Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Break!

Oh exams week. I have been so crazy busy these last few days, giving exams, marking papers, and calculating final grades. It's so nice to be done! Now that I'm done I have to do some small work on a presentation for our upcoming PC training in Bo, try to finish the World Map mural that I've been working on (pictures soon, I promise) and get my house ready for being gone for over a week. I can't believe that the term is done. I feel like we were just getting on a role and now the time is up. It's a bit of a milestone though, six months in country and one teaching term under my belt and I feel a little bit accomplished :) I have learned so much these last six months and I am so excited to continuing learning and developing as an educator, positive female role model, and community member.

My birthday is coming up on Monday, and I think I may have been talked into throwing a party, which means food, dancing and a ton of people. Not ideal for my last day before I leave on a trip, but I will make it work. It's a birthday present enough to be seeing all of my PCV friends that I haven't seen in ages. It will be so nice to catch up with everyone and compare notes, talk teaching, and just take a break from teaching and community integration. I love living in Kamabai, but a little break will be nice.

I hope that everyone's holiday season is going well. I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas in case I don't update this before then. It doesn't even feel like December here. The weather is currently 80 degrees and sunny. It's funny though because at night it has been getting cold (let's say 55 degrees) and everyone has been complaining about it. They all think it's so funny when I say that I like the cold and the place that I come from is much colder than this. They can't really fathom how it could get any colder and you could not be sick all the time. So that's a fun thing to try and explain.

Oh! Earlier I posted a picture on facebook of me toting a bucket of water on my head and I joked about being able to tote the big bucket one day. Well I actually did tote that big bucket this week and we had to walk a lot farther to get water this time so I felt very African. I caused quite the uproar as I was passing and a few people even took my picture on their phone. So now their background is some white girl with a bucket of water on her head. Awesome. Anyways, I was proud of myself and wanted to share that little success story with you.

Finally, I just want to say thank you to everyone who has sent me birthday or Christmas cards. Especially everyone from St. Joseph's (thank you Mrs. Snyder!!). It was so nice to receive those and know that people are praying for me and my students.

Alright, I don't really have anything else to say. I will try to put up pictures soon, after I the holidays I'm sure I will have more pictures to put up, since Kamabai is supposed to be hopping during the season. Love and miss you all!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Five Months In

I apologize for not writing for such a long time. To be honest, this last month has been a little rough and I didn’t really feel like reiterating my struggles to you all. But, don’t worry I am doing fine, it is just starting to sink in that this job is not going to be easy. Not that I expected it to be easy, but now the specific challenges are arising and the problems of gender inequality and a struggling education system are no longer abstract concepts, they are my everyday life.  I am still figuring out how best to tackle these challenges, and right now I am just doing a lot of observing , which can be frustrating when I just want to jump right in and start making things happen. But I understand the importance of knowing the culture in order to make any change relevant and sustainable, so for now I am just taking it all in.
School is going, slowly. SSS I started coming last week, so now I am teaching two classes of SSS I and two classes of SSS II Biologyin addition to the three classes of JSS II Integrated Science. With four periods per class, I’m one busy lady.I really enjoy teaching the SS kids. The classes are smaller, they are better behaved and I really like teaching Bio. Most of my students at the SS level are boys, so they all try to impress me, like their 15 year old selves have a chance, but hey if it gets them to study, I will continue to keep making a big deal out every right answer. I have some really bright students and I’m excited to be their teacher for two years. I think it is getting easier for them to understand me too which is a bonus. Now that SS I has come I have to remind myself to speak extra slowly again. I forgot to do that at first and they looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. Speaking of SSI, I am happy that they are here, because now I have all of my students, but at the same time, I now have eighty more names to remember, and they are hard names too. It is really difficult to remember a name that I can barely say, but I try and they appreciate that. Plus, learning their names is necessary for classroom management; I need to be able to call people out when necessary.
JSS is a different story. They are let’s say, energetic. The classes are larger, they have a much harder time understanding me and they are less interested in school. It is a little crazy how the school system here slowly cuts down the number of students from year to year. JSS I currently has over 400 students, but SSI only has 80. I try not to think about where those other 320 students went and just focus on teaching the kids that want to learn, but it definitely is something to get used to. I do have one JSS class that I really have come to like. They do all of the silly comprehension checks I ask them to do. We laugh together when I make them say big words like commensalism and ampere and they can’t get it the first few times. And there are a few kids who I think really like science and are excited to learn. At least I hope it is that and not just them trying to impress the white person.
Community life has had a few ups and down recently. On Friday, one of my neighbor kids died. It was a real shock to me. When I got home after school on Friday I was told that Lamin had fallen down with convulsions and they had taken him to the Catholic mission. Later that night I was woken up at 1:30 in the morning by wailing of multiple people. I could make out some of what they were saying and from what I had heard from other PCVs I knew that this meant that Lamin had died. I had no idea what to do. I decided to stay inside and wait until morning. On Saturday morning I woke up and it was confirmed that Lamin had died. I went over to their house and sat outside with a congregation of women while the burial arrangements were being made. They were just finishing washing the body when I went over there. When they carried him out of the house covered in a lapa, I almost lost it. Lamin was only four years old and one of the kids that was always on my porch, break dancing, laughing and eating all of the weird American food I cook. I still can’t really believe that he is gone. And his parents, I can’t imagine what they are going through. His dad is a teacher at my school and his mom is one of the women that I talk with every day, one of the most kind and sweet people I have met here. She is currently about seven months pregnant and has a one and a half year old to take care of, so there isn’t much opportunity for her to grieve. Lamin was their first born son, so that, compounded with his age and the suddenness of his death makes his dying even more of a big deal here. The part that really breaks my heart is that my next door neighbor boy Arnold, who is four also, has no idea what happened to his best friend. He talks about how they ‘don put Laminna di gron’ but I don’t think it has really sunk in because he has been so happy these last few days. It’s going to be so hard for us all when he finally realizes that Lamin isn’t coming back.
The same day that everything was going on with Lamin’s burial, there was a wedding in my town, which is a huge deal because not many people can afford to have a big wedding ceremony. I accidently joined the church choir, so I had to go, which ended up being a good thing for me, to get out of the house and be surrounded by people that were happy and celebrating. The marriage took place in the Catholic church, so it followed the format that I was used to, but apparently the actual, traditional part took place a few nights before in the village of the woman. One of the teachers at my school was explaining to me that there is this process of the man giving the woman’s father money and cola nuts, very old school dowry business. But the mass in the church was the same as any Catholic marriage in the U.S. I loved seeing everyone done up in their fancy Africana and all the women with their hair all done and decked out in jewelry. After the church part there was a reception, that I missed most of, but when I showed up around 10:30 they were bringing out the food, so it was perfect JAfter the food, there was dancing of course. It was fun, but a bit strange because a lot of my students were there and more than one of them tried to dance with me. I’m still getting used to the fact that my SS III students are mostly my age or older. At least I don’t actually teach them, I’m just their form master, so I’m in charge of taking attendance and doing their report cards. But still, it was weird seeing them drinking and dancing and everything else that happens at jams. I left early, around 1, so I think it was a good compromise between having fun and still being a respectable teacher.
Overall, I’ve learned a lot this last month and I’m starting to get into the routine of teaching, integrating and trying not to make a complete fool of myself. My strategy is to keep smiling and working hard. Love and miss you all.

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Busy Ballay Biology Bangura"

Quadruple B. That is what one of my teachers called me the other day while we were joking about how busy I was with teaching, working in the library and everything else school related. While busy, life has been good. The library is coming along, last Saturday I was working in there with one other person and before I knew it about six kids were in there helping us to wipe the books, taking off their own shirts to wipe when I ran out of towels. I'm pretty sure it was just because they wanted to listen to K'naan blasting from my ipod speakers, but I regardless I was grateful and once again surprised by their willingness to help. When we finished wiping for the day I let them look through some of the books and it just reaffirmed why I was attempting what seems a very dubious project. They were so excited and asked me many questions about the things that were pictured in the books, like space ships and foods that they had never seen. I am very excited for when everything is cleaned and organized and the library will be ready for the kids to use.

Sorting books in the library has been kind of fun. There was a whole cupboard full of old books from the fifties and sixties that bore a stamp on the inside saying 'discard,' 'for donation,' or even 'obsolete.' I can't help but wonder about the places that these books came from, who has read them before and how they ended to be in my little school library in Kamabai. All I know is that I am glad that they are here and I am going to make sure that the good intentions of whoever did donate them are realized when the kids actually get to read them.

This week has been good, not all of the students are coming yet, which is crazy to me because I'm having my first test in Biology next week. But the students that have been coming I've been getting to know and it's been just another example of the overabundance of welcoming and friendliness in Salone. I've been getting into a rhythm of lesson planning, teaching, cooking and cleaning, it is a little bit like I'm a real adult now, weird. The only problem is that many of my students at the SS level (the equivalent of high school in the U.S.) are my age or older and don't have any qualms about professing their love for me or telling me that we should get married. Awkward. Just another challenge of being the only white person in town. Today at the football match between Red House and Blue House I was acutely aware of my skin color. There is no sense of anonymity here which was nice to retreat into sometimes in the U.S. Here, everyone knows me, shouts my name, the kids run up and hug me, and while the majority of the time I'm fine with it, find it comforting even, today I was struck by how odd it was. From the time I entered the field and walked to the other side to stand in the shade (I'm not trying to get more freckles than have already sprouted up on my arms and face) I was yelled at so many times it was overwhelming. I just wanted to come and support my house while watching the game, but I couldn't just fade into the buzz of activity, because I was creating a new buzz of activity. I don't know if I'll ever get used to the amount of attention that I draw here. But, I realize that this attention is just based in curiosity and that is one of the goals of the PC, to share American culture with host country nationals, so dealing with the increased attention is just another part, however challenging, of my job.

Anyways . . . today I am going to a jam and then tomorrow I'm going to Kabala to meet up with some other PCVs to celebrate my friend's 25th birthday. Should be fun! I love and miss you all!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kamabai Adventures

Hello all! Sorry to not be better about updating this thing. I'm going to try to start coming up to the Catholic mission once every two weeks to access internet, so hopefully I will be able to keep you all updated more frequently. A few weeks ago I discovered the Catholic Mission here and it is seriously like a little oasis. It has internet, running water, cold drinks (like with ice) and delicious food. I am so lucky to have it so close to me, but I'm a little weary of coming here too often, so I am going to limit it to twice a month because I really do love being in the village.

Anyways, school was supposed to start on Monday, but students haven't really started coming yet, so hopefully tomorrow they will come and we can start classes. Since there wasn't much teaching to do I decided to start the project of organizing our school library. I'm actually really lucky that my school has a lot of resources and support from the government. (The president's mother went to my school). The library has a ton of really great books but no one uses them. It's incredibly dirty, the first step of my work is taking all of the books off of the shelves, wiping the shelves and the books and then putting them back. Also sweeping and  general cleaning, which has uncovered a few creatures that had made their home in the abandoned space, awesome. This is 'big work' as all of the people who come in to see me tell me, but I think it will be so great when it is done. I'm looking forward to getting everything set up, but I'm a bit overwhelmed by the largeness of the project. Any help with library organization would be much appreciated, I have no idea what I'm doing hehe.

It's really hard to articulate what I'm experiencing here when I write once a month, I will have to start doing rough drafts of blog posts so that you can get a better picture of what my every day life is.

I guess I can talk about all of the kids that I have kind of adopted. There are about eight kids that live around me and are constantly hanging out on my porch. They are awesome little humans. They work incredibly hard, the kids are the first ones called on for any type of domestic work like fetching water, cooking, cleaning etc. They have such great attitudes for the most part and any little luxury makes them so happy. I have loved sharing with them my kool aid, cookies, the strange food I cook and the abundance of food that people bring me. When I came back from the mission the first time, the priest sent me home with a water bottle that was frozen. I gave it to the kids, we hacked it up with knife and they ran to give it to their families. There was still some ice left and as it melted they patiently waited their turn to get some cold water and exclaimed at its coldness every time they took a drink. I tried to explain to them in my broken Krio about ice changing to water as the temperature increases, and I actually think they understood at least a little of it. Later on in the day the kids showed up with bananas, ground nuts (peanuts) and oranges for me as a way of saying thank you. I'm trying to teach them not to beg for things, to say thank you when I give them something and to share. They are getting it and always reminding each other to say 'tenki' and to not be greedy. Small small as they say here.

This last week my neighbour was in the hospital (she is better now and at home), but during the week I was the adult that the kids came to. It was interesting to be put in that position, but now after the motherly duties of holding Arnold after he fell down and breaking up a fight between Bassie and another kid,they all really feel like my family. Speaking of family, my host brother came to visit me in Kamabai. I haven't seen him for a month and it was so nice to see him and introduce him to my new family here. It was really funny how often he had to explain how he was my brother but black while I am white. He was the first person that I officially cooked African food for on my coal pot. It was a bit nerve wracking but I think I did okay, he ate it at least. I made 'stew' which is tomato paste, peanut oil, onions, eggplant, and other random things. Then you put that over rice, of course because this is Salone and everything has to have rice. It was good but lacking in some of the traditional Salone ingredients, mainly fish, msg, and hot peppers. But there has to be some compromise :)

Okay, I think that's all I have to say. If there are any questions that you have just face book me, I'm really going to try and be better about checking it now that I have free access to internet. Love and miss you all!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Livin the Village Life

I am now an official Peace Corps Volunteer! The Swearing In Ceremony was a blast. Everyone dressed up in full Africana, I sported a crazy blue and gold shiny ensemble and it was great. When I arrived to the training center my Language teacher told me that I had been chosen to give the vote of thanks in Limba, the local language that I'm learning. So I quickly memorized four sentences in Limba and recited them to the entire audience. It was actually pretty cool to be greeted by the entire room in Limba. After swearing in we all went out and enjoyed our last night all together in Makeni. I left for Kamabai on Sunday and packing up and leaving my host family and friends was like leaving for the Peace Corps all over again. My mom was just sitting outside my room, looking at all of my bags and saying how much she was going to miss me. At least Kamabai is only an hour away from Makeni so I will be able to visit them often.

This week has just been a lot of hanging out at my house, unpacking, napping with my cat, reading and meeting people in town. Living in the village is kind of like being in a time warp. In order to get furniture made I talk with a carpenter, I visit the general store to buy everything from soap to eggs and everyone is so friendly and welcoming. It's kind of fantastic.

Yesterday I was able to go to my first Catholic mass while in Sierra Leone. It was beautiful. For as many things that I struggle with in the Catholic church, one of the things that I love the most is its universality. Here I was in a completely different part of the world then where I normally worship and yet I was able to be in community with everyone in that parish . The music was great and I can't wait to  learn those songs and maybe bring some of them back to the states :)

Well  that's all that I can really think of, if you have any specific questions feel free to email  or facebook me, I will try my best to reply at least within a month. Sorry I can't be faster than that, such is life in Salone.  I love and miss you all!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

So rainy season= even more sporadic internet . . . .

I apologize for the delay in update, but turns out that rainstorms are not ideal for good internet connection and since it is currently rainy season, access to the interwebs has been limited. Nevertheless, right now it is sunny and hopefully it will let me post this blog. I'll keep it short and sweet. In the last month I've found out my site where I will be living and teaching for two years. I will be a happy resident of Kamabai, Sierra Leone. It's in Bombali district, in the Birawa Limba chieftdom, so I've started learning Limba as my local language. It's challenging, but I love it. Now I can greet in 4 Salone languages (Krio, Temne, Limba and Mende) and I'm excited to learn more. I love the diversity that the different tribes offer and each one has their one traits that they are known for. For instance, the Limbas are known to be big palm wine people, so I hit the jackpot. On my 3 day site visit I got to see my house and my school. I think I'm really going to love it there and I cannot wait to move there in less then a month! Speaking of that I cannot believe that training will be over in 3 weeks! Just as I start to get used to an environment, PC goes and changes it on me :)

We started teaching summer school this week and I'm really glad that I have the opportunity to work out some teaching kinks before I get to site. Classroom management and teaching style is just something that comes with practice and three weeks of practice will be great. I'm teaching SS1 Biology with about 20 students and then JSS II Integrated Science with about 50 students. JSS is a bit of a challenge, those pikin are crazy, but it's probably what I will be dealing with at site, so it's good for me :)

This week we continue summer school and local language and on Friday we are all going back to Freetown to tour the PC headquarters. It will be interesting to see my impression of the city now with 2 months of living in Salone under my belt. Not gonna lie, I was pretty intimidated the first time we drove through it, Freetown definitly is chaotic.

Anyways, thanks everyone for the thoughts and prayers, they are much appreciated. Send me letters! I want to know what is going on in your lives and mail is just fun to get. :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Salone Update :)

Hello again! Since my last post, things have been going smoothly. Training is going well, lots of sessions on technical aspects of teaching and cultural differences, fun fun. Last week I taught for the first time to a group of other PCTs during our first Peer Teach. It was a 25 minute lesson and the topic I taught on was parts of the cell, so surprising right? After we received feedback from our peers and tech trainers we took that same lesson to an actual school for our first micro teach. I taught at a junior secondary school (middle school equivalent in the U.S.) to a class of about 20 students. We were supposed to have three PCTs in our group of teachers, one for each subject (math, science and English). Unfortunately one of the girls in my group was sick that day so Michele and I taught an impromptu English lesson on writing directions. Flexibility, one of the PC core qualities at work my friends. Teaching was really fun and I’m excited to write lesson plans and get ready for our next peer teach this week and upcoming summer school later on in training. It’s really nice to be excited about teaching, it was one of the things that I was most nervous about. Not that I’m not still apprehensive about teaching on my own, but I definitely think that I will be able to handle it, and that is reassuring.

The host family situation is great. I found out after two weeks that my little sister’s name is not Junior two as I had thought, but Jeyatu which makes a whole lot more sense. Don’t judge me, it sounds really similar and when I repeated it after they told me initially, my family did not correct me. My Krio is coming along slowly but surely, we’ve finished all of our language sessions in Krio so hopefully I will continue to get better through practice with my family and when I’m out in Makeni.  I’m already using it when I’m in the market which is really fun. On Sunday a group of us went to buy some lapas to be made into clothes. A lapa is just 2 yards of fabric that you can either wrap around you as a make shift skirt or take to a tailor to have something made out 0f it. Shopping in the market is fun and I’m getting good at bargaining. Because I’m an ‘opoto’ I’m consistently overcharged and so I have to talk them down. It involves a lot of loud exclamations and explanations that “mi na pisco ticha, mi no get boco moni dem.” I’m not to the point where I get the local price, but I’m not being ridiculously overcharged, so I’m making progress.  

We get to find out our sites this week so that suspense has been driving us all crazy. I’m really looking forward to knowing what subject I’m going to be teaching, what part of the country I’ll be in, what new local language I’ll be learning and what other PCVs I’ll be by. Hopefully we find out tomorrow, that would be amazing.

To summarize the last few weeks, I’ve developed a crap ton more freckles (but just on my arms and face, my legs are severely white due to the dress code here) I’ve been able to start eating more local food without fear of deathly sickness, and I’ve accepted the fact that I will go through daily mood swings about being here.  Thank you everyone for your thoughts and prayers, they’ve been much appreciated. Love and miss you all!  

Monday, June 13, 2011

I made it!

I have officially been in Salone for 12 days, but time passes so differently here, I feel like I said my goodbyes a month ago. Staging in Chicago was great, all of us PCTs (peace corps trainees) met for the first time and a lot of awkward small talk was exchanged. For our last night in the States we broke off into groups and went to dinner (with money the PC gave us, awesome). The group I was with went to a nice Italian restaurant and I had a fantastic ‘last meal’ which consisted of a breaded pork chop seriously covering my entire plate and a delicious arugula and tomato salad.  Oh and wine of course.  The next day was all about getting our yellow fever vaccinations (the first of many, many shots) and getting to the airport. Then it was the eight hour flight to Brussels which left an hour and half later then scheduled a quick dash across the Brussels airport to catch our plane to Banjul and then finally we landed at the Lungi airport after a solid day of traveling. We were greeted by the media, Peace Corps staff and oh yes, the wonderful heat that is characteristic of Salone. Craziness then ensued as we all located our bags and packed them and ourselves onto three buses to be taxied to the ferry which would take us to Freetown. From the ferry we took the buses to our hostel, dragged all of our heavy bags up four flights of stairs and then fell into bed, completely exhausted.

The next few days were spent in Freetown, within the compounds of the hostel adjacent to the national stadium. The days were spent in meetings but at night there were dance parties aplenty. On Monday our group was able to meet the Vice President decked out in traditional African clothes that the Ministry of Education had made for us. I completely destroyed my outfit in true Christina style. First I ripped my skirt attempting to jump into the back of the jeeps that were taking us back to the hotel. Then, this is a great diplomatic move, I thought it would be a good idea to get a massive nose bleed in the middle of the luncheon sponsored by the Ministry of Education. I just cannot handle having nice things. 

 On Tuesday we departed for Makeni, our training site for the next 10 weeks. We were squished onto buses for the three hour ride to Makeni, the fifth largest city in Sierra Leone. We arrived to music, dancing, and a magician of sorts performing, pretty sweet. We were able to meet our host families and head home with them. My host family is amazing. I have a mom (Mama Sue) who is so sweet. I also have a younger brother, Junior who is 17 and a younger sister Junior Two who is 12. They are so great to me.

So now I am a week into training and already feeling the rollercoaster of emotions. There are parts of the day when I am so grateful to be having this experience, like when Mama Sue gets so excited that I’m washing my clothes correctly (they call it “brooking” here). But there are also times of the day when I really want to go home, like when I found out that I take my bucket bath in the same place where half of the compound goes to the bathroom. You learn to just take it day by day, minute by minute and I know that everyone else here is going through the same thing, so there’s always someone to talk to.

A quick shoutout to my wonderful friend Emily and her fantastic brother Micheal on today their birthday! Love you and hope you are doing splendidly! Also, Dad, happy birthday tomorrow!
Love and miss you all!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It's like Christmas!!

Today I received the fruits of my online shopping labor. Five packages were delivered including hiking backpacks, water bottles, solar chargers, shoes and much more. With tangible items here everything is starting to become more real. As I finish packing up my room (with the help of my wonderful friend Bri), it's really starting to hit me. All of that added on to my recent donation of 10 inches of my hair (still getting used to the crazy shortness!) makes me realize that I have less then two weeks until I start this amazing adventure which simultaneously scares and excites me.

This weekend is my going away party and I cannot wait to spend time with family and friends one last time :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Let's try this again . . .

My first experience with blogger has been interesting, my blog was deleted. So I remade it since it wasn't that intricate and only had one post. Hopefully it sticks this time :)