Friday, July 27, 2012

so it's over,.. (4 of 4)

>> the going away party and departure. on the 18th, a huge party was held, speeches made, food served, gifts given, all in my honor. i had to do my best (and i thank jimmy for being next to me at the head table for his support) not to cry. people said things like 'god truly blessed us with your presence' and 'if it were not for you, we would be lesser people' and 'may god go with you wherever you may go and continue to bless you and your family because of your generosity'. hard to not get emotional. that night, there was a large dance (at which i got to DJ for about an hour at :) where all of my friends seemed to peel themselves from the crappy rainy night outside and come in, dancing with me, laughing with me, etc. the dance itself felt like a prom, that bittersweet feeling of 'the last night' with the people you love. on the night of the 20th, i had my four closest friends over and talked to them, leveling with them basically, talking about what they meant to me, how it was them that on multiple occasions that had kept me there, not the wine or the comfy day bed, but them (also Tink, but she was asleep in the corner). we hugged, and they cried alongside me. for a sierra leonean to cry takes effort as it is basically taboo and is a sign of weakness or inability to control one's emotions. we shared wine one last time and then they left. in the morning, my principal arranged for eight hondas to form an escort in front and we boarded his vehicle and left the village, myself keeping it together until petting Tink goodbye and shaking Foday's hand in departure. The ride out of the village saw me blinking back tears and waving as people, old and young, came out of their houses, waving their hands and clothes and yelling their thanks and goodbyes as we passed. some elders, who i had never seen stand up, stood up to give their thanks and say goodbye to me. we finally left gbendembu behind and i did my best to stop sniffling and tearing up. (what got me most was the look on tink's face as we drove away, that confused sort of 'where are you going that you're not bringing me?' expression that, wow, even as I write it I'm tearing up.) we arrived in freetown late that afternoon directly to the peace corps compound. to make a long story short, the time from my arrival in freetown to my departure to paris (two days from now) has been difficult, a sort of mess of emotions as we all try to comprehend that we are in fact LEAVING and may never see some of these other volunteers again.. i guess that earlier in my service we had thought that COS week would have been this bubbly affair with us all really excited to leave but instead it found us trapped in the hostel, the outside pouring rain, and us inside mulling over our lives. however, as we near our departure (and two of my friends left today), the excitement begins to build back. we are going home. we have finished. we did it. i love and miss you all :)

so it's over,.. (3 of 4)

>> my replacement! awhile ago, peace corps began to ask us about our sites, wehether or not we felt the site deserved a replacement, any special difficulties we faced, problems with housing or administration or the community as a whole. with the exception of the theft, i had no complaints. i suggested a male volunteer instead of a female volunteer for the sole reason that the school has 30 male teachers and 1 female teacher and a majority of other women in the gbendembu community spend their mornings and afternoons farming and their evenings cooking food for their families and the nights cleaning. (i recognize that this is not unique to gbendembu, but i mentioned to peace corps that i felt if they could make it work that a male might do better.) enter bryan gastonguay. my replacement, also named bryan (giggle giggle) is very bright, optimistic, motivated, and naive, but that's exactly how he should be :) he came on a site visit for three nights and i got to show him gbendembu, introduce him to my friends, make suggestions, and answer any questions he had. he was very impressed with the house, seemed a little surprised that he was not going to have 'the peace corps experience' aka the image we all have of a mud hut with fire pit, etc. however, as he settled in, i think he realizes just how 'set' he is in gbendembu. a motivated administration, a fine house, good friends that will welcome him, (plentiful palm wine), and far enough from freetown to be independent but not desperately far away. it was refreshing to spend time with him because he reminded me of how i felt way back when. i remembered my own site visit when there was only my principal and a few teachers to greet me and take me around. this future volunteer got ME to walk him around. could there be anything better? ill mention a few moments that made me feel like he'll be a perfect fit. (1) he sits down in the parlor. i sit down on the day bed. tink walks in, looks at me, looks at him, jumps up next to him and snuggles next to his lap and he begins to absently scratch behind her ears. he asks, "I was thinking about getting a dog, but I really like Tink.. Could I have her?" (At this point I teared up and had to non-obviously go into the kitchen because my sadness about Tink and who would indeed take care of her had been one of my biggest worries). (2) on his last night, i arranged for a small dance. there was plentiful wine (some beer), lots of food, and loud music. whereas other new volunteers might have stayed to the shadows and been in an observational mood, bryan jumped right up and joined me in dancing amidst the rain, mud, and children, not in the least self-concious. i wish you the best of luck, bryan. it's your home now. (and my departure is post #4) take care of it for me. i love and miss you all :)

so its over,.. (2 of 4)

>> the staff quarters! so as we all know, for those of us who have been playing along, the construction of the staff quarters went over-budget and over-time, an unimaginable surprise to me! (not really.) let's recap. six of the ten of the staff quarters were burned during the war. the school has solar power now, has plentiful chairs and desks (see my work with the Ambassador's Special Self-Help Fund), and strong zinc and general structures. However, there was a shortage of staff quarters. The house assigned for me as the Peace Corps Volunteer was too big (cavernous) with six rooms and a parlor. Most volunteers might have two rooms and a parlor. So, I said, Let's build a staff quarters, I'll move there, and they can put three teachers in this ridiculously big house. We pushed forward and, a huge amount of cement, work, and palm wine later, the staff quarters is finished. I had a rough fence installed (to keep those meddling kids away from my porch) and we step up onto a double-wide veranda. I found that most of my time was spent outside and this veranda is wide enough to allow people to sit opposite each other and (likely) enjoy food and drink. Moving into the parlor, we find it is long and narrow, my day bed already holding habitat there, the chairs and tables nestled together. The walls are yellow (as is the exterior of the house). The house could not be red (APC political party) or green (SLPP political party) or orange (PMDC political party) and my neighbor (the principal) has a blue house, so YELLOW it is! Moving down the main center hallway, we have mirrored rooms on either side, a kitchen (right) and office (left) and then a bedroom (right) and my bedroom (left). The 'tala' mats (woven mats) were installed above (functioning like a drop ceiling). Instead of pricey celotex (think strong cardboard) we went with the woven mats because (they were cheaper!) it is much cooler in the dry season than the celotex. The walls are again yellow yellow yellow. Exiting the back door, we come to the latrine. One of my biggest grievances with Sierra Leone is the lack of hygiene, especially in terms of the latrine / toilet. thusly, i spent some extra money to tile the walls to chest height and the floor. yes, it's a luxury. (it is your author's opinion that your bathroom, where you are naked, should be a clean inviting place, not cringeworthy and dirty). And that's about it. The house is impressive and (in my opinion) just about exactly what a Peace Corps Volunteer should have. This leads us to the opinion of my replacement, which we'll talk about in post #3. i love and miss you all :)

so its over,.. (1 of 4)

>> four closing blog posts. backing up, the last few weeks of instruction went well, finished less material than i did last year, but i can only blame this on a general lack of student motivation and attendance - I was there every class ready to go and sometimes found the classroom less than 10% full (an average class might have 13 students when it should have had 60). with school officially closed sometime around july 6th, i returned to my job as assistant to the chair of the exams and records committee (let's just say i was pretty much in charge) and began the tedious (TEDIOUS) process of inputting every student's grades for Test One and Test Two for Term Three. that's two tests x 50 students a class x 9 subjects x 13 forms. it's a lot. however, i still came home from school to find foday and my close friends ready and waiting with laughter, love, palm wine, and good food. tink, in her wisdom, began to sense something awry and was especially clingy, sleeping inside the house for the first time during my service and, in the last two weeks, sleeping with me in my bed. (i want to believe she sensed a change in my emotional ((or hormonal)) demeanor because she was never like this before). with the grades entered and my official responsibilities finished, i could turn my attention to the staff quarters construction which takes us to post #2. i love and miss you all :)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

goodbye to dr. laura

>> as is the way with government organizations (or any real organization i suppose), there must be overlap and continuity between incoming and outgoing staffs. june 22nd marks the departure of our doctor, Dr. Laura, who has helped myself ((boils, diarrhea, dehydration, giardia, rabies (disproved), blisters, gashes (from the freetown streets), and nightmares and insomnia (thank you, malaria medication)), as well as many other volunteers and trainees with their medical and psychological problems. im not ashamed to say that on more than one occasion it has been laura that either with compassion or sarcasm or a little bit of both had gotten me past rough patches, whether it was something as physical as diarrhea or something as ethereal as nightmares and insomnia. her replacement, steven tull, sounds like a nice man (i've only talked to him on the phone as of yet), but i look forward to working with him for the short time i'll be under his care. i am happy for salone 3 (who arrived june 7th and are now in bo for training) because they will have mr. tull for a majority of their service - he will leave around the time laura is leaving, respectively. anyway, in conclusion, thank you, dr. laura, for doing your job professionally and practically, never failing to set us straight when we went awry but also always being there to care for us when you were needed. thank you. i love and miss you all :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

africa is cruella devil

>> play along with this analogy for me. if africa was cruella devil, she would know when you were happy and then destroy those feelings. some examples: a) you've had a great day teaching! (AFRICA NOTICES) you now have devastating diarrhea all night! b) you're really tired and need a restful night of sleep! (AFRICA SEES) you now have a deafening terrifying lightning-enriched thunderstorm that makes you think that your zinc roof might just fly off and into the jungle! c) you're excited about your last day of teaching! (AFRICA OBSERVES) you go to class to find it mostly empty and your students not all that upset that you're done standing in front of them attempting to instruct them.. i could go on. i should clarify that this is almost always done with a humorous context, that when i talk to a friend and say 'but then the best thing happened...' that my friend will reply with, 'shhhhhhhhh SHE'S LISTENING!' and then we chuckle. perhaps its time for us to come home, eh? i love and miss you all :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

finally back in freetown

>> sorry. i've been away from freetown for far too long. since we talked last, lots has happened. your briefing begins now: a) I finished teaching! As of last Thursday, the 7th, I finished instruction. It was a relief to finally be finished with teaching which, if we're being honest, which i try to be all the time, was getting a little worn around the edges. the students no longer had any interest, stopped coming to school altogether, and only vaguely gave any appearance of interest in their studies. it's nice to be done, but of course, the work continues.. now i get to enter all the grades (55 students per class x 9 subjects x 13 classes x 2 tests) and then do the clerical work to end up the year right. there's a lot to be done before i can happily put a pretty bow on my service, but we're on our way! b) We decided to get another dog! I say this now, that this will not WILL NOT be my dog, that this is Foday's dog FODAY'S DOG! that we are getting when I return home on Sunday. one of my teachers' dogs had puppies and sunday night we will bring him home (already named 'patience' by foday) and continue on. i know that this will not replace queen, but it will be nice to have a sprightly puppy around again... c) the goodbyes have started. i have had multiple people come up to me with no other purpose than to tell me how much they will miss me, on some occasions, intermingled with tears and people saying things like, 'i dont know what we will do without you' or 'i dont know what i will do without you.' we are told in peace corps that you have a beginning, that rough first patch, followed by a lengthy middle part, where everything is more or less the same, and then, (where we are now), the end, when everything has underneath it that sense of ending, like crunchy leaves - every step you take can't be taken without being reminded that this is the last time i go here, the last time i do that, the last time we celebrate this together. the goodbyes have begun.. i love and miss you all :)