18 September 2010

The Fishbowl

In preparing for the Peace Corps, naturally I tried my best to do as much research about the experience and envisioned what it would be like to be a Volunteer. I vividly remember story after story of Volunteer’s describing being dumped off at site and iconically watching the Peace Corps white land rover pull out of the village with a sense of overwhelming dread. Looking back, while sitting in the comforts of Starbucks or Barnes & Nobles, I remember thinking that there is no way this is that bad and that if in the situation, I would be exceedingly ecstatic. Yep, I speculated wrong…again. As the Peace Corps car pulled out of Moyamba, I stood there awkwardly thinking crap, I am overwhelmed (yet, ecstatic), have small ache in my stomach for the security of my fellow PCV friends and the staff and now what???

The journey to site was nothing short of interesting. After taking the oath, giving a thank you speech in Krio and spending our last night in Bo, we departed for our respected villages scattered throughout the Salone countryside. Once again, I packed up my African life and jammed it all into the Peace Corps land rover. The trip was short compared to many of my other fellow Volunteers who had to depart very early for the north. Staying in Mende land has its perks. Meghan, Brandon and I, PCVs of Moyamba district, made the trip together. Our two hour trip included, tin water bottle projectile launching from the cargo into the back of my head, Meghan’s nausea only to be exasperated by our Program Manager’s desire to add bush meat to the car (that’s always a must on a road trip). Don’t we all like to see a bowl of monkey legs and random animal parts when you are hung-over? Oh, we had a puppy jammed under the front seat and a driver who love to ramp the holes on the red dirt bush road heading from the main highway to Moyamba. I had a blast….yes, seriously, a blast!

Moyamba has been pegged as a “quiet sleepy jungle town”. It’s beautiful to say the least. You come off the main highway to 35 kilometers of dirt bush road and flash in and out of tiny villages with thatched roofs and mud walls. The trip into the interior countryside is laden with palms and tropical foliage. Then you round a bend and three out of place cell phone company/telecommunications towers come into view connecting the area to the rest of the country. When you see the towers you know you have hit Moyamba, which is the regional capital for the chiefdom.

Changing gears from having a life of PST planned to every last minute to having ‘beacoup free tem” has been rather daunting. I live in a duplex style house within the walls of Harford School for Girls. I share a yard, porch and lots of laughs with the small troupe of children who live next door. It’s weird for the first time, I am by myself or at least that’s what I thought. Running around in my apprehensive state when first arriving at my house, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, I was officially a Peace Corps Volunteer and now at site, this had been a moment I thought of for literally years. So I frantically ran around thinking of the things I needed to get done to sleep tonight, get my water filter set up so I would dehydrate, put my mosquito net up to ward off those malaria carrying insects, you get the idea. Confused and doing a million things at once, I didn’t notice the ten sets of eyes peering through my window. Welcome to the Fishbowl. All my neighbor kids have been interested in my life since day one and I realized something that first day as they curiously looked in my window. This is as much of a learning experience for them as it is for me. I immediately stopped my packing, deciding that I have time for that later and went out on my porch to sit with the kids. We played simon says, I got my cassette player out and they danced and we laughed…a lot. Even after a month, they still stand in my doorway to watch me even if I am just sitting their reading a book. I live in a Fishbowl but at least maybe I can teach these young kids that just because I am white doesn’t mean I am that much different from them.

My days have been filled with visiting the market, stumbling through Mende, unpacking (finally after living out of a suitcase for the summer), controlling my anxiety of starting real life classes, writing and reading to candlelight, listening to awesome Freetown radio which I finally get reception after inventively creating an antenna from a Fanta can or jamming out to cassettes (yes, like in 1987), fetching water from the pump well, learning how to cook over coals and attempting to reinvent my identity once again in a new Salone town. While I am living alone and my Peace Corps experience is uniquely my own, I am never alone and as the Peace Corp car pulled out of town, I shouldn’t have been so filled with unease. In the welcoming culture of Sierra Leoneans, alone is not in their vocabulary and I will never feel like it as long as I integrate into the community, get out there and integrate which is easier said than done but in a way it’s already happening through my small children spectators, like everything in West Africa, I just need to execute some patience.

2 comments:

Judy said...

Alison....love reading your posts and remembering settling in on my arrival in Moyamba and at Harford. Some of my happiest memories are of sitting on the veranda visiting with friends and neighbors and of course all those kids. I wonder if you are living in my house where I spent two good years. Judy (salonesix@aol.com)

Judy said...

Alison....love reading your posts and remembering settling in on my arrival in Moyamba and at Harford. Some of my happiest memories are of sitting on the veranda visiting with friends and neighbors and of course all those kids. I wonder if you are living in my house where I spent two good years. Judy (salonesix@aol.com)