Monday, May 21, 2012

Tenki! Tenki! (Thank you, Thank you!)

I just received a package that contained some beautiful Easter cards from a class at St. Joseph’s school (the elementary school that I attended and that my mom currently teaches at). I so appreciate the cards and all of the prayers, it means so much. I enjoy reading about what is happening in St. Johns and when I share the drawings with my neighbor kids they absolutely love it. I wanted to mention it in my blog because if I send a letter now it won’t get to St. Joe’s until after school is out and I really want to make sure that the kids know how thankful I am for their thoughts and support. There were a few questions so I’ll take a minute to answer those . . .

Q) Is it always hot there?
A) Simple answer: Yes. During the day it always ranges between 70 and 100 degrees. Sometimes at night during the rainy season it will cool off a little and I will have to cover myself with a blanket, and there was even one morning that I wore my Hope college sweatshirt (that was a glorious morning) but most of the time I am sweating. Good thing I packed a lot of deodorant.

Q) Are you close to the equator?
A) Ya, Sierra Leone is very close to the equator. That is the reason why we only have two seasons (rainy and dry) and why it is so hot. We are in a tropical ecosystem. When I was teaching about climates to my middle school class they thought it was crazy that there could be a place that was colder than here (and that people were able to live there). I showed them a picture of snow and they were amazed. Fun times :)

Q) Are you having fun there?
A) YES!!!! Everyday I get to learn something new, and to a nerd like me that is the definition of fun. It’s not always the easiest thing to be away from my family and friends or the many amenities that come with living in the states, but the good days definitely outnumber the bad. (But the candy the class sent me will help with the bad days :)

Q) How’s the food there?
A) The main local food here is rice with a spicy, oily, sauce. Normally it has fish, but it can also be made with beef or chicken. The main sauces consist of cooked leaves like cassava leaf, potato leaf, or a plant called kren kren. In addition to the leaf sauces they make a really good sauce from ground up peanuts and then another yummy one with tomato paste and onions. When I first came I didn’t really like the food and it was way too spicy for me. But now sometimes I find myself craving rice and sauce and the pepper doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Another perk about the food here is the delicious fruits that grow. Right now its mango season and I am in heaven. We also get fresh bananas, pineapple, oranges, watermelon and guava. Most of the time I cook for myself on my coal pot and I mainly make pasta, eggs, pizza, beans, soup or fries. Not the healthiest diet due to a lack of vegetables.

Q) How is your cat?
A) Yathiki is doing well. She is so big now! She has gotten very good at catching mice which I love because now I don’t have to hear them scratching around at night. Everyone in my village knows her name and when they pass my house they call her. They think it’s so funny how I hold her and pet her because her it’s not part of their culture to show affection to animals. But they just attribute this behavior to the fact that I’m a weird foreigner :)

Q) What kind of animals have you seen there?
A) Everyday I mostly just see cats, dogs, birds, lizards, sometimes a pet monkey. I haven’t ventured off into the bush because of the warning about snakes, but I’m sure if I went there I would see more wildlife. 

Q) What is a discorama?
A) An incredibly fun program. It was like a talent show that my school put on. The four houses competed against each other for the top score. There were five judges that decided who won. The events were single dancing for boys and girls, group dancing for boys and girls, single lipsynching, duet lipsynching, drama and cultural play. It was a great time and the kids got really competitive and excited. 

Alrighty, thank you again for the thoughts and prayers. I am sure that is the reason why things are going so well for me here. I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am to you all.

For a quick update on life in Kamabai:
School is slowly starting up again for the last term of the year. The official start date was a month ago but because of some issues, we’re just now getting into the swing of things. The bright side to us not having school was that I got to spend a lot of time in the library and it looks so good now! It is so gratifying to have it look like a real library and not just stacks of dusty books. The kids are excited too, if a little bit apprehensive. The truth is, they don’t know how to use a library because they’ve never had the chance before. Books here are so scarce and expensive that most times they are kept off limits to the kids because adults are afraid they will ruin them or steal them. Which to be honest is probably going to happen a few times as I’m getting the library officially started up, but I want to believe that after the kids see the uses of having the books in the library they will learn to respect the books. My action plan now is to do one more thorough cleaning (I am in a constant battle with the dust that blows in) and then start making the library more inviting. I’ve already got some ideas about painting, making a corner for the primary school kids, and an area for the computer we’re going to get.  That’s another thing to be thankful for, a church from London that started working with our school this year said they found three computers for our school and at least one of them will go in the library! So hopefully next year I can start tutoring kids in computer which is something that they are so curious about. The church also asked for a list of books that we could use in the library, so hopefully we will be able to get some more books which would be awesome.

Everything with the social life is going well. Two weeks ago I went up to Fadugu to visit Sara and go to a jam that was being put on for Bob Marley Day. I didn’t even know such a holiday existed until this year. It was really fun, I always enjoy hanging out in people’s towns, seeing their schools and the people they see everyday. This last weekend I went down to Makeni to celebrate Marc’s birthday, which was a lot of fun as well.

Oh, I realized a few things that should have been on the packing list I included for the incoming trainees:
-Power adaptor: Helpful for when you want to charge things. I got mine at Best Buy for $30. It’s a Targus and has worked well and isn’t bulky like some that you will see, so I recommend it.
-Batteries: You can get these here so don’t bring a two year supply, but its nice to have a few to start you off.
- Knife: A pocket knife works. Or you can get a legit small hunting knife, whatever your style. But its nice to have something to peel cucumbers and mangoes during training.
-Headlamp: I have had the worst luck with headlamps and now just use a local light that I bought. But I know some people really like them and they are convenient.
-Snack Food: The transition to local food was rough for some of us. Having some cliff bars or trail mix stuffed away somewhere would have been a nice comfort those first few weeks.

Okay, I think that’s everything. As I said before, don’t stress, just focus on spending the last few weeks with your loved ones and get ready for an adventure! See you at PST!

Friday, May 4, 2012

It’s almost time for a new batch of trainees!

To anyone who got that blue packet that was so long awaited, congratulations! You got into the Peace Corps! And you got assigned to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, get ready for two crazy years. But first, that ever important question about what to pack . . . I remember stressing out about how I was going to fit all of my belongings for the next two years into two bags and a carry on. Fact: I use about half of the stuff that I brought. It’s inevitable that you are going to bring some things that are ridiculous, but here is a list of things that you might consider.
 -    1. D-light solar light/charger: This thing is awesome. It can charge your phone and ipod and is a great light. However it’s not a necessity to get a solar charger. Most sites have charging stations where someone hooks up a generator and many of us charge there, or your school could have solar power. But if you get placed in a small village, this will be very useful.
      2.Clothes: Yes, bring the ‘professional clothes’ that PC tells you to bring. But don’t stress about it. I really don’t wear any of those clothes that I brought with me, you can buy cute, cheap clothes here in the market (its like thrift store shopping). The clothes that I wish I would have brought more of are the ones I wear after school (tank tops, capri yoga pants, Bermuda shorts, light dresses) those are the ones that are not the easiest to find here. If you’re a girl, bring a cute dress, we like to go out here and you will want to not look like a teacher  
      3.Computer: If you can swing it, try to bring a computer. PC is moving away from paper handouts and is in the habit of giving us flashdrives with a lot of great resources on it. But if you don’t have a computer it’s a little difficult to access those. You will be absolutely fine if you don’t bring one (we have computers at the PC hostel in Freetown) but I’m happy that I have mine.

       4.Music player/speakers: Dance parties are a must. Even if you don’t listen to pop music, pack it full of ridiculous top 40 stuff so you can jam out with your neighbor kids, that will be the only American music they have a chance of knowing (Akon and Rihanna preferably).

      5.  Locks: Tsa approved locks for your luggage. PC gives you a padlock for your lockbox so don’t bring one. I think I have like three padlocks floating around my house that I don’t use.

      6. Shoes: For girls: One or two pairs of cute, leather sandals to wear to training and to teach in.  before I came and I never wear them. I also brought those silly croc ballet flats. DON’T BUY THOSE!! They suck in the rainy season, I was constantly slipping out of my shoes and as someone already disposed to clumsiness, that was not good. You can get pretty durable flip flops here. But it’s hard to find dressy sandals that won’t break in a week, so if you can find those, bring them.

      7. Luxury Items: Bring some jewelry if you want. In the culture here it is strange if a woman doesn’t wear earrings so bring a few pairs. 

       8.Towel: Those tech dry ones are cool 

       9.Toiletries: The basics; shampoo, deodorant, makeup, body spray, face wash, razors etc. You can get the stuff here but it’s nice to have American quality for awhile. I’m still using my shampoo from the states and I just brought a regular sized bottle. Bring two big tubes of toothpaste, it’s nice to feel Crest minty clean. And you’re gonna use a lot of deodorant because its frickin hot here, always. 

       10 Kindle: I had one sent to me. One of the volunteers here has a file of over a 1,000 books, enough to keep you busy for two years, so once you get that you are set. The battery lasts awhile which is nice. It gets dark around 7 pm here and when you don’t have electricity the only thing o do really is read, so this will come in handy. Again, not a must (we have a huge library of regular books that are constantly being shuffled around) but it’s nice to have. 

       11.Camera: Some people have really nice, big ones, others have small point and shoot varieties. Whatever works for you. 

       12.Gifts for your host family: They give you a place to stay for ten weeks, hook them up with some American goodies. Gift ideas include: American flags, novelty items from your state or university, candy (not chocolate, that shit will melt as soon as you get off the plane) bubbles, silly bands, bouncy balls, anything from the dollar store, just go crazy. They will love whatever you give them. 
       13.   Spices for cooking: You can always get these sent to you, so don’t stress if there’s no room. Basil, curry, cumin, beef/chicken bullion etc. Whatever you use at home. You can buy onions, garlic, black pepper and thyme in the market so you’ll survive even if you don’t bring these. 

       14.   School supplies: Most things here are made pretty shoddily so you will appreciate a good Bic pen and woe the day when you realize that they have slowly but surely all gone missing, so bring a few with you. You can get most school supplies here, they just are a little expensive for the good ones, so if you have room throw some in, if not don’t stress about it. For teaching I recommend a good textbook for your subject. For science though you might want to wait until you get your assignment because you could be teaching biology, chemistry, physics or integrated and you don't want to waste space on the wrong book. But one good high school bio book, or middle school science book would help. For math maybe a workbook with middle school problems and for English I've heard grammar books are helpful.

       15.   Water bottles: Two nalgenes are pretty standard fare amoung PCVs. I prefer the narrow mouthed ones for traveling because that way you don’t soak yourself with water when attempting to drink on bumpy roads. 

       16.   Things not to bring: Sunscreen or any meds(you get that in your med kit), ugly clothes (you won’t wear them), anything really heavy
       17.   Water proof backpack: Rainy season is no joke. To prevent all of your stuff getting soaked repeatedly get one of these bad boys. Or a dry bag for your electronics that you can stuff inside a normal back pack will be fine too. 
       18.   I probably forgot a bunch of important things but honestly whatever you bring, you will make work. If you absolutely need something you can get it sent to you. Try not to stress about this, I brought way too many unnecessary things that just wasted space and contributed to back pain after lugging all of that baggage around the country. Try not to spend a lot of money. You are not going on a two year vacation or expedition, this is still ordinary life, you will still want and value the same things even if you are 7,000 miles away from home. Flexibility, my friends, the true characteristic of a Peace Corps Volunteer