26 April 2011

Golden Jubilee

There are often times when racked with boredom in my village, I take to watching young toddlers being toted around by their mothers or caretakers tied to their backs by lappas or any other kind of blanket or cloth. I am more interested when the child being toted already has the ability to walk, albeit not proficient enough to warrant excursions beyond the watchful gaze of their caretaker. I also watch these toddlers when they are free from the confines of the lappa and observe the level of wide-eyed curiosity and wonder with which they explore their immediate surroundings. It's one of those  moments that truly makes me proud to be a human being. It's only in watching that toddler, awkwardly ambling about overturning rocks, exploring in the bush, maybe looking for something yummy to chew on, that I get impressed upon me, a sense of raw, unadulterated hopefulness for the future. Everything to that toddler is novel, fascinating and there's the expectation that things will only get better with time. I'm inclined to make a comparison of this particular scenario to Sierra Leone's upcoming celebration of their independence from Great Britain, but not in a condescending way.

Tomorrow the 27th of April will mark the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leone's Independence from Great Britain, and right now, especially in Freetown, the air is just thick with excitement and celebration. Sierra Leonean's living abroad are coming back to their home(s) to get married just so they can say that they got hitched on this special day. The streets and beaches of Freetown are full to maximum capacity, in a city already overpopulated due to the prior mass migration of people from the provinces during the civil war. There are parades and marches occurring all over the city and they are quite the spectacle. If there is a particular occasion to celebrate that warrants a parade, ordinary people will congregate on the streets, often in matching attire, and will march in long lines, in excess of 100s of meters sometimes, and strut or bluff  (Krio word for showing off). It's awesome to watch because these people will not be walking casually, oh no, dis na Africa mi padi (this is Africa my friend), and here, every occasion must be accompanied with music, song and dance. So in these parades, the people will be marching behind a vehicle or truck of some kind with HUGE speakers blaring music for all in the immediate vicinity to hear and dance to including the people marching behind the truck. Everyone will be doing a kind of march-jig, dancing to the beat of the music. It's like one big dance party except everyone dancing is walking in one direction, just enjoying life and being happy to be alive.

Sierra Leoneans really do have a good reason to be happy. Sierra Leone is a young republic, a republic that has had its share of serious problems in its short and sometimes turbulent history since independence on 27 April 1961. Wherever I go though, I get the sense that the only direction people are looking is forward, something that I  really find admirable considering the muck these people have had to pull themselves out of. A couple of days back on Easter Sunday, I along with a friend of mine participated in the Golden Jubilee march. We marched from Aberdeen street all the way to the National Stadium in Freetown where there was singing, dancing, performances, speeches by important government dignitaries including the president himself, and praying, lots and lots of praying. That was my first time participating in a parade of that kind since being here in Salone. We all wore matching white shirts with the logo: 50 years forward, celebrating a new Sierra Leone along with white caps. As I was standing there amidst all the jubilant people celebrating both Easter Sunday and their upcoming independence, I became a bit emotional because my mind flashed back to that toddler I spoke about earlier in this post. I mean here you have Sierra Leone, a young republic with big aspirations, for example, of one day being a donor nation. Despite all of the problems they have had and are currently having, they are still exploring, searching, for their respectable place in the international community. There will be bumps and scrapes along the way, but they are really trying. They really want to be something, do something meaningful with their lives, its just that the opportunities are not always there. What happens when that toddlers falls and scrapes his knee? His mother or caretaker will faithfully come and pick up the crying child, comfort and mend him, so that he can dutifully begin exploring the world and find his place in it.

The path to development for Sierra Leone has not been easy but considerable progress has been made with the help of donations from the international community. At this point in time, real development will require assistance from other developed, wealthier nations. Already outside nations have given financial and material assistance in various sectors of the economy in Sierra Leone. But soon, across all sectors of the economy, Sierra Leone will have to be able to support itself and not depend on outside aid for development. Nonetheless, this nation is moving forward. I guess that witnessing the parade scenes two days back really made it clear to me, more than it has ever been in the 10 months I've been a PCV in this country. Heres to many more prosperous years to come. Now I'm going to get some rest so that I can fully enjoy the independence day festivities tomorrow!


08 April 2011

Salone II


So in lieu of the pending arrival of the next batch of Peace Corps Sierra Leone volunteers in June (Salone II as I hear them affectionately being called), I think its good for me to publicly reappraise the packing list I posted almost a year ago. I brought some things that for me were absolutely necessary…But as I think almost every Peace Corps Volunteer realizes, most of the things he or she packs are absolutely extraneous and can be purchased once they arrive at their posts:

15 boxer briefs
-Too many!! They are a pain in the ass to wash by hand, and an eye sore on those days when you swear to all the heavenly angels up above that it’s too hot to were clothes, during the day or night. Go easy on em.

8 under shirts
-A bit overated. The locals here love to wear undershirts, but when your suffering from a sever case of heat rash, it can force one to reconsider his choice to wear them. Maybe bring a few wife beaters for those hot days after school.

6 ankle socks for running
-Pretty useful. They are better than wearing regular socks which make you too hot. Although during the rainy season, long socks are good to have when wearing shorts outside. They protect you from those goddamm biting black flies who I’m pretty sure were created for the sole purpose of causing suffering in human beings.

4 breathable T-shirts + one cycling shirt
-Absolutely essential. Breatheability = comfort and sanity. They wash easy, and dry fast and keep you cool I wish I would have brought more.

1 light Columbia water-resistant windbreaker
-Good to have. Keeps you dry during the rainy season without making you feel too hot.

2 ties
-Yes, bring ties for the few formal events you will have to sit through.

2 business casual khaki pants

2 long-sleeve button-down dress-shirts

1 pair dress pants
-I think that was a bit of overkill for me. 2 business casual khaki pants were enough.

1 pair swimming trunks
-Just DON'T do it. You can buy these here, or just go swimming in your boxers/briefs/birthday suit if your too cheap to buy any here.

3 sets of traditional African clothing
-WAY TOO MUCH!! You can find awesome traditional clothes here or fabric and have it tailor made for you. The ones I've bought here are way nicer than the ones I brought with me. You don't need to bring any from the states to impress people, they will already be impressed with you!

2 long sleeve shirts/sweatshirts
-I didn't end up bringing it but had my dad send them to me during training...Don't waste your time, money or efforts on jamming these into your suitcase. It only gets cool here during the harmattan season, besides, you by long-sleeve shirts here almost anywhere. 

3-4 short-sleeved button up shirts
-Didn't bring them, and I'm glad I didn't. You can have kick-ass short sleeved button up shirts made expertly made here!!!

2 pairs comfortable zip-off/hiking pants
-Probably the best clothing item I brought with me. When your hot, you just zip off the pants. They are light. water-resistant, and dry quickly. Essential.

2 pairs jean shorts
-It's good to have nice shorts when you don't feel like wearing pants and want to look somewhat presentable in public.

1-2 pairs of jeans
-I didn't bring them with me, but had two pairs sent to me during training. Even though they are hot, having jeans is good when you want to be casual, or go out with friends.

2 pairs athletic shorts
-A must-have for me.

1 pair Merrell hiking sandals 
-Very durable shoes, glad I brought them. Take advantage of the Peace Corps discount!

1 pair Chaco sandals 
-If you don't mind having a chaco tan which you will get one (Even I got one!) Oh and take advantage of the Peace Corps discount!

1 pair Keen sandals
- Not so necessary. One pair of nice sandals are enough for me. But if you decide that you want them, take advantage of the Peace Corps discount!
1 pair flip-flops
-Didn't bring them. You don't need em. Flip-flops are like the staple footwear here in the villages so you can easily buy Chinese made or nicer ones here. 

1 pair running or track shoes  
-I brought both running and track shoes. The running shoes are good to have when jogging, but unless you plan on competing in a local track meet that you are really serious about...please do yourself a favor and leave the track shoes in your closet at home.
2 sun hats 
-Can't do without them. The sun is too strong here and wearing a hat can make a big difference when working outside
2 belts(*)  
-Unless you plan on using a rope to keep your pants up, I suggest that you bring a belt or two

4 Bandannas 
-I find them to be really useful, especially now that it's the dry season, and the dust is just overwhelming

1 Kente cloth

2 African Kofia hats
-I like this particular style of hats so I satisfied with bringing them


Bicycle lights
-Usless!!! They don't work anymore!!

Mini travel alarm clock
-Come one really? I wake up with the sun anyway in this place. Just use your watch. Although my alarm clock does have a temperature gauge which provides amusement when temperatures reach past 90+ degrees inside my house

Digital watch
-Good for me, and probably good for you

8GB USB flash-drive
-It's good to have to store files on if you don't bring a laptop, but beware of viruses!
Wall battery AA/AAA charger
16 rechargeable AA batteries
8 rechargeable AAA batteries
-Bring them. Local Chinese made batteries are worthless. Just don't bank on having a consistent power source with which to charge them with

Headlamp (Petzl E89 Tactikka XP)
-It's my best friend at night. Do bring a headlamp if you can afford one. Cheaper/reliable versions are available everywhere too

Digital Camera
-You want to capture those strange and fun experiences don't you? WELL GO ON AND PACK IT THEN!

-A highly personal decision. It has been useful for me but you don't need one, its good to have one though. Usually those mini PC's don't hold up well in this climate, but you have to make sure that you protect your laptop from the elements (Dust, humidity, water, extreme heat). NEVER plug your laptop into a power outlet being supplied by a generator without using some sort of current stabilizer. Trust me. I've had one charger go out on me already because I plugged it in on generator power where the voltage surges were going past 300v. Your charger wont last too long in those conditions.

Solar Calculator
-You can find them here.

Grundig G6 Aviator shortwave radio
-I love the radio. Back in the states, I listened to the radio more than any other medium. I'm pretty isolated so I only receive a few local radio stations, and all the BBC shortwave frequencies that you can pick up here in Sierra Leone. If i didn't have the BBC, It would be really difficult for me. It's nice to hear people speaking English when all I can hear throughout the course of a normal day is Krio and a hodge-podge of local languages, all of which I understand only a few token phrases.

Electric hair clippers
-A complete waste of space...seriously. You can get a decent haircut anywhere here, unless you are posted to a really isolated village.

Voltage converter
-You can find a step up/down transformer here if you really need one. Don't do as I did.

-Ok so out of all the toiletries I stuffed my suitcase with, I think the only essentials are toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss and deodorant, and may a small comb or brush if you don't plan on keeping your hair short. You don't need a 3 months supply! Training will be in Makeni and you can easily find all these things an more in town. All the other items I listed a year ago can be found here in country.

1 extra large pack towel
-You should bring a towel, although after some time, you might adapt to using lappas for towel which dry even faster than any fancy-schmancy pack towel.

2 pairs prescription eye glasses
-If you wear glasses, this is a requirement by Peace Corps so that solves that dilemma. 

1 pair sunglasses
-I'm happy I brought them. My eyes are thanking me every time I use them in this equatorial region.

1 Patagonia travel sling
-Very practical for me so far

1 Leatherman
-So handy!

1 stainless steel water bottle
-I can't do without this. Water is life.

8x42 Stokes Talon binoculars
-Anyone who knows me well, will know that I cannot do without these.  

Columbia travel pillow
-I admit its a luxury item, but it is packable, and useful for camping trips. I've definitely made good use of it.  

Regular size pillow
-You can easily find pillows here, but if there is a special pillow that you must have with you then what the hell, bring it!

-It's up to you whether or not you will take the time to go camping. I'm glad I brought mine.

Sleeping sack (Dream sack)
-Surprisingly useful!! It packs REALLY small, plus the material is light, it keeps you cool, and dries really quickly.

Magnifying glass
-If your a science geek, why not?

 -Carabiners are good to have if you need to keep things secure. Don't overdo it though.

-Haha...Good for camping, but don't stress yourself out over bringing one or not. You can find nice mats here in country, although they are not made like yoga mats. So bring one if you must.
-If you like to write, you will find yourself doing alot of that here, especially when things get tough. If you don't like to write, do yourself a favor and bring one or two anyway, you just might change.

Weekly planner
-My planner is sitting, idle, collecting mold and dust. Planning here is not easy so don't think that bringing a weekly planner will help change that!!!
U.S. stamps
-For those rare occasions when people you know will be traveling back to the states. You can easily send mail back with them. A small sheet should be more than enough.

Passport photos 
-A Peace Corps requirement. Bring them so that you will not be scrambling at staging to have pictures taken.

Photos of friends and loved ones
-I brought these, but the only problem is that they are all on my laptop. Definitely bring printed photos so that you can cherish them at any time!!!

-Don't even waste a thought on them... please. You can find scissors here

-Good for exercise, but overall a useless luxury item. The kids love it though.

Yoga ball
-I'm being 100% honest when I say that the yoga ball is one of the most useful items I brought along with me. It makes a great chair and helps support your posture. It much more comfortable than most chairs you will find here. And as an exercise tool, its absolutely invaluable. Very happy I tucked it along with me!  
Bicycles tools
-Don't bring bicycle tools of any kind whatsoever!!!! Peace Corps will have you covered on that front. All volunteer who want will receive bicycles with all the necessary tools and accessories.  

-Peace Corps will absolutely inundate you with notepads so don't make things difficult for yourself yah?

2 TSA locks
- A requirement, unless you want greedy airport security personnel to search your suitcase. I also use them to lock my backpack whenever I'm walking through the bustling streets of Freetown.

-Unless you're planning on doing some serious hiking, you obviously don't need a compass. I could have probably passed on bringing mine...oh well

Laminated world map
-Sure why not, It's a good reference.

 -The three books below I ended up not bringing: 
Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan
History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (To bulky!)(^)
The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas (Could theoretically take me the whole two years to read this thing!)(^)

-The following books were the most useful books I brought:
Oxford Pocket Dictionary
Birds of Western Africa
Bradt Guide to Sierra Leone
College level Biology textbook  (A MUST HAVE!!!)
Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky

We have a burgeoning book collection, and you can always count on other volunteers to stuff their suitcases with books. You can also find books here in country. You don't have to bring your library along. 

The only change I made to my suitcases? I left my big duffle bag at home and instead brought my camping backpack and stuffed it inside a light roll-on duffle bag so that I could satisfy the two checked in luggage requirements

And so there you have it!!

Don't stress too much... your almost here!!!!!

26 February 2011

World map beginnings

Whoa...Long time! I finally have a brand spanking new charger, but a few nights ago, I had one of those TIA/DNA (This is Africa, or Dis Na Africa) moments that put my excitement firmly in check. I asked our Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) who recently went on leave in the U.S. to buy a macbook pro charger for me while there. My parents had already shipped one over, but with the inconsistencies of the Sierra Leonean postal service, I went ahead and asked my PCMO to buy one while there so that it would be virtually guaranteed that I would have a charger upon her return to Sierra Leone. If during the process the charger my parents sent me arrived in the mail, no problem, two chargers are better than one, especially in this place! And for the TIA/DNA moment? Thursday night I was packing for my weekend trip to Freetown. My laptop for the past two months or so was stored in my suitcase, away from the heavy dust buildup in the air that is so common during this time of the year in the dry season. When I opened up my suitcase to pack my laptop, I noticed to my horror, that the battery case was bulging! Luckily none of the chemical components leaked into the hardrive. So as of now, I have a charger, but no battery!!

On the bright side, lately I have begun lately a few interesting projects at my school that I think are worth mentioning.

The world map project was started by Barbara Jo White during her time as a PCV in the Dominican Republic back in the late 1980s. In my opinion it's one of the most educational and fun ways to get students thinking about the world and all of its enormity and diversity. Essentially she devised an easy method of constructing a political world map with nothing but pencils, a ruler/level/and paint (primary colors + white). All you do is find a clean wall, ideally visible to a majority of people if outside, draw your box (the dimensions of my map are: Width:280cm; Length:140cm), then you draw 56 vertical lines, and 28 horizontal lines which will give you a total of 1.568 grid squares. The trick is making sure that the lines you draw are straight, something that isn't possible with a ruler alone. That's where the level comes in handy. Making sure that the air bubble is in the middle will ensure that your straight lines aren't being drawn ever so slightly askew. It is those squares that you will use to draw the actual map. The guidebook divides the overall box into 18 quadrants and each quadrant is further subdivided into the individual grid boxes with the countries overlaid on them. All you have to do is simply copy the drawings, box by ever so tedious box onto the grid you constructed on the wall and before you know it, you have a map of the world!

It's really a great way to get students and teachers (those who can draw of course) involved and it is a great learning exercise for those who are not even participating in the drawing phase. Practically everyday I work on the map, large crowds of students, teachers, and random passerbys will gather at the base of my ladder to inquire as to what exactly what I'm doing even after I've explained it for umpteenth time. Their curiosity is overwhelming at times, and it's absolutely wonderful! "Ikenna which country are you drawing today" is the number one question I receive from those not helping and I will patiently reply trying my best to make it as educational and informative as possible.I drew all of the box and some of the lines. For the rest, I had a random selection of students at the primary and secondary school levels assist with drawing the lines, both boys and girls of course! As of now, I'm having a friend of mine in town who is an Australian help with the drawing of Australia and all of its associated territories. There are Brits, an American (ME!) Italians, working here in the village under either African Minerals or Salini Construction. My plan is to have them all participate in the drawing of the map so as to increase their own visibility around the school/community.

Once the drawing is complete, the real fun will begin...Painting!! My plan is to have an organized painting free-for-all so as to give those students who weren't able to help with the drawing an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. I believe that with a little guidance, almost everyone has the ability to paint, you just have to give them a chance. We haven't figured out a color scheme for all of the countries yet, nor have I figured out how we are going to decorate the map to make it look aesthetically pleasing, but we will get there eventually...

Students intently looking at my work from below

One of my students, finishing off the grid!!

About a month ago or so, A representative from the NGO World Hope came to visit me at my home in Bumbuna. There is a man by the name of Daniel who does a lot of work with World Hope and assists them in implementing projects in the northern provinces. He and I had talked about the sorry state of fruit preservation in Bumbuna. What typically happens is that when a particularly desirable fruit is in season, the market will flooded with them, prices will be relatively low, demand high, and as a result, before you know it, they are gone. I got my first lesson of that with oranges. They are no longer in season, and I crave them constantly! Fruits like Papaya, banana, papaya, are available for longer periods of time during the year, but mangoes, pineapples, and avocados, are not easy to find in the villages all year-round at low prices. This man came because he had learned through daniel that I was interested in starting a fruit preservation project here in Bumbuna. According to him, World Hope is trying to start some sort of micro-enterprise project here in Bumbuna with fruit preservation and canning. I expressed my interest to daniel sometime back in building from scratch a solar dryer with the hopes of demonstrating its efficacy to people in the community. If that failed, the least I could do is make it an educational activity. Maybe having a solar dryer at my school to use as a way to teach mathematical, biological, and nutritional principles, would help to increase the awareness and effectiveness of a solar dryer in keeping nutritionally rich fruits available for longer periods of time during the year

It's all conjecture for now. Only once we're finished with the world map will I attempt to build a solar dryer. In preliminary discussions Ive had with a few farmers around Bumbuna, there seems to be interest in the idea of utilizing a solar dryer, but only time will tell just how serious people are in pursuing it. We shall see!