Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Thanksgiving was an event that I really needed! we planned to hold it
in lunsar, a village about 45 minutes away from makeni moving toward
freetown. i arrived first after having retrieved a moneygram transfer
(for the staff quarters construction). i found joey and mike, our
hosts, and their fabulous residence, much nicer than my own, their
cooler full of cold drinks.. let me repeat that.. COLD drinks.. other
volunteers began to arrive, and we migrated over to joey's school (two
floors high, layered in tile and lights, a modern kitchen, obedient
and motivated students (students have to pass entrance exams to
attend her school) and began to make cupcakes. we finished this task
awhile later, myself still in awe of the school, and we moved back to
her house, relaxing before heading out. although late in the season, a
huge storm was soon upon us, forcing us to take shelter under an
overhang. the rain eventually subsided and we moved to a small
restaurant where i had a beef schwarma (the restaurant only had 8
hamburgers ready and ran out of beer and potatoes while we were
there). we wandered over to a nighclub afterwards at which the DJ was
perhaps the worst i've ever heard. we did not stay long, moving back to
the school campus where we had rooms at the school's guest house.

the next morning broke hot and early, and after organizing
ourselves, we moved over to the kitchen again, myself taking a detour
to gather debbie, the timap volunteer i had befriended in my village
over the previous months. our task? sweet potato casserole. the other
volunteers had their own dishes and, hours later (and plenty of music
from different laptops later), our dishes were complete. we moved back
to the guest house where candles lit a table that would rival any in
america. there was sweet potato casserole, sangria, stuffing, corn,
baked chicken, a sort of split pea soup, and cupcakes for dessert. it
was amazing. i made a playlist of music, which gave us the great
moment of 'carry on my wayward son' playing behind us. we enjoyed the
evening, watching 'the devil wears prada' before sleeping, cleaning up
in the morning, and heading home. my first thanksgiving left something
to be desired, and my second and last thanksgiving in sierra leone
more than made up for that. thank you again, joey and mike, and
everyone else who made the event special. i love and miss you all :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December news

Sorry about that. i haven't been to freetown in a long time, and there's a bit to catch up on! school has been going well; i had some difficulties with my SS2 students being rude, but I straightened them out (with the help of some of my SS3 students who told them basically, "stop being rude. listen to mr. meeker." there was more to it than that, but that's the gist. My students did very well on their first term final exam although i worry that their knowledge is only memorization and not comprehension (although that seems to be an international problem in my opinion). work has started and finished at 1 of the 4 schools receiving the small grants, the other three are dragging their feet and will require some gentle pushing from me. the chairs and desks project (funded by USAID and the U.S. Embassy) is nearing completion which will entail a large ceremony at the school and possibly Embassy personnell (personell? personnel? ugh.) coming all the way to Gbendembu to attend! The Ambassador has said that he would love to visit, but it's.. it's real far from Freetown. We'll see. In either case, I'm really excited that the project is nearing completion. Finally, the staff quarters project has started! As of this writing, the foundation has been laid and the hole for the latrine has been dug. We are now waiting on supplies and for more dedicated manpower (since people want money as they go and not at the end of the work, which is hard to convince people to work for a week with nothing and then getting it at the end..) Socially, we had Thanksgiving in Lunsary (a separate post for that), and besides that, I've been especially hermit-like, teaching, reading, writing, drinking my palm wine, and mingling as much as I can. I've found that at school I have much more authority this year, as in, a teacher was letting his students be quite loud. I came in, told him it was unacceptable and that if I had to come back, there would be trouble. The class was silent afterward. (Treated.) Rambling. Okay. I'll write the Thanksgiving post now. I love and miss you all! :)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

developments in development

>> see what i did there? clever. so, now that we're past me being pathetic for that expansive amount of time, let's get some work done. work will be starting on a staff quarters near my house that will be built to a design i drew and hopefully be the residence of the next peace corps volunteer. also commencing will be smaller projects at four neighboring schools, ranging from a new roof, a new latrine, a new building, and some physics supplies! let's get it done. i'll be back in freetown perhaps next weekend but maybe not for awhile? then thanksgiving in lunsar with some good friends, then its suddenly december.. then its suddenly 2012.. does anyone else think this is going by quickly? it also makes me think when i realize that this is halloween weekend and my friends are organizing and watching 'halloween' (THE best scary movie, period.) and probably beginning to get cold.. while here in sierra leone it continues to be.. the same. sigh. anyway. yes. i love and miss you all :)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

one of those things

>> so emotional stability is not a strong suit of most volunteers.. we're on our malaria medicine, constantly stressed, tired, dehydrated, grumpy, hormonal, etc., and often times lash out at others or wish we had, then doubt it later, you get my point. since my return from america, i've been struggling to get my feet under me, and i don't know whether it was simply tasting home again, or the feeling that now my return is impending, that the future is there and is suddenly only nine months away and not this massively large time away. but i'm making excuses. i made some mistakes. and i've taken the blame, and mended the bridges i'd broken. there's still two bridges i'm working on, but again, rambling. in conclusion, i feel like now, without boils on my feet, rabies, and revelry in freetown that left me emotional, that i'm back. that i'm centered, and focused. i realize that sounds cliche and a little foolish, but it's the truth. i now recognize the time left here is finite, that i have work to get done and people to spend my time with because in all too short a time, this will be in the past. i love and miss you all :)

Friday, October 21, 2011


>> so i'm not in freetown, but i posted this ahead. i turn 24 today,.. and last year we had a large party at my house where maybe sixty people came, (and some stuff was stolen) but it was a great time. i'm planning to have a smaller affair this year, but we'll see what happens in the end. i have found that it is on bigger days, like birthdays, thanksgiving, christmas, that the homesick factor increases, so just know that i'm thinking of home today and wishing i could celebrate it with you all. makes october 21, 2012 sound pretty amazing already, right? i love and miss you all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

the relationship between man and dog

>> justice, my best friend foday's dog, died in my parlor. he had been sleeping there nearly all day long, would go outside to use the bathroom and come back inside and sleep in the exact same spot. it was a particularly dark night for both of us, foday holding justice in his arms and crying, me next to him rubbing his back and trying not to do the same. but our relationship with dogs is unique in our village, perhaps in sierra leone. the majority conception here a simple one, that a dog provides security. you give dogs food, and the dog will protect you to ensure that it continues to receive food. i believe that this is true, but that it betrays a critical element, that of affection. justice does not wag his tail and bark happily, tink does not run at full speed down a road, queen does not whine at the front door until i let him in because they are hungry. they care about me / us the same way that we care about them. when i see cruelty against animals, as i have been seeing since my arrival here, it pains me, but i have come to accept that i cannot change it and that my only outlet is to treat my dogs the way i wish all of them were treated here. i feed them, give them attention, and recognize that they are more than security, that they are family. thank you, justice. i love and miss you all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

what makes a volunteer

>> i've been pondering, since there's not much else i can do. i thought about getting some water, but that means limping into the kitchen here and i don't have that kind of willpower right now. so, yes, pondering. what makes a good volunteer? i believe that yes, it requires the omnipresent flexibility, the ability to look at a situation in the process of disintegrating and to not get angry but swallow that, smile, and adapt. (example: when my doctor changed my plans for me, i could have gotten upset, and did, but that anger wouldn't have helped anything, so i changed my plans, adapted, and everything is working out). i also believe there has to be a certain amount of humility, to go into every situation, regardless of personal opinion, and appear interested and open (example: oh of course i'd love to stand and talk about your lack of funding for cooking dinner tonight even though yesterday you were yelling at me for not learning your language. of course! i'd love to talk :) but i also feel that a good volunteer has to have that snap point, that point at which they have had it. for some volunteers, it happens sooner than for others, and for some, when they are unable to walk, it comes up really quickly (example: men in lorry park harassing me about the price of things, telling me it should cost 50K when the real price should be between 5-10K, me trying to bargain, being laughed at for limping, and snapping. the price was settled at 25K, still ridiculous, but half of what they originally wanted. win? grrrr). so yes, what else? when you want to go to the bathroom, you're okay with going outside into the rain to get there, okay with cockroaches scurrying when you lift off the cover of your latrine, thunder and lightning that rattles your skull, snakes in the long grass, palm wine in your stomach, and a dreamy smile on your face? perhaps this is the beginning of dementia. i love and miss you all :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

you're pushing me

>> i'm not just going to complain, i promise. it all starts with my dog. there was those concerns about rabies, which led to me hurrying through freetown to get to my doctor before hours ended, which resulted in two minor blisters on my feet. these went away, i didn't have rabies, the blisters went away, but on my departure from freetown a taxi dragged me (and my foot) along the asphalt resulting in some nice bloody wounds on my right foot. so, arriving back in gbendembu, i wore a shoe on the left foot and a sandal on the right to facilitate its healing. this resulted in the blister on my left foot coming back. it then, by chance (africa) became a boil inside a blister inside a nightmare. the pain from this was incredible - i don't think i slept more than six hours over three nights, and finally called my doctor (since our doctor is on well-deserved vacation) who suggested i come to freetown. i truly appreciated sierra leoneans laughing at me while i limped from vehicle to vehicle. truly. i also appreciate you charging me double even though you can clearly see i am in pain. i REALLY appreciate that. especially after having lived here for 16+ months. i finally got here to freetown, and was told there's nothing that can really be done. i was given painkillers so i could sleep (and sleep i did :) and we're starting a new day here. with the problems of september, and now my inability to.. walk.. i'd really appreciate a break. you're pushing me, sierra leone. i love and miss you all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

things you didnt see today

>> it's a fun game, i promise!

1. a 15-year-old boy saying "Love without sex is like going to school without your uniform"
2. me crammed into a space the size of a small coffin (the africans got a huge kick out of this, and so did i.. i love waving with half an arm out of the poda-poda at students in neighboring villages, :)
3. a 15-year-old boy saying "Love without sex is like going to university and not getting your degree"
4. me and a good sierra leonean running to my house just as a huge storm comes in, cut to us laughing and soaking wet because we didn't quite make it
5. two dead dogs in the street
6. getting a ride with a friend ive made in freetown (she remembered me and took me almost all the way to my doorstep and i didnt have to squeeze into a space the size of a small coffin!
7. a taxi on the side of the road that had been in such a horrific accident that it was hard to tell which part of the car had once been the front and which had once been the trunk
8. a beautiful sunset over the atlantic ocean from the east side's perspective
9. a man going into a shop and literally ordering a hunk of meat, which then sat on the dashboard of our taxi for the remainder of the ride, looking all meaty and stuff
10. me smiling and getting dinner with a friend at the junction here near the hostel and her amazing chicken sauce and rice (and a warm star beer from hawa, my 'i made it to freetown alive' beer)

see? fun right? i love and miss you all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

sounds like a sequel

>> so my school got its exam results back. they were poor. very poor. i would hope to not get in trouble for this blog post: im beginning to see the creation of a large group of late teenage - early twenty-something men (since most of the women do not take the exam) that are poor, desperate, and frustrated. they do not have the necessary education to get the jobs they may want, so they drive the motorcycles, sell the food, and feel generally unsatisfied. what did we have at the heart of the last conflict in sierra leone? a large group of late teenage - early twenty-something men who were desperate and latched onto any cause they felt might improve their situation. i'm not sure what the solution is ( maybe something about education ) but i saw a lot of my students who got their exams back and they were itching for a fight and did indeed have one later that night that ended in police involvement. just a thought. i love and miss you all.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

k, thanks september

>> this is has not been my best september. to be concise, since i know you're thinking 'ugh its one of his posts where just talks about himself imma go get a coke' i made a fool of myself multiple times over in a short period of time, culminating with this delightful unplanned trip (jaunt) to freetown to get my post-exposure rabies vaccination. ill let you fill in the blanks on that. however, beginning with my arrival at the hostel (which was helped by some nice Sisters of the Holy Name Church at Aberdeen ((backstory: i was waiting first, guys walked up, taxi arrives, i walk around to get in, guys have taken all the seats and pushed over to the other side, keeping me out, taxi pulls away. Sisters of the Holy Name Church see this happen and see the look of, oh, fury, on my face)) and i'm hoping that this is the end of my september troubles. please? // in other news, we're not teaching. we were supposed to start september 12th, but the pay package was not passed (this was supposed to have been passed in march. makes you wonder about getting wedding invitations) so here we sit. classes are supposed to start tomorrow, but my principal told me that we are likely really going to have effective teaching september 26th or into october. dear sierra leone, the reason peace corps is here is to help with education. this, this right now, is part of the problem. i love and miss you all.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

mid service training and, out

>> just having finished our mid-service training, (and by the way, it's 'training' not conference as i had initially thought,.. apparently we are still being trained..), it's again a reminder of how far that we've come and how far we still have to go. most of the volunteers are really pushing, getting involved in multiple projects and working to really get a lot of development underway here. we're all getting sierra leone off to a fantastic start, laying the foundations of something that will continue to blossom for many years to come - it was great to see everyone, and even better to leave and head back to site and get back to work / not work. // as is often the case, the packages my parents have sent me for the past little while all seem to see each other on the way (oh hey. yeah. bryan? omg yes! we should totally go together and surprise him. okay! *giggles) which means that three packages, aka the height of an African primary school student and weighing as much are now my fun task of getting back to the village. such is life, yes? // we took a bunch of the salone-2 kids out last night for their first real night in freetown, this meant a bar on the beach (that has no name), then to ace's, a nightclub that seems to never sleep, where we danced until the early morning. they all seemed to really enjoy it, and i think it was a great taste of freetown for them - what they'll come to realize as their escape from the village (as long as they don't escape there too often, right? *looks around awkwardly*) // heading back to gbendembu tomorrow, should be there for three weeks before heading back here. not really in the most superb of mindsets right now, so i'll close here. i love and miss you all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

and now?

>> and now i go back to my village! on friday, i'll be going to makeni for the swearing-in of salone-2, the next group of happy-go-lucky peace corps trainees soon to become volunteers. i haven't decided about my plans that night. it sometimes maybe perhaps becomes a large party the night of swearing-in, but it's not really my / our party, it's theirs.. we'll see. i'll either go home that afternoon or saturday morning, and then be in my village for a few weeks. back to freetown on august 31 for our september 1st and 2nd mid-service conference. after that, i'm not sure when i'll be in freetown again.. i begin teaching again middle of september and i have renewed vigor to finish my ambassador's special self-help fund grant and to do more development work with an initiative i'm working with from my home state. something i noticed on the flight back to sierra leone was a general lack of 'I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING' replaced with a 'oh, right. i got this. no problem.' i'm looking forward to getting back to my village (where i belong) and falling back into my normal routine. not sure when my next post will be, so until then, i love and miss you all.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

back to work,..

>> did that really happen? i'm not entirely convinced that i went home for two weeks. the trip back had its ups and downs. departure from o'hare was painless, the eight-hour flight seemed short (because i kept falling asleep and waking up to find everyone else eating or drinking. all i had was a pillow imprint on my face and drool). arriving at heathrow was fine, but i ended up getting lost. a kind british heathrow worker directed me the right way. thank you, heathrow. the gate for the plane to freetown was 33A. we didn't even get a whole gate. i found this amusing. the people waiting for this plane were a smattering of english miners, ngo workers, africans, and people like me, (haha no no im kidding. there's no one else like me.) so, we board. i have a seat by the window,... and we're leaving! the plane was easily half-empty, which means the aisle seat next to me because my junk depository space. this flight also seemed shorter than its six-and-a-half-hour length, although again i kept falling asleep. (i had been out late many nights with friends during my two body needed some catch-up). also, the flight attendant was cute, but that's neither here nor there. filled out my landing card, got off the plane. (imma be honest. i DISLIKE STRONGLY lungi airport, especially at DARK). it's dark out. went down the stairs, inside the muggy, dimly-lit arrivals area into a long line, moved through and gave the attendant my arrivals card and passport, she barely looks at it, waves me through. i'm stopped rather roughly by a man demanding to see my world health organization card. i show it to him. he barely looks at it and waves me through. i'm stopped again by a man demanding to see everyone's passport and visa. barely looks at mine, waves me through. now we're standing in front of one small slowly-moving luggage carousel, like one of those moving walkways except filled with elderly folks that aren't moving. slowly and slower the luggage moves around. then, and i always feel like i have this, EVERYONE ELSE is getting their luggage. do you panic at this too? i do. not to mention the absolute mess that would create. but, my worries are for naught- there are my bags. my ride to take me to the ferry? not there. phone call. his friend? okay. solomon takes me to an air-conditioned bus, puts my things onboard, a few more people, and off we go to the nassit ferry (not the one ive taken before, superb..). we board, solomon tells me he's not coming over with us, but here's the number of a driver to take me to the compound. (great.) i'm in the first-class lounge. i get a star beer, feel a little more at home. there's an old movie about guerilla warfare on the flat-screen TV. (dear nassit ferry, maybe we could show something more like a 'welcome to sierra leone! land of peace, love, unity, and respect movie?) i go up to buy a bag of chips. a SMALL bag. i'm told they cost 10,000Le. you must think i just got here. i go outside, watch the waves go by, see freetown looming larger on the horizon. our arrival at government wharf is more-or-less a crash, and that's not just me.. sierra leoneans around me are yelling 'EASE UP! EASE UP!!!!!'.. then we crash. the cement columns holding up that particular part of the dock nearly fall over sideways. but they don't. everyone looks around with a look of,.. 'we're okay. we're okay.' the bus we rode on in is downstairs, he turns the behemoth around, we walk down the slippery ramp (i nearly died here. slippery. dark. tricky.) and the bus lumbers off behind us, scraping its front fender and looking altogether ridiculous coming off the rusting ferry. he stops, the driver helps me with my bags, and now i'm looking for my 'driver' in the darkness of government wharf. oh how i LOVE sierra leone. a man approaches. 'bryan?' i nod. i know his name is supposedly ibrahim. 'ibrahim?' he nods. we go to his red taxi, he puts my belongings inside, and off we go. we have a great conversation about him being susu, peace corps, etc., and sooner rather than later, we arrive at the peace corps compound. i disembark, pay him more than i should because i really just want to get inside the big, safe, blue peace corps doors. i walk up the hostel, talk with some volunteers there, update my facebook status, and collapse. i loved going home, but travelling in and out of sierra leone is about as much fun as a migraine. i love and miss you all.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

home (three of three)

>> the days home were spent well. i saw many of my friends. some things i had been looking forward to, notably, driving, a margarita from dos reales, air-conditioning, my own bed, etc. were just as great as i remember them. other things, like the city of chicago (which i was uncomfortable with for the first time in my life), and some foods that i may have made phenomenal in my head when in reality they are only average (i'm looking at you, taco bell). i had moments where i missed africa, something i didn't really expect. i missed my slower life, my dogs, Foday, palm wine, my home... in the social category, i found myself trying my best to fit right back in, with some success. i found myself healing old wounds with friendships. i found myself changing how i felt about some of my friends, not so much in a judgmental manner but simply in the way we've begun to move apart. i fell in love again (this would be #4,302 for those keeping track) but it was bittersweet knowing my departure was looming. and now, in my last few days home, i'm saying goodbyes all over again, which doesn't seem to be as wrenching as the first time, but still hurts. i'll stop bitching about that now. i loved my trip home. i'm glad that i did it. seeing my family, my dog, my friends, driving my car, laughing and cuddling and flirting and enjoying my life again with the people that matter to me was / is priceless. to those that i was able to see while i was home, thank you. it means more than you know. i love and miss you all already. :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

home (two of three)

>> when we last left our hero, he was aboard an airplane, turning the light above him on and off just because he could. the man next to him, an employee of the british department of international development ( i think ) provided good conversation until somewhere around spain we both passed out. heathrow was incredibly overwhelming. for all of the plane's conveniences, heathrow was full of (yes,..) white people, lights, cleanliness, electricity, tv screens yelling at me, shiny things to look at, cookies, drinks, glassware, ice.. completely overwhelming. i checked in my bags (thanks british airways for charging me $75 for my second checked bag. really appreciated that.) i moved through, enjoyed a glass of champagne, and waited for my gate announcement. once there, boarding the plane and moving to chicago was relatively painless although i already began to get annoyed with some people (standing in the aisle of the plane instead of letting people pass / a woman complaining about the airplane being crowded, etc. LADY, get on a PODA-PODA with 35 other people and some GOATS.). we arrived in chicago a little bit late, and then, that magical moment of leaving the baggage claim to find my parents waiting for me on the other side. that hug, with my mother, and then my father, was pretty emotional / amazing. we got to our car (which weirdly enough was made this decade, and was next to rows and rows of OTHER cars, on a FLAT surface with lines? my parents called this a 'parking lot.') we drove on home, i went out to see a friend, and my mind generally tried to comprehend that i was not dreaming and that when i woke up i would still be here and not underneath my mosquito net with a chicken crowing outside, covered in sweat, with my dog queen snuggled against my side (because i LOVE a warm dog in the african heat..) so now i'm home. the next post will be better, yes?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

home (one of three)

>> so this trip started with domingo and i struggling to find a taxi. i had my bags, my optimism, my worry, (for the worry, you have to keep it in a 3 oz. container for the airplane apparently, whatever..) and we were in front of the peace corps compound waiting for someone willing to take us to the ferry. our plan originally had been for domingo to drive me in a friends car, but those plans fell through. yes. i was as surprised as you are. finally, we found someone willing to take us (for a price, ugarti, for a price) and off we went down the hill. coming the other way is a purple mazda miata convertible. domingo stops the taxi, flags down the miata. it's the friend and the car we were supposed to use. we leave the taxi, hop in the miata, drive the friend down the hill, and off we go to the ferry, top down, music blasting, suitcases in the trunk, feeling like a dang celebrity. africa notices that i am happy. it begins to rain. long story short, we get to the ferry, enjoy a beer, get on the ferry, watch the wind and the waves fly by (and i admit feeling sadness watching freetown fade away..), arrive at the other side, get to the airport (in amazing time, SO much fun...), and drops me off. i sit down with my bags, enjoy another beer, and wait. a few hours later, i am checked in, continuing to read THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo, which you should read, I think it's my third time reading it, and then meet some of the Friends of Sierra Leone members. We adjourn upstairs to the restaurant, enjoy a meal, talk about our experiences (similarities and differences) and finally, at 11PM, move into the rain, aboard a bus, aboard a plane (AIR CONDITIONING, LIGHTS, COMFORTABLE SEATS, COLD WATER, !??!), and at 11:30 PM, fifteen minutes early, took off for London-Heathrow, leaving my home behind..

Saturday, July 23, 2011

going out in style

>> so, we decided to go out in style here in freetown. the events with the 'friends of sierra leone' were all class affairs, meetings with dignitaries and officials, good food, good conversation. i said it in a previous post, but my opinion of this group has skyrocketed. we spent an evening with a friend at his apartment in freetown, were treated to ice cold cranberry and vodka, chocolate chip cookies, and his opulent space. amazing. finally, last night, we were invited to a private party at a nearby apartment complex. to give you an idea of how surreal this was, the following were in attendance: champagne, cheez-its, bbq chicken, exotic dips, lemon squares, chocolate pecan cake, ice-cold beer, hot dogs, pasta salad, a large swimming pool, white wine, red wine, ice cubes, etc. the afternoon was spent relaxing, eating, and talking (as we were given a lot of attention, peace corps volunteers looking clean? and articulate? and that we were.), and the party began to die down. we retreated inside to the amazing leather couches only to have one of the other guests run inside to inform us that we were all going swimming. now. in our clothes. we moved to the pool, skeptical. it only took a few moments of contemplation for me to realize that the chances of me again having the option to swim in a swimming pool with these people, in sierra leone, after an afternoon of partying, was pretty much nil. off with the shorts and shirt. into the pool. the following hours were spent lazily swimming around, games of 'marco polo,' etc., and generally being amazed at our lives. it began to rain (of course), and when it threatened to get bad, we dressed and made our way home in time for our peace corps curfew. absolutely amazing, and absolutely not likely to happen again anytime soon :) i love and miss you all.. and i will see you on monday :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

anxious, yes.

>> so, i remain in freetown. i spent time with the 'friends of sierra leone' on monday and tuesday, and i'm glad i did- my opinion of them, made early in our training while still getting my bearing, was admittedly that they were perhaps just a *little* too enthusiastic about sierra leone. having been here a year, i've seen the things they said i would see, i've dealt with some of the problems they said i would deal with, and my opinion has generally improved. ive had numerous conversations with them in which we both -leveled- with each other, and it's been great. we had a reception at the ambassador's house on tuesday night, (still an amazing property), and generally got to schmooze and schmaltz the early evening away :) tonight, we have the closing reception and dinner for their visit. in conclusion, my opinion has changed, for the better. in other news, i'm ready to go home. i purpsosely came to freetown so that i would not be -dancing in place- in gbendembu, but now i find myself doing the same thing in freetown, granted it means internet, movies, and western food (kind of like a preamble to home, honestly). sound good? wait wait, it's africa. the giardia went on its merry way, but for whatever reason, i woke up yesterday incredibly nauseous and uncomfortable. (i think it's morning sickness). after vomiting and more diarrhea, yesterday was pretty much shot. so, today, thursday, i'm going to the dentist here in freetown (give me strength..) and then to the bank, then back to the hostel to relax on the veranda with a good book. or at least, that's the plan :) i love and miss you all.

Friday, July 15, 2011

lemme back up a bit

>> so i'm back in freetown. since we talked last, i've worked with the new trainees, finished teaching my first year of teaching biology in africa, turned in my grades, packed my bags for home, gotten giardia a second time, and arrived in freetown safely, driven in a Peace Corps vehicle, because they were going my way. the new trainees are knowledgeable, way more than we were at this point, which is intimidating / great. they're a little naive, but so were we when we first arrived; there's a lot of lessons they have yet to learn (and i do to...). finishing my first year of teaching was anticlimactic, since the students stopped really interacting for the last few weeks because they saw the summer vacation approaching (kinda the same as in an American classroom). i turned in my grades, which was not that bad, but working in the grades office was, (a HUGE headache),.. whereas in many classrooms in America we utilize these pretty computer-generated-software printouts of grades, in Africa it's all done by hand. my hand. i stayed until 4 AM one morning, came back at 6:30 AM, stayed until 3 PM, collapsed at home, came back, worked until dark and it was finished. a sizeable amount of work. with the school year done, i spent more time with foday and my village, which was great :) although large stinging ants decided that my shower is their new favorite rest stop. this was especially fun in the morning, naked, taking a bucket bath, and feeling my feet burning and prickling as they bit me. cut to me throwing boxers back on, resisting the urge to scream, running outside, seeing that the floor of the shower is in fact a small interstate of ants. i go and get foday, because i'm not man enough, and my feet hurt, and he came with one of the brooms and smacked, cleaned, and frustrated the ants. they left. i bathed. now i check the shower for ants. i had the, err, runs, but they got worse, much worse, and, grudgingly, i called laura (because i hate calling and saying 'laura, i'm pooping a lot') and we agreed it was indeed giardia again. superb. giardia is like diarrhea on steroids, so, yes, diarrhea + your body on fire + aches + cramps + incredible burps and other gaseous exchanges. it's fun! i packed my bags for home, and was informed a snake was in my latrine. apparently someone posted about my latrine on some social networking site, because everyone wants to go there now. the snake fell into the pit, what a terrible way to die, and life moves on. i went to makeni, collected some letters from trainees, and got a ride to freetown, and here we are. all caught up? :) i love and miss you all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

on the porch with a book

>> after i've taught for the day, graded my papers, and settled into being home and not on display, i usually settle down to read for awhile. i'm not there for hours, but i loved reading growing up and lost that with the high school / facebook / college. this is a list of the books i've read since arrival in sierra leone one year ago. books denoted with blue were my favorites and you should go read them :)

  1. Inferno by Dante

  2. Purgatorio by Dante

  3. Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston

  4. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

  5. Thunder Over the Ochoco by Gale Ontko

  6. The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

  7. Me Speak Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

  8. Dress Your Family in Curdoroy and Denim by David Sedaris

  9. Nimitz Class by Patrick Robinson

  10. Kilo Class by Patrick Robinson

  11. H.M.S. Unseen by Patrick Robinson

  12. U.S.S. Seawolf by Patrick Robinson

  13. Ghost Force by Patrick Robinson

  14. Language and Faith by John Hutchinson

  15. The Art of Prayer by Kenneth Hagin

  16. Black Man's Grave by Gary Stewart and John Amman

  17. Blood Diamonds by Greg Campbell

  18. Classroom Management (Peace Corps Publication)

  19. Greaseless by Loretta Graziano Breuing

  20. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

  21. Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

  22. Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

  23. Ford County Stories by John Grisham

  24. Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

  25. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

  26. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

  27. Don't Look Behind You by Peter Wilson

  28. Whatever You Do, Don't Run by Peter Wilson

  29. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

  30. America's Best Science & Nature Writing 2010 Edited by Freeman Dyson

  31. Hannibal by Thomas Harris

  32. Blood Safari by Deon Meyer

  33. Breathless by Dean Koontz

  34. Twistor by John Cramer

  35. Einstein's Bridge by John Cramer

  36. Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

  37. Confessions by St. Augustine

  38. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

  39. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

  40. A Woman Trapped in a Woman's Body by Lauren Weedman

  41. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

  42. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

  43. Krakatoa by Simon Winchester

  44. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

  45. House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Some of these books were terrible. Some are books that I'll eventually be buying when I return home. I have donated all of these to our library at the Peace Corps compound for others to enjoy. i love and miss you all.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

and there was light

>> our solar system is up and running! the three dinner-table-size panels were hauled onto the tin roof and with the final installations and connections, we have electricity. let me emphasize how much of a big deal this is. when we go into the staff room, and flick the switch, lights come on. when i go into the computer room, i can turn on my laptop or the school computer anytime i want. at nighttime, there are lights in every classroom where students can come to study (but let's be honest they're there to flirt and cause problems as the past week has shown) but also where teachers can continue to grade their papers and do work. the ability to have a place to go after 7:30PM (dark) where i can continue to read, listen to music, muse, anything beside stall before going to bed, is outstanding. the problems facing the administration and students now, though, is how to regulate it, as there have already been some questionable behavior regarding the availability of energy. i'll give you a hint: al-fabah in town charges 1,000Le to charge a phone battery- if i offer to charge it for 800Le at the school,... i think you understand, so *for now* the solar power is a blessing and a curse. i hope that the school grows into this (extremely rare) opportunity and comes to improve over time with their usage and understanding of it. i love and miss you all.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

the one year anniversary

>> i'm a little flabbergasted that it has been one year since i stepped off the plane at lungi into the sweltering heat and humidity and began this ridiculous beautiful chaos of an adventure. the next group of volunteers arrived late on june 2nd, and i know they're going through something pretty similar right about now. i've learned a lot of things about sierra leone, about myself, about who i am, about who i am not, about what principles i am willing to bend on, about which principles i will fight for. i've made plenty of mistakes, I've gotten upset with people, i've walked out of classes, and I've been a bad volunteer. i've had students tell me the only reason they've stayed in gbendembu is because i'm their teacher. students tell me that i inspire them. i've had teachers tell me that they admire me. i've had neighbors, who can barely feed themselves, give me food when i was low on money (an aside, rice is now 1,500Le a cup and when i first arrived it was 500Le a cup,.. salaries haven't increased) when she didn't have to. i can't understand lucy's loko, she can't understand my english, and neither of us speaks good krio. but through a mix of pantomiming and smiling and HUMANITY, we have a friendship that honestly warms my heart. foday, with two children and a wife, buying the palm wine for me, getting my clothes from the tailor because he knew i was bankrupt, paying for it when his pockets are already empty. i've had phone conversations with my family where i asked, 'what am i doing here?' and other conversations that, without me realizing it, answered that very question. i've resented people, and i've been resented by people. i've been stopped by the police. i've had money and belongings stolen from me. i've had foday take my headphones, listen to the music i love, and smile at me and, without english or temne or anything, connect. it's hard for me to believe that i have been here a year. i love and miss you all, and i will see you july 25 :)

Friday, June 3, 2011

frogs / wasps

>> i'll be concise about these delightful organisms. the frogs are mating. the creek, about a hundred yards away, is where they like to mate. to give you an idea of how loud it was a couple nights ago, foday and i had to YELL to hear each other five feet apart. there are SO MANY FROGS making SO MANY MORE FROGS. also, walking to my latrine in the back now requires a flashlight because the frogs are always on my path and i really don't want to step on one although i suppose the damage to him/her might be worse than to me. >> the wasps are starting to become a nuisance. apparently my place is now the hip place to bee seen. they're all building those little gray apartment complexes in my toilet, outside my toilet, on my porch, in my hut, just about everywhere. like my initial trepidations with spiders, though, aka me naively buying insect spray and thinking i'd keep them at bay, i'll just have to learn to live with the wasps. and the frogs. the more the merrier, right? i love and miss you all.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Advice for the new 'guys'

Advice for the next group of volunteers for Sierra Leone

This is some advice for the next group of volunteers that will be useful to you immediately.

1. It is best if you wait a while before reacting / judging. If you, for example, become angry quickly, it will send the wrong message, especially since usually you're misinterpreting something. I am quick to anger and have made this mistake. Later, someone clarified that it had been a casual joke and not meant seriously. If I had waited instead of getting upset, I would have done better.

2. Be honest with yourself. There are many volunteers that take the Peace Corps to be a time to reinvent themselves. If you want to try, fine. However, it's best if you act the same way in PST as you did the week before. For some volunteers, they have begun to show some 'cracks' where we see their real personality. I feel I did well at this. Other people tried too hard.

3. Stop thinking as quickly as you can in dollars. It will be useful at first to think, 'how many dollars is that?' but if you continue to do that, you'll end up hurting yourself. The dollar is very strong compared to the Leone. You may think, 'Oh, that's only five dollars. That's nothing!' but in reality that's a LOT (~23,000Le). It is better to think in terms of food prices. A bag of rice is about 150,000Le and should feed a family for a month. Most people's salaries (teachers) are around 200,000 or 250,000Le. At first, dollars will help. But try to get out of the habit quickly.

4. There are no awkward silences. The culture just doesn't have them. For a good chunk of PST, after dinner at my house and after it was dark, we simply sat in silence in the parlor. We'd talk a little, but there would be long LONG moments of just nothing. In America, you might twitch or be thinking, 'UGH...' and you still might here, but understand that it is not awkward for Sierra Leoneans.

5. Defer to Staff / Host Families / Resources. The staff knows more than you. The host families will expect you to be obedient and like their own children. Being a smartass with them will not go over well. Being difficult will not help anyone. It is best if you act like you need assistance. Sierra Leoneans will appreciate being able to help you, instead of getting upset with you. Also, and this is not ego boosting, but we, the first group, know more than you too. Please ask us for help. There is nothing embarrassing about asking for help. You may wish later you'd just simply asked. We have probably gone through your problem in the past year and know how to best handle the situation.

6. You are NOT alone. Never feel that you are alone. Call someone on the staff. Call someone in SL2. Call someone in SL1. If all else fails, call me. It is easy, once you get started, to feel very alone and isolated. For some people, they find a strength in this, kind of a 'yeah. I can do this on my own.' but for others that isolation can be too much. You are NOT alone. There are 34 volunteers here now that are also living in Sierra Leone, also struggling and succeeding. Once you arrive, we will be 84. You are never alone. (ducks fly together. quack. quack. quack.)

7. Pack some USD$. Let me explain. You will have plenty of money during training and during your service. Those of us that suck at budgeting money are sometimes low on money at times, but you'll never run out. The reason I suggest packing some money is for your mental health. It can sometimes change a day / week to cash your American money somewhere (usually men on the street who are looking for whites looking for men on the street to change money) and splurge. I can mention a couple of details. I went to Makeni and splurged on chocolate ice cream. (I LOST MY MIND). In Freetown, I cashed a $50 I had been saving and was able to treat myself and some friends to a night out at The Atlantic. It was the perfect release. You should not bring bills smaller than $50 and bring the new bills that have the larger president’s head. You should bring around $250, that's what I brought, five $50s. More than this is too much. You will be able to live OK on your Peace Corps salary. The money you bring from home is for emergencies and for an occasional splurge. You shouldn't be living on Pringles and chocolate ice cream alone, but you'll definitely be happy you have a $50 to cash in sometime down the road.)

8. You will have the time of your life. Don't go crazy packing (you can always have stuff sent later. Relax. Learn. Experience. Do NOT hide in your house. You will always remember the moment the aircraft door opens and you step out into the Sierra Leone air for the first time. I love and miss you all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Story of Remy

So I was passing the French man's house on the way home and saw this bouncy happy little puppy run up to me. He was already big for his age and happy! This is not Remy. Remy was next to the house, under the bench, huddled. He had flies on him. His fur was falling off. He looked like he was dying. He was tiny and fit in the palm of my hand. I smiled but didn't want to intervene. I felt that might set a bad precedent. The next day, though, Remy was still there. Still alive. Still fighting. The next day, the same. Finally, I made a decision to take Remy to my house and rehabilitate him. I've been feeding him milk and rice and slowly trying to bring him up to size. He seems happier and bigger and stronger each day, but I know that for someone without the mother's milk, protection, guidance, etc., that his chances are still slim. But, I know that if I hadn't done anything that I would have felt worse. (Btw, Foday named him. He's just as stupid as I am in terms of falling for dogs.. :) I love and miss you all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

River celebrations

So for Easter and Independence Day, the big venues for celebrations are the neighboring rivers. We went to (misspelled) Mayoko and Makoikoi. I'll paint the picture of these events. We approach the front gate, aka tarp, where two men ask for the entrance fee. We pay our 2,000Le and work our way down a slope of sand and rocks that I nearly die twice on. I died on them last time. For Mayoko, we get down, and there's a forest on the right and, across the river, a huge beach packed with hundreds of Sierra Leoneans in various stages of nudity. Foday and I wander over, buy some warm beer, and settle down to people-watch and be part of the fun. There's a huge speaker system blasting African tunes, and while hot, we had a lot of fun. For Makoikoi, there is no beach, but an island where everything happens. We had learned our lesson and so we brought palm wine and popcorn (which we ended up sharing) and did more of the same. Foday and I went swimming in the river (probably not healthy) and again had some warm beer and relaxed. It was an amazing experience at both events to see SO many people together at once to celebrate, in such a sublime environment. Amazing that the rivers look like something you would see in Illinois. Just beautiful. I love and miss you all.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Food Cravings

Here is a list of some of my current cravings:

1. Slim Jims (I never ate Slim Jims in America. Why do I crave them now?)
2. Oreos (Again. Never really ate them. But there was something amazing about my parents handing me a pack of Double Stuf Oreos from home that nearly made me cry)
3. A cold cranberry and vodka (I can't get cranberry juice. I can't really get vodka. I can't get cold drinks.)
4. Fruit (I haven't had grapes, strawberries, or raspberries in forever.. nor is it possible to. I'm gonna eat me some grapes when I get home.)
5. Chicken (I know you know I want chicken. But fish is 2,000Le and a chicken is 25,000Le sooo chicken doesn't happen. Even though they're always around me. Crowing. Being stupid.)
6. Mexican food (I can't get beef. I can't get cheese. I can't get tomatoes. I can't get chile. I can't get beans. I can't get tortillas. I can't get margaritas. Yeah.)
7. Onion Dip (Those that know me know that I make a mean onion dip. It's not angry though. But I miss it. With Ruffles. Or carrots. Ooo or celery.)
8. Pizza (I don't need to explain this.)
9. MCD / Taco Bell / Subway (The simple idea of going somewhere and being served hot food along with cold drinks, or someone making me a sub sandwich with exactly what I want is amazing to me right now. I can't wait to go back to these places, not to indulge in them like crazy, but just to.. do it. Hard to explain)
10. Cold Water (Whenever I go to Freetown, my bosses offer me cold water. And I nearly cut them off everytime with YES YES I WANT. The water I get is warm. And is all I get. The idea of putting a bottle of water in the fridge and then later drinking the water, now magically cold, blows my mind..)

I love and miss you all.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Story of Sunkist

It had been a bad day. I went to Amerigo and splurged on a can of Fanta (We're going to pretend it's Sunkist. Because Sunkist is better and everyone knows this.) I wander on home, doodily doo, and drink the Sunkist on my porch. It provides a temporary high. I crumple the can and toss it. Only 37% less grumpy. I presume that this is the end of this Sunkist can in my life. I am wrong. It ends up in my garbage.."area".. where it is grabbed by a child and he runs away with it. Apparently the Sunkist had a bigger impact on his life than mine. Now, for sure, the Sunkist is out of my life. The next day, my neighbor's youngest son is walking toward me and behind him? Being dragged? Like a bad puppy? The Sunkist can. On a string. I'll never look at Sunkist (GRR FANTA) the same way again... I love and miss you all.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Twenty Questions (#16-#20)

The final questions. (That sounds scary).

16. How do the Sierra Leoneans see the USA?

America is seen as a beacon of excellence and the land of milk and petete leaf, as it were. No one in America struggles to find a job. No one in America has any problems. Every American has a car. Every American has a huge house and endless money. Now you're saying, "They don't believe that. You're exaggerating." I've heard these said. When I sat down with a calculator to show my wages at my last job, rent, fuel, food, etc. and showed the limited amount left for anything else, they were shocked. When I talked about poverty in America, Katrina, ghettos, Welfare, food stamps, they were shocked. When I said that my parents worked for thirty years so that we could enjoy the quality of life we did, that it didn't just *happen*, they were shocked. I know that for some people, it is the glittering castle in the sky that keeps you going, so I've tried not to be too negative but only to correct the more preposterous beliefs. Many people have asked me how they can get into the country, where the easy jobs are, etc. (The problem is that a minimum wage job, figure $8 an hour, and a dirt-cheap apartment, spending frugally, would amount to little money, but even $20 saved each week is 80,000Le and 320,000Le a month, a huge amount for most people.)

17. Are you inspired to do anything differently now?

I know that it's the wrong mindset, but I want to be more extravagant in some areas. I miss driving. I miss staying up late at night with no reason to be awake. I would love to be correct and say that I'll use electricity less, drive less, etc. but from evidence (whenever I come to Freetown and me and other volunteers are up until the wee hours BECAUSE WE CAN, I'm skeptical at my own resolve.) However, I will never look at money the same way again. For the amount I used to spend to get some McDoubles, fries, and an Oreo McFlurry, I could have bought a bag of cement for someone to fix their foundation. I could have send a child to school for two terms. I could have purchased fuel for a generator to run so children could study into the night. Etc.

18. What are you going to miss about Sierra Leone?

The people. I've already thought about when I'll be hugging Foday, Mr. Bangura, Sori goodbye and how terrible it will be. I will miss my home, my village, and teaching, but it is inevitably the people and the relationships that you build in a foreign environment that sustain you and are ultimately the hardest to leave behind. I'm tearing up a little thinking about hugging Foday goodbye. Moving on.

19. Has your personal outlook on anything changed?

I will continue to and even-more-so enjoy my freedoms. I can be who I am in America, with relative ease. I have enough money to drive where I want to. I have electricity and water and internet, and the things I used to complain about seem devastatingly shallow (although I believe I wasn't that bad, honestly) but still, I remember being upset when my gas stove wouldn't light. In the bedroom my computer was on, music playing, an apartment with a solid roof, air conditioning, heat, wooden and tile floors, a plethora of food to cook, a fridge to keep my food cold, mail service that worked, my car outside with fuel, etc. Was it really so bad that my stove wouldn't light? As stated before, I will always look at money differently now. Going to Chicago and staying at the Hilton Suites for $135 a night? 135x4300Le = a ridiculous amount of money. I'm not saying that I'll stop. I've (and my parents) have worked hard to enjoy such luxuries, but I'll always have a voice in the back of my head saying, 'this is a LOT of money if you converted it to leones...'

20. Do you know what to do with your life now?

Absolutely not. When I left, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school after my Peace Corps experience. This may change. I knew for sure that I would only stay for 2 and not the optional 3 years. I don't know. I thought I wanted to teach, or be involved with biology or public health. I don't know. The Foreign Service Exam is in February, and I've really enjoyed the lifestyles and attitudes of those I've met in the State Department here. Could I take that exam, pass it (lol right), and be an attache to a country on behalf of America for the rest of my life in different places? Yes. Could I see myself teaching biology to high school students? Yes. Could I see myself getting involved with conservation? Yes. If anything, sitting at The Atlantic with a crowd full of mostly NGO workers and Embassy officials, enjoying delicious food and a sunset and knowing my work is helping improve the lives of many people has made my future plans all the more complicated.

21. What next?

After this weekend, I'm going to Moyamba in a few weeks to visit Megan and Allison. Then, I'll go back to my site until late May. Charles has mentioned plans to visit. But he lies a lot. (kidding). At the end of May, I'm hoping to organize a party for us. June 1, 2010 was when we went off to Washington, D.C. and on June 3, 2011 the next group of trainees arrives. This event in late May will be our last hurrah as Salone-1 and only Salone-1. I'm not against Salone-2, but the dynamic of our group will undoubtedly change. I love us. I'll probably love all of us when we're here. After that party in May, I have nothing planned besides to teach my students, love my life, and begin the inevitable freak-out toward my trip home in July 2011. Tonight? I'm going to the Atlantic to watch the sunset and enjoy a night out before people begin to move back to their villages. We'll probably buy some beer across the street and dance for awhile, then collapse into hot sweaty sleep (the a/c isn't in the bedrooms :)

I love and miss you all.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Twenty Questions (#11-15)

You're still interested?

11. What's your favorite part of Sierra Leone?

I enjoy a morning of reading on my porch, taking a bucket bath, teaching my students, drinking palm wine with Foday, eating a good dinner, lighting a candle and talking with my friends until they go home. I've had countless variations on this theme, and it keeps me here.

12. How much interaction do you get with the other volunteers?

Jimmy lives only 7 miles away, so I see him the most. Jessie is in Makeni, 22 miles away, and I usually see her when I am in Makeni to visit the bank or buy supplies. The rest of the volunteers I see rarely. For the Peace Corps Open House, there were 25ish of the 34 together at the Peace Corps Compound (which as you might imagine can be great and annoying all at once) but I hadn't seen some of these volunteers in months. Travel, as I mentioned earlier, is expensive and I try not to do it too much. Some volunteers have traveled much more than I have.

13. What is their passion and reason for going abroad?

This varies greatly. We have some truly idealistic volunteers who have had some of their hopes dampened a little bit by reality. We have cynical volunteers that take it day-by-day (me). We have volunteers that are only in the Peace Corps for selfish reasons. However, every volunteer, despite their reasons, is still here. There are 34 of us out of the original 39, and staying here for selfish reasons would be agony, because you cannot hide from Sierra Leone; you are constantly immersed in it. I've wanted to join the Peace Corps since I was in about 7th grade, then cooled from it when I learned how long the commitment was. The interest resurfaced in college and here I am.

14. Do you still want to teach?

Yes. I feel that teaching in a classroom with now windows, complete ceiling, proper desks, scarce chalk, erasers made out of foam, bats and rats running around above me, corporal punishment, ridiculous heat, students in uniforms full of dreams and hormones has adequately prepared me for future teaching. We'll see. (laughs)

15. How do you see the USA now?

Good question. It is very interesting to see America from a far-off viewpoint. I hear about it on the BBC and when I get to internet, but it's almost like an illusion. Sometimes it's hard to remember that life continues on just as it did while I was there. The USA is loved by Sierra Leoneans. Many have asked me how they can get there. How they can hide from the INS. Where the cheap and easy jobs are. The Peace Corps is highly respected here, and the relationship is usually great. However, America loses points for it's appearance as a war-monger. The name "George W. Bush" will get you an angry tirade and disgust. The name "Barack Obama" will bring smiles and hope. Deserved? You decide. The conflict now ongoing in Libya has led to some heated arguments at my school, where these same Obama supporters were now upset, "Does America LOVE war, or WHAT?!" and I have to shrug and say that I don't know enough about the situation to comment. Such is life.

I love and miss you all. I think I forgot to write this on the last one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


APRIL 27th, 1961

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Twenty Questions (#6-#10)

Continuing with the questions from a close friend of mine:

6. How much do you incorporate the Sierra Leone traditions into your life?

I have learned a great deal about patience. For example, arrival in Makeni at noon (good time for me from Freetown!) still means waiting for the vehicle to fill up from Makeni to my village. For the first while, I grew frustrated when it took an hour to fill up. Now, I've waited more than four hours, with nothing to occupy myself but my own thoughts and humming music and eating food. More than four hours? For Bryan XP, that would have been a nightmare. For Bryan 7, it's no problem at all. As for other traditions, I am now the consummate palm wine drinker and enjoy many of the more social / friendly / we're all in this together attitudes, although my friends will (probably) mention that I was like that before.

7. What creature comfort do you miss most?

It would appear to be internet, but I honestly miss air conditioning. Before you judge, let me explain. A variety of my medical experiences (mostly diarrhea, giardia once, and boils) have a variety of reasons, but boils, of which I've had the most, are a direct results of sweat, dirt, and openings in the skin. Openings in the skin happen all the time, but sweating all night is just a breeding ground for infections. The nights I've spent recently in an air-conditioned room left me waking up feeling refreshed and not like I'd spent the night in an oven. So, if I had to pick one, it would be air-conditioning. Feel free to judge,.. now.

8. Would you do this again? Recommend your children to it?

I would. Every experience is different and every experience is unique to the volunteer's attitude. Volunteers with a poor attitude or a dependence on Facebook will likely fail. Volunteers in a village not conducive to volunteers or a school with a poor administration will likely fail. This has been an amazing experience, and if I do indeed have children someday, I would recommend for them to apply. Their experience will be nothing like mine, or maybe exactly the same.

9. What was the hardest part for you?

Leaving home. I hated hugging my friends goodbye, hated knowing that everything was changing, hated acknowledging that when I returned in July 2011 and then in July 2012 that everything would be different. I hated leaving my parents at O'Hare International Airport in tears. I've had some bad days, really frustrating moments when I've been forced to listen to an m5 mix to find myself again, but the hardest part of the experience was leaving home, without a doubt in my mind.

10. When was the hardest part for you?

Turning to my parents at Security and saying, "Well. I have to go," hugging them, crying, and walking away from them to put my belongings on the security conveyor belt and pretend that I wasn't breaking apart inside.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Twenty Questions (#1-#5)

A very close friend of mine asked some questions. Here are my witty replies:

1. What's the food like? Are you genuinely "used to it" ?

The food is almost always a sauce over rice. Unfortunately, the variety is admittedly small. There are about seven main meals, (petete leaf, cassava leaf, cren cren, groundnut soup, fish soup, gravy, beans). And spin the wheel and that's what we're making! I enjoy the food a great deal. It's delicious. I'm just beginning to have boredom with it, kinda like those families that make spaghetti and chicken and beef and then spaghetti and beef and THEN chicken. So, my solution has been to make it taste different, obviously. I bought some salt and pepper, which I hadn't used for the first many months, some different spices, splurged on a bottle of French salad dressing, my parents sent a shaker of jerk seasoning and one of garlic salt. This has given all of these meals a much wider variety of flavor possiblities. I am definitely used to the food. I know that I will be having some form of petete leaf the rest of my life (my favorite).

2. How do you feel mentally after having been there a year?

This is a complex question. There are many things now, occurrences, that don't faze me at all anymore, or hardly. Difficulties with travel, with corporal punishment, with cultural differences, some of those have faded by the wayside. Hearing a child getting beaten no longer makes me ache terribly inside in sadness. It probably should. But it doesn't anymore to that extent. I'm still bothered by a great many things, but one can either focus on the negatives or the positives, and I find that if I keep my mind on the positives, that the negatives suddenly seem temporary. Relaxing with Foday, laughing with someone in a different language, my students asking for help and saying I've inspired them, those are good. I focus on them. I'm concerned about the culture shock of coming home to America, I'll admit that now. The statistics are against me. 50% of volunteers that go home in the middle of their service early-terminate and quit. We shall see. I enjoy my life 85% of the time, and spent the other 15% of the time convincing myself to take a deep breath and keep going. (this is commonly referred to as my 85/15 rule)

3. How do you feel spiritually? Refreshed? Rejuvenated? Optimistic?

I'm not an especially spiritual man, and it's been difficult with the omnipresence of Christianity and Islam here. I have emphasized when confronted (I have NEVER brought it up. It is always brought to me.) that there are many Americans, far more religious than I, who did not apply to the Peace Corps. This argument helps a little. I continue to believe in the ideas of peace, love, unity, and respect, and whenever I am truly taxed, I think about those ideas, the people I love, the purpose of what I'm doing, and I feel better. Some volunteers are religious and have found themselves more grounded in their communities and others have exaggerated their religious beliefs to fit in better. I did this at the beginning and felt shallow and pathetic for lying. I've told the truth since the arrival in my village and while it has caused some arguments and some problems, I know I'm being true to myself.

4. How are people different in the US vs. in Sierra Leone?

This is also a complex question. At the core, we are all very much the same, ruled by passions (and hormones), dedicated to family, to love, to a desire to achieve and improve our lives. Differences are mostly cultural. From what I understand, the status of the woman is lower than the man. I have seen this proved to me countless times, and while discouraging and while improving, it is ever present. In my class of 58 students (SS2 Arts/Science), there are maybe 7 girls. The other girls are either pregnant, a wife, or taking care of household chores. Also, possibly as a result of the recent conflict, the people here are 'quick to anger.' While relaxing outside the hostel today, a fight broke out at the nearby junction. People throwing fists, finding sticks to beat others, and it escalated quite quickly. The argument was over respect. One man felt he had not been shown the correct amount of respect.

5. Have you gotten to travel much?

Travel is expensive. I try to stay in my village as much as possible (I can't say as much for some of my colleagues SHHHH) but for me to go to Freetown is at least 50,000Le round trip. Then, prices in Freetown are expensive. A Star Beer in Gbendembu is 3,000Le, in Freetown it's at least 6,000Le or more. I also travel to Makeni to visit the bank, but I am, as I said, trying not to travel much. Some volunteers don't recognize that travelling a lot gives the impression to your village that you're not really interested in being there. Just my two leones.

I love and miss you all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the sequence

me and you
me and a decision
me and goodbyes
me and chicago
me and washington, d.c.
me and new friends
me and sierra leone
me and a new life
me and the rainy season
me and dj'ing sierra leone nightclubs
me and gbendembu
me and cockroachs / termites / mosquitos
me and insect killer
me and palm wine
me and new friends
me and gbendembu baptist secondary school
me and a chalkboard
me and blank faces
me and speaking slower
me and m5 dance parties
me and a new puppy named Queen
me and my birthday
me and belonging :)
me and the holidays
me and resolutions
me and frustrations
me and more palm wine
me and my parents
me and the dry season
**we're here**
me and planning / packing
me and an airplane (wtf is an airplane?)
me and chicago
me and you

Friday, April 15, 2011

It was like Christmas..

>> Gifts arrived. I posted a fb status about my parents visit to Sierra Leone and my desire that if any friends wanted to (and had not been able to) that they could mail my parents something and they would bring it along to Sierra Leone with them. I received many gifts, some small, some big, some funny, and some genuinely thoughtful. It continues to remind me that although across an ocean, you honestly care. This isn't to say that those that didn't send any gifts don't care about me (although I wonder..), but there are times when this experience leans more toward frustrating than rewarding. Coming home to a letter, to an invitation, to a postcard, to glow sticks, to a letter from a close friend.. It's a reminder not only that this experience is temporary, but that right now, in America, there are people rooting for me. I want to elaborate on this, but in a separate post about my parents' visit. Thank you SO MUCH for your gifts. I love and miss you all :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mary, Mary, Mary

>> Mary came to visit. Mary-Jean, a volunteer in Gbendembu in the Peace Corps a few decades ago, stopped on in to the village around the intramural sport competition, and it was surreal / amazing. Not only were we able to discuss the differences in the village (some things have changed, i.e. the war..) but also in the administration of this organization we both share. Many things have changed. Some have not. The desire to help those less fortunate with skilled men and women, to bridge the gap between an affluent west and a poverty-stricken developing Africa with motivated teachers, remains. Everything else is different. I'd go into detail, but I probably shouldn't. However, Mary-Jean and I share many friends in common, a generation apart, and we had some great times enjoying the limelight together (I had a party at my house on my last night before going to Freetown and there were TWO white people instead of ONE :), and I feel like I learned a lot from her. I had some doubts and she was able to dissuade or at least soothe them with some sound advice. For instance, I grew frustrated with the apparent hypocrisy here of putting priority in this athletic competition when so many students fail.. Mary-Jean helped me to understand that here, the achievement on the track is just as if not *more* important for these students, to succeed at something that they are very motivated about. I *JUST* wish that my students, who tried so hard running relays, would put the same effort into their classes.. Such is Africa. I love and miss you all :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

The River

>> We went to the river. The river Mabuli (the spelling probably incorrect) is about half an hour away (in Sori Bangura's awesome old Nissan Patrol) and it's pretty amazing. The image you have of Africa (of that savannah and some antelope, also: Simba) is completely contrasted by this river. a pretty good sized river and we were able to swim, go through some rapids, and get in a wooden boat carved from a tree. It felt completely foreign to my village experience, being in a boat and slowly drifting around like an explorer. We brought some beers with us (and of course Sori had one while he drove) and relaxed on the shore. I've been twice now, once with Meghan, Alli, and Jimmy, and this past time with my parents. On both occasions, the words, "This is beautiful" were uttered. The road to the river is remarkably bad at times, but I'm really finding that spending time with Sori is really rewarding, both in that we can talk about the SAME alma mater, but also in that he is a remarkably focused and motivated man, despite his age. He's a role model, and someone I glad I found :) I love and miss you all.

A Parent's visit to Sierra Leone

Ok- first of all- this is not Bryan speaking but rather his Dad. My wife and I recently visited Bryan and Sierra Leone and I thought I would put down my reflections.


As soon as Bryan got accepted into the Peace Corps and had been assigned to teach biology in Sierra Leone, Africa, Mariana and I thought about a visit- ideally halfway through Bryan’s service. We figured that beginning the real planning around the first of the year would give us plenty of time to get all the necessary shots, forms, permissions so we would be ready to go in March. Little did we realize the amount of paperwork, money, and red-tape there actually is in going to Africa. Traveling to Europe had always been so easy- just get a flight and book a room on the Internet. When we began to investigate a trip to Sierra Leone, we knew that there were many shots to be arranged, many not easily found in New Lenox (like a yellow fever shot). To make a long story short, we finally got all of our shots done- often paying full cost (hundreds of dollars each) due to our lousy insurance program and the state of Illinois poor record of making payments. Next item to figure out- getting a Visa from the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington to permits us to travel to Sierra Leone. $140 times two and mailing our passports to Washington took care of that.

The best most efficient way to get to Freetown (Capital of Sierra Leone) is to fly though London. We decided to stop in London a few days and get over jet lag before heading off to Freetown. There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Freetown. All possible flights go through Europe – many making many stops. We flew nonstop to London, toured London for a couple days the flew nonstop to Sierra Leone – or at least that is what my ticket said- I was somewhat surprised when the pilot said that we would be stopping in Malaga, Spain for gas. Not bad really- but during the stop, we were unable to de-plane, or even use the bathrooms.

A number of hours later, we arrived in Freetown, the plane parking on the tarmac. When the door opened, we were hit by a wave of warm tropic humid air- quite nice for us as we had just gone through a bad winter in Chicago. As we left Chicago, a few days earlier, we left in a snowstorm and had to have our wings de-iced. So, that blast of warmth was welcomed.

Bryan arranged to have a friend of his guide us through some of the red tape at the airport (Lungi International) so after gathering our bags, we met Bryan then quickly headed off to catch the ferry to Freetown. The airport serving Sierra Leone is across a bay from the capital Freetown and must be crossed either by a 5 hour drive, an expensive helicopter ride or by taking a ferry across the bay. This ancient ferry also transports cars as well. One of Bryan’s friends drove like a madman through darkened streets trying to catch the last ferry for the night. It was a scary ride but soon we were in line to board the ferry and cross the bay to Freetown. I don’t remember much about the voyage but it was a break from the wild ride to get there. Maybe 45 minutes later, we were on the outskirts of Freetown heading to Hill Valley Inn, a hotel near the Peace Corps compound in Freetown. We finally arrived at our hotel and we were finally able actually talk with Bryan. Up to this point, it was a blur. It was amazing and wonderful to see him after all these months. The hotel was ok- maybe Super 8 quality but it was fine- at least until I realized there was no water in our room. But we were in Africa!! In Sierra Leone!! With Bryan!!

Time to write about transportation in Sierra Leone. Or lack thereof. Bryan spent a considerable amount of time arranging rides for us during the trip. Why? There is no scheduled transportation in the country. Private cars are a luxury not available to us or to the general public. We had the luxury of riding in some of Bryan’s friends cars during the trip but in many cases, we had to arrange rides along the way. Individual towns have established what I called ‘transportation centers’ or lorry parks where people with cars/busses meet and arrange rides charging whatever the market will bear that day. It is a totally chaotic system where travelers are often passed from one vehicle to another a number of times. Bryan ‘bought’ the entire back seat of a car for us then had to make sure no one else was added to our seat between those stops. Oh yes. Your normal car (Toyota, Nissan) has seats for 7. Two passengers with the driver in the front seat and four in the back seat. Depending on the size of the people, this arrangement varied from jammed to just crazy. You buy as many seats as you would like to pay for. Bryan paid for 4 seats for the three of us to travel comfortably in the back seat of one car. Another option is the poda-podas- more on those later.

The next morning we met with some Peace Corps administration and then headed off to meet with Bryan’s host family in Bo, the second biggest city in Sierra Leone. Bryan stayed with his African family for 10 weeks when he first arrived in Sierra Leone. They treated him like royalty and could not say enough wonderful stuff about Bryan. I was pleased that Bryan had made such a good impression on his African family and it was nice to hear what great parents Mariana and I are and that we raised such a wonderful son.

We were served my first real African food- all made from scratch and I mean from scratch. The vast majority of food we had here and elsewhere is a rice dish with a sauce made from vegetables or perhaps some meat, usually fish. Mariana helped to make palm oil by pounding a large stick into seeds gathered from the nearby trees. Of course, mangoes were everywhere- you could just reach up and grab one off a tree. At the house, we first experienced living without electricity. Bryan’s family’s house was wired for electricity, but only for a few hours a night was their generator turned on to create light and power for a dvd player. Gas to power the generator is very expensive. I had my first taste of palm wine- created in a similar fashion as maple syrup is created here- trees are tapped. It has a slightly fruity taste but not sweet, somewhat milky in color with a nice dry finish. Nothing at all like grape wine. I was unsure what to expect from this as far as alcohol is concerned but quickly learned that this is a very lightly alcoholic drink – less alcohol than beer- so you would really have to work to get drunk on this. Bryan tells me that people actually ferment this- to create a stronger drink. Palm wine is brought out with some ceremony after dinner as we all sat in the back yard. African portions mean a cup filled right to the brim to signify generosity – a nice idea but getting that first drink from a full cup can be a problem. The next day, Bryan took us to his Peace Corps training center when he was in Bo and then to his neighborhood hangout (called Graceland) where he and his Peace Corps friends would go after hours for a warm Star beer. Very nice. I can imagine fun times taking place there.

Bryan could not have found a better, more loving couple that he found in Bo. They were extremely flattered that we came to see them. We did our best to thank them for being so wonderful and generous to our son. They were again flattered that we wanted to take a number of ‘family’ photos – the five of us together.

The next day we began the long trek to Gbendembu. We began the trip by trading vehicles a number of times- each time Bryan bargaining what the ‘fare’ might be and what he had already paid the previous driver. An amazing system- but you have to be careful and know what you are doing. Mariana and I would have been lost without Bryan during this part of the trip. Again, Bryan ‘bought’ us larger space in cars for our comfort- something we really appreciated. When we got to Makeni, the closest ‘large’ town to Gbendembu, Bryan decided that we should experience the last part of the trip as the locals and the peace corps volunteers do by riding in a poda-poda, perhaps the closest we saw to a public bus in Sierra Leone. It is also important to know that at Makeni, paved roads end and you ride on a dirt, rut and stone strewed road. The poda-poda looks like a mini-bus or small van and ours looked to be about 50 years old and looked very abused. Like all of the transportation we encountered, there is no schedule, no system, and no organization to the poda-podas. They left when they were full- not before. So, you may have to wait an hour or so or longer for the vehicle to fill before moving on. Bryan had discussed these before so I know we would be crowded but when all the seats were filled, I was quite sure we would be leaving shortly. My mistake. The drivers make money by packing as many people into these vehicles as possible- so after all the ‘seats’ were filled, more people were loaded in to crouch at my feet. Babies were passed in and found places in stranger’s laps. When I was SURE we could not take any additional riders, still more people packed in. Finally, a mother with 3 kids jammed into the space between my knees and the seat in front of me. She had a small infant who was not happy with the seating arrangements so the mother calmly and without concern or embarrassment proceeded to breastfeed the infant in front of me- as natural as anything you could see. Soon, with his stomach full, the infant went off to sleep. The ride was slow and very bumpy as the driver wandered across the road from left to right to avoid bumps and ruts. It was an amazing experience- one I will not forget.

Finally we made it to Gbendembu. I took a picture of the poda-poda and was unaware until arriving that many many people had made the trip on the top of the bus with the luggage. You have to assume honesty as your luggage and everyone else’s luggage is tied down on the roof. We headed off quickly to Bryan’s house- after greeting it seemed like everyone in the village. Mariana and I were pretty exhausted and were glad to get to Bryan’s home. After washing (bucket bath), we got some dinner (food made by Bryan’s neighbor under a deal Bryan made with her upon arriving). Bryan pays her an amount every week to provide meals. We got another chance to have a glass of palm wine. Again- fresh, delicious, yet different from the other palm wine I had. As a homemade natural product of individual trees, each glass is different. It was wonderful to finally be at Gbendembu in Bryan’s house.

A bit about washing- Bryan’s home and all of the homes in Bo and Gbendembu have no running water. Just access to a well. In the morning, water is pulled from the well in a large bucket and taken to the bathroom/toilet. You soap up and rinse off using this water. Fortunately, the well water is not bitter cold but maybe 70 degrees of so- invigorating but not really freezing cold. With the heat and humidity in Sierra Leone, this coolish bath/shower felt really good. Many people take two bucket baths a day- once in the morning before getting started for the day and another after the sun has gone down before dinner. Very refreshing.

Lights- Bryan’s house is not wired for electricity so you really need to be mindful of the status of the sun. After dinner, which we ate outside in Bryan’s hut, we headed in to house and amazingly enough- it was pitch dark in his house. A scramble for flashlights took place. Bryan has devised a system of candles in his house so you can find you way around. We are real spoiled in being able to flick a switch for light.

The next day we met just about everyone in the village. Bryan, being white, is a novelty in his village. Having three white people in village is unheard of. One of the more amazing aspects of Bryan’s village is that there are about 8 different tribes in his village- each speaking a different language!! So, Bryan has had to learn at least a passing knowledge of at least 8 languages. Just amazing. Bryan tried to get us to greet people- but we could never seem to get the right language with the right people. We toured Bryan’s village, saw some damage done to buildings done during the civil war and was amazed that there were four Christian churches and two mosques in town. One of the pastors of one of the churches was a good friend of Bryan’s and wanted to meet us so we had lunch with her- a porrage (not like an oatmeal) that has fish, chicken, potatoes, cassava, onions, salt, peppers, spices, bananas, and other ingredients.

After lunch we moved to the school where Mariana addressed the gathered students. There are two groups of students at Bryan’s school- SS2 and SS3- like junior high and high school. Mariana spoke of the value of education and how this education is the road to success in life. Neither Mariana nor I had planned to address the entire school. I thought it wise to have a woman make the speech to reinforce the idea that women can be educated, go to university and be a success.

Bryan has set up a program with one of his Lincoln-Way Central biology teachers whereby Bryan’s students write letters and communicate with the students in a U.S. high school biology class. The program is called the World-Wise Schools program. Mariana and I hauled letters to Gbendembu and back to New Lenox to move this program along.

After this, we headed back to Bryan’s place to relax. We had dinner at his principal’s house then visited another friend before calling it a day.

The next day, at the next opening assembly, I addressed the students- knowing that the majority of daily assemblies like this are dull and boring and what could this white man have to say that would mean anything. I stressed that the way to get ahead is to begin now to focus on your education- saying that education is more important than sports or anything else. I was brief- to the point and maybe, just maybe, I got through to a few of the kids. Mariana echoed my points and again- I felt that a culturally sophisticated educated women speaking is perhaps more important and symbolically more valuable than having a man speak. All of the teachers in Bryan’s school are male. In any case, the school’s principal was very pleased with these speeches and reinforced our points himself.

After school, we had a trip planned to a nearby river- a pleasant place where locals go to relax, picnic and wash clothes. It was just beautiful - like something you would see around here in the states. We were driven to the river by yet another friend of Bryan’s. To my total amazement Bryan’s friend was a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana- Bryan’s school!! We brought along some Star beer and relaxed at the river side. Then I was convinced that I need to have a boat ride. There were two canoe-like boats there for anyone to use. No paddles though. So, we fiddled around in the canoe for a while- having another of Bryan’s friends push us through the shallow water. Very nice. It is unfortunate that the river is too far to walk from Bryan’s village- but rather is a 40 minute car ride down a dirt road. Probably only 8-10 miles distance but travel on this road is slow. I was told that town celebrations are often held at this location.

After the river, we returned back to the village and went back to the pastor’s house for lunch. The rest of the day was to be spent cooking. I was told that my wife, a giver of life, was not to take life so it fell to me to kill our lunch- a nice looking chicken. On the menu was a ‘salad’ that included my killed chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, onions, and luncheon meat all made into a salad. Later we learned how to make canya , a desert like treat that is made from peanuts, rice flour and sugar. Like everything here, everything is made from scratch. We began by de-shelling peanuts, grinding the peanuts in a hand grinder, then pounding the rice flower and sugar into the peanuts mixture then regrinding the whole mixture again. Very good. Like the insides of a Reece’s Peanut butter cup!! I managed to get some of this home in a water bottle.

Just a wonderful day! Perhaps my favorite day of the trip. A visit to Bryan’s school, a river visit then the experience of making food. A perfect day- topped off by a glass of palm wine back at Bryan’s house.

The next day began our trip back to Freetown where we would again spend the night at Hill Valley. Bryan had arranged a car ride to Makeni then he would hire a car to drive us to Hill Valley. Plans changed- but finally the higher ups at Bryan’s school intervened and asked the Paramount Chief if his driver would drive us to Hill Valley- It was very pleasant to be in a car with only 4 people in it. The driver, Bryan, Mariana and myself. It was a long journey but pleasant as we did not have to stop.

Hill Valley seemed like a 5 star hotel to us when we arrived. A private air-conditioned room, a nice hot shower and wireless Internet. WOW!

Bryan had one more surprise for us for diner that night. Freetown is right on the Atlantic Ocean and I had yet to see it. When Bryan recommended taking us out to a restaurant called the Atlantic- I thought that maybe I would get to see the ocean. Much to my amazement, the Atlantic was right on the beach and looked like a nightclub/bar/restaurant from the states. A bit run down in places but an ocean front restaurant!! I had my first cold beer of the trip- ice cold draft Star beer and a great dinner. Steak au poivre- - an actual steak dinner- very rare in Sierra Leone. It was excellent. We watched the sun set over the ocean. It was the perfect conclusion to the trip. I could see spending some time at the Atlantic!!

The next morning we were headed back to London. Before leaving we visited one more Peace Corps staff person- the chief medical officer who had helped Bryan though many ailments over the past months. We visited her in her personal apartment- WAY different from Bryan’s house in Gbendembu – air conditioned, massive HD TV’s on the wall and real furniture. I suggested to Bryan that he needs to apply for her job!!

After this visit, we had to fight our way from Hill Valley to Lungi- which is a multi-ride nightmare. You need to get a ride to the ferry, get a ticket for the ferry, then get a ride from the ferry to the airport. After some confusion and changes of plan, we made it to the airport. Getting to and from the airport using the ferry was one of the most frustrating, infuriating parts of our trip. There appears to be is no official rules for this ferry and people on the ‘inside’ eagerly accepted bribes and extort money from potential passengers just to get on the boat. We were forced to buy first class tickets to get on the ferry- this let us sit in an un-air conditioned overcrowded sweatbox for the trip over to Lungi. Lungi, the airlines, Freetown and perhaps even the Government of Sierra Leone need to clean up this mess. You will never get a tourist trade established with this ferry system the way it is.

Finally at the airport, we encouraged Bryan to head back as he had to re-do the ferry nightmare to get back to the Peace Corps compound then figure out how to get back to Gbendembu the next day. I tried to tell Bryan at the airport how proud I was of him and how much I loved him – but tears got in the way.

The trip of a lifetime – one that I will never forget.