08 August 2010

Poda-Podas and Pledges

“Some of your best and worst Peace Corps memories will come while on public transport,” quoted our training officer as we prepared to leave Bo and head on our site visit. For the first time since arriving in country, we were not going to be within the comforts of our white NGO Peace Corp Land Rovers.
We headed to our sites with our Principals, who had came to Bo for a Supervisor’s workshop to essentially introduce them to their PCT and to help them understand what Peace Corps is about. Within the first hour, I found out my principal is called the “Iron Lady” and is this strong, independent and intelligent Sierra Leone who is in charge of one of the largest girl’s boarding schools in the country. Yep, intimidated! Well, thankfully, Meghan and I headed to Moyamba via my principal’s car with her nephew at the helm. From Bo, it’s about a two to three hour drive. The first half of the trip is on a wicked reconstructed highway that is better then most roads in SD. But we turned off the highway onto a jungle road and headed into the bush. Passing through hidden Sierra Leone villages that would just basically appear out of no where in the jungle, our rough and tumble red dirt road finally led us to the quiet town of Moyamba. I will be spending two years at Harford School for Girl’s which is literally resembles a medieval boarding school or if you are an Harry Potter fan, the Hogwarts of SL. Seriously, not kidding. I live on a campus. I spent the weekend with my Principal, discussing my classes, seeing the town and oh introducing my self to the entire church in Krio.
After the weekend was over, Meghan, Brandon (my friend who is living in a small village ten miles from Moyamba) and myself prepared to jump in our bush taxi to the ride back to Bo. My principal, the proper SL woman that she is, pretty much decided for me that jeans and a t-shirt was pretty unacceptable to make the journey. So five minutes before leaving, I was whisked into her bedroom by her nieces and essentially dressed from head to toe in Africana attire. Brandon said that my outfit was wearing me instead of me wearing it. So in my Africana, I jumped in our car which was a hodge-podge of aluminum assembled on a car frame. Jones, our driver, had enough reggae for the journey so we took off towards Bo, making frequent stops to pick up people who mysterious come out of the bush looking for a ride. We had everything from bags of rice, bunches of plantains and about ten people crammed into our car as well as several boys sitting on the top. At one point, we stopped to pick up a lady, her baby and her bananas and Jones set to work hot wiring something underneath his sit. I found it’s better not to ask many questions. This is Africa.
My second and somewhat more realistic poda-poda experience came from our ride from Freetown. In the last week, we returned to the capital city to give a tour and understand the logistics of how Freetown operates. It was weird being back in our old stomping grounds of the Stadium Hostel. For a town that literally scared the crap out of me when I descended off the ferry from Lungi International, Freetown has lost it’s edge or I have a better understanding of West African cities. I kept thinking what the heck I was so afraid of. We had some brief meetings at the Peace Corps office, talked about some policies and then were turned loose into the city. With the responsibility getting ourselves back to Bo, I found myself at the bus station, feeling overwhelmed. We were dropped off at the Gov Bus to Bo and hustled to the back row. This was not actually a seat which was placed in the bus by the manufacturer but yep a wooden bench bolted to the floor of the vessel. Yep, I felt super safe! My feet were barely touching the ground before they wedged like a million bags of rice under my feet. We were like sardines in a tin can which sped rapidly towards our training site. On the curves, the bench would shift and I felt like I was on an amusement ride. Besides, the cramping in my legs, or the 16 year old African boy laying on me or the utter suffocation, I felt at peace. I had four hours to drink in the beautiful SL countryside, chat with my buddies and just love the fact that I am in West Africa. We made it without major complications and mentally logged the trip as an SL highlight.
Heading into week 10, I am at a crossroad that has been over 18 months in the making and I can’t believe I am finally here. PST is about to end and I will officially be sworn in as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer on August 13th (cross your fingers, it its Friday the 13th). I am feeling very apprehensive, excited, nervous and exhilarated all one top of the daunting task of still learning how to navigate the language and the culture. My two year service clock is about to start ticking and I am ecstatic to hopefully with any luck make my small contribution to the global community. By the way, you all probably know how much of a rockstar public speaker I am ( or NOT), well in honor of my personal Peace Corps struggle and learning how to step out of my comfort zone, I have volunteered myself to give the “Vote of Thanks” at the swearing in ceremony. Yep, pretty much going to be the trainee’s rep to thank all those to make our training possible. Again, cross your fingers, public speaking is not my strong point and it is Friday the 13th. This is the last dispatch as PCT Alli, next time I can change that “T” to a “V” and just call me a real live Peace Corps Volunteer.


Susan said...

Sounds like you're doing real well! I am really enjoying your posts and as an RPCV who served in Moyamba District and liked it a lot (I was in the bush but went to Moyamba occasionally and know where Harford Girl's School is), I am looking forward to reading how things go. I am sure you will do great! Good luck and have fun!

Anonymous said...

We have a vision of what it must have been like on the bus-the sounds, and energy of the trip. It would really be the only way to know what it's like, to experience it! We are very proud that you are stepping out of the comfort zone to address the staff and volunteers! Talk s-l-o-w!
Mom & Dad

Anonymous said...

Hi Alli, Your blogs are so very interesting to us - AND alleviating our fears for you. You sound excited and happy, good news to our ears. We appreciate all of this information about your experience and are so very proud of you.
Love, Grandpa Hank & Judy

Lauren Cady said...


can you believe i have only just caught up on your blogs?? your writing is amazing, please make your stories in a book when your back.

Im so glad to hear that SL is all you hope and wanted it to be. i cant lie i am so JEALOUS!

love you lots xxxxxx

Anonymous said...

-Hey I was PCV in Kambia in 89-91 and was good friends with the PC in Moyamba at the time. Your posts bring back nice memories of a freezing (hard to believe, huh) early Harmatan season trip there from Pt Loko. Thanks for the posts


Barbara RPCV 69-71 said...

As others have said, your posts are great. Love the bus ride story. You will have many more. It will be an adventure everytime you travel in SL. I use to just stand on road and wait for the first vehicle to pick me up..sometimes it was public transport and other times a private vehicle. Keep soaking it all in.

Anonymous said...

I second the idea of a book about your adventures when you get back--and showing your pictures and explaining all this! The grandma's have been sharing your stories and telling me I need to read up on what you've been doing, keep sharing!

Janelle said...

Congrats to an official PCV!! Sounds like you are getting along wonderfully. I think you may be making Lindsay Mozambique-sick.

by Chad Finer said...

you write so well....your descriptions bring back so many wonderful memories for me. Tankee

Chad Finer
RPCV Kenema 1968-70

Anonymous said...

О! Mate. Questo blog è sorprendente. Come faccio a far sembrare questo bene?

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