Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Like a baby deer

I miss anonymity. In this place, I am strange. A likable strange, certainly, but so abnormal that I cannot go anywhere without being bombarded by comments. "White girl!" "Where you from?" "I want to be your friend. Can I get your line?" "Take me to America with you." "I love you." I am tired of being noticed, studied, watched. I want to sit under a tree, look up at the hills, and not feel staring eyes.

When I was young I played softball, and my mom used to say I looked like a baby deer running the bases. Legs too long, awkward, likely to slip and fall at any moment.

That is how I feel here. Like everyone is watching as I walk around awkwardly, just about to fall.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Damba Road Championship

The other day we received a formal, hand-written invitation to attend the Damba Road Under-12 Football Championship. The field is close enough that balls hit our house multiple times each day. One time a stray ball broke a window, and our guard brought the terrified boys to apologize to David. So, it was only right that they made us guests of honor at the final match.

My favorite part was listening to the announcers, older neighborhood boys who would take turns on the microphone and then make fun of each other's comments. "Usman has the ball. What are you going to do? What can you do? Oh! The ball was dispossessed by Usman. As we know, what goes up must surely come down. Now Alpha, what can you do?"

Friday, August 27, 2010

The island

We had no idea where we were going when we drove out of Freetown. We had coffee while we waited for the others to arrive, then we headed through the hills, out of town, toward the beach. It wasn't 10 minutes before we were on a mountain road looking down at a waterfall gushing through the jungle. They used to bring tourists groups to see the waterfall and hike through the hills. That was before the war.

We drove for an hour and a half, past schools and houses and through a fishing community at the water's edge. A mosque stood tall above the houses, its spires silohuetted against a background of morning sky and the sea. We turned left and were stopped by a rope suspended a few feet off the ground. Our friend nodded at the hut to the side of the road, and the man holding the rope gave some slack so we could pass. It began to rain and the deep green hills were covered in mist.

Finally, we arrived at a small road carved out of the jungle. We followed the road until it ended at a cottage among the palm trees. The patio looked out on a perfect stretch of beach with an island in the distance. A boy walked up carrying barracuda caught that morning, and a group of women prepared it for lunch. One of the locals swam out and brought back some oysters which we ate raw. We drank wine and champagne and looked out at the waves.

The rain did not stop the entire day. After spending a few leisurely hours on the patio, a few of us walked out to the water and headed for the island. David said he would rather just play in the waves, so being the nice wife I am, I said I was swimming there whether or not he was coming. I knew that would get him. So, we swam to the island in the rain.

It was incredible, looking forward at the island and looking back at the foggy, mountainous mainland. It was one of those timeless moments, a moment you feel God designed for you and could never be recreated. A moment when you know you are in the right place and things will be okay. I stood up on the rocks, looked around, exhaled a deep breath, and thanked God for bringing me somewhere so full of beauty.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

David's blog

True story over here at David's blog. BTW, did you know the little monkey had a blog? The secret is out. He's pretty cool.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Always fine

I am sitting in an office on the second floor. My seat is a white plastic chair and the room has windows on 3 walls. I can see palm trees just outside and I can see the ocean over the tops of the buildings. It is starting to get dark outside and the sunlight has softened to gold. There is a church next door where hundred have gathered to sing and dance. It sounds like they are in the room with us.

In a few minutes I will walk outside and hope that the rain holds off until I get home. I will walk down the street to the road where the taxis come, past the stalls selling laundry soap and bread and past the teenage boys washing cars. I will stick out my hand when a taxi passes, say "Murray Town Junction" to the driver, and wait to see whether he will take me. If he does, I will cram into the taxi for the 10 minute ride. People with buckets full of items for sale will come up to the window and try to get my attention. I will smile and shake my head.

The taxi will let me off at the junction and I will head down the road to my neighborhood. I will pass the soccer field with the crowd of spectators and I will look up at the people watching from the roofs of their houses. The smell of chicken and goat skewers will mix with the smell of dirt and rain. "White Girl!" people will say as I pass, and I will turn and smile. A few kids will run up and touch my arm, but most will just yell and wave.

I will turn onto my street, avoiding puddles and stray dogs. The woman who is always sitting on her porch, a baby in her arms, will call out to me and I will ask her about her day. Another woman on the bench will speak to me in Krio and laugh when I try to answer. Di bodi is fine. Work is fine. Di night is fine. Everything is fine.

I will knock on my gate and one of the guards will let me in. Again, the exchange of fines. It is always fine here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I passed! I passed!

(The cohort, jumping for joy right after the tested ended.)

I passed my comprehensive exams, and that means I am almost officially done with my masters degree! I am relieved, excited, and exhausted just thinking back on that horrible, horrible test day back in early June.

Classes ended in May and we had a week and a half to study for the exam. All year people had been telling us that we should start studying early, but that was impossible while trying to finish 4th term classes, plan our MHS presentation requirements, arrange our practicums, etc.

A few of us formed a group for some hard-core studying the week of the test. We loaded up on Trader Joes snacks and spent some 10 hour days going through our courses, quizzing each other with the questions we just KNEW would be asked, and trying to calculate the probability that we would actually fail (low, I insisted).

The test itself was from 8:30am until 6pm, with a calculations/ short answer portion followed by two long essays. We got there early to get good computers in the back row of the lab, loaded with snacks and well wishes, our bodies tense from stress. To fail meant having to return to Baltimore to take it again in six months, not to mention the embarrassment.

Despite the fact that my group had emphasized the exact wrong things and the calculation questions were structured in ways we had never seen, I managed to improvise some answers for the first half of the test. I started on the first essay, and had spent almost 2 hours on it when my computer froze. “No big deal,” I thought, “I’ll just go down to the IT guys and have them help me.” The IT guys were busy, so I went to the proctor’s office to let him know that my computer was frozen. He didn’t seem to understand why I was there. “So…I’m just hoping I don’t lose the essay.” He replied, “Yeah, me too.” Thanks for your help.

After about 15 minutes (of precious test time) the IT guy came to the computer lab. He played around for a minute, then came to his conclusion.

“The computer is frozen and you will lose the document.”
“Isn’t there the chance the computer will recover it?”
“No. Not on these computers.”
“Is there anything you can do?”
“No. How much have you done?”
“Uh… a lot? What do you mean?”
“HOW MUCH HAVE YOU DONE?” This guy talked so loud, at this point everyone in the lab was aware of what was happening. I felt people looking at me, watching how I would react to this news. Mieko handed me her iPhone so I could take a picture of the screen, and other people asked how they could help. I stood against the back wall, trying really hard not to cry.

“I’ll restart the computer.”
“Okay,” I replied shakily.
“Here is the document. Some of it is recovered.”
“Okay. Thanks.” This guy had played with my emotions too much, and I left the room to go cry in the bathroom.

I finished the test and submitted it with 4 minutes to spare. Then we headed to a restaurant for a stiff drink.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

True humanitarian

A coworker passed away last week after spending four decades with the organization. I did not get the chance to know him, but I wish I had. BBC news reports called him a “legendary humanitarian” and the news spread quickly throughout the country. At one point, he was the only expat left in Freetown during the civil war. He risked his life on many occasions, standing up to armed combatants and hiding men in his house, delivering food to displaced people and taking tea while bullets passed overhead.

His funeral was attended by hundreds of people, almost all of them Sierra Leonean. Scattered throughout the crowd were pockets of color, reds here, green and blues over there. They were the boys he coached and encouraged, the boys to whom he had given so much of his life. Over 40 of soccer players he mentored are now playing professionally in Europe or on the national team.

The day after it happened, my taxi driver dropped me off at the office and asked what the black banners were for. I told him about his passing, and my driver let out a groan and covered his heart with his hand. “He was a father to all of Sierra Leone,” he said.

Read more about him here and here and here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Local food

Typical meal: cassava leaves or potato leaves or crain crain sauce, all with meat inside, served with rice and a soda. $2. Delicious.