time they come.  It’s actually quite funny, because they have this unspoken pact about lying about the time.  The first teacher who comes in, even if it’s considerably before 8:06 A.M., will write a time some minutes before he came and the next teacher does the same and so forth.  I guess they do this so when the late teachers come they aren’t all putting 8:06 A.M. on the dot.  I purposefully come in late (and because I like to sleep) just so I can put the correct time and screw up all the teachers that come in after me.  The other teachers don’t like that.
Morning assembly is an interesting time of the day.  The students are supposed to arrive at 7:45 A.M. and I believe assembly is supposed to start at 7:50 A.M., but it rarely does.  When it does start, they first have a student do the “devotion.”  Usually he reads a passage from the bible and misinterprets the meaning… for 15 minutes.  Then, the students do the Christian and Muslim prayers, the national pledge, the national anthem, and the school song.  After the singing and chanting is finished, there are announcements from class leaders and teachers.  At this time, I reminded my girls’ club president to announce that we have a meeting today.  A teacher reminds students that they should be on time, which, let’s say, isn’t the first time they’ve heard this.  While people are making announcements, at the rear of the crowd are students getting flogged for coming late.  Often, the students’ backs are turned from the stage and looking back at their classmates getting their late-comer’s lashes.  The principal came up to threaten the students that he would be coming around taking attendance, which, again let’s say, this isn’t the first time they’ve heard this.  One of the senior students makes an announcement about an upcoming quiz competition that will take place in the boarding home.  All in all, it was a pretty typical morning assembly.
Sometimes morning assembly goes into the first period, which begins at 8:30 A.M.  However, on this day, there were five minutes left to go do my “form mistress” duties.  A Form Master or, what my fellow teachers insist on calling me, “Form Mistress” is a teacher who is in charge of a class, sort of like a homeroom teacher.  My class is SSS 1 Commercial (10th grade and the Commercial is for the kind of classes that they take, i.e. Accounting, Business Management, etc.) and there are 84 kids in the class.  Every morning and afternoon I have to mark if each student is absent or present, then I have to do weird calculations with the percentage absent, how many girls compared to boys are present, etc.  Apparently, a mysterious person from the government looks at these documents, but who knows?  I think I would have to say this part of my day is my least favorite.  It seems as if as soon as I walk into the classroom with the register in my hand the whole class agrees that it is the best time to have a conversation.  It’s extremely frustrating!  If a student wants to leave school early or is going to be absent, they have to let me know.  One girl takes an excuse to attend her grandma’s funeral.
I returned to the staff room to find most of the teachers busy grading the last exam.  My first class on Mondays is a double period of Biology with my SSS 2 Arts (11th grade) kids (each class is 40 minutes long).  They are by far my favorite class and it’s nice to start the week off with them.  I give them their exams back and we go over the correct answers.  The test was on respiration and excretion in animals.  After the revision, we go back to our topic we started last week, which is circulation.  I gave them some notes on the various blood vessels.  I made them all check their pulse, which was fun because most of them had never felt their pulse.  One student asked me what high blood pressure was, so we got in a discussion about that.
My next class was a double period of Mathematics with my SSS 1 C students.  I gave them their last exams back and needless-to-say they were not happy.  I really didn’t think the exam was going to be that difficult, yet most of them failed.  I tested them on fractions and in fact, one question read, “Circle the numerator.”  Some students couldn’t even do this one… *sigh* The whole class was complaining because I didn’t let them use calculators.  They think I’m evil for not letting them use calculators all of the time.  I’m trying to wean them off their calculator dependence.  If they have the device, they will use it for EVERYTHING – even the simplest of calculations.  I once had one of my brighter students at the board solving a problem.  In the problem, he had to solve 25+27.  Low and behold, he reached for his calculator to perform the addition for him.  It’s amazing!  I tried to explain my reasoning for the rule to the class, but they were not having it.  Despite their incessant grumbling, we reviewed the exam and they were able to see where they made mistakes.  After class, some students came up to me saying that I had made mistakes grading their exams.  Upon further inspection, I noticed that they had changed or wrote in answers.  Such little sneaks!
At this point I’m already exhausted and the day is only half over.  I slowly walk to my next class – JSS 3 White (my school assigns colors to the various junior classes).  JSS 3 is my least favorite class, but I think I’ve explained this to you before (they have the junior version of “senioritis”).  I returned their exams and we went over the answers.  Their exam was on the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and nutrition.
The bell rings at 11:50 A.M. to break for lunch.  One of my favorite lunch ladies, Mrs. Bangura, was serving her usual boiled cassava root with beans and fish balls.  I splurged on the Le 1,000 (25 cents) plate.  Yummy!  Unfortunately, the only bill I had was the largest one in Salone currency – Le 10,000 and Mrs. Bangura didn’t have change.  I had to wait there under the tree for some minutes while she fought with the other lunch ladies to give her some change.  I always like sitting there watching this group of ladies.  They compete with one another, but at the same time work together.  At the end of the day, a fish ball’s just a fish ball, I s’pose.
My class after lunch starts at 12:20 A.M. and I had return to the block of zoo animals a.k.a. JSS 3.  I swear after this experience, I have decided that every Junior High teacher deserve sainthood.  I had the other class, Red, for a whooping double period of Integrated Science.  Like the other classes, I passed back their exam and we went over the answers.  Our last class we started doing a bit of physics, so we talked about forces and energy and all of that humble jumble that I resented my junior year of university.  We were did some classwork and a student came to the board to do a problem.  He accidentally stepped on Lucky who was laying underneath the board.  He jumped back and Lucky cried herself over to the corner of the classroom.  Of course, there was an uproar of laughter and everyone joked about the boy being ungraceful. 
I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Lucky follows me EVERYWHERE.  If I go to one side of the school, there she is along my side.  If I go to use the bathroom, there she is guarding the door.  If I go into town or for a run, there she is, panting along.  I have yet to test the theory, but I’m fairly sure if I jumped off a bridge, she too would join me in the descent.  God bless her faithfulness.
Finally, the time has come!  The last class of the day!  I’m scheduled to teach Biology to SSS 2 Commercial.  When I walk in , the kids look just as tired as I do.  The poor things have to sit in the same desk in the same classroom all day.  And it’s March, the hottest month of the year, so the heat trapped in the concrete walled room isn’t the most pleasant of situations.  I sit on the desk at the front of the classroom.  You know how cool teachers do that in movies “to get at the level of their students?”  I wasn’t feeling too “cool” at the time, just hot and tired (H and T – some of you will get this inside joke).  I pass back their exams, we go over the answers, and call it a day.
In case you haven’t realized, all of our classes take their exams at the same time.  For a week and half, all of the students will sit their exams for all of their classes.  I marked all 436 papers over the weekend and that is why I had exams to give to each class.
The bell rang at 2:20 P.M. and everyone storms out through the gates.  It’s eerie how somewhere so lively one minute can become completely so desolate the next.  Although I remember thinking that in high school, so it must be a common theme among schools.  As I walk home, I greet the same families in their same respective languages just changing the “mornings” to “afternoons.”  First thing I did when I got home was change out of my teaching shoes into flip flops, take out my braid and put in a ponytail, and un-tuck my shirt – it’s all a part of the latest after-school chic.  I turned on the radio to see if anything major has happened in the world while I was teaching mischievous African youth.  I grabbed the latest book that I’ve been reading, which happened to be “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris.  I ended up snoozing for a little on my couch in the parlor.  I abruptly woke up realizing I only had a few minutes until the girls’ club meeting.  Luckily, I ate a big lunch, so I wasn’t too hungry and just golfed down some crackers. 
I head back to the school as we have our meetings in the library.  I greet the same neighbors for now the third time, but exchange the previous greetings with “evening.”  I pass through the boarding home area, which always frightens me.  It just doesn’t seem right to have 50 teenage boys and 50 teenage girls living in the same area.  If you ask me, it’s a recipe for disaster.  I remind some of the girls that we have a meeting.  We always have our meetings on Monday at 5 P.M. and it has been like that for over a year and half now.  Still, the girls seem to forget!  Unfortunately, the attendance was pretty low with only four girls showing up.  There was a soccer match going on, so I think some girls went go watch their boyfriends.  Also, a teacher was having students shovel manure on his farm.  Unfortunately, working on a teacher’s farm is one way to pass at my school.
Despite the low attendance, we carried on with the meeting.  We just hosted a neighboring town, Kukuna, for a soccer match over the weekend.  The match was on International Women’s Day, so we were celebrating women’s empowerment and stuff.  The scoundrels beat us 3-1.  We talked about the loss and I gave the girls who played certificates for trying.  There was a bit of a scuffle after the game between players of both sides.  It was mostly just meaningless trash talking.  One of my favorite girls, Kadiatu, told me that one of the opponents said they won because their team is all virgins.  Not sure what that has to do with playing a mean game of soccer, but good for them I guess... Of course, the girls want a rematch, so they can show Kukuna who is boss.  We’ll see how that goes. 
We also talked about doing a drama over Easter weekend.  We came up with the plot together and assigned roles (mostly to girls who weren’t there and wouldn’t have a say on which role they got).  The plot’s kind of like that movie “Freaky Friday” but instead of a mom and daughter switching a husband and wife switch places for a day.  The intention is to bring light to some of the gender issues prevalent in society here.  I think the girls just thought it was funny, so they agreed.  They also developed the storyline before and after the switch, which resembles something from a cancelled, old soap opera that only Moms watched.  ‘Tis their club, so ‘tis their drama!
After the meeting, I stopped by the local cookery, where you can buy prepared rice.  I bought a plate of rice with leafy sauce for Lucky for Le 2,000 (50 cents).  When I got home, I gave half of it to her then and saved the rest for breakfast.  Usually, if it was a training day, I would go for a run, but Mondays are my rest days.  (I’m doing a half-marathon in May, In’Shallah.)  Instead of sweating, I went over to my namesake’s house to relax there.  I met little Rachel bathing and having a ball – she loves water!  After she was all cleaned up and dried off I was holding her when all of sudden she vomitted/spit up on me.  I immediately handed her over to her mother.  After that little episode, I took my leave and headed to the radio station which is right across the street.  I went to go greet some people there and then went home.  I was met by one of my students who came to talk to me about her exam.  She said she failed my Math test as well as her English exam.  At my school, you have to pass either Math OR English to promote to the next class (I’m hoping ‘or’ will change to an ‘and’ at some point in the near future).  She was concerned that she wouldn’t be promoted.  I reassured her the next exam wasn’t going to be as difficult and that she still had three tests to bring up her grade.  Hopefully, things work out for her.
I went to take a nice lukewarm bucket bath.  After I stopped sweating, I doused myself in baby powder and me and the Luckster hit the hay.
Just repeat that for two years and you got yourself a genuine Peace Corps Service.  I’m exaggerating of course, but that Monday was a pretty standard weekday.  Although Mondays are my busiest days at school – no breaks, it’s rough.  I hope this has given you a better idea what a day is like for me.  Maybe you want to join the Peace Corps now?

p.s. No quote this time and no pictures.  I accidentally deleted all my pictures yesterday.  I hope I have them all backed up. : )

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A no sabi Arabic.

Hello ALL!
I’m BACK!  I just got back from Morocco yesterday and had a great time.  My main purpose for travelling there (as I said in my last post) was to get some dental work done.  The dentist performed a root canal and placed a permanent crown on my tooth.  Yes, I got a root canal in Africa!! – that’s one to tell the grandkids, right?
(The Hassan Tower)

Rabat was a great city to visit.  Coincidentally, my one Peace Corps friend, Jared, was also being medically evacuated to Rabat at the exact same time, so it was nice to have a buddy to explore the city with.  We indulged on the traditional dishes, like tajines, pastillas, and harira.  We also might have snuck in a couple of trips to the gelato stands.  It was wonderful to eat so many meats, cheeses, and veggies, yum!  Beeeesides the food, we walked around to most of the popular sites, like the Hassan Tour, the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the Chellah, the Royal Palace, the Kasbah and my favorite, the Medina.  No, not my town, Madina, but the Medina of Rabat.  I can’t wait to tell my Sierra Leonean friends I went to another (a BIT more touristy) Madina.  It’s a walled off area with a bunch of shops, traders, and food stands.   You can find all of your Moroccan tapestries, pottery, and Argan oil to take back to your love ones… or hoard them all for yourself.

(Cous cous on Fridays!)

In fact, I got into a little bit of trouble at a beauty shop.  Wellll, we had a bit of a communication problem while in Morocco.  Everyone knew Arabic and most people knew French… and, well, very few people spoke English.  For Jared and myself, we don’t know Arabic, we don’t know French, and we can get by with our English. ; )  I was trying to buy something small for my girlfriends back in Salone.  In this particular beauty shop, there was a large dish filled with what looked like dirt.  The saleswoman didn’t speak a word of English and when I pointed to the dirt she kept on touching her hair.  In my twisted interpretation of her gesture, I concluded the dirt was some natural, organic hair strengthening powder.  Sooo I bought ten packages.  I told her to write the name of the product, so I could go back and confirm my great find.  Turns out “hana cheveux” is henna for your hair.  You know henna?  You know the plant that dyes your skin, hair, and nails orange?  Yep, well that’s what I ended up buying.  I thought it would be great fun to give the gift to my girlfriends and tell them the dirt was indeed a natural, organic hair strengthening powder.  Lucky for them I’m not THAT mean.  Fortunately for me, I met a volunteer from Benin who knew French and could go back to the beauty shop with me to exchange the henna for something a little more practical.

I wish I could have gotten a nickel for every time I embarrassed myself in Rabat.  Most of the incidents had to deal with miscommunication or rather just a lack of communication.  It was such a strange experience to be a foreign country and not knowing the language.  I’m used to be surrounded by Sierra Leoneans who speak Krio and unfortunately “aw di bodi?” wasn’t going to get me too far in Morocco.  Embarrassingly enough I broke out in Krio a couple times.  We were at McDonald’s (they have a McDonald’s!) and I was trying to ask for ketchup.  I MIGHT have said, “Yu de ketchup?”  And if the employee was Sierra Leonean he would have understood me, but sadly, he was Moroccan and just gave me a quizzical expression.


Oh, life is funny!  After two weeks, I was anxious to come back to Sweet Salone.  As soon as I stepped off the airplane, I was comforted by the warmth and familiar smells of West Africa.  The first person I interacted with was the man checking my passport and of course, he hit on me.  Then, I go to the next person who checked my WHO card and he reeked of palm wine.  Perfect, I was back home!!  Oddly enough, both encounters made me feel like I was in the right place.
It’s amazing how somewhere that seems so different and foreign at first can be molded into a place of comfort and familiarity.  For me, America seems like the strangest place in the world now.  But soon I’ll be back in Lady Liberty’s arms as my service is quickly coming to an end.  Only six more months here!  It’s really hard to believe and it doesn’t seem like enough time.  I still have some things I want to accomplish in Sierra Leone and hope time permits.  I’m looking forward to what Salone still has to offer me.  BRING. IT. ON.
Byes for meow!
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” - Steve Martin 
P.S.  You can "lef" Salone, but Salone can't "lef" you.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rabat for dental work... Okay!

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought I should throw you all some love via blog post.  Not the typical Valentine, but I’m sure you understand.
School’s been about the same.  Although Mathematics has proven to be the most difficult subject to teach!  For example, I had a student come up to the board to do a problem wherein he had to solve 25-23… and he pulled out his calculator.  Ay carumba!  Naturally being the tough teacher that I am (NOT, but sometimes I pretend to be), I told my Math classes they can’t use a calculator on my exam.  I thought a mini-riot was about to take place, but maybe they’ll just burn my exams.  We’ll see!  Mid-term exams are right around the corner, which means time is flying by as always.
Exciting news at my school is that our library is finished and full of books!  Thank you all again for contributing to the project.  We’re still working on getting more books, but we’re pretty happy with what we have so far. : )

Nothing too new in the ‘hood.  There’s a mosque right beside my house, so the call for prayer every morning is my alarm clock.  Anyways, I’ve been promising my neighbors that I would come to mosque for Friday prayers, so a couple of weeks ago I followed through with my promise.  I think all of my neighbors appreciated my attendance and they had a good time showing me how to do the ablution and the different prayers.  The sermon was in Krio, so I was able to follow most of it.  There were a great deal of similarities between what I heard in the mosque and what I hear in church on Sundays.  So, now that I went to mosque ONE time, everyone in my town thinks I’m Muslim and expects me to do the five daily prayers with them.  When in Rome, as they say… ; )
A man from my church passed away last month.  He was a really nice guy and I was sad to hear the news.  Unfortunately, the passing of this man turned into major witch drama in my town.  I don’t want to go into all the details because they can become quite exhausting and frankly, I don’t fully understand all the particulars.  Long story short, most of my town speculated that the man was killed with what is called a witch gun, which began a series of witch hunts theeen some witch trials.  It was HUGE town drama and all anyone would talk about for about a week and half.  Like any small town drama, everyone moved on from the hoopla and moved onto the next thing to talk about… the Africa Cup of Nations.  Football (or what I like to call soccer because I’m American) is a nice distraction for Sierra Leoneans.
I’m currently in Freetown, because I’m heading to Morocco on Tuesday for some dental work.  I might have to get a crown or a root canal.  Not too excited about the dental work part, but it will be nice to see what Rabat has to offer.  My friend Jared is also following me there.  What a weird-o.
In other news, my parents have officially booked their tickets to come to here.  Sweet Salone better watch out, because they have no idea what they’re getting into with Subby and Mike!
Sorry there’s not too much to update on.  Hope all is well Stateside and you’re all keeping warm. : )
‘Til next time… or the time after that.
One of my students, “Isn’t Pennsylvania next to West Vagina?” – This is why teaching is the funniest job ever.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mountain Jamming into 2013

Well hellllooo there!
LONG TIME!  I apologize for what I believe to be the longest lag I’ve had in a blog update.  As you can imagine a great deal has been happening over here.
The first item on the agenda for this blog post is my beloved dog, Lucky.  I tell you what - the third time IS the charm, as they say!  I got her in my friend’s town when I was visiting – a little bit of a rash decision.  She was an ugly duckling – scabs, fleas, ticks, dirty, lazy eyes, and weird bumps.  But nothing a bath and some love couldn’t cure.  She’s very healthy and happy now and seems to be loving life in Madina (as you can see below.)

First term FLEW BY!  I feel as if it didn’t even happen.  My classes have been going so-so.  I think I’ve already mentioned that I moved up with my classes, so I have the same students as last year.  Pro: they know me; therefore, they know what I like, what I don’t like, and they’re used to my funny English. :P  Con: they’re too used to me; therefore, I have  to put in extra effort to hold their attention.  My JSS3 (about 9th grade) has been particularly troublesome this year.  At the end of the year in July, they will sit a national promotional examination (the B.E.C.E.).  The students take extra classes after school in order to prepare for the exam.  Unfortunately, they think their classes AT school are subpar.  Subsequently, most students either don’t come to school, but when they do they are disruptive and disrespectful.  It’s extremely frustrating and discouraging, but as always I try to focus on those few students who truly want to learn and they keep me going. 
My SSS2 classes are a little better.  The “Arts” students are still fascinated with Biology, especially now that I’m teaching them Animal Structure and Function.  We even had a skeleton model, who we named Foday, to help us study the human skeleton.  Unfortunately, the rats in the science lab got the better of Foday and he was missing some phalanges and ribs. Eeee bo!  The “Commercial” students have proven to be even more challenging than they were last year.  It goes back to these promotional exams again!  The senior students have to prepare for the W.A.S.S.C.E., which they take after SSS4 in order to get a job or go onto university.  The minimum requirements to go to university is passing five classes, including English, Mathematics, and three classes related to your course path (for commercial students these are mostly accounting classes).  Biology isn’t on the list of the minimum of requirements, so they naturally view it as unimportant and push it to the bottom of their classes.  I try to explain to them how science is fun, exciting, and important to know (not just for an exam), but they continue to give me those blank looks.  Just wait – years from now they’ll realize!  Just how it took me 23 years to realize that my actions have consequences.  Siiigh… adulthood…
This term I started teaching Mathematics to SSS1, which is a great way to switch things up a bit!  The students’ math skills are very low – it’s actually quite sad.  Mathematics is known as the most difficult class in Sierra Leone, so students tend to just fall into that mentality.  On the first day, I told the kids that our motto for the year is “Let’s make Math simple!”  Afterwards, I put a variety of problems they should’ve learned how solved in junior school.  I showed them shortcuts or easy ways to solve all of them.  The one class legitimately started clapping when I circled one of the solutions.  It was great!  They think I’m genius, but I’m afraid the thought won’t last too long and they’re going to think I’m just making stuff up.  We’ll see how it goes!

One random Friday a teacher invited me to his village about nine miles from Madina.  I took off on my bicycle and met him there.  As expected, it was a super tiny village in the middle of nowhere.  The village was by a river.  Around the river, these flies that cause ‘river blindness’ are prevalent.  As Mr. Dumbuya was introducing me to people in the village, I noticed most of the older people were blind.  One blind man I met was sitting on a hammock made with materials from the forest.  I asked him to make me one and he agreed.  I asked him how much he wanted.  Thinking he was going to say some astronomical price because I’m white, I was surprised when he said Le 5,000 (around a buck).  Then he asked me to put a deposit of Le 2,000 (around 50 cents).  I’m anxious to see my one buck hammock made by this blind man with stuff from the bush!
 Removing a motorcycle from a canoe

Mr. Dumuya with some of the children from his village

 Mr. Dumbuya in front of his house

Back to Madina!
In other news, my school’s library project has been fully funded.  A HUGE THANK YOU to all who donated.  My school is so excited about having a library again.  We started working on the project and hope to have it completed in the next couple weeks.  Stay tuned for pictures!
Another exciting occurrence of this term (and year) was the presidential election.  As a precaution, the Peace Corps requested we stay with one or two other volunteers.  I headed down to my buddy Cat’s village in Mathora (half hour outside of Makeni) with Kim.  She teaches at an all-girls boarding school and she stays in the school campus.  Her students are constantly in and out of her house all day.  Booooy, did we get our girl talk on!!  The actual voting day turned out to be more boring than a normal day here.  About a week later, we received a message from our director telling us that the election results were about to be announced.  We tuned into the radio and heard “blah, blah, blah.”  We thought they were just going to talk for a couple of hours and then announce the time they were going to make the results announcement.  We turned off the radio and turned up the jams to get our workout on.  All of sudden we hear screams coming from the boarding home.  We hurry to turn on the radio to hear, “Ernest Bai Koroma will be serving as President for his second term.”  All of the girls spilled out of the boarding home into the campus chanting their contentment for APC’s win.  The matron came chasing after them screaming, “Girls, let us jubilate inside!”  It was cool to see them so happy (even those that didn’t vote for Koroma).  Luckily, the elections were peaceful for the most part all over the country.  I’m actually glad I went to Mathora, because we had time to prepare for the girls conference.

Rat, Crim, Cachel : )
YES, the GIRLS CONFERENCE!  Formally known as G.L.A.D.I. (Girls Leadership And Development Initiative).  The conference was absolutely amazing and one of my fondest memories from my work here.  Most of the volunteers from my group took two girls from their school for three packed days at Mathora.  We had a variety of lessons ranging from goal-setting, decision-making, financial management, peer education, women’s health, and so forth.  I did a session with my gal Chelsea on Family Planning.  Although we ran out of time because there was so much information to cover and the girls had sooo many questions, the lesson went well.  My highlight of the class was when I was doing a male condom demonstration on a wooden phallus.  First I wanted to show them the condom, so I opened one up and noticed it had a red tint and a strawberry scent, so naturally I smelled it.  Afterwards, I was doing the demonstration and having the girls instruct me what to do.  After I opened the new condom, I asked the girls what do next and one girl replied, “You need to smell it now.”  Well, you can if you want!
The classroom where we did our lessons

The dining area where the girls ate and journalled

We also had a soccer game, which for some reason unbeknownst to me I was picked as a coach.  I think they just picked me, because I was the only Volunteer dressed in workout clothes and tennis shoes (because I wanted to play!).  And then I might have said something like I’m an expert in soccer… a little white lie never hurt anyone!  The game was really fun and ended up being tied.  To be fair, we had EVERY girl try for a penalty kick.  After all of the kicks, it was still tied.  Believing the lie I had said earlier, I screamed that coaches should kick.  My opponent didn’t seem as into the game, so I thought I would be a shoe in – or should I say a goal in, eh eh.  Unfortunately, she pulled in a bystander to kick for her and she made it!  Great……………………. I whispered to myself, “I’m a soccer expert.  I’m a soccer expert,” and gave the ball a big whack… that landed about five feet away from the goal.  BoO!  My brief coaching career ended in devastation, but the girls had fun and that’s all that matters.  Right?

Another highlight of the conference was the da JAM.  A jam is a dance and they are huge hits here!  In my town, we usually have them on Thursdays.  They usually start getting bumping at around 11 PM and don’t end until around 4 AM.  Jams are the reason my students come into school sleepy-eyed on Fridays.  Anyways, we thought it would be a great way to end the conference – ya know, cutting rug with our students.  It was so cute to watch the girls dance and not have to worry about creepy guys hitting on them.  They all made friends with girls from different parts of the country, so it was also cool to watch them hang with their new friends.
GLADI 2012!!

The conference happened so quickly.  It was a complete whirlwind, but I think my girls got a lot of it and they seemed excited to do some activities back in Madina.  When we eventually arrived back home (after a major breakdown), I went to the girls’ houses to greet their families and tell them how well the girls did.  One of the girls I brought is 18 years old and in SSS 3 (12th grade) and had never left Madina.  This was her first time seeing a paved road!!  I was so happy that I could be a part of this experience with her.  Their parents were extremely appreciative about the conference.  There were many aspects of the conference that were extraordinary to the girls that I didn’t even realize.  We gave them little gifts like notebooks, dictionaries, t-shirts, and certificates, so that all was a big deal for them.  The one that touched my heart though was the food that we served, which I didn’t even think of.  We served tea, bread and butter, and an egg for breakfast and the traditional rice and sauce for lunch and dinner.  The sauce was enhanced with ingredients and had fish or beef in it every time.  Seems pretty normal, right?  Well, so I thought.  When I went to Elizabeth’s house, her dad surprisingly greeted me with a hug and told me that Elizabeth had been telling all sorts of stories from the conference.  He then said, “She even told us that she ate four eggs!”  It was truly touching that the egg each girl received each morning had made a difference in their time away from home.
Kadiatu, Me, Elizabeth (the girls I brought to the conference)
OK, I can go on and on about this conference, but I must move on before you get too bored and stop reading.  The next big thing was good ol’ Christmas!  Two of my friends came to Madina to spend Christmas Eve.  We watched “Love and Other Drugs” and ate some curry lentils.  On Christmas, we went to church, handed out some gifts to the neighborhood children, and then headed to my neighbor’s in Kukuna for a feast full of chicken, mac N cheese, mashed potatoes, pumpkin soup, etc etc – it was all very yummy!  There was a bunch of people from Salone 3, so it was good to see all their fresh faces. 
Isatu with her new beads

Me with all the troublemakers in da 'hood

 Girls in the church choir

Little Drummer Boy!

The kids had an... interesting performance at the end of church
The next day they were travelling through my town, so I met up with them when they were passing through.  We were all hanging out at the junction when all of sudden a nice black car comes rolling up and an older gentleman gets out of the car.  He says he knew we were Peace Corps Volunteers and wanted to introduce himself.  Turns out it was the Minister of Local Government, Ambassador Dauda, who is from my town (he was also the Sierra Leonean Ambassador to the U.S.).  I was in shock.  He had recently built this beautiful house on the outskirts of town and had been the talk of the town for a while.  Ambassador Dauda invited us over to his place for some cold drinks - definitely an offer we could not say no to.  His house was amazing and of course I asked him if I could move in.  We had some pleasant chit-chat with him.  He spoke very highly of the Peace Corps and seemed excited to have ran into us and hear about our work. 
As time passes, more and more people start showing up.  Low and behold, it was his birthday party!  So we chopped some delicious food and met a lot of people.  I forgot to mention – when we were at the junction, Lucky was standing there because she follows me everywhere I go.  One of my friends was concerned when we were leaving (even though I told her that she knew her way back home) and brought her into the car and took her to the Ambassador’s house.  It was actually quite funny seeing my African doggy joy run around this beautiful house.  The Ambassador actually fed her some of his food from her plate, which was hilarious.  After a great (and oh so random) time at the Minister’s house, the travellers had to get going, so we snapped some pictures and said our good-byes.  In Sierra Leone, they celebrate “Boxing Day” (I think it’s a British thing), which is the day after the Christmas.  Best Boxing Day EVER!
After the surprise boxing day party, I went to a wedding in my friend’s village.  It was a pretty fancy wedding with bridesmaids, speeches, and even a wedding cake!!  I enjoyed the night of palm wine and dancing outside where the reception was being held.  All of these celebrations and I hadn’t even made it to New Year’s yet!  I headed up to Kabala, which is a large town in the northeast of the country.  The town is absolutely breath-taking – situated in the Loma Mountains with houses built amongst large boulders.  The best part is that it’s actually cold there!  Yes, I wore a sweatshirt and pants AND A BLANKET!  It was a wonderful feeling.  The season is harmattan, so it’s especially cold there now.  Since the weather conditions are different than the rest of the country, they can grow cabbage, carrots, green beans, and some other delicious vegetables we normally don’t get.  For New Year’s Eve, we went out to the local club to dance the night away.  Unfortunately, it just doesn’t feel the same without the ball dropping, the countdown, and people wearing a lot of sparkly things.  I also didn’t realize how weird it is that we all feel the need to hug and kiss everyone once it turns midnight.  Needless-to-say, all the Sierra Leoneans were very confused by our behavior (but I think I’m used to that by meow ; )).
New Year’s Day turned out to be a quite an adventure!  In Kabala, they have a tradition where everyone hikes up a mountain and then has a JAM.  The hike wasn’t exactly easy for us… and we weren’t even carrying anything.  My friend’s neighbor made us rice and sauce and snagged some palm wine for us and they had to tote all of it up the mountain.  But it doesn’t stop there – people carried their whole stores to sell at the top and HUGE speakers for everyone’s listening pleasure.  Everyone climbs their way up, but when they get to top they can’t wear their normal, ordinary hiking clothes, they HAVE to change.  Literally everyone cleans up, changes into their “bluffing” clothes, sprays some perfumes, and gets ready to get their party on.  It was a quite a celebration and I’m glad I got to witness it.
All in all, the holidays weren’t half bad; although I was missing all of you back home.  I’m in Freetown now catching up on some work and relaxation.  Gotta get pumped for Term 2!
Hope all is well in the States and you had a wonderful Christmas and a banging New Year’s.  As always, I miss and love you all!  I’m anxious to see what 2013 has in store for all of us. : )
Word to your mothers,
“Believe with all of your heart that you will do what you were made to do.” - Orison Swett Marden

p.s. Small Rachel says “Kushe!”