Thursday, September 30, 2010

A compliment

These sweet ladies spend their days in front of a shop in my neighborhood. They call themselves my Sierra Leone Grandmas and every time I pass I must stop for hugs, hand shakes and questions. "Ow was di work? Where is di husband? You going home now? Okay okay okay."

Yesterday was pretty normal- hugs, shakes, questions, answers, waves, etc. After I hugged one goodbye, she said, "You are looking..." and then made hand motions that looked like what I would do if I were trying to describe a football player, a bear, or something else really big and strong.

I had a confused look on my face. Her friend kindly explained, "She says you are looking fatter."

Oh, why thank you, Grandma. I would have preferred healthy or strong, but thanks anyway.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New men in my life

My sister and my best friend both went off and had perfect, amazing little dudes this summer. I am so proud of them (and the dads too, of course).

Conor and Blaine, since I had to be so far away when you were born, you are not allowed to grow any more until I get back. And when I finally see you, I get to hold you the whole time and no one else gets a chance except maybe if you won't stop crying but then when you stop I get you back. And we will love each other.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jeans shopping

On Saturday we went to the market downtown for a little fabric shopping. We walked up and down the stalls, checking out the sheets of fabric, used clothes, shoes, etc., and each picked out a piece to take to a tailor.

As we were walking back toward the taxis, a teenager held up some black skinny jeans and said, "Stretchy! 35,000 (~$8)." My favorite pair of jeans ripped our first week in the country, so I wanted them. I asked, "Where can I try them?" I wasn't expecting a dressing room, but earlier I had tried on some dresses while I crouched in the back corner of a stall and the woman hid me behind some hanging clothes.

The teenager looked around and then gestured to a stall where about 6 people were sitting. This stall did not have walls and was on the corner of a street full of people and cars. He pointed to a spot that was right next to a guy shaving another man's head. Not exactly my idea of privacy. I said, "Right here? With all these people?" And he said, "Oh yes, it's fine."

I stood in the corner and slid the pants on under my skirt. This was not easy in the crazy heat and humidity, and when I finally had them on and buttoned, he cheered. The others in the stall seemed to like them too. I turned in a circle and asked everyone if they looked okay. "Oh yes, they are good. They look very fine."

I asked the teenager, "How mas?" And he said, "45,000, but I give to you for 40,000." I made the customary high pitched "Eee!" sound that people make to sound shocked at a price. "But you said 35,000 before!" "No no no 45,000. I swear it is 45,000." I looked around at my stall friends and asked if this was a fair price. One old man said, "Eh, bo!" which can't really be translated but in this case meant, "He is trying to rip off the white girl." The others shook their heads and gave us eyes that meant this kid was not being honest. The teenager looked a bit embarrassed and gave us the 35,000 price. Our stall friends were on our side and I thanked them for their help.

Side note: I will refuse a taxi and walk the whole way to work rather than have to pay 25 cents higher than the normal price. Most are very fair, but occassionally the driver will give me a higher price because many foreigners don't know how the taxis work and will just pay. I will not be fooled. One time I talked a driver down to the normal price and he laughed and said, "Eh, bo! White Girl, you are African now."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A soccer ball and school books

It is hard to think of someone in a worse situation than the people in this country with mental disorders. They wander the streets, yelling at passersby or walking slowly and silently while others stare, laugh or pretend they don't exist.

After the war ended in 2002, there was funding for PTSD and a few organizations were offering services, but no one was committed to long term recovery. There is only one psychiatrist in the entire country and there is one mental health rehabilitation facility. One for a country of more than 5 million.

I spoke with a woman from the rehab facility last night, and she told me about one of her patients. He thinks the war is still happening and he talks about it constantly.

Someone told me that after the war, many NGOs focused on reuniting the former child soldiers with their families. They brought them all to big open fields, and handing each a soccer ball and school books, sent them back to their families and communities to get on with life. That was the extent of rehabilitation for most of them, these children who were stolen from their homes and made to see and do things I can't even comprehend.

Just yesterday I saw a young adult male walking slowly, aimlessly down the middle of the road. His body was bare except for a ragged pair of pants hanging loosely on his hips and dirt caking his skin. Where was he 10 years ago? Was he forced to fight? What did he see and do? What does he still see in his mind, and why will no one help?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Boy with a skinned knee

We stopped by a community to talk with the elders about a water project to help with their high rates of diarrhea and malnutrition. They pulled up wooden benches and I sat and listened while they discussed in Krio. A group of kids gathered around, giggling at me and tentatively touching my hair.

Just across from me, a little boy of about 2 years fell and scraped his knee. His hair was patchy and discolored and his stomach distended. He started crying, but the adults were talking and no one paid him attention. He sat down on a tree root, holding his knee with moist eyes and his face in a frown. Minutes later he was still upset and I watched as he rubbed his knee and wiped it with his shirt.

I know it is strange, but I was glad he was upset. I was glad because his crying and his frowning showed me that the pain in his life wasn't so bad that he didn't feel it anymore. His sadness showed me that at 2 years old, he hadn't given up.

The sequence

After a while of talking, I ask, "May I snap your picture?"
They pose.

I show them the picture I just took.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Alone in Kabala

I spent last week in Kabala, a small town near Guinea where the air is fresh and the houses back up to ragged green hills. In the morning I would sit on the banister of the porch, sipping sugary black tea and looking out on the hills. Women were making breakfast over fires and I watched as the smoke swirled up to the sky.

There was no electricity, no television and no internet. At nighttime, I occupied myself by reading by flashlight and eating Skittles. When I finished my book with two nights still remaining, I had to get creative. So, I made bedroom art.