Friday, July 27, 2012

so it's over,.. (4 of 4)

>> the going away party and departure. on the 18th, a huge party was held, speeches made, food served, gifts given, all in my honor. i had to do my best (and i thank jimmy for being next to me at the head table for his support) not to cry. people said things like 'god truly blessed us with your presence' and 'if it were not for you, we would be lesser people' and 'may god go with you wherever you may go and continue to bless you and your family because of your generosity'. hard to not get emotional. that night, there was a large dance (at which i got to DJ for about an hour at :) where all of my friends seemed to peel themselves from the crappy rainy night outside and come in, dancing with me, laughing with me, etc. the dance itself felt like a prom, that bittersweet feeling of 'the last night' with the people you love. on the night of the 20th, i had my four closest friends over and talked to them, leveling with them basically, talking about what they meant to me, how it was them that on multiple occasions that had kept me there, not the wine or the comfy day bed, but them (also Tink, but she was asleep in the corner). we hugged, and they cried alongside me. for a sierra leonean to cry takes effort as it is basically taboo and is a sign of weakness or inability to control one's emotions. we shared wine one last time and then they left. in the morning, my principal arranged for eight hondas to form an escort in front and we boarded his vehicle and left the village, myself keeping it together until petting Tink goodbye and shaking Foday's hand in departure. The ride out of the village saw me blinking back tears and waving as people, old and young, came out of their houses, waving their hands and clothes and yelling their thanks and goodbyes as we passed. some elders, who i had never seen stand up, stood up to give their thanks and say goodbye to me. we finally left gbendembu behind and i did my best to stop sniffling and tearing up. (what got me most was the look on tink's face as we drove away, that confused sort of 'where are you going that you're not bringing me?' expression that, wow, even as I write it I'm tearing up.) we arrived in freetown late that afternoon directly to the peace corps compound. to make a long story short, the time from my arrival in freetown to my departure to paris (two days from now) has been difficult, a sort of mess of emotions as we all try to comprehend that we are in fact LEAVING and may never see some of these other volunteers again.. i guess that earlier in my service we had thought that COS week would have been this bubbly affair with us all really excited to leave but instead it found us trapped in the hostel, the outside pouring rain, and us inside mulling over our lives. however, as we near our departure (and two of my friends left today), the excitement begins to build back. we are going home. we have finished. we did it. i love and miss you all :)

so it's over,.. (3 of 4)

>> my replacement! awhile ago, peace corps began to ask us about our sites, wehether or not we felt the site deserved a replacement, any special difficulties we faced, problems with housing or administration or the community as a whole. with the exception of the theft, i had no complaints. i suggested a male volunteer instead of a female volunteer for the sole reason that the school has 30 male teachers and 1 female teacher and a majority of other women in the gbendembu community spend their mornings and afternoons farming and their evenings cooking food for their families and the nights cleaning. (i recognize that this is not unique to gbendembu, but i mentioned to peace corps that i felt if they could make it work that a male might do better.) enter bryan gastonguay. my replacement, also named bryan (giggle giggle) is very bright, optimistic, motivated, and naive, but that's exactly how he should be :) he came on a site visit for three nights and i got to show him gbendembu, introduce him to my friends, make suggestions, and answer any questions he had. he was very impressed with the house, seemed a little surprised that he was not going to have 'the peace corps experience' aka the image we all have of a mud hut with fire pit, etc. however, as he settled in, i think he realizes just how 'set' he is in gbendembu. a motivated administration, a fine house, good friends that will welcome him, (plentiful palm wine), and far enough from freetown to be independent but not desperately far away. it was refreshing to spend time with him because he reminded me of how i felt way back when. i remembered my own site visit when there was only my principal and a few teachers to greet me and take me around. this future volunteer got ME to walk him around. could there be anything better? ill mention a few moments that made me feel like he'll be a perfect fit. (1) he sits down in the parlor. i sit down on the day bed. tink walks in, looks at me, looks at him, jumps up next to him and snuggles next to his lap and he begins to absently scratch behind her ears. he asks, "I was thinking about getting a dog, but I really like Tink.. Could I have her?" (At this point I teared up and had to non-obviously go into the kitchen because my sadness about Tink and who would indeed take care of her had been one of my biggest worries). (2) on his last night, i arranged for a small dance. there was plentiful wine (some beer), lots of food, and loud music. whereas other new volunteers might have stayed to the shadows and been in an observational mood, bryan jumped right up and joined me in dancing amidst the rain, mud, and children, not in the least self-concious. i wish you the best of luck, bryan. it's your home now. (and my departure is post #4) take care of it for me. i love and miss you all :)

so its over,.. (2 of 4)

>> the staff quarters! so as we all know, for those of us who have been playing along, the construction of the staff quarters went over-budget and over-time, an unimaginable surprise to me! (not really.) let's recap. six of the ten of the staff quarters were burned during the war. the school has solar power now, has plentiful chairs and desks (see my work with the Ambassador's Special Self-Help Fund), and strong zinc and general structures. However, there was a shortage of staff quarters. The house assigned for me as the Peace Corps Volunteer was too big (cavernous) with six rooms and a parlor. Most volunteers might have two rooms and a parlor. So, I said, Let's build a staff quarters, I'll move there, and they can put three teachers in this ridiculously big house. We pushed forward and, a huge amount of cement, work, and palm wine later, the staff quarters is finished. I had a rough fence installed (to keep those meddling kids away from my porch) and we step up onto a double-wide veranda. I found that most of my time was spent outside and this veranda is wide enough to allow people to sit opposite each other and (likely) enjoy food and drink. Moving into the parlor, we find it is long and narrow, my day bed already holding habitat there, the chairs and tables nestled together. The walls are yellow (as is the exterior of the house). The house could not be red (APC political party) or green (SLPP political party) or orange (PMDC political party) and my neighbor (the principal) has a blue house, so YELLOW it is! Moving down the main center hallway, we have mirrored rooms on either side, a kitchen (right) and office (left) and then a bedroom (right) and my bedroom (left). The 'tala' mats (woven mats) were installed above (functioning like a drop ceiling). Instead of pricey celotex (think strong cardboard) we went with the woven mats because (they were cheaper!) it is much cooler in the dry season than the celotex. The walls are again yellow yellow yellow. Exiting the back door, we come to the latrine. One of my biggest grievances with Sierra Leone is the lack of hygiene, especially in terms of the latrine / toilet. thusly, i spent some extra money to tile the walls to chest height and the floor. yes, it's a luxury. (it is your author's opinion that your bathroom, where you are naked, should be a clean inviting place, not cringeworthy and dirty). And that's about it. The house is impressive and (in my opinion) just about exactly what a Peace Corps Volunteer should have. This leads us to the opinion of my replacement, which we'll talk about in post #3. i love and miss you all :)

so its over,.. (1 of 4)

>> four closing blog posts. backing up, the last few weeks of instruction went well, finished less material than i did last year, but i can only blame this on a general lack of student motivation and attendance - I was there every class ready to go and sometimes found the classroom less than 10% full (an average class might have 13 students when it should have had 60). with school officially closed sometime around july 6th, i returned to my job as assistant to the chair of the exams and records committee (let's just say i was pretty much in charge) and began the tedious (TEDIOUS) process of inputting every student's grades for Test One and Test Two for Term Three. that's two tests x 50 students a class x 9 subjects x 13 forms. it's a lot. however, i still came home from school to find foday and my close friends ready and waiting with laughter, love, palm wine, and good food. tink, in her wisdom, began to sense something awry and was especially clingy, sleeping inside the house for the first time during my service and, in the last two weeks, sleeping with me in my bed. (i want to believe she sensed a change in my emotional ((or hormonal)) demeanor because she was never like this before). with the grades entered and my official responsibilities finished, i could turn my attention to the staff quarters construction which takes us to post #2. i love and miss you all :)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

goodbye to dr. laura

>> as is the way with government organizations (or any real organization i suppose), there must be overlap and continuity between incoming and outgoing staffs. june 22nd marks the departure of our doctor, Dr. Laura, who has helped myself ((boils, diarrhea, dehydration, giardia, rabies (disproved), blisters, gashes (from the freetown streets), and nightmares and insomnia (thank you, malaria medication)), as well as many other volunteers and trainees with their medical and psychological problems. im not ashamed to say that on more than one occasion it has been laura that either with compassion or sarcasm or a little bit of both had gotten me past rough patches, whether it was something as physical as diarrhea or something as ethereal as nightmares and insomnia. her replacement, steven tull, sounds like a nice man (i've only talked to him on the phone as of yet), but i look forward to working with him for the short time i'll be under his care. i am happy for salone 3 (who arrived june 7th and are now in bo for training) because they will have mr. tull for a majority of their service - he will leave around the time laura is leaving, respectively. anyway, in conclusion, thank you, dr. laura, for doing your job professionally and practically, never failing to set us straight when we went awry but also always being there to care for us when you were needed. thank you. i love and miss you all :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

africa is cruella devil

>> play along with this analogy for me. if africa was cruella devil, she would know when you were happy and then destroy those feelings. some examples: a) you've had a great day teaching! (AFRICA NOTICES) you now have devastating diarrhea all night! b) you're really tired and need a restful night of sleep! (AFRICA SEES) you now have a deafening terrifying lightning-enriched thunderstorm that makes you think that your zinc roof might just fly off and into the jungle! c) you're excited about your last day of teaching! (AFRICA OBSERVES) you go to class to find it mostly empty and your students not all that upset that you're done standing in front of them attempting to instruct them.. i could go on. i should clarify that this is almost always done with a humorous context, that when i talk to a friend and say 'but then the best thing happened...' that my friend will reply with, 'shhhhhhhhh SHE'S LISTENING!' and then we chuckle. perhaps its time for us to come home, eh? i love and miss you all :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

finally back in freetown

>> sorry. i've been away from freetown for far too long. since we talked last, lots has happened. your briefing begins now: a) I finished teaching! As of last Thursday, the 7th, I finished instruction. It was a relief to finally be finished with teaching which, if we're being honest, which i try to be all the time, was getting a little worn around the edges. the students no longer had any interest, stopped coming to school altogether, and only vaguely gave any appearance of interest in their studies. it's nice to be done, but of course, the work continues.. now i get to enter all the grades (55 students per class x 9 subjects x 13 classes x 2 tests) and then do the clerical work to end up the year right. there's a lot to be done before i can happily put a pretty bow on my service, but we're on our way! b) We decided to get another dog! I say this now, that this will not WILL NOT be my dog, that this is Foday's dog FODAY'S DOG! that we are getting when I return home on Sunday. one of my teachers' dogs had puppies and sunday night we will bring him home (already named 'patience' by foday) and continue on. i know that this will not replace queen, but it will be nice to have a sprightly puppy around again... c) the goodbyes have started. i have had multiple people come up to me with no other purpose than to tell me how much they will miss me, on some occasions, intermingled with tears and people saying things like, 'i dont know what we will do without you' or 'i dont know what i will do without you.' we are told in peace corps that you have a beginning, that rough first patch, followed by a lengthy middle part, where everything is more or less the same, and then, (where we are now), the end, when everything has underneath it that sense of ending, like crunchy leaves - every step you take can't be taken without being reminded that this is the last time i go here, the last time i do that, the last time we celebrate this together. the goodbyes have begun.. i love and miss you all :)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

the remainder

>> so here's what's left for me. on may 18th, ill be going to a birthday party for joey peterson. the last weekend in may i go to bo to see my host family one last time. on june 14th i come back to freetown for our going away party for our peace corps doctor on june 15th. on july 4th or 6th, depending on schooling, i go to port loko for our 4th of july party. on july 21st, we have a huge party in gbendembu and on the 22nd, i go to freetown. on the 23rd, i take my TB test and begin the mess of paperwork, finally 'COS'ing on july 27th. we are allowed one extra week around the peace corps compound after that date to wrap things up, and on the 29th, i head off to paris and france for my COS trip. i return home to america on august 12th. it's coming to an end frightfully quickly here, with about 86 days left until i leave my village for freetown finally and therefore only about 6 or 7 real weeks of teaching left.. ill be in gbendembu doing my best to teach as much as i can while trying to ensure that they understand it, but the time remaining is small :) i love and miss you all :)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

sad blog post - get kleenex ready

>> so this is a sad blog post. the next morning, my host father and i walked to the school. upon arrival and plugging in his phone to charge, i got a call on my phone. from his wife. i answered. 'tell pa aruna his daughter is seriously sick. he needs to come home to bo now.' i told my host father, and we quickly found him a bike. he packed his belongings, we had a hurried goodbye, and then he left. i called my host mother to tell him he had departed and she replied, 'his daughter is dead.' my host father was already gone and i couldn't inform him, so we let it be. he called me later to tell me that he had arrived and that his daughter had died. during all of this, the fun night before, the frantic morning, the aftermath of drinking and feeling solemn, queen was continuing to nibble at his tail, which leads us to even more bad news... the skin infection there continued to grow, eating his fur, so we tried local remedies which included the black inside chalky powder of a battery on the wound and later GV (gentian violet) a stain. what we really needed was some antibiotic cream and one of those collars that prevents the dog from biting it. with no improvement, i called the veterinarian that had done neutering, spaying, and rabies injections for my dogs in the past. he sensed the agitation in my voice and came the next morning and began double injections of antibiotics in the morning and night. (night morning night morning (no night) morning night). i was never there for the injections because i cannot handle the fight and sadness and anger queen put up when being treated. i was the first person he ran to after the injection and served as counsel. after this final night injection, he ran to me as normal, i petted him, and then he began to twitch, convulse, and stumble, whimpering and struggling to breathe. we took him inside the house. we laid him down but i got *that* feeling. i moved close and pet his neck and said his name comfortingly until he stopped breathing. i broke down sobbing. after a few minutes i came outside to everyone yelling and sad, seeing the look on my tear-stained face. i called my parents, and we made the difficult decision to take queen to the bush now instead of in the morning. we wrapped queen in a bag and went into the bush. a friend of mine called but i darkly responded, "I'll call you back. My dog just died." We laid Queen down. I said, "Give me a minute." I pet him a little bit more, and then we walked back to the house without him. I believe that my veterinarian, who worked primarily with livestock, gave Queen too much antibiotic too quickly too fast for his small size, but the veterinarian reiterated that this was the first dog he has ever lost. this all happened on april 20th and ive done my grieving and am trying to move on, but i felt it necessary to make a blogpost. love you, queen. i love and miss you all. :(

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

even more last thoughts on COS conference

>> some moments you might enjoy: (a) while i took my bucket bath at the hill valley hotel (one of the most expensive hotels in freetown but still without functioning showers) the lights went out. for a moment i stood in the shower, naked, in a completely dark bathroom, and  then broke out into giggles at my life. i continued reaching down to the bucket and finished my bath in the dark only for the lights to return on once i'd finished.. (b) the last night of the COS conference was a big night for my group.. we were treated to pizza at mamba point by our country directors and then broke off into groups to prepare for the night - most of my friends made our way to ace's where the DJ played an amazing set (like a prayer, 'believe' by cher, chris brown, pitbull, david guetta, etc.) and we danced the night away. it was a nice sense of closure since most of these friendships really blossomed around vicani nightclub in bo (during our training) and the nights we spent enjoying and dancing together.. (c) my host father was finally able to visit! foday and i waited in town and then he got down slow and stiff but had a great night together drinking palm wine (which he remarked was amazing) and spending time together sharing stories about me. unfortunately, problems arose... [next blog post..] I love and miss you all.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

logistics 'n stuff

>> our COS (close of service) conference is now over! it was certainly a somewhat awkward affair - imagine if you will a sort of high school reunion of sorts, the same arguments, cliques, and crushes sort of resurface and swirl around but, more importantly, we worked on the logistics of our departure (terrifying / exciting). we talked about plane tickets, about how our payments will be organized, medical information (including exciting stool samples!) and even the stuff we should leave at our houses for the next volunteer and what things need to be returned to Peace Corps. There was debate amongst us about some choices, do you (a) transfer money into the bank account (b) take a check to your home (c) take a check in freetown, etc. (I'm sending the check to my home - I'll lose it if he gives it to me in Freetown..) It was nice to see our bosses again, see our doctor again, see the other volunteers again but now, as if there was any doubt, we are definitely in the home stretch. Peace Corps gave us advice about the last few months, how it is indeed different than the rest of our service, their suggestions on how best to leave things, how to find closure (if possible), and the beginnings of the dicussions about how to try to fit back into American life... I love and miss you all.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

some recent events

some recent events in the past few weeks:

  • my book was published! my parents called and while it was entirely anti-climactic to find out in the middle of the jungle (foday poured another cup of wine, it continued being hot, food kept being made) it was really exciting to finally be published! go to and search for 'bryan meeker' and my novel pops right up!

  • a man from guinea came to my normal watering hole and accused me of killing Muammar Gaddafi.. in traditional PC response, i smiled and nodded and laughed along, but the man got more and more serious and more and more angry, finally swearing out me and then my mother. about half a heartbeat after swearing out my mother, foday and sori and pa kandie were all on their feet and ready to beat the man senseless. the next thirty minutes was spent with him apologizing and my friends cooling down but it was a mixture of terrifying / encouraging / loving to see how quickly my friends came to my aid

  • they've built a train line across my route to makeni to transport the iron ore and stuff but ive never seen the train and now, i've seen it! it was amazing!!! (i may have teared up a little because i'm pathetic) but it was a regular old train like you'd see in america pulling 93 cars of iron ore.. incredible.. it made the poda-poda shake it was so big..

  • apparently i don't look american, so that's.. interesting. in the past few weeks i was asked if i am spanish because 'you look,.. you look somehow spanish..' and also 'are you dutch? you look.. you look dutch because you are calm and cooooool..' so there's that.

  • i love going to the amvil restaurant next to the sierra leone commercial bank and went today but, it being the easter holiday weekend, it was closed, so i went across the street and ate with the locals to their surprise and shock.. i love doing that. yes, i can eat cassava leaf. yes, i can sit on an old wooden bench. no, it's not too hot for me,..etc.

i'm in town for the COS conference on monday and tuesday, so hopefully ill get to post again before heading back upline to the village! :)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

you know you're integrated when:

i jotted these down amidst cups of palm wine and hiding from the burning hot sun,..

  1. realizing that when you pull your bucket of water and there are red biting ants in it, that you're happy when most of them are dead and you can flick the alive ones out and move on with your bathing

  2. realizing that you're happy that when your friend returns home after having killed 'bush meat' and when you ask 'what kind?' he replies 'bush deer' and you are happy because it's your favorite, after all

  3. your water filter is pretty much a decoration - you now drink the same water as your neighbors from the same cups as your neighbors - your system has dealt with giardia twice and you never get diarrhea anymore; your body doesn't take anything from anyone anymore

  4. you yell at children for wearing their pants halfway down their butts, not going to school, or using phones at the school and the other villagers understand, agree, and scold the children too

  5. you get into a poda-poda and immediately let out a 'oooooOOOOoooo' because you note that it is, in fact, a new poda-poda and not the typical older model year version

  6. you greet someone in Themne and the driver (a Loko) looks over and says, 'You know more Themne than I do! You are really trying!"

  7. whilst getting into the backseat of a vehicle (four people across), the africans say, 'no no this man will not be comfortable, he must sit somewhere else!' and me saying 'pffft. let's go. i'm fine.' the driver shrugging, and the vehicle moving.

i love and miss you all.. (and ill think of more :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

the march trip to freetown (5 of 5)

>> a happier post, i promise, in that we're beginning to see the end of the race here. the discussions amongst us volunteers is beginning to be our plans afterward, beginning to be questions about whats next, about the stresses awaiting us, and our plans for our COS (close of service) trip. the plan for myself, for those that care, is to leave gbendembu on july 23rd, go through the final clearances and paperwork in freetown, officially COS on july 27th, and then depart on july 29th from freetown to paris for two weeks in france before returning home to america on august 12th. there's a sizeable party planned for august 17th, but ill give you more details about that later. the important thing i want to convey is that while weve had student deaths, fights, problems, heartaches, sorrow, depression, and even diarrhea, that now, with only about 137 days left, we're beginning to feel a lightness, that we can do this, that we're *so* close that now it's a piece of cake. we'll see if the feeling lasts, but for the past few weeks myself and at least three other volunteers have all expressed similar feelings, that our time is drawing to a close. i love and miss you all :)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

the march trip to freetown (4 of 5)

>> so last year my school had a sport competition. for those playing the home game, this means that the school is broken up into four houses and they compete against each other basically in an overblown track & field event competition. last year, this meant a complete shutdown of my school for almost two months and, at the climax, one of my students (a girl) being punched in the face by another student (a boy) because she dropped the baton during one of the relays. at that, i yelled / scolded / screamed at the man directly in charge of my 'house' and went home and swore it off, "I'm never participating in a sport again." this year, we said that since last year's sport got out of hand, that we would not have one this year. we changed our minds. i was put on green house. i demanded to be taken off, and was removed from it and put on the committee which i summarily ignored. i was then harassed by my students for my non-attendance and non-support. i used excuses like 'im really busy' or 'i have to input all these grades' but the truth is that i refuse to be part of something that in itself is a PERFECT example of all that is wrong with education here. putting a sporting competition before student education is just plain WRONG. in my opinion. (i have not taught in two weeks, the students were dismissed). I love and miss you all :)

Friday, March 16, 2012

the march trip to freetown (3 of 5)

>> a word on my students, who have grown more and more insolent as time has gone by. i remain baffled as to the mindset of these students, who are not only rude but blatantly insubordinate to myself and the other teachers. examples: (a) i am in the computer room inputting grades and a student walks up and reminds me (with a certain amount of malice) that i have their class. i inform the student that they are incorrect, that i am capable of reading a time table. they insist (with more malice) that i am wrong. i walk to the timetable and prove them wrong. now, understandable, but WHY SO MUCH ATTITUDE. (b) a student mocked my voice, which i do not stand for, and then proceeded to run away from me, and by run i mean RUN, he was chased all the way out of the school and past the football field to the swamp. Why not just take the punishment (that you deserve) and then move on with life? By running, you make it so much worse. (c) my school has decided to have a sport competition after all and when asked if i am participating, i informed them i was not. (because sport is a terrible idea, but that's in a different blog post) i was then informed that i dont like the students, that i am not a good teacher, that i should be at the sport, that i am not supporting them and that im generally wrong. this was laughed off by me, since the irony is just incredible, but the question remains: Why am I getting so much attitude from my students? ESPECIALLY the students who have to take the WASSCE exam in a few short weeks? I am baffled. Absolutely baffled. I love and miss you all :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

the march trip to freetown (2 of 5)

>> yes, it's a post about animals. this is when you roll your eyes and go back to facebook. ill continue. (a) each time i visit my staff quarters as it is constructed, there are goats. the first day, there was one goat. the second time, two goats. sleeping in my unfinished bedrooms and pooping everywhere. im worried to look when i get back to the village. there will likely be a small goat colony there, deciding on its leadership and flag design, asking for recognition from the UN (b) in relation to this, my dogs have become bullies. when we walk to school, they chase any goat they see and it runs away screaming (as a goat screams) until it comes to another goat and then they have strength in numbers and my dogs come back to me, grinning happily. eventually, this will get me into trouble. but, until the goats LEAVE MY HOUSE ALONE im okay with it (c) in relation to my dogs, there are a lot of them now! i don't know why, but we've added Beretta to the fold at my neighbor's house, but he's been there and i hadn't really interacted with him. also, TwoFace, a small white puppy, and BelieveGod at the school campus that at first hated me but now rolls over on his back like a pushover. i am completely okay with being the volunteer that liked dogs. (d) finally, because it's africa, i have to let you know that TwoFace ate a chicken next door. the owner pleaded for him and he wasn't killed. he then ate a chicken at a different neighbor's house and was slaughtered like he didn't matter. i love and miss you all :(

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

the march trip to freetown (1 of 5)

>> this post is about the completion of my project! for some reason, blogspot isn't letting me choose my own font or format this. whatever. so, for those paying attention, i started the chairs and desks project in january 2011 after our IST (in-service training) and it took a long time. there were problems with arranging the metalworker to come to gbendembu, there were problems with the pricing and paying for workmanship, there were problems with receipts and then getting those receipts back to freetown from the village. but, with the first half completed, the embassy staff was pleased, and the work continued. i took that trip home in july 2011 and work sort of stopped altogether. upon my return, i stoked the fires, and work continued until the welding machine broke and then my metalworker came down with malaria, which meant the metal chairs weren't done. on the side of the wooden desks, they were done relatively quickly. finally, the machine was fixed and the metalworker was healthy and work continued, only to be stuck again when we had no paint to label the chairs and desks. an exercise in patience, yes. finally, finally, finally, everything was finished and the embassy came to gbendembu. i should write that again, clarifying and emphasizing. the AMBASSADOR to SIERRA LEONE, MICHAEL OWEN, came to GBENDEMBU! It was an incredible day that went without any problems and the embassy staff was truly impressed with people's generosity and honesty and, perhaps most important, that the chairs and desks were finished and beautiful. the Ambassador gave a short optimistic speech (that was truly uplifting to hear) as well as my principal and the Paramount Chief, then a short tour of the campus, finally coming to the staff quarters i'm constructing. it was an amazing day, a memorable one, and perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event for the village. the project is finished. i love and miss you all :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

so much for that..

>> the trip to freetown's purpose was to take the foreign service exam.. i was signed up for the 2 PM test, and some were signed up for the 10 AM test.. off they went.. and then the phone call. not enough internet. (laughs). there apparently wasn't enough bandwith (even after the embassy arranged for extra bandwith ((like just ordering an extra pizza to make sure there's enough for everyone))) and they had to cancel it. soooo my trip to freetown has switched into what it usually is, just a miniature vacation! we were told that we may be able to take it in about three months but that there's no guarantee that the internet will be working then either. (i'm sitting next to chris randall. his shirt is off.) i love and miss you all :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

one hundred posts..

>> hard to believe that this is my hundredth post. i'm back in freetown, preparing for the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test) on saturday at the u.s. embassy. as part of the process, we are given three administrative leave days, so i took one today (thursday) and one tomorrow (friday) to give myself a nice plump weekend. a lot has happened since i was last here for that mental health week,..

  1. Throughout that mental health week, I was getting updates from Gbendembu on the progress (or lack thereof) involving the theft case. While the police were conducting their investigation, traditional means were also agreed upon.

  2. The sorcerer came to my village. He had three long sticks tied together with colored fabric and he was dressed quite impressively. He would touch the end of the stick against a person, smell the stick, and then move in a different direction and smell other people. His job was to identify the item I had hidden (a metal bottle opener) and if he succeeded, we would know he would be qualified to find the thief. He failed. He said that whenever he looked at people's faces, he saw TWO faces. And when he looked at me? I became a black man. He reasoned that someone in Gbendembu was blocking him with black magic. We paid for his transport home and he left.

  3. We decided to do a Thunder Swear. This is about as serious as the traditional means gets. Involved in the thunder swear was a young chicken (not a chick but just young), a frog, nails, a hammer, oil, an umbrella, herbs and plants, a lighter, and village elders and a medicine woman. the young chicken was soaked in oil. i wasn't sure why. oil on the wings. oil on the underside, the legs, all over. the chicken was not pleased with any of this. then he was lit on fire. he flapped away into the jungle and died. the frog was nailed onto a piece of wood. both of these ingredients, along with the special herbs & spices were combined in a pot. there were a lot of languages being spoken (yelled), some Loko, some Arabic, some Themne, and i took a video too.. the residue was put on the bottom of the feet and the swear was done. within two or three weeks, the thief will find they are unable to defecate or urinate and will beg for forgiveness from the medicine woman. we are now on week three. (apparently the thunder swear works better in rainy season. it's the harmattan so no rain. or thunder.)

  4. School restarted, and i am happy to relate that it has been a much more productive second term than last years. however, my SS3 students, those who should be the most serious about their education right now, are being incredibly rude. to everyone. many teachers (including myself) have walked out. the principal(s) have yelled at them. the parents have been yelled at. when peace corps visited me, they yelled at them. nothing seems to get through. yesterday, arriving late to school, students ran away from me into the jungle. i chased them. i don't think a white man has ever been where i was (..almost lost). but seriously. the biggest test of their lives is in three months and you're running away from a teacher into the jungle? very frustrating.

  5. my new routine is as follows (a) wake up, go to school (b) write down the times teachers arrive because if i do not, the teachers will lie about what time they arrive. the teachers sign, we laugh, the day begins (c) teach my classes as best as possible (d) get lunch with jones. we alternate days to pay for each other, usually rice with beans or cakes and potatoes with some ginger beer. (not actually beer). (e) stay at the school until about 3 PM on the laptop doing work or goofing off (f) go to the house construction site (where the house is now past window height! :) (g) go home, change out of pants, relax, nap (h) go back to school in evening to do more work or goof off, lesson plan, read (i) go to Pa Kandie's house for palm wine (j) go home, listen to music on laptop, read, fall asleep (k) cuddle with backpack (l) wake up.

I love and miss you all. :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

what did we learn

>> for some, i might be humorous. i now walk around my house at about 6:30 with a flashlight, locking every window, acting like some sort of pudgy peace corps night watchman, humming to myself doodley doo dum dum while i lock the windows, double check the back door and front door. after drinking palm wine with foday or whatever the evening's activities are, i lock the front door, put my laptop into my backpack (i no longer leave it at the school overnight. paranoid), along with my camera (because in the parlor its too far away), and zip it up, strip down, get into bed, and basically spoon with my backpack. i have to admit that the backpack never complains about my morning breath, never gets upset when i want to pillow talk, and is always there in the morning waiting for me, with drool marks on the zipper. i think i've found the love of my life. thank you, african thief, for making me stupidly paranoid :) i love and miss you all :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


>> so, maybe christmas here just isn't meant to be. i made the decision each year to stay in my village for christmas because i thought it was important but each time, it has sucked. this year, we had a tremendous christmas eve and christmas day, going to a dance christmas night from about 9 PM to 2 AM. the next day, boxing day, we had similar ideas, but foday (being inebriated) changed the plans so we came home around 10:30. we came home, and foday immediately made for the couch and curled in a ball. i said, "NO! GO SLEEP IN YOUR ROOM!" Foday laughed, and I went to my room. To find my safe gone. The nails bent sideways, a knife on the floor bent in half, my mattress askew, the drawers to my bed ripped open, the screen torn, and one of the iron bars that is supposed to keep burglars out bent completely out. i had been robbed. inside the safe was about Le3,000,000 for staff quarters construction, Le233,000 in teacher truancy fines, Le280,000 of my own money, two pairs of my glasses, and on top, my Zune mp3 player. all gone. happy christmas. the police are investigation as are more traditional methods (sorcerer / wizard) but in reality, the money is likely gone. the happy ending to the story is that two ministers of the sierra leone government have donated to me the stolen money (and extra money for my own living expenses) so in the end, there will be no time lost to the theft and limited stress (now) on me money-wise, HOWEVER, the take-away message here is that i am in freetown for a mental health week for how terribly violating this entire event was. my entire village was incredibly supportive, bringing food, palm wine, offering condolencences and support, and generally trying their best to calm me down (the morning after the robbery i started packing my bags to go home to america). thefts happen, but the worst thefts i believe are those that leave the victim just that. victimized. afraid to sleep in your own bedroom. i'm in freetown for a week to get my head back on straight, to recognize the generosity of sierra leoneans (as well as the greed), and to try to enjoy myself. i refuse to give up, africa. you're trying your damndest, but i refuse. i love and miss you all :)