24 August 2010


Yea so Im now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer!!! Just thought Id let you guys in on that small little fact. It has been almost two years since I first began the application process, and those of you who were privy to all the ups and downs I experienced during this time, Im sure you will appreciate just how much this moment means to me. I have actually been at my site for over a week now. We swore in on 13 August, and it is good to finally be on  my own and away from the pleasant but often suffocating experience of living with a host family. I can actually leave the house when I want, eat the kind of food I want, without having to worry about offending anyone, which is very easy to do. I can't tell you how many times the locals here when we were served an oily plassas with rice (Plassas is a general term used to refer to any soup that accompanies a rice dish, the staple grain in Sierra Leone: Cassava, Potato, Groundnut, Kren-Kren), how concerned they would be over the fact that we were not eating, you would think that the sky is crashing down, with the amount of concern they would express. And it feels awesome to be able to move about my house without having to worry about people watching my EVERY MOVE. Life here for alot of people can be a bit monotonous and having peace corps volunteers around serves as constant entertainment for almost everyone.

Surprisingly I have not been too bored at my house, there is always something for me to be busy with: laundry, cooking, fetching water, talking with my neighbors who are really entertaining, especially Alfred Turay who is a teacher in Agricultural science at my school. I have had alot of interesting discussions with him about the kinds of crops grown here in Bumbuna, and he his going to be a valuable resource in helping me learn about the different varieties of crops grown here in Bumbuna, and the problems present with fertility of the soil, crop productivity, and adequate storage of sustenance crops, which is lacking here. I have found out also that the international presence here in Bumbuna is pretty extensive. Most notably the World Bank is involved, indirectly through a local development agency, in a lot of projects. There is a major damn operation here in Bumbuna that supplies most of Freetown with its power, is being operated by an Italian company. However, in the process of constructing the damn, alot of residents had to be relocated, and as a result, lost their income generating potential, almost exclusively in the form of agriculture (rice growing). The region I'm in also is rich in iron ore, the extraction of that ore has resulted in alot of environmental degradation. With Sierra Leone being last on the UN development index and its recovery from the devastating 15 year civil war, alot of international organizations have been assisting Sierra Leone in getting back on its feet. There are alot of opportunities for me in my village, and honestly I don't know where to begin: Mango trees are BOKU (Krio for alot), and during the harvest, alot of them just go to waste. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way for them to be preserved so that their beneficial nutritional qualities could be enjoyed at all times during the year?; Basic habits regarding hygiene and sanitation that we take for granted in the West simply do not exist here. Wouldn't be nice if people here understood the direct relationship between lack of latrine use and the increased prevalence of intestinal diseases? Or how about the fact that in my village, there is not a library? (There used to be one, I was told my Alfred, by neighbor, that past PCVs in Bumbuna started one, but it was destroyed during the war) Even with agricultural products, no reliable method here exists for the their storage. Cassava and rice are the main staples and I know that with cassava it is relatively hardy, especially when compared to other tubers like potatoes, and yams, but cassava and rice are not the most nutritious source of carbohydrates. To be frank, malnutrition is a HUGE problem here in the rural areas, and even in parts of Bo I noticed it, especially among the children. In a country where food and land are abundant, malnutrition should not be as pervasive as it seems to be. Maybe there are other larger structural factors at work here? I know that at least in my village Bumbuna, wouldn't it be nice if people had a basic working knowledge of the more nutritious foods available to them in their community and understood the benefits of increasing the consumption of those foods? Especially for the peekin dem? (children)

A full plate indeed. 

Small victories thus far?

-Learning how to use a coal stove

-Finally purchased a gas burner, but Im still missing the propane tank and regulator

-Getting excited and intrigued by the smallest of things....i.e. the gradual diminishment of boredom

-Recovering from a bout of Giardia

-Getting my laundry done

-Finally putting up a new blog post!

-Meeting up with some PC colleagues/friend

-Drinking fresh palm wine...straight from the source...not watered down...It's not bad!

I'm writing this post from Magburaka, Sierra Leone, and it looks like this will be the place where I'll be blogging from/using the internet so all I have to do now is get into a routine. My life has been hectic these past few weeks with training and getting adjusted to my site so once I get settled in, expect more regular post updates...with pictures of course.

Gavina, Arteeca, and I during swearing in ceremony.

Albert and I at the house

Site visits.....Way back when

I’m not sure that there is any one word I can use to help me describe the natural beauty that encapsulates Bumbuna, Sierra Leone. I don’t think I could have asked for anything more in terms of natural scenery. We had our individual interviews quite a few weeks ago (I was interviewed by Andrew Kondovoh-Program Manager, and Annaliese Limb-Programming & Training Officer). During my interview, I really stressed how I wanted to be in a town where I could utilize elements of the natural environment when teaching biology and other science subjects. Well it seems like they were listening to me I think. I know for certain that there were other people in our group whose preferences didn’t match their site placements, so I consider myself extremely lucky. Now for some more information on my stay and trip up there and back.

The Peace Corps staff up top wanted us trainees to get more acquainted using the public transport here in Sierra Leone, with the exception of the okadas (Motorcycles) in which we are forbidden to ride. The Peace Corps has apparently done an assessment on the circumstances surrounding the cause of PCV deaths in West Africa, and the operation/riding of okadas was the number one cause, so there is one convenient mode of transportation that is off limits to us. That leaves us with the poda-podas,, taxis, bicycles which we wont be getting from Peace Corps until December at best, and our own two legs which if anything, shouldn’t fail us. The poda-podas here are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, and in my biased opinion, can be a death trap on wheels. Poda-podas are essentially minivans, or cargo vans,  usually painted with religious innuendo/propaganda and other random phrases (I don’t know about you, but they are incredibly good for comic relief) on the hood, side, or trunk of the van. There are a couple of things that make these vans so dangerous both to operate, ride in, or get in the way of one barreling down the street (Yes, you’d better get out of THEIR way):
No seat belts….If you ask taxi or okada drivers about seat belts, they will look at you as if you are speaking a foreign language

They pack you like sardines inside…Unfortunately, the drivers are paid per passenger so therefore, they have an incentive to pack as many people as humanely possible inside. In-fact, a common occurrence is the overbooking of seats so to ensure that the poda-podas are packed. The same goes for taxis as well. You will often find that there is no set schedule of departures for a particular destination. They only depart when the compartments are packed to the brim, i.e. arms, legs, the occasional goat or chicked dangling out the window.

The overload the rooftops…99.99% of the time, these passenger vehicles function as cargo vehicles. Its not an unusual site to see the roofs of these poda-podas and taxis overloaded with goods of all kinds: Huge bags of rice and other agricultural products, goats, chickens, more people (the apprentices as they are called who help push these vehicles up hills), extra fuel, extra luggage, and anything imaginable. Oh and there is no reason to believe that the overly ambitious driver wont hesitate to place any of these items in the passenger compartment!

These vehicles are in various states of disrepair…It is almost laughable to assume that any of these vehicles regularly undergo maintenance…EVER. Despite this, it’s amazing to see these vehicles still functioning. I think it’s more of the African ingenuity that keeps these vehicles moving down the road, many of which are 30+ years of age.

No road rules…The only rules of the road are that there are no rules of the road. Simple as that…Well, maybe there are a couple: If you are a pedestrian or biker, you do not have the right of way. The bigger your vehicle is, the more privileges you have on the road. And people generally operate their vehicles on the right side of the road, but that is not always predictable or even guaranteed.

Luckily for me, on my way up to my site (we left a little over a week ago, the 24th of July), I rode in my supervisor’s vehicle so I had a break from all the chaos at the lorry park. Eric Silverman was the only other PCT in the car with me so we had plenty of space. All in all it was a comfortable ride, not including the bumpy unpaved roads. We even stopped a couple times to do some site-seeing, stopping at a palm oil processing facility somewhere along the way to explore a little bit. Eric and I, and most everyone else were pretty anxious about seeing our sites and meeting the people we will be collaborating with for the next two years, and when Eric and I split up at Matotoka , the reality only became more real for me. It was just my supervisor, her driver, and I in the car.

The drive up to Bumbuna was absolutely breathtaking!  I was hanging outside the passenger side window most of the time gawking at the rolling hills and reveling in the cool mountain air. When we arrived in Bumbuna, I immediately knew that if all else fails, the scenery alone would be enough to keep me happy and busy exploring. The town itself sits nestled within whole chain of rolling hills and valleys that are visible from any part of town. Bumbuna proper is airy, and the sky is so BIG and vast, it is heartbreaking. I’m going to have a good time star watching with my students and other friends once the dry season comes. And there are birds everywhere!!! Especially the weaverbirds, which always become active in the evening time. Before our arrival, at the supervisor workshop, I talked to Theresa about seeing the other two houses she showed the Peace Corps. Andrew, and Morlu have been extremely busy visiting each and every single one of our sites to make sure that we all have houses before training ends. The way I understand it, our supervisors showed the peace corps staff a few houses, and the Peace Corps staff picked the house that they felt was the best and most reasonable, given the standards that peace corps sets in housing, while taking care not to place the volunteers in a residence that would attract unnecessary attention. My house is small. It’s a three-room house in an area called Kamankay, and the views that I have of all the surrounding scenery is definitely something I could get used to.

A quick word on my school. It is an agricultural school, Saint Matthews Agricultural School, established in the late 1970s. I visited it with my supervisor and was pleasantly surprised to see how well put together the school was. Soo much land devoted to agriculture: Potato plants, cassava, cashew trees, mango, pineapple and coconut trees, bean plants, rice paddies, I could go on and on. All the students have to have practical working knowledge of how to grow and sustain certain sustenance crops, and Im going to have a lot of fun teaching here, especially being a biology teacher where I will have ample teaching materials to utilize outside of the classroom. The school itself also has a really nice library, which I’m really happy about. There is a wide collection of materials on a whole range of subject: fiction, geography, philosophy, history, mathematics, general science, psychology, economics, and religion. Of course most of the textbooks are out of date, but at this point, I’m just happy to see that these books are here! The library itself is a bit disorganized, but that’s nothing a little work wont fix.

Enough for now!!!!

Me at Bumbuna Waterfalls

My lovely house