Imagine a puppy behind the display in a pet store (waiting for you to get visual…) His excited pawing of the glass as passersby selectively examine and decided which one to take home. For some reason, I found myself in that situation. Yep, I came from a loving Midwestern family only to come to West Africa to be adopted. Doesn’t it usually work the other way around, but anyway… Our bus pulled out of Freetown and headed east towards Bo. We left the security of our American roommates and hostel life to arrive in Bo unable to predict where we would lay our head at the end of the day. After a few orientation days in Freetown, we left the city to head to the second city of Bo, where we will stay for the duration of our Pre Service Training. In addition, we were about to descend into the community as members of families willing to open their doors to American strangers.
We were about to be adopted and we all sat anxiously looking at the host Moms and Dads wondering which one was going to take us home. The adoption ceremony started with an incredible demonstration of traditional dancing. The performers were covered in grass and their movements reminded me of a pow-wow. They had bells at their ankles and were clothed in brightly colored fabrics. We were then shuffled into a room full of beautiful Sierra Leonean men and women. All elaborately dressed in spectacular prints for the occasion. I could feel their searching eyes scanning over our whole group.
For some reason, I felt extremely vulnerable. Would they like me, am I what they were expecting, will they be disappointed, and will I be able to communicate with them. We took our seats with their eyes burning into the back of our necks. The logistics of the adoption turned out to be much less nerve-racking then I had initially anticipated. Our host family was announced, they came to the front of the room, then the trainee was adopted into each family. I sat nervously as one by one my colleagues left with their families. In my insecure state, my mind immediately warped to the notion that maybe my family decided not to pick me up. Yep, I could be considered the runt puppy, last to leave the store.
Finally, Ms. Kanu was asked to come to the front of the room. She was a slightly built woman wearing a traditional West African dress of green and her carefully braided hair hidden under a scarf of the same material. She had a young woman in tow with a small child strapped to her back. I realized they were just as nervous as I was. Before I could take a breath, I found my self sitting with an extremely large plate of rice with three spoons. We shared our first meal before heading off to New London, where I would live during the entirety of PST.
The Peace Corps vehicle dropped my Mom, sister, little brother and I off halfway to my new home. The road is quite ruff and rugged, so we trekked the rest of the way. Yep, Mama Kanu carried my 50 lbs bag on her head. She is tough! When we arrived I was greeted by a gang of little boys who would become my brothers and a crowd of beautiful young woman, who became my sisters. Yayay, never had sisters before. I also met my Papa, Mohammed Kanu. Ok, I think I need to make a cultural clarification. I am using the terms ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ rather loosely here because the family unit is a very different entity in Sierra Leone then it is in the states. Family is the single most important think on earth to SLeoneans, not that it isn’t in America. Families in Sierra Leone extend farther then just parents, siblings, children, brothers or sisters living under the same roof. The family unit here is extended and cousins, nephews, adopted sons or daughters, in laws, grandparents, grandchildren all live together and co-depend on everyone else. So my house is full, full of people, children, food, children, and laughter and of course excitement.
The Homestay part of PST is something that is utterly necessary, the three months I have with my family is to prepare me for an African lifestyle. How to navigate the culture, learn the language and understand how Africans live The Kanu’s have been incredible teachers and one of my sisters, Salay, has literally made it her personal responsibility to make sure I am a whiz in the kitchen, a master of the handwashing of clothes and one Krio speaking manic. Some of the highlights of a.k.a cultural misses and bull's eyes: my family is constantly worried about my skin and examining every small detail of it. Like try explaining moles, freckles and sunburns to someone who doesn’t really have them. They always want to know why pumuy skin changes so much, why do I have that spot or my favorite is when someone tries to rub one of my moles off mistaking it for dirt. I get laughed at about a thousand times a day; I could be just sitting around or doing something totally crazy and my sisters’ laugh. Sisters and I have dance party competition in the back courtyard. Oh a little about my house. It’s stone, with a wicked outdoor kitchen (we are talking our fire cooking 24/7, like permanent camping), bathroom area is outside and the house is spacious with a patio and a courtyard. Ok, I can now successful bathe with one bucket of water and that’s including washing my hair, everyone and their dog knows where I live in the neighborhood and do not hide the fact of staring when I am outside playing with my little brothers. My little brothers as the greatest, we have so much fun together. They love it when I draw objects for them, we play Uno, Simon says, heads shoulder knees and toes, ABCs and looking at the world map. We are also in the process of mastering their Frisbee skills. They greet with shouts of “Fatmata, Fatmata” when I come home from training everyday.
So I am a two month old Sierra Leonean and feel that I am now hitting my stride. I came to Bo as Alli and I was adopted as Fatmata Kanu
Parental Disclaimer: Now I may refer to Mama and Papa Kanu as parents…don’t be alarmed, Mom and Dad Sinning are obviously number one but the Kanu’s have taken thet the parental role very serious and I am now a “pikin” (child in Krio) again. Only two months old, just beginning to walk. So M&D, please don’t take any offense, Mama Kanu even gives me chores so I am not losing any practice.