04 June 2011


A group of girls have been taking many field trips as of late, from Tunis to Tripoli, Cairo, Khartoum, Washington and Beijing. These globetrotters are best know to the student body as the Brave Academic Student’s Club for Achievers (BASCA). They have been all over the world but have not left the confines of the Harford School Campus. As they say on the BBC’s Focus on Africa, “if it’s happening in Africa, we bring it into focus,” Well if it’s happening at Harford School for Girls, BASCAwill bask some light on it..."

BASCA is a product of a group of student with the zeal to bring the news inside the blue Harford gate. Supervised by a few teachers with a journalistic passion, the news was presented weekly, until the idea died a slow death a few years ago. Left without supervisor or anyone to jumpstart the club, it laid dormant. Sometimes, I wonder how life can often work out so perfectly. The first day of meeting my powerful, ambitious principal, she said I would be in change of the school’s news club unaware of my won newsie background. (Again, I wonder how my Peace Corps Service and I have found ourselves in such a perfect marriage….)

The news is ‘broadcasted’ every Friday during devotion. Four news-inspired girls sit behind wooden desk in their royal blue Harford berets like correspondents at a news desk. With confident, loud voices they present the latest in International, National, and Campus news to the student body. But before the girls stand before their colleagues, they have to gather the latest happenings. BASCA meets twice a week before the Friday broadcast, once as a news meeting to decide what we should focus on for the week and then another time for rehearsal. After a year, it's exciting, they will often come to me and say "Miss Allison, I have been investigating a news story for us this week."  Along with the news, the students are able to send in letters about concerns or opinions they have at school. The Principal can't have all the say in what's happening at school. Sometimes they can be pretty controversial. The student body keeps BASCA reporters on their toes.

When I am with my girls in BASCA, I find myself having flashbacks. Scary ones for that fact. I think back to my dreaded high school days. While they were not my happiest, they did have some profound influences on my life direction. Lennox High School's Pep-a-Graph was my introduction into journalism and kick started my interest in learning what is happening around the world. In some respects, I feel like it might have led me to Peace Corps. But I can only hope that BASCA is doing what the Pep-a-Graph did for me. Connecting my Harford girls to the wider world and helping them realize that even though they might be stuck inside the walls of the compound, the protest in Egypt influence them, while they are learning about verbs from Miss Allison, the independence of South Sudan is important and they singing the school song and listening to devotion, everything that our Principal says is news and news needs to be shared.

This is a rough video of SL Kids....It's short and a bit shaky but makes me smile!

Always Laughing

Something has ripped me out of hibernation and brought me back to all of you Dispatch readers. Not sure if my hiatus was due to my lack of creativity, motivation or maybe my definition has been some what altered. It’s been a year since I left the Midwest for West Africa, while I love my job I think it’s the little everyday to day things that make my African life so spectacular and fly by at tremendous speeds. Since it’s been awhile, I have a collection of stories, comments and experiences to disseminate to you. Hope you enjoy. And welcome back!

I think I have only met one person in my whole life who loved Mondays. His name was Big Mike. He was an accountant and in charge of me for one whole summer. Most of you know my math skills are not exactly top notch, so three months as an accountant intern wasn’t what I called fun and Friday afternoon never came quick enough for me. Luckily, I had Big Mike. He was southern, hilarious, and knew how to put accountant tactics into simple also childlike terms for me. When my celebratory Friday came he would stalk in with a frown and just say “Wish it was Monday.” Big Mike, if you are out there somewhere, I have came to love Mondays. Not quite sure, I have put my finger on why I have came to love Mondays but I just do. One of my favorite Monday morning rituals is to inspect and admire all of my girls new plait(braid) hair styles. Some have all go up, pineapple, pot cover, clap hand, I kiss you you kiss me (these are all style names) or oxford. I wonder what creative genius came up with these design and how do the girls decide which one do get for the week. Just brings a smile to my face. They are look so fresh and eager in most cases sunny, beautiful Monday morning. Wish it was Monday right now….

Mangoes. Payayas. Bananas. Oranges. Coconuts. Pineapples. Star Fruits. Weird plum like fruits. Fruits I don’t know the name of. Everywhere. On the street corner, in my class room, on a random market boy’s head standing on my veranda summoning me. Everywhere, so many I can’t eat them fast enough. That’s all I am going to say. SL Fruit rocks.

If you have been in Lennox, SD or any small Midwestern town, you will understand when reference the ‘coffee crew’. You know that group of people who spend hours at the gas station or bakery, drinking coffee, gossiping, talking about current events, family, befriending/annoying the staff or just talking for talking’s sake. Well, I have become one of those types. My place of choice: Indian owned hardware store, Guru Nanak. Drink of choice: mostly water (it’s waaayyyy to hot for coffee). Favorite Guru Nanak past time: annoying its manager with a million questions. Reason’s why I love it: I get to annoy the manager with a million questions. It’s a gold mine of gossip from things happening around town and really I think if you sit there long enough you might see also everyone in the whole town. Truly, one of my favorite hangouts in Moyamba and the manager, one of my best friends. I have learned more about Sierra Leone, West Africa and the Sierra Leonean perspective with my bag of water at the hardware store than many other places. I might have to join the ‘coffee’ drinkers when I get back.

Have any of you seen that YouTube video when a couple hundred people in Union Station in NYC stop like they pushed the pause button. Well, that happens at Harford on a daily basis. The campus is like a town within Moyamba town. People are always coming and go, working about, cooking, carrying water or heading to class. But everything comes to a screeching halt every morning. The girls have devotion every morning at 8 am. After the sermon and prayers, they sing the Harford School song and the National Pledge. When the choir of teenage girls’ voice fills the air on campus, everyone stops exactly where they are. No walking, no talking, no moving a muscle. Weird white girl didn’t know that for a while and was the only one walking around looking disrespectful and na├»ve. Once it’s over, business as usual. Makes me laugh every time.

Sierra Leone has given me an excuse to own the most fantastic, fabulous, crazy shorts collection. Pleated. Lappa African fabric. Neon. Reflective. Hawaiian. Sometimes it’s just too hot for trousers.

Hope this next segement doesn't make me look lazy....When we all meant in at staging for the first time in WDC, one of the PC Headquarter Staff told us that your PC experience will go fast and you will often feel yourself scrambling to figure out what projects you need to be throwing all of your energies towards. After a year in, I feel like this every single day. Am I doing enough as a Volunteer? But one piece of advice this particular staff member gave us was to "just be". Just be in your village, just be at school, just be in the community. Meg and I have often taken this advice to heart. Our favorite after school activity is to sit in her thatched roofed hut, in hammocks, drinking star beer and brainstorming out next plan of action. It's really the slower pace of life, the swinging in the hammock, listening to Paul Simon, watching the sunset over the hill in the distance and being visited by friends that makes really thankful for Moyamba. It's going to be hard to get back to the hustle and bustle and mobile phone ringing, drive thru dinner, life with a schedule America.

Our PC Programming and Training Officer once told us in training that some of your best stories will come from traveling in public transportation; this is a 100% true statement. Everything happens on the road. From marriage proposals, baby’s peeing on you, animal encounters, tires projectile flying off the car into the bush and interesting conversations while waiting for a break down to be fixed (usually with a little, lots of banging, some grease, good to go…) It’s hard to find out about people when you are crammed five across the back seat of an aging VW golf. I always seem to come out of a motorcar just filthy; sweaty, dirty, greasy, occasionally bloody and sometimes with baby pee on me. But I have found while I feel a nasty, hot mess, the auburn dirt really brings out the blue in my eyes.

Mende is a difficult language, especially for someone who does not exactly aptitude for learning languages. fut for some reason, I love it. Mende will most likely give me gray hair, force me to have a mental breakdown and always challenges my small intelligence. Nevertheless, I am trucking on. It's tonal so how you say the words and how you listen to the words are the most important part. To me, everything sounds the same and that is a major problem. Everyday is a new day to learn new things. One morning, I had just opened my door, made myself a cut of coffee when the sound of small feet came to my door way. It was Eddie, my pint size two year old neighbor that has become my buddy. Eddie just learning to talk say "Alasin, buwaa", "Alasin buwaa", "Alasin buwaa" (Alasin is the Eddie verison of Allison and Buwaa is the beginning greeting Mende like Hello). I stopped dead in my tracks. Finally, I had found a Mende teacher. This next statment might make me sound weird and creepy so I apologize in advance. When I was learning German, I found I always learn the most by hanging around the park where the children were playing. They speak languages slowly, with a limited vocabulary and don't judge you if you make a mistake. They are the best teachers. So Eddie is learning me. Every single morning since then when my door opens I give him five miuntes and this little face will be pressed against my screen door, "Alasin buwaa".

At first when I was given an African name I felt torn, was I suppose to abandon myself to conform. The answer is yes and praise the Lord that I did. Allison Sinning turned to Fatmata Kanu. I started to forget to response to "Allison." At the end of the day, it might me I have a dual personality but I love just being FA.