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.

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