Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I'm Mediocre

>> So while learning how to teach, we're doing two different approaches, something called "Peer Teach," which involves teaching to our Peace Corps colleagues and "Micro Teach," which involves going to a local school and teaching to actual Sierra Leone students. I am really great (okay, pretty good) at teaching Peace Corps colleagues, mostly because they're all college-graduates, intelligent, and know the subject matter. I am really terrible (okay, really terrible) at teaching Sierra Leone students. Whilst teaching in my Micro Teach, I had more blank stares than I've ever seen before and this was after slowing down my speech multiple times, writing on the board, and then repeating, etc. It was frustrating up to a point and then humorous. I turned to the chalkboard and whispered, "Deadmau5...Deadmau5...Deadmau5..." and everything seemed better. The students are not at fault. The problem lies in the disconnect between my teaching skills / language differences and them, not to mention that the topic assigned to me was far too advanced for them. In my future? One more Peer Teach and then Summer School starts on Monday (i.e. a "Micro Teach" environment but everyday. Wish me luck)

I couldn't get to internet last Saturday because we had to go in for work and Sunday the internet was down, so my apologies. I am concerned about my potential site because conversations about it have ranged from a 2-hour-bike ride to internet to a twenty-minute walk to internet. I don't consider myself to be dependent on internet, but if I don't have ANY access to it, I can see my own potential stress levels becoming difficult to relieve, etc.
There's not much else notable to report although I did give my African children glow sticks for the first time ever (in their lives) and played an m5 mix on my laptop for them. They went absolutely crazy and passed the glow sticks from person to person and they ALL danced like crazy to it :) I wish I could upload the pictures from that night, but the internet here barely holds together long enough to write a blog post, nevermind uploading pictures.
A final thought- I had initially planned to come home in the summer 2011 but it now seems as if we will be helping to train the next batch of Peace Corps volunteers coming in, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to come home, (but you can bet that I'll hedge on earlier rather than later and that I'll give you plenty of warning :)

I love and miss you all.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Settling In

>> So I've been here two weeks now. I'm adjusted to the food, to my wonderful family, but the weather still gives me pause. My mother is under the belief that I could drink a gallon of water each day. She has found a small towel for me and insisted I buy another (for the sweat). I don't want to say that I'm melting, but I'm melting.
In other news, the training is going really well. We're finally beginning to specialize, i.e. not learning about education in one large group but breaking off into our individal groups (science, math, english) and learning techniques and strategies to teach it. My homework for this weekend is to prepare a fifteen-minute lesson plan on metamorphosis (caterpillar to butterfly) for young students. I'll be giving it in front of my fellow volunteers and then, as the weeks go by, longer and longer lessons with more and more feedback. In two weeks, we'll begin working at local summer schools and I'll be relatively on my own- preparing lesson plans, homework, and even a final exam with grades and all. No pressure.
The weather here, excluding the relentless heat and humidity, is amazing. Last night I was awoken by a thunderblast that may have actually terrified me. These aren't your run-of-the-mill storms, even the fun Champaign storms. These are rumbling crackling storms you see and hear coming for half an hour and whilst in America I would make popcorn and sit on the porch, here I sit inside and hope I survive. It's relatively epic.
My language studies are going slowly. My family speaks English and Mende first, and Krio second. My instructors have insisted on teaching Krio, but it is relatively ineffective at home, so I speak broken Mende and English. We've already had some wonderful conversations about American politics, the economy, and my home life. One of the main goals of this organization is not only me being immersed in Sierra Leone culture but for Sierra Leoneans to learn more about American culture. I'm doing my best. (My family was AMAZED that I am from Chicago, which they quickly pieced together to be where OBAMA is from. They insist that Obama and I are brothers. I agreed.)
Last night, I made my first walk from Kebbie Town (Apologies for calling it Kebbitown) to downtown Bo. This journey is some miles and while fun during the daytime proved relatively scary at nighttime but, with the company of other volunteers, we sarcasmed and laughed our way home on the pitch-black road, being passed by motorcycles and cars (which all honk whenever they pass anyone so as to inform you of their presence) and watching the sky ahead of us crackle and light up as yet another storm approached.
I'll close here. I love and miss you all. :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010


>> Hi! We made the long bus ride from Freetown to Bo after having spent four (five?) nights in the Stadium Hostel. The Stadium Hostel is the hotel that is next door to the National Stadium of Sierra Leone. Yes, the NATIONAL Stadium. We played frisbee on it. It was nice to get out of Freetown simply because with our lack of Krio language skills and general American-ness, we would be easy targets in the city and so we were not allowed to leave the compound.

Bo is wonderful.
A typical dinner consists of rice and a sort of sauce. Last night was rice with a fish sauce, and the night before was rice with a beef sauce. Breakfast, after I suggested to Sitta that I'd rather a smaller rather than larger breakfast, has shrunk to eggs and fresh potatoes today, plantains yesterday, etc. absolutely delicious. If you're wondering as to whether my body has been able to adjust to the new foods, the answer is yes. Our nurse gave a long discussion on diahhrea to all the Peace Corps volunteers but no concerns just yet.
My family (the Gandies) are incredibly caring. The mother's name is Sitta and the father's name is Aruna and they named me Joe Gandie after their first-born son. Unlike some of the other homestay parents, they allow me to be independent, decide when to go to bed, decide what I want for meals, and let me make some decisions. Other Peace Corps Volunteers have felt rather stifled in this regard. I think I just got lucky. Our house does not have electricity nor running water, which means that by about 8 PM the house is pretty dark and I'm heading to bed to read via my dynamo-powered light or to listen to music while my electronics still have charge :)
Classes have been pretty straight-forward. We learn from about 8-5 everyday with a few short breaks and a long lunch break. At this time, people usually rehydrate and nap and try to stay healthy. There are a lot of budding friendships although some people are beginning to show their true colors now that they really are 'in the thick of it.'
I'll close here. So far, Sierra Leone has been welcoming and yet incredibly exhausting. I find myself constantly sweating but smiling. These people have a LOVE for music, for dancing, for praise and love, something I can definitely get behind (PLUR)
I love and miss you all :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010


>> Yesterday involved our actual training- working with the other Peace Corps volunteers on various teamwork and friendship-building activities. While I was skeptical about this part of the program since I've done a bunch of these icebreaker-type activites, this was actually a really great time. We laughed a LOT and a lot of friendships were born. We went to a reception at the Peace Corps Headquarters in downtown Washington, DC and were greeted by the Chief of Staff of the Peace Corps as well as a variety of other dignitaries.

Whilst eating some authentic Sierra Leone food, I flipped my plate over, sending cavalla leaves, meatballs, rice, etc. onto the floor and rolling away from me. This happened JUST as the local NBC camera-woman was walking past our row. I frantically try to cut her off and she laughs and says, "I stopped, don't worry." So, I start to clean up my food. (Meanwhile, Regan and Dane are CRYING with laughter). Whilst I'm cleaning, one of the higher-level Peace Corps guys walks up and begins a conversation with the now-calm Dane and Regan while I'm cleaning up my food off the floor not six inches from his shoes. The NBC woman is back and videotaping and is desperately trying to film Regan, Dane, and the Peace Corps representative without getting me in the picture. Feel free to laugh. I certainly did :) After the reception, we went out again to a few bars and enjoyed our last night in the USA. We may or may not have participated in karaoke. I plead the fifth.

Today involved going to the Department of Health and Human Services Building, going through security, and getting our yellow fever shots. The shot was painless but necessary. We proceeded onto Dulles and here I sit, stealing some of Regan's paid Wi-Fi and keeping you up to date. I won't have internet for the next two weeks guaranteed. Let's see how that goes. I love and miss you all :)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hooray, Washington, DC!

>> I made it to Washington, DC! Despite a very difficult goodbye to my parents amidst O'Hare Security and a frightening descent into Washington, DC, everything is going well. My hotel roommate is a guy named Tyler, a nice guy who agrees with me on.. everything, including the frustrations he too had with the application process, which was refreshing, because I thought it might have just been me. We and the rest of the Peace Corps volunteers went to registration and got our Peace Corps debit card, which came pre-loaded with $160 and instructions to immediately withdraw the money and to spend it on whatever we wanted, which we did on a pizza dinner and drinks at a local bar, the perfect time to begin to make friendships, find similarities, and discuss our fears and hopes for our time in Sierra Leone. Laying on a soft bed in the Holiday Inn, it feels like a nice vacation, but I know that this is the 'posh' part of the trip and that soon, writing on my blog via WIRELESS INTERNET on a soft bed with AIR CONDITIONING cooling my feet will be a thing of the past...