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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,
Murr-Master
“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!”

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