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.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Thiefy McThief

>> So, I got thiefed. Someone came into my house and stole 100,000Le, ($25), and we still don't know who the thief is. While I should be more upset than I am, I truly appreciated the immediate and overwhelming response from my village in the form of outrage, disappointment, and support. My neighbors Lucy and Isatu both brought over food for me and expressed their sympathy, and many people in the village used words like 'disgraceful' and 'shame' to describe the occurrence. At this writing, my Paramount Chief is getting involved, and the person, (if found), will likely face a very serious punishment. I love and miss you all :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011


>> Here are some interesting quirks of Sierra Leone..

  1. Pencil is used for drawing pictures. Pen is not to be used for drawings.

  2. Blue Pen is for writing notes.

  3. Red Pen is for titles and subtitles in notes.

  4. 50% is a passing grade. I have often given a student a 52% with a disapproving glare but found a student pleased with their mark.

  5. When someone departs, they say, "I'm coming." This is either a twist of "I'm coming back" or a misunderstanding of "I'm going," but whenever I leave now, I say, "Okay, I get fo go. I de come" or "I have to go. I'm coming." which means, see you later.

  6. My principal's brother is one of my students. I thought that he was his son. But he's his brother. He's 30 years old. My princial is in his late 50's. Imagine my surprise.

  7. My best friend Foday coined this phrase, "I'm with you." which means that whatever you want, whatever you need, I'm on your side, I'm with you. He has been amazing in this regard- when I am upset or happy or frustrated or giddy, the phrase "I'm with you" comes up and makes me realize that no matter how lonely I may get, I'm never alone :)

  8. Ghosts and witches are prevalent in my village. The ghost, Boxa Boxa, has been known to knock over condiments, spoons, and move things around in houses.. (I think it might be the mice I've seen, but I won't mention that..)

  9. I love and miss you all. :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The (New) Typical Day

>> So. I think a lifetime ago I wrote about my typical day. It's changed.. I wake up around 630 or 7 AM to the sound of roosters crowing outside my window, women pounding leaves to make sauce, children running around, and my dogs barking at anything and everything.. I move to my porch, where Sandy is usually sweeping it or the compound around, asking how I slept, drawing water from the well for bathing, etc. We're usually laughing pretty quickly unless I didn't sleep well in which case Sandy usually recognizes quickly to stay out of sight (I'll say I'm crabby like that once a week. Something about the mice crawling up my mosquito net, the bats having ridiculous sex in my attic, or the roosters deciding that YES, 3 AM IS MORNING! is an obstruction to good sleep). I get out my crank REI radio (which Foday dropped and broke the battery housing) so I start cranking. I listen to Capital Radio ( from about 7 to 830ish, at which point I usually lose the signal. I don't know why. Something about the planet spinning. I usually sit on my porch, read some books, write, wonder what I'm doing, decide whether or not to go into town before school, and bathe. It's dry season by now, which means that if I don't bathe by about 10 AM, it's not worth it, because I'll be sweating by the time I leave the latrine. I pull water from the well, put it in my broken blue bucket, and walk to the latrine, strip down, suds up, wash down, and get dressed. Because if I stayed home I wouldn't be productive, I usually take my belongings to the school. Because my school has switched to a shift system, I now only teach in the afternoon, but from 10AMish to 1PMish when my shift starts I'm in the staff room, reading, writing, being rude, being funny, talking about America, talking about Libya, talking about how Americans do NOT love war, (thats worth another blog post in itself), and relaxing. I usually visit Mr. Bangura in the carpentry workshop and listen to music on his radio. At 1 PM we have devotion. The children sing religious songs, sing the national anthem, and then it's off to class (in a perfect world, mind you :P) I only teach SS2 sci/arts, SS2 commercial, and SS3 arts/commercial, so at the most I have three classes. Imagine me teaching perfectly. Good. After the classes, around 3 PM, I either go to town to get the necessary items (bread, units to text, peanut butter cakes, honey, etc.) or I go home. ((It being the dry season, my first goal is usually to get home and GET OUT OF MY BLACK PANTS)) I get onto the porch, either lesson plan (although I've now planned all the way through to 2012 I feel), read, write, relax, drink palm wine, think about home, take a nap, write some more, or go visit Mr. Bangura, the Councilor, or my fellow teachers and friends. At about 5 or 6 PM, my neighbor brings over food. I pay her 40,000Le a month (~$10) to make food for me. This is a good deal (although I'm planning to increase it to 50,000Le next month (prices are rising here.. rice was 600Le a cup when I first got to Gbendembu and it's now 900Le). I eat. At about 6 PM I usually take another shower because at this time it gets cooler and once you're wet everything feels cooler, etc. People visit, we talk and laugh and drink and relax, I light a candle, the candle burns down, and people depart. I lock down my house, check it again, and either settle into bed with a light and a book or lay down. The mice and bats wait until I am suitably asleep before they begin their shenanigans and in a short spin of the globe, I do it all over again :) I love and miss you all! :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Parents Come to Visit (it's a long post.. go get that drink)

>> Sometime around last fall, I began talking to my parents about the possibility of them coming to Sierra Leone. I had known from the beginning that (being a loser) this experience would be difficult for me (and for my parents as I'm their only kid). They were supportive of me wanting to come home halfway through my service (and that was helped by a close friend of mine Miles who is a PCV in Honduras who did the same) but we also began to broach the idea of them coming to Sierra Leone, to see my host family (who I loved), my village, my school, and the general beautiful chaos that is this country. The details we needed to work out were numerous, but we finally decided that we would give it a try. Blogspot sucks with bullet points.

  • Fast forward to this past Sunday (March 27th) and me waiting at Lungi International Airport at about 9:15 PM for my parents' flight (an hour late). It's a really weird feeling, I'm not sure how to describe it, to see a flashing red/white light over your head and know that your parents are inside it, the same parents you haven't seen for nine months. Indescribable. They landed, and after taking forever to secure their luggage, we moved quickly to my waiting Mercedes-Benz sedan (courtesy of a friend who drove) and we went like crazy people to the ferry. *A note on the ferry: The last ferry is at 9 PM UNLESS there's a big flight coming in that will likely have people needing the ferry. The bmi flight my parents were on, even though it arrived at 9:15, was big enough for the ferry to wait. We arrived at the ferry around 10 PM and it was there waiting for us in all of its rusting white flourescently-lighted glory* We crossed over, and I fed my parents some chicken and rice I'd bought them and their first STAR Beers, which they both enjoyed. After reaching the other side and having tried to debrief them on the next few days, we moved quickly through a darkened but busy Freetown to the Hill Valley Hotel where we moved to our room, talked about everything, and fell asleep.

  • The next morning meant visits with some Peace Corps administration and then back into the Benz for the long journey to Bo for my host family. Having my American family meet my African family (the ones that took care of me for my first ten weeks in country) was incredible (and incredibly surreal). They hit it off immediately. We ate food, we laughed, my host father talked about how mature, amazing, independent, assured, etc. I was, and I did my best to downplay it. I'm mediocre, really. My parents got their first taste of real African cooking (petete leaf, groundnut soup, pineapples, mangoes) and we were all amazingly comfortable with each other. This was also when my parents had their first taste of palm wine. While the palm wine in Bo is good (I’m being generous), the palm wine in my village is far superior (I’m being modest). My parents did like the Bo wine though, and I was anxious for them to try the wine I can get locally in Gbendembu.

  • On the second day I took my parents to our training site, showed them were I spent my time those first ten weeks, and even got to have a drink with them at Graceland, our old stomping ground for after-training drinks and comiserating. Again, having a beer with my parents at the same Graceland where I drank beers with my fellow volunteers many months ago? Surreal. I got the picture of all my parents like I wanted, and it was just an 'aw shucks this is great' couple of days :)

  • On the next morning, (March 30th for those keeping track), we had a vehicle pick us up and take us to Masiaka where we traded for another that took us to Lunsar where we traded for another that took us to Makeni. I hate trading vehicles this much but it's pretty much standard. In reality, it gave my parents a more realistic view of what I have to do. I paid big money to charter cars so my parents would be comfortable, but for them to see the switching, the haggling, the bitching, the agreeing of how transportation works here was better than anything I could have planned. From Makeni, I wanted my parents to have the real experience of riding a poda-poda, our typical 18-30people small mini-busses/big vans that most people take. The road from Makeni to Gbendembu is.. challenging, and while my parents were probably sore from it, the experience is something I know they'll never forget. Something about not being able to move while you move up a rocky slope with a small child crying in your face and the person next to you's body odor mixing with your own... perfect. Once in Gbendembu, we moved to my house (after greeting just about everyone we saw, who were of course curious), and had petete leaf and I more or less hid my parents. We also had some of the local palm wine, and my parents remarked on the differences. (They found, as I know, that each gallon of palm wine is different). They were tired, needed to wash, and the last thing they really needed was to go be dragged around the village. I felt that we could start introductions the next day.

  • The next day, March 31st, involved me taking my parents just about everywhere for introductions. They met most of my teachers, the Paramount Chief, the people in town who I like, and any and every child that came in our way. I should mention they'd already met my dogs in Bo and in Gbendembu and enjoyed them thoroughly. For lunch, we moved to Pastor's house, a good friend of mine, where she had prepared porridge. This isn't the porridge you're thinking of. It has fish, chicken, potatoes, cassava, onions, salt, peppers, spices, bananas, and probably some ingredients I'm forgetting. It's considered a 'commoner' dish because of how simple it is (i.e. what do we have in the kitchen, hun?) but I love it and hoped my parents would too. They did. The Pastor is quirky, but her sense of humor and ease with my parents made the lunch truly enjoyable. We also had “Pop” which is a millet drink. I hope my mother is able to reproduce this sometime(?).. After lunch we moved to the school where my mother addressed the gathered SS students. She spoke of dedication, motivation, of the responsibility of education, of progress. It was (again) so surreal to see my mother giving a speech to my students. We moved to the classroom, where I worked to complete my World-Wise Schools program; the students wrote a letter to American students and my parents had brought their replies. Now, my students got to reply back. My students LOVE this program, even if many of them asked for phone numbers and to be taken to America. Such is Africa. After this, we went on back to the house and relaxed. I made a few more introductions, and my parents and I had a long-awaited discussion. I love my parents. We went to my principal's house for dinner, and then into town for them to meet Sori Bangura. We had some beers, and watched the gathering storm on the horizon. When one lightning bolt was brighter than the rest, we called the evening and hurried home. It didn't end up raining for a few more hours, but when it did, it was substantial.

  • April Fools Day. Foday fooled me. Jerk. We went to the school in the morning where my father addressed the JSS students. We thought this might provide a nice sort of symmetry. Then, my mother was asked to speak again. They both emphasized that education is the students responsibility, that education is more important than athletics, than dancing, than fooling around. I don’t know if any of my students really got the message, but it was great to hear and see it spoken to a group of students by my parents. I’d like to believe that while people are unhappy at my progress in Loko, I am widely respected. (I could be wrong on this. I return home to find my house spray-painted with “YOU’RE A BAD DANCER”) My parents garnered silence from the students, and my principal was very pleased with the entire exercise. After this, we returned home, ate some pineapple, and then joined Sori Bangura for our trip to the river. We picked up some STAR Beer and off we went. I wrote a blog post about the river; it was a really great time and a completely different Sierra Leone than they had seen in Bo or thus far in my village. The river honestly looks like something out of Illinois or Colorado or anywhere in the continental USA, just a beautiful river with beaches. The difference may lie in the naked women who were cleaning their clothes and the lack of Budweiser bottles littering the shore (they were our STAR bottles.. we picked them up). After the river, we returned back to the village and went back to the Pastor. The rest of the day was to be spent cooking. My father killed my chicken (CONGRATULATIONS :) and we all worked in some fashion for the preparation of a salad (chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, onions, luncheon meat) and later of canya (the peanut butter / rice flour / sugar delicacy that I love). It was a great afternoon and evening, even if I did get a little frustrated with the Pastor (after she called me lazy). We moved back to my house, had some palm wine, and relaxed and packed. We visited my friend the Councilor and he was able to elaborate on some of the shenanigans volunteers got into when he was in charge of training (when training was in MY VILLAGE Gbendembu!). The sun set, the gentle breezes began, and we went home to sleep.

  • The next morning was complicated. Plans changed, were destroyed, re-hashed, and finally we were on our way to Freetown from Gbendembu in the vehicle the belongs to my Paramount Chief. This journey seemed exceptionally long (I think the driver wasn’t sure how to go faster than 50 mph although it may have been the vehicle) but we eventually, after dealing with more charismatic Freetown traffic, arrived again at the Hill Valley Hotel. In retrospect, I feel it may have been better to get a hotel closer to the ferry dock, but the air-conditioning, fast wireless, and running water seemed to win us over. I had one final surprise for my parents, though. We found a vehicle and went off to The Atlantic. The Atlantic might be my favorite place in Sierra Leone. It’s a bar / club ON the beach that has been around since 1971. (Mary-Jean went there). My father mentioned early on that he wanted to get to the beach and while I had initially planned to take my parents to a restaurant called Bash’s, I knew that The Atlantic would be the perfect conclusion to their trip. It doesn’t hurt that The Atlantic has ice-cold STAR beer on draught. We ordered food at ridiculous prices and watched the sun set over the ocean. We talked about the future. We talked about the past. We talked about my service, my frustrations, and my hopes. We talked about my parents, their opinions of the trip, their fears, and their desires. It was the perfect conclusion to my parents visit. We drove back to Hill Valley, I uploaded pictures with the quick internet, and we went to sleep.

  • We woke up lazily (after having to turn the a/c off because we were cold. BEING COLD (?!?!) An AMAZING feeling. We went to breakfast (where we again were served omelets, bread with butter, a small salad, and a hot dog). There was a large group of Americans present, and I cringed not only at their attitude toward the staff but the carelessness with which they offended the locals. They soon left, in a privately-chartered bus, and I wished them well. Some people shouldn’t leave America, says I. After breakfast, we packed and went to visit one final Peace Corps staff member. It was a great visit, and my parents finally met the woman who has saved me from giardia, boils, dehydration, etc. After the visit, we moved back to the hotel and waited for our ride, which never came. Miscommunication, mistakes, and problems meant that we were leaving for the 2 PM ferry at about 12:45 PM in a vehicle I didn’t know. We ended up having to pay more than we should have both there and for the ferry-Lungi run, but I got my parents to the airport and I felt happy to have them at their destination. Then, we had *that* moment. As when my parents landed, (although we didn’t get to hug until we got to the hotel), we had to part ways again. My mother cried, and my father (who usually doesn’t) cried, which meant I cried. Fail. I think that this sadness was not only the separation but the knowledge that I really had no plan of how to get back to the Peace Corps compound, not really promising for parents about to head back to London. I left, found a vehicle to the ferry, made a new friend, and after breezing through Freetown hit bad traffic but finally, at about 7:30 PM, made it. My parents, as of now (at 11:14 PM), have half an hour to go, and I’m here typing this blog post. It was pretty surreal, pretty amazing, and I am PROUD of my parents for coming. They now have a sense of my interactions, my frustrations, my hopes, and most importantly, as I’ve put it before, the beautiful chaos that is Sierra Leone. I’ve asked my parents to post about their experience. I hope you enjoy that too. I love and miss you all :)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dogs (Again)

>> Just thought you might enjoy an update on my growing flotilla of dogs. Foday's dog Justice, Sandy's dog Tink, their puppy is my puppy Queen. The three of them (the four of us) go everywhere together. When I go to school, they come and sleep in the staff room and then in the classroom by the chalkboard while I teach. When I go home, they go home. It's amusing to everyone in my village, but I'm really pretty okay with being 'the white man who likes dogs.' I recently had a party at my house and made sure that the dogs were fed before some other people (people I hadn't invited, mind you) and had people shaking their heads.. 'Oh, Sago.. you love these dogs..' I think there's plenty worse things I could be known for. (like being REALLY sarcastic, ugh..) I love and miss you all! :)