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.