12 July 2012

My Girls: SSSII Arts and 

Julius Jongopie JP

Christiana Bangura

Salay and I

PC is People

Isatu Peacock
“Look trouble!!” she says, sarcasm streaked within her voice. It’s my daily visit to the Peacocks’ enclosed veranda which is always buzzing with activity.  I have never had a big sister but found one in Isatu. “Little sister no kam humbug mi” she would say but hold her arms out for a hug. She is my mentor who is constantly fielding my questions about school, SL culture, friendships, the future and even love.  An ample African woman with impeccable style and signature red lipstick, she is a strict but kind disciplinarian who knows how to shape and mold troublesome teens into ladies. I hope our connection will be everlasting and know she will always be a dependent ally in for all my future endeavors.  And did I mention she is a fantastic dancer!!!

Chief Gulama
A Paramount Chief is the highest ranking traditional elder in chiefdom and a position of high respect, so when you first meet Chief Gulama bopping around town with his Volcum cap hiding a white afro in casual jeans, he appears unassuming.  He persevered through a five year battle with his cousin for his staff and right to become paramount chief. Walking in the footsteps of his honorable aunt, Chief is constantly looking to push Kaiyamba forward and consequently looking to keep me around Moyamba. “Once we get a project going, you can stay here forever!” he continually says. But I believe him to be a strong partner in development of the area. You traditionally greet a Chief with a hand shake and placing your free hand to support the shaking hands elbow, but I greet PC Gulama with a hug.

Julius Jongopie “JP”
The first time I met JP, I haggled and argued with him about 5,000 leones ($1) for a hammer. As I settled into life in Moyamba, I found myself more and more at Julius’s hardware shop; getting nails, buying wire, looking for paint. Over time it just became a habit, in the afternoon I sit with JP in the shop which was fun because it’s like the whole town will eventually come in and go out. Julius is a contagious person; you just want to be around him. His cool demeanor and patience makes him good with people and a successful business person. I found the hardware store to be more like a therapist’s office, he would advise me on cultural problems, issues in the classroom. We spent many hours on his roof overlooking the town center. JP’s story is one typical of SL. A bright young man whose family didn’t have enough money to send him to university, so he found refuge and success working for an India man who has now become his mentor.

Christian Squire
Peace Corps isn’t necessarily the easiest experience and often there can be moments of extreme loneliness. But that’s why you have good friends. Crying on the floor of my house alone, I knew I need someone and quick. My call went to Christian Squire and in ten minutes he was in my parlor giving me the best hug. Christian started out as that friend you called when you wanted to a fun night at Moyamba’s one bar/enjoyment location. We would drink Stars and mull over the problems with development in Sierra Leone. Monitoring and evaluating all District Council projects, his insight is truthful and telling. A man with a slim, lanky stature, bold black glasses and a contagious laugh, Christian has a bright future. We had our Sunday afternoon walkas with palm wine in surrounding villages and spaghetti feasts. Christian is the only one in Moyamba or Sierra Leone who calls me “Alli”.

Mrs. L.M. Shereef
“I am not going to be your mother, but your boss,” was first sentence out of Principal Shereef on our initial meeting. And she was, for most of it. She in turn has turned from Principal Shereef to Mama Lulu. A formidable woman with an aggressive, strict leadership style, Mama Lulu has dedicated her life and more than 30 years to Harford School. As a powerful Sierra Leonean woman, she is not only a mother to all Harford girls but a role model empowering them to study and work hard at achieving their goals. This “Black Mamie” has an intimidating character and a flawless sense of style. She carries herself with dignity and integrity. After all her years, she is finally leaving campus going to a comfortable retirement which I wish her all the best.

 Christiana Bangura & the Girls
My last day in the classroom one of my girls raises her hand and asks, “Miss Allison, are you taking Christiana Bangura to America with you?” It’s bad to have favorites but it was hard for me not to become attached to Christiana.  Everyone calls Christiana my “black little sister who is always on the radio”.  Chris B, I sometimes call her, is an extremely hard worker with an enthusiasm and mind for journalism. Chief Editor of the Harford news club, I have instilled a love for current events and news in her. We often found ourselves listening to the BBC for hours in the library discussing the world’s problems. I admire Christiana’s ability to get on the radio and talk boldly and intelligently about serious issues affecting her life and the life of her peers. She has the potential to be an extraordinary leader and change maker. I hope to one day meet her as a successful adult.

Teenage girls are similar worldwide, focused on what they are wearing, the latest music and of course boys; my girls were no different. We had our ups and downs. They made me so mad I would make them kneel in the sun and so happy we would talk about gender equality, girl’s issues, what America is like and most had a mild obsession on my little brother. I have never had so many little sisters and all girls will all be tremendously missed.
HSG Staff
I have always told PC that I am the luckiest volunteer because I was fortunate to get two villages, Moyamba and Harford School for Girls. The HSG is a self contained village of its own, it’s a community and it’s a family. The staff and girls are my neighborhood. The other teachers have been with me through the struggle of teaching adolescent, post war children. Their resolve is steadfast; many of them have not been paid for there teaching work in two years. They still come to the classroom everyday and teach the girls with little to not materials. Some have been teaching for decades and are champions for attempting the broken SL education system. Harford is my family and we have grown together inside its walls.

“When I was little I used to dress up like General Custer and wanted to be in the Seventh Cavalry. My mom devastated me when I found out they didn’t exist, like when you realize Santa isn’t real,” he confesses on our first meeting as the latest techno beats blast in my ears and people push me softly in the crowded bar. Tim resembles my father without the mustache, tall, lean and deeply passionate about the crown, union jack and his britishness. He was my link to the Western world, let me hide in ‘Little Britain’ when SL got too much and always provided a safe haven to recharge my batteries. Over morning tea, (or afternoon tea or evening tea), we would discuss SL’s challenges, what the international community’s role in its development and our on going debate about the comparisons between the special relationship between the UK and the USA. He has moved on from Salone and now off somewhere in the world keeping people safe.

Mama Kanu
At age 25, my mother walked me to my first day of school and made sure I found my classroom literally holding my hand on the way into my first training day.  The day I became “Fatmata Kanu” was the same day I officially entered the Kanu Family forever. Mama Mary Kanu is a slight, slender but strong Temne woman with a big smile and caring demeanor.  Like Salay, she was completely responsible for teaching me to not only survive but thrive in Sierra Leone from cooking, washing to mentoring on how to deal with cultural situations. Mama Kanu cares for me like I am her own child. And strangely, I kind of look like her.

“Fatmata! Wetin yu dae du, sidom na ya and eat!” Not hesitating, I sit and try to concentrate on my fourth meal in the row of fish gravy as host sister Salay proudly watches me eat every bit of it. While the first days in SL were hard to adjust, Salamatu Kanu single handedly taught me almost everything on how to not only survive but to thrive in Sierra Leone. From how to launder my clothes, cooking potato leaves and bathing with a bucket to fighting off undesirable, persistent men, she sent me to Moyamba with the know how to feel comfortable in my new environment. She is stout, commanding young Sierra Leonean woman with a sharp tongue and a gift in the kitchen. Salay is an aspiring caterer and the best cook ever! She truly manifested my love for SL food! I always leave Bo with a random plastic container (could be a butter dish, old shampoo bottle or sweets bowl) of chicken gravy. The fastest way to a person’s heart is through their stomach and Salay captured mine quick!

“Fuck off na ya!”, he would inappropriately scream at the other neighbor kids. “She is my sister not yours, right Fatmata?”  My host little brother was always “mature” beyond his years. After falling down the treacherous back step, spraining my ankle, leaving me unable to walk, Amadu become my guardian and protector from any form of harassment (even if it was unintentional). Small for his age, he makes up for it in brains. At the kindergarten level, this little brain was double promoted and the head of his class. All the other kids were old then him by two years. I admire Salay and her encouragement! Amadu is my pepper pounder when we cook while he has ask challenging questions about America. With my ankle ballooned to the size of a softball, Amadu would get out my world map and we would sit on the ground in the front veranda identifying the continents. Smart kid!

“I go broke you neck!” followed by a shower of softly thrown stones. For Eddie, this is love. Over two years, I watched Eddie grow up from a screaming baby to a curious little boy. Eddie and I have a close relationship; maybe it has something to do with that our Mende language abilities are about the same. “Alicessee, Buwaa,” he would say every morning for a year until he gave up to solely rely on Krio. He is not particular big, short for his age with wide bright eyes, Eddie and I spent at lot of time sitting together in my parlor or what I like to call “brainstorming.” Not necessarily talking with each other but just together until the words began to come. Two years older, he likes to sing the alphabet, recite the colors and travel in his ‘motokars’.  I know Eddie’s memories of me will be vague  and he might throw rocks at me but it’s forgivable when he follows it with “Aliceseee, I love you.”

Rev. Mammah
“Kulo kulo mia nja vei,” small drops of water make a mighty ocean. Mothers always have words of advice. Rev. Alice Mammah is a caretaker for eight kids, a sick husband and still manages to watch after me with the thoughtfulness of a mother. She is a calculated woman who is careful with her actions and words.  Rev.’s burden is big with her husband’s illness and large family, she is the sole breadwinner but meets her challenges softly and determined. She is not talkative and busy running the household, teaching and preaching but her presents is always calming.

Fonnie, Mianee, Jabu & Satte
By a flip of a switch, I can go from relative peacefulness to dance party. Fonnie, Mianee, Jabu, Satte and lastly, trailing is Eddie, they come and liven up the house with there own dancing style. They are my little brothers and sisters who are hard working and always willing to help me out when I need anything. “Yes, Allison!” Fonnie instantly replies when called like he is waiting outside my door. Fonnie has a soft spoken perseverance and unrelenting work ethic; Mianee is serious and mature making sure everyone is doing what that they need to get done; Jabu is shy, polite and inquisitive; and Satte has big curious troublesome eyes that are eager and enthusiastic. There are a million moments with these kids from working in the backyard, helping with homework, drawing in my parlor or just hanging out.

“Why is 6 afraid of 7?”  I shake my head knowing there is something clever coming. He laughs and says, “Because 7 ‘ate’ 9!!” Khodor is my funny man and the only person in Salone that bring my tears of loneliness or frustration to tears of hilarity. He has a knack for making everyone around him smile.  He is a suave sturdily built, dark Lebanese guy with a quick tongue and lighthearted spirit. Khodor a.k.a “Mr. Green” (if you are like me and can’t roll your tongue) was there for me when I was down bringing jokes, words of wisdom and support. He has shown me the beauty of the SL capitol will cruising along the beach and has taught me many things about the Arab world, Islam and Middle Eastern politics. Khodor showed me a new side of Sierra Leone!

Of course, there are others who I haven’t mentioned. Vice Principal Jenneh Daramy who tells me everyday I look like Princess Diana; Abubakkar the shoe seller who has calls me his “African Queen” and constantly trying to convert me to Islam; Papa Joe, my Mende tutor who wears his ski cap even in the dry season; Francis from the Special Court who opened my eyes to the tragedies of SL’s rebel war; Mama Dambo one of my African moms who kept me well feed, Alpha Lalauba, MODCAR’s fearless leader who cultivated my love for community radio; the Marcos, the commune of artists with extraordinary talent that’s renovating our town center and promoting the arts to our society; Kiney my tailor who transformed me aesthetically into an Salone woman; the PC staff and family who were my support system and constantly pushed me to continue working hard and of course and most importantly, Meg, my best friend and partner in crime (you all know our stories)!

To me, Peace Corps isn’t about building things, how much materials your bring from abroad or how much money you can bring to your town; it was about people. These are the people who shaped my service and experience in Sierra Leone. They are the people who will stay in my heart when I leave. PC is about people and these are MY PEOPLE!

Fonnie and Eddie


Christian Squire

Neighbors on my veranda: Mujei, Jabu, Mianee, Satte and Me
Isatu Peacock, Principal Mrs. Shereef and Vice Principal Mrs. Daramy

22 February 2012

GLADI SL: Part 1

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” A woman who was a champion for human rights and worked towards making women equals among men. These words of wisdom are often hard to remember especially for those girls out in the world without a voice. Most of us had countless women before us as our teachers, role models, mentors and influencers but I asked myself who do my girls have? What women have came before them to say that it’s ok for a girl to lead the boys, or to say no to sex or to work for the betterment of the female situation in Salone…well the question is many. My principal, Mrs. Shereef leads Harford School with an iron fist and doesn’t take slack from many men in the community, a fellow teacher Koma Hassan Kamara, who is transforming girl’s rights policies in the Moyamba District and even all of us female PCVs. But unlike our teachers who graced the spotlight, Salone’s females silently do the hard work, without little notice. It was high time, that girls from all over county begin to “lead” and “develop” Sierra Leone.

The first annual “Girls Leading and Developing Sierra Leone” (GLADI SL) Girls Conference officially opened in a music filled hall of the girl-centered Harford School for Girls. My Principal addressed the 65 girls encouraging them to continue to their education and to work hard to share the conference’s message to others in their school. After the African jams were quieted, the real work began.

Girls Conference was like a summer camp. They were woken up by a bell, slept all together in the boarding home and mentored by their camp counsellors (PCV) started Goal Setting was first on the agenda and it started with a catchy jingle lead by a fun, energetic Sierra Leonean. The girls were taught about the importance of having a goal and each one had to set a short term and long term goal. Then discuss with their PCV on how they wanted to achieve these goals.

It was important to address what challenges the girls face in getting an education and to help them think of ideas to revolutionize these challenges. We asked the girls how they thought that their communities could increase people’s awareness of the importance of girls’ education. Here were some suggestions. Students could organize discussions or theatre presentations about the importance of girls' education. Students, village elders, and teachers could discuss the importance of delaying marriage until a girl has finished her education, to encourage parents not to overburden girls with chores and to divide chores evenly between sons and daughters, have older girls could arrange a time to visit a primary school, and primary school girls could visit a middle or high school and girls could write letters to local newspapers or radio stations to talk about the importance of girls' education

 Sex, the reproductive system, women/male sexual anatomy and menstruation can be topics which are taboo to talk about here in Sierra Leone, especially while in school with boys.  With the professional guidance of a few highly expert Sierra Leonean Nurses and Midwives as well PCVs, the girls were taught what happens biologically in sex, when women conceive, the process of menstruation and what happens in childbirth. Coupled with this sex talk, was a discussion on family planning. Many girls don’t understand their options in contraceptives or how they even work.  This session brought on lots of chatter between the girls and questions in general about sexy women things.

 Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Oprah, your first grader teacher, your Mom, we all had mentors to admire, inspire and lead us. It was important for the girls to notice that they too have great female leaders around them and most are right in front of their eyes. We invited a variety of woman from different career paths to come share their life experiences on a Career Panel. Wanted to make sure each Career Panellist focus on their education and it’s challenges and how they overcame those challenges. Who were their role models and how their career has contributed to Sierra Leonean society. Each leading lady also gave the girls advice and took questions from the girls conferencers.

Restless Development is an NGO focused on training youth as community mentors to educate and raise awareness for HIV/AIDS. The group is best known for their songs and dramas all produced by the trained children. It was important for the girls conferencers to see their own peers getting up in front of a crowd and talking about these issues. Osman, the Moyamba District coordinator, talked extensively about how the disease is transmitted. He said it was like a business and trade. You give and you get. Each girl was given an envelope and had to trade with each other aka perform transmission. Some envelopes were HIV positive and others had condoms. But they didn’t know who had which while one girl didn’t do business with anyone representing abstinence. At the end of their ‘trading’ some opened their envelopes only to find AIDS. The girls need to get a visual on how fast the disease is spread. After the activity, the discussion moved to prevention.

Any Dispatch reader with little kids or those who are Disney enthusiasts (like myself) know the story of Mulan. Daughter of retired Chinese warrior takes her father’s place in the army to beat the Huns and find family honour.  She ends up saving China. It’s a story about girl power and shows that girls are capable of anything boys can do. As Mulan beat the Hun leader the hall was filled with cheers from the girls. They enjoyed the story and the music; singing the songs throughout the next day.
Group work discussing Gender Equality

Learning how to properly use condoms