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December 3, 2010, 7:40pm
Chinatown Restaurant (Upstairs)

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve somehow ended up a special guest in Chinatown.

The Search for AC
After our meeting in the morning at UNICEF, I was desperate to work in a place with AC. Unfortunately, the library at the American Embassy (where I’ve been working the past two days) is closed on Fridays. Unsurprisingly, there are no places in Sierra Leone where you can go and sit under a fan or AC for your own purposes. I asked Ahmidu if the university has any such facilities and he laughed, commenting, “The university does not even have fans!” So I racked my brain and sorted through the few contacts I knew in Freetown.

I called Ms. Wang, the lady who runs the check-out desk at the convenience store in Chinatown. Chinatown in Freetown is this building by the beach that has a 12-room hotel, a downstairs restaurant where Sierra Leoneans cook Chinese food (I ate here with Jim a few weeks ago when Uncle Ben left me here to go watch a soccer game), an upstairs restaurant where a Chinese cook cooks Chinese food (I had never been here before tonight), an ice cream shop with questionable ice cream, a funny store with luggage in the window, a small convenience store and bakery, and a traditional medicine shop that I had hoped would offer cheap massages, but is actually abandoned because the healer claimed she had a headache and went back to China.

Ms. Wang handed the phone over to the boss of Chinatown, a Lebanese man who was born in Sierra Leone and married to a Chinese lady. He is a nice guy and remembered me from the last two times I had visited. He said no problem – I could sit in the ice cream shop to work, since it had AC – and if my internet stick didn’t get service, he would give me the password to their wireless connection. Awesome! I asked Ahmidu to direct me to take public transport to the beach, which was an adventure in and of itself.

The Journey to Chinatown
First, Ahmidu put me on a poda-poda (local transportation bus – think 25 people crammed into a 12-seater broken down van with limited ventilation and sliding doors that often fall off the vehicle). I like taking the poda-podas because it is the way of the locals and most expats and foreigners have their own cars or charter taxis. The luxurious way is more expensive, but still affordable ($5-10 instead of $1-2 USD); still, I like to experience and become familiar with how people here do it. It’s so easy (especially in Freetown) to spend each day doing things the expat way and never knowing how the locals experience life. But I do admit, the poda-podas are tres uncomfortable.

The poda-poda was intended to bring me back to Mountain Cut, where Bailor’s house is, so that I could pick up my computer charger (which ended up being a waste of time because I haven’t used it yet). Unsurprisingly, it dropped me off at a place that I did not recognize. After all, it’s not easy to recognize places around here (for me) since everywhere is a little broken down, messy, and without labels, street names, or traffic lights. Sometimes I recognize an orange seller, but they move around so it’s not dependable. And the buildings are not that characteristic (to me) because they are all broken down with random slogans (today I saw a building whose walls boasted “The Elusive Gangsters” in spray paint – indeed, I saw no identifiable gangsters in the vicinity).

I walked through a few streets asking for Mountain Cut or Kissy Road (the nearest big junction) and must have walked in circles before ending up in the right place. Actually, I took a small detour to return a pair of dysfunctional earphones to Alie, the Lebanese guy by the Sierra International Hotel who has been very nice to me (he gave me a free adapter and was super friendly). He stayed true to his friendliness and refunded my money, advising me that none of the earphones I’d find on the street will be as good quality as normal iPod earphones, and drew me a map to get back to Bailor’s place. How helpful!

I eventually made it back to Bailor’s place and picked up my things. Then I headed out as per Ahmidu’s directions. Up Mountain Cut, opposite Kissy Road, and right at the first paved road by the mosque. I immediately ran into a roadblock – there were many young men hacking up large trees and carrying parts of trees on their head. It was a bit tricky to navigate through the branches and the confusion of roadblocked cars, but eventually I got by. I was to keep going until I hit Regent Road, the place where the poda-podas leave for Aberdeen (which will bring me in the direction of the beach). Eventually, the road I was on ended, and I was at a T-intersection with no clue where to go next. I asked the girl selling suspicious cakes where Regent Road was, and she stared at me blankly before uttering some indecipherable Krio-English. I rephrased my question and asked where I can catch a poda-poda to Aberdeen, and she said “HERE!”

I stood for a while waiting for poda-podas to come by. In the meantime, I bought a sachet of water because the journey had made me thirsty. I was expecting Family Care or Grafton, the regular brands of purified sachet water, and was surprised to stare at a sachet that proudly proclaimed: “PEEMAN.” What an innovative, creative, and questionably marketable name! It was supposedly manufactured at Foureh Bay College by Goderich road, a few blocks from where I was standing, so I texted Ahmidu to make sure it was safe to drink. Not taking any parasite risks here.

Eventually poda-podas started to come by. I played the clueless tourist for a few minutes, asking the bread-selling lady whether or not a certain poda-poda was going to Aberdeen (even though there are labels on the cars, apparently it’s not a very reliable source. She told me to ask, so I started asking.

Again, the poda-poda system here is confusing for newcomers. They don’t really respond if you ask them for a route that they do not follow. If they are going in that direction, they sort of slam the car in a hard-to-decipher “come hither” motion. I missed it the first time, and the apprentice (the guy who takes care of picking up and dropping off people, including the money collection) re-slammed the car door and stared at me intently. That clued me in to awkwardly run after the car until it stopped at the next junction where he ushered me into the overcrowded vehicle. Luckily I found a window seat, because I was to be in that car until it reached its last stop.

I’m not sure how long it took – it could have been almost an hour – I fell asleep a few times. The guy next to me was a dignified looking business man so I felt a little more comfortable closing my eyes, although I kept my body parts attached to all the zippered areas on my bag. Eventually I made it to the last stop. The money exchange system is also confusing, but eventually I got the hang of it. Just give money to the apprentice when he gestures that you haven’t given him money yet, and assume he doesn’t cheat you. I watched my nearby companions to make sure I was paying the same amount.

When we got to the last stop, I asked of this is Aberdeen Junction (where Ahmidu said the last stop would be) and the bus driver said yes, while the business man next to me insisted no! Either way, I had to get off, since it was the last stop. Once I stepped off the bus, the business man gestured to a nearby tall lady who asked me where I wanted to go. They were both kind souls – I could tell by their person – and it reminded me again of how friendly and helpful Sierra Leoneans are. I told her “Chinatown” and the businessman assured me that she would guide me as she brought me to a nearby taxi. I could have easily found the taxi myself; Ahmidu had told me that there would be taxis waiting in the area, but it was nice that she took care of it for me. Before she left, she told the taxi in rapidfire Krio to take me to Chinatown. I think he overcharged me ($0.50 instead of $0.25) but it wasn’t too big a deal. We drove along the beach for a short stretch, passing Aces (the club I visited last summer) and Leone Casino (the Chinese-owned casino I visited a few weeks ago with Carla and Uncle Ben) before reaching Chinatown, which is now familiar to me.

Adventures in Chinatown (& the Life of a Chinese Baker in Sierra Leone)
I made my way to the ice cream shop, only to realize (not too surprisingly) that the AC was not actually cold. Go figure. I sat down anyway and started responding to personal and business-related emails, and a few other odd tasks. After a few hours, I got tired of the uncomfortable seats, the strange soap opera playing on the wall (TV is one of those things that do not really comfort me even after a long absence), the sauna heat, and sitting immobile staring at the screen.

I made my way to the convenience store, passing the downstairs restaurant, and said hi to Ms. Wang (the lady at the check-out) and Mr. Shi (the guy in the bakery). He is always incredibly friendly, and today proved his friendliest yet. He first asked if I wanted to eat a particular kind of fruit, went to the fridge, and pulled out what looked like a very obvious orange. “Have you ever had one?” he asked, and I replied, “Isn’t that an orange? (ju2 zhi3)” to which he replied, “No.” Well, I know that oranges, tangerines, and other similar citrus fruits have a few different names in Chinese, but he used one that I didn’t recognize. I was momentarily excited that I would be introduced to a new exotic fruit, but as he started cutting it, it was very clearly an orange. Still, it was chilled, and after so much heat, it was a delight. After I had finished, he cut up two more, talking about the benefits of eating fruit in this environment. It is for some reason very comforting to hear Chinese adults tell me health-related benefits around here, whether they make sense or not (like when the Guo Ji boss said the winter melon drink had Chinese medicinal effects, and when the hot pot waitress kept recommending that young girls like me should eat lots of vegetables). I think it’s because they sound kind of like my parents’ or family friends’ suggestions, often as if they are drawn from questionable Chinese newspaper sources.

He sat me down in his small bakery area and we chatted while he made 8975142 cake rolls, cut up 918273 loaves of bread, and decorated 4 birthday cakes. I still only understand about 40% of what the Chinese people here talk to me about, but they still think that I’m fluent and that I’m from China. He thought that I had a Chinese passport, asked me why my English was so good, and how many years it’s been since I went “back” (to China), so he clearly still thought I was Chinese. I thought I had made it clear before that I’m through and through American, but apparently not clear enough, and I started to feel like an imposter after he fed me so much Chiense food.

At one point, the Lebanese boss came in to say hi, and suggested that I try to cut one of the slices of bread. I did, and succeeded, although it was not a pretty slice – jagged edges! Afterwards, Mr. Shi, the bakery man, decided that I was a smart cookie because I was able to cut a slice on the first try; apparently he has tried to teach people before and they can’t do it after multiple tries.

We chatted about all sorts of things. He has been in Sierra Leone for 2-3 years and has never been back home, although he is visiting for a brief period of time next February. He, and the other 4 workers in Chinatown, work from 10am to 11pm every day, sleep at midnight, and do not have any days off except for once a year on new years. Wow! That sounds unbelievably overworked, but he said it with casualness. As such, he rarely goes off grounds and has not visited any of the other places in town (ie. Guo Ji factory or the Leone Casino) to socialize with other Chinese people. He didn’t seem to regretful, though. Apparently the boss’s wife (who is Chinese) forbids them to leave the grounds in the evenings. I wish I could have asked or understood more details, but it’s a strain understanding his accent and the bits of Chinese vocabulary that I don’t know.

He kept telling me to sit down and tried to feed me more baked goods, although I refused most of them because it was simply too much and they weren’t particularly novel baked goods (fresh white bread and sponge cake rolls), although they were certainly more delectable than the local good sold on the street. I asked if he could make a few Chinese bakery items that I’m familiar with, and he confirmed every one of them from moon cakes to egg custard tarts to yogurt (okay the last one isn’t a Chinese bakery item). He explained to me how to make them and even showed me his handwritten cookbook which reminded me of my mom’s cook book! It was all in Chinese and he clearly thought that I could read it all (but I couldn’t even understand his verbal explanations). I kind of flipped through it like a picture book and made awed sounds (I was awed, but really I could only recognize occasional trigger words like “egg (dan4)” and “cake (gao1)” and “ball (yuan).” Eventually, it was mealtime and he gave me two sets of cake rolls and a carton of juice before I left, on the house. Wow! How friendly. The Lebanese boss then brought me up to get settled in at the restaurant for dinner.

Dinner Upstairs
The Lebanese man (I really should learn his name) brought me out back and I commented on the lovely view and asked if this is where the hotel rooms are. He said yes and called the keyholder to show me the one empty room. It was quite large, with a kitchen like area (but with only a sink and counter, no stove), a divider, a full bed, television, desk, and window. Quite nice! They have 12 rooms (some are new), started setting up in April 2002, and opened December 2002. He also said something about setting me up with the bakery guy because he was shy, and then said he was kidding – I’m not really sure if that’s what he said, but that’s what it sounded like. Hm. Anyway, then he led me upstairs to the upstairs restaurant, where I’ve never been.

It’s a little confusing talking to the Lebanese guy in English, the Sierra Leonean workers in Krio, the Chinese people in Chinese, and having them all be second languages and a bit accented and broken by both parties. Moreover, despite being familiar in every language, I can’t for the life of me understand the way that they communicate with each other.

I was met by a Sierra Leonean waitress and a Chinese cook who asked me where I would like to sit. I tried a few languages before the cook understood the Chinese version: I want to sit wherever is the coolest. He plopped me in front of the AC, where I’m currently thoroughly enjoying the cold air. The restaurant was completely empty and has been except for a group of Chinese people who are either well dressed employees (unlikely) or semi-important hotel guests.

They brought a menu, which is a legit Chinese menu with reasonable prices, and as such, I can’t quite understand the Chinese (menus are hard to read!) and don’t quite trust the English (translated Chinese dishes are always suspicious, awkward, and fake sounding). I flipped through a few pages and on the cooks suggestion, ended up getting a fusion and customized selection of fish, vegetables, and noodles. I’m not even sure which items they were, but whatever they were, they were delicious. When they arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes – such authentic looking Chinese food, full with soy sauce and homemade Chinese chili sauce!

Right before the food arrived, the bakery man came up and apologized that he could not eat with me (I had originally said that I wanted to eat with the staff and not alone, but it may have been lost in the language shuffle) because he had too many cakes to bake. The chef prepared the food with lightning speed and delivered it, commenting ever so Chinese-politely that he doesn’t know whether it will suit my taste (“he2 ni3 de ko3 wei4”) to which I assured him it would.

I ate that food way too quickly. It was delicious! I stuffed fish, vegetables (ahhhh heaven-sent vegetables), and noodles (which were approvingly laden with egg, shrimp, and other additions rather than just being a lump of starch). He offered to bring some Chinese tea, but I was too hot for a hot drink, so he had the waitress bring iced lemon tea. The whole time, I wasn’t quite sure whether this meal was on the house or not, but it’s been over a half hour since they took my plates away and I still haven’t received a bill. I get the feeling it is, but I guess I’ll find out soon.

All in all, it’s been a fun adventure, although I’m confused as to why I’ve been treated like such a special guest. Perhaps it’s because the boss was nice to me and brought me to the restaurant.

Now they are playing Christmas songs. “Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer…”

I’m thoroughly enjoying the AC and Chinese decorations, but I will probably head out soon before it gets too late. It’s great to get out of the house and explore the city on my own for a bit, even if it’s visiting familiar places. I never really learn the layout of the streets or the system of travel until I do it myself instead of following Ahmidu or Bailor blindly. Next time, I can’t wait to go somewhere new!

Update
The meal was on the house, courtesy of Mr. Jaffa, the boss of the place. When I went downstairs, he was still friendly, said something along the lines of “We have to take care of our people, Chinese people” and when he asked how I was going to get back, made some joke about how he would have smuggled me somewhere if the Chinese workers at the convenience store didn’t know I was here. I took it as banter, but he repeated it a few times with weird winks and I raised an eyebrow… haha. Then again, this is Sierra Leone and I get that all the time. I also have a new phone stalker, some guy at the restaurant… everyone here wants to be “my friend” no matter the age or gender. I don’t mind, I just make sure to stay in public places where I can’t get duped.

Anyway, I got back safely by way of taxi. I left with a Chinese guy going to the nearby Guo Ji center and he kept repeating to take care of myself on the way home. Before he got out of the car, he told the driver in broken English that I was his friend and to make sure I got back safrely. At first I got kind of freaked out because the taxi driver drove much farther than Aberdeen Junction (I’m not good enough with geography to know where we’re going, especially in the dark, but I can differentiate 2 minutes from 10 minutes). We never went into unlit or uncrowded areas, though, and he ended up taking me to St. Johns, which is in the center of town and much more convenient (and probably safer). There I caught another taxi and escaped the clutches of the man-eating poda-poda bus. Back at Bailor’s house frantically rubbing Chinese herbal oils (“wan4 jin1 you2″) on my 852351235 bug bites and Champion acid burns. What a great feeling to have gone out and come back on my own! I didn’t do anything risky or novel, but it is exciting all the same. Plus, the Chinese food was amazing.


The Flogging Fiasco

November 25, 2010, 11pm
Kono House

As I mentioned, corporal punishment is common in Sierra Leone and common in KGSS, the school where we are piloting the PEPTOK program. I have seen at least two teachers regularly flog students every morning for being disruptive or talkative, or for arriving late. It is common for the teacher on stage to call individual students from the crowd onto the stage. He uses her as an example by flogging her in front of everyone. All of the girls have mastered the instinctive and quickly reacting arch of the back to avoid the brunt of the stroke.

Latecomers are a serious problem at KGSS, and at most schools in this district and country, I suspect. Every morning at KGSS, the gates are closed at 8am when assembly officially begins. Yet it is rare for more than half the students to be present by then. A combination of long walking distances from home to school (often multiple miles) and irresponsibility (people around here are not very good at managing their time so that they are not late) causes most students to arrive past 8am every day. After 8am, the students continuously trickle in, but are locked outside of the gate to be officially identified as “latecomers,” awaiting punishment. Then, one of the teachers with the flogging stick opens the door and the students immediately bend over. On the first day, I had thought that they were bending over to await their punishment, but I’ve realized that they are actually picking up trash, since the first-line punishment is to clean up the litter on school grounds. Brooms are also distributed. The teacher waves his weapon around threateningly and uses it at his leisure or preference, with no explanation.

I even saw a teacher force the girls to crawl (on their hands and knees) across the gravel ground with large stones balanced on their head after school, presumably for misconduct during school hours. This was more shocking to see than flogging, but is apparently also not an uncommon form of punishment.

And anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with me knows that I try to photodocument every moment of my life with little preface or filter.

The Fiasco
At 8am this morning, when assembly officially begins, less than a fifth of the student body had arrived and crowded around the assembly stage. This was a mildly tense period, since half of our peer educator cast was locked out of school grounds behind the gate, and we were anxious to begin the skit. We were able to ask the gatekeeper to allow that group of students in, but the ones that continued to arrive were not as fortunate.

After the skit on healthy relationships, the teacher that tends to do most of the flogging within the school began lining the hundred or so latecomers on the stage and calling them up one by one from the front of the line. He would flog them viciously, multiple times, and it looked quite a bit more painful and violent than usual. I, as always, took pictures. But then again, I take pictures of trivial, boring events, too – whatever happens to be in front of my eyes every few minutes in my life. Of course, he probably does not know that.

As we left the school grounds, a student called us back and said that Madame (Sister Mary) wanted to talk to us. We approached the stage where she stood next to the flogging teacher and his group of anxiously awaiting convicts, and I knew that I was going to get chewed for having taken pictures of his dirty deed. When we arrived, Sister Mary was speaking with a girl who was sobbing, having just gone through the ordeal. She explained to us that the teacher noticed that I was taking photos and that many students had seen my pictures (they were looking over my shoulder as I took them – it’s impossible to escape locals no matter what I am doing, no matter where I am, particularly when I whip out my camera, which is almost always). She said that he wanted me to delete the photos. All the while, he stood upright, hands behind his back clutching his flogging stick, and eyes staring right over my head. While I was still assessing the situation, Fatu was quickly very apologetic and told me to delete the photos at that moment. Her cue prompted me to also give a few apologetic explanations, all true (I take pictures of everything and did not intend to offend or incriminate him). I pulled out my camera and started deleting the photos.

I did, in fact, delete all the photos and videos that I had taken of him violently beating the girls one by one in a line. I actually regret doing this. He has no idea how to use a camera and did not even glance at me (or the camera) when I deleted them or showed him that they were missing from my gallery. He continued to gaze over my head with a stern face, clutching his flogging stick. I was certainly apologetic – I didn’t want to make things difficult for anyone or cause any scene – but I hate deleting photos and I wasn’t going to do anything with them. And they would make a good story. I guess it’s good that I was ethical and honest about it. I am in general fairly unapologetic about my photo taking habits (because I know that most of my photos never make it further than my own external hard drive and are rarely viewed by anyone’s eyes, including my own), but given these slightly more circumstances, I was even more unapologetic. Is this justified or does it reflect poor character or lack of respect?

Sister Mary continued being cheerful and supportive, and the unhappy teacher did not actually seem very unhappy. He struck me as someone who was trying to exercise power for the sake of exercising power, but I understand how he might feel offended or frightened that I had been collecting photo evidence of him beating children. Later, I was told that it is illegal in Sierra Leone to flog children over 6 strokes. (Although I don’t think he crossed this line.)

Aftermath
I am apologetic, though, for the way that this event affected our peer educator girls. When we arrived at training that afternoon, the girls were debating whether or not they wanted to act the next day. They seemed to be reacting to a lot of negative attention that the program has been having. Fatu and I immediately began discussing with them what the various reactions and comments they have received.

After ten minutes of discussion, it became clear that most girls have received positive feedback from all of their friends, the principal, the sisters, and most of their teachers. However, a few had either been told by a teacher or told by student that a teacher was unhappy with the program. Unsurprisingly, there seemed to only be one culprit: the same flogging stick-wielding teacher that had a spat with me in the morning. Apparently he had told one of the girls in passing that she should try to end the program without any explanation. There was also mention of his friend being unsupportive of the program. However, the girls insisted that the students, sisters, and most teachers are all very positive about the program.

We asked what they thought of the program, and they said that they liked it. We asked whether they were embarrassed about what they were teaching, or the skits they were performing, or the attention they were getting. They denied it with emotion. We asked whether they wanted to continue. They said yes. Yet they continued to argue and one girl continued to say that she would not act the next day. Fatu tried to give them a (real) pep talk that they should not let such minor challenges or outcries influence their self-confidence. She realized and was frustrated that the once the girls hear of the smallest opposition or complaint, they lose confidence and are too afraid to keep going. (After all, the girl that refused to act was responding hearsay from another peer educator, and that girl denied that she had ever even said that.) I’m sure there is a load of cultural complexity that can be explored in that direction.

Still, I did feel very bad that I had caused the girls to doubt themselves or be worried about their continuation with the program. During the discussion, we kept trying to ask the girls what my tiff with the flogging teacher had to do with their participation in the program (they are completely unrelated), and they did not give coherent answers. After talking with Ahmidu, their concern became obvious. They are scared that if the teacher is upset about what happened, he would take it out on them by beating them more often and more violently. This made perfect sense, but made me very sad, both for what I had caused, and for the circumstances themselves. We are going to talk with this teacher tomorrow and hopefully smooth things out so that the girls don’t have to fear his wrath.

Discussion
During this time, I also had a discussion/debate with Ahmidu about the role of flogging in Sierra Leone. First, we confirmed that teachers flog because they want to punish the kids, not because they are trying to correct behavior. After all, after years of continuous flogging, still half of the student body arrives past 8am every morning. If they were truly concerned with the behavior of the students, they would have long since explored other options that may yield more effective results.

Sometimes, Ahmidu explained, teachers may like a female student and will flog her repeatedly so that she agrees to marry him. Other times, they may demand money from a student and flog until money is handed over. This can occur in less direct ways; the teacher may bring butterscotch or candies to class to sell to the students, and he will force them to buy the products lest they be punished.

I remarked that the principal and Sister Mary did not seem to be the type to support the practice of flogging students. Ahmidu agreed. The why, I asked, would they allow it to be so widely practiced on school grounds? He explained that many teachers have no choice but to allow teachers to do what they want to do. In this situation, what they “want to do” is to flog the students. If they can’t, he said, then they may choose to leave the school, and it would be very difficult to find a replacement teacher since teachers are very low in supply. Most teachers do not like to teach, he elaborated.

It’s all quite out of [our] world. And it all adds to the already negative picture of the quality and operations of school systems in Sierra Leone.

Yet Ahmidu insisted that kids in Sierra Leone need to be flogged, and that there needs to be someone that they are extremely afraid of. I kept asking whether he thinks there is no better way to teach kids lessons or encourage them to behave responsibly.

He said that there are other ways; for instance, most private schools do not flog (but all public schools do flog). Instead, private schools will punish their students (ie. latecomers) by suspending them from school for a week or two. The explanation, though, is that private schools are much more expensive (200,000Le or $50 USD) compared to public schools (60,000Le or $15 USD). Students attending private schools cannot afford to miss a week or two of class, while students attending public schools will not care too much because the tuition is much cheaper. The argument makes sense, but does not convince me.

I asked whether there were any detention systems in any schools in Sierra Leone. He said no. When I explained that an example of detention is that latecomer or misbehaving students are required to stay after school for a few hours and do homework while a teacher supervises them. His response was that teachers here would not sit there and watch them because they would want to leave as well. I suggested that they are paid for it, and he just laughed.

Ahmidu’s argument was that maybe someday in the future, flogging will not be necessary, and that this will come with development. However, for now, flogging is necessary. I kept arguing that change is not a result of development, but that development is a result (or rather, a name) for change. I wasn’t able to make that point clear enough for debate, though.

He gave an example of when he stole two corns from a teacher’s backyard while he was at the Bo School because he was hungry. The teacher had caught him and asked his baby son how many times he should flog Ahmidu. The son responded “hundred” since apparently (as the story goes) that was the only word he knew how to say. So, this teacher (who had a name that sounded like Saschamango) flogged him 100 times. According to Ahmidu, however, the Bo School no longer practices this severity of punishment because of the new laws against more than six strokes. (I took this as an example of development changing the practice.)

He contrasted his story about Mr. Saschamango by telling me about Mr. Smith, who served as a mentor. He took special interest in Ahmidu, encouraging him to pursue and fulfill his academic potential, taking him out for drinks, and giving him casual tips about how to survive the college life. When Mr. Saschamango was coming, all the students would run away because they were deathly scared of him. However, Mr. Smith never flogged students and Ahmidu did not fear him as he did Mr. Saschamango. This is where his argument ended, and I told him that it didn’t seem to me as if it supported his argument that flogging is necessary; in fact, I said that it seemed to support my argument instead. Wouldn’t it be better if he had more mentors like Mr. Smith rather than more floggers like Mr. Saschamango? He agreed, but concluded by insisting that flogging was necessary, because people need someone who they are afraid of and run away from.

But WHY, I asked. Does he think that students would be less successful if they do not fear someone? No, he replied, they will be successful. Would students be less successful if teachers like the one at KGSS left the school? No, he replied, it would not make a difference. But they still need people like him to be afraid of. But WHY, I continued to ask, WHY do they need to fear someone? We didn’t get much farther. He suggested that we continue the conversation another time because he didn’t think he was making sense.

It’s certainly not one of those situations where I feel as if I’ve won an argument. If anything, I think I lost, since he is still strong in his opinion and I just feel confused and unable to understand. I feel like either (1) he has an argument but is having trouble articulating it, perhaps because I am being too aggressive or insistent, or perhaps because he does not know how to express himself, or (2) he is realizing that he has no concrete argument and is unexpectedly facing his own assumptions or opinions that have no real explanations. I’m not sure what came out of the conversation, but I would not be surprised if these topics resurfaced in the next few weeks.

 

November 25, 2010, 3:30pm
KGSS Training Room

At one point during the past few days, I began to liken many aid attempts and short-lived NGO presence to drug-resistance. When drugs are not taken correctly – for example, if a patient does not complete the instructed dose schedule because the patient feels better and neglects to follow through on the drug regimen (ie. TB or HIV) – then it is likely that drug-resistant strains of the virus develop. I thought experimented with a parallel train of thought: if multiple NGOs come into the community but does not perform or complete their interventions successfully, then “drug resistance” may occur, causing future interventions that target similar topics to be met with more resistance or be faced with greater challenges. Interventions can be unsuccessful in a number of ways: education may be delivered poorly, projects might be abandoned ahead of time, preparation and pre-research may not be satisfactory, approaches may not be sensitive to the local culture or social norms, interventions may be ineffective for other logistical or other reasons.

Perhaps locals will have been exposed to the topic enough to realize it exists but misinterpret the message, or are unable to understand it in the context. Condom teaching sessions with little tact have the potential for parents or teachers to be close-minded to future sensitization about contraception or family planning. Sex education not done right has the potential to mislead students or encourage them to become sexually active. HIV sensitization projects have the potential to reinforce the myth that HIV does not exist. Misinterpretations in the crowd can lead to gossip and rumors, which build the foundation of local attitudes and beliefs.

The fact is that “white man” after “white man” has come to Africa promising change and promising programs that they do not follow up on. This makes it more difficult for people to trust anyone following them that they will fulfill their promise. To take it a step further in thought experimentation, this means that local attitudes towards outsider interventions will not be as supportive. The newcomers may be trying to do something good, something lasting, but will not feel as if the local leaders or community members support, make an effort, or are interested in seeing the success of the program. This might even cause them to feel less obligated to see the program through to the end, be less motivated to overcome the many challenges and barriers to successful implementation, or to give up on trying to make the program sustainable. So, in some sense, the whole cycle may perpetuates itself. That is, the fact that “white men” that have not followed through on their promises affects local attitudes towards outsider intervention and discourage future “white men” from following through. Does this make sense? My mind wanders.

Another (and perhaps more significant) worry in this “drug resistance” metaphor of thought is: Does the fact that so many NGOs and outsiders have come to initiate development programs prevent the locals from taking their own initiative? This is part of the argument that aid in Africa does not help but rather harms the local capacity to develop. This also relates to the post I wrote last year about how to find a balance in how much you teach and contribute in these situations. It is easy to want to do everything for the local community, but it is so crucial to make sure one does not take away their own capacity or initiative. How often does a local Sierra Leonean aspire to implement a development program for change? I honestly don’t know, but my gut instinct is rarely. There is such a culture of expectation here. As I mentioned in last year’s post, locals are often unmotivated to work, find food, or serve themselves, because they are used to (as a population) outsiders coming to give it to them. Of course there are hard-working or motivated individuals. But as a culture, as a population, there is so much expectation. Many Sierra Leoneans have said that the Kono people, those most affected by the war and showered by NGO help for a certain period of time following the war, especially experience in this culture of expectation. But the optimal solution is not clear – it does not seem prudent to remove aid altogether. But how do you strike that balance such that development occurs and occurs from within? It does not help to see small spurts of development instigated by outsiders, particularly if those initiatives die once they leave.

I asked Ahmidu what he thinks would happen if all aid pulled out of Sierra Leone. He responded with the Sierra Leonean cry of shock and worry: “Eeh!” and said that the place would be in shambles. The fact that Sierra Leoneans do not think they can develop on their own, or that they would be a hellish mess without outsider intervention, makes me sad. I want to believe that if no one were implementing all these development programs in education, healthcare, etc. that they would find a way to succeed on their own. Perhaps that would be even more effective, because the way they grow would be self-initiated and designed specific to their culture and society, rather than a fragmented mosaic of replicated models that have had success in different countries and cultures. Or perhaps they truly do need help from the international community. There’s no point in considering what would have happened if aid were never to have come. But there is value in considering what the current optimal level of aid looks like, given the history of aid in the country.

One attractive way of addressing all these issues is introducing interventions that empower the community with the tools to help themselves, to shift the knowledge and skills from the top down to the members of the local community. This is an approach that Wellbody (NOW/GAF) is in the process of adopting as its program strategy. Current and upcoming projects are structured around the training of community health workers (CHWs), or local community members trained in a particular topic or trade. For example, CHWs in the HIV/AIDS home-based care program are trained to visit a handful of patients every morning and evening to check up on them, remind them to take their medications, counsel them, or provide any other services that are often required by that population. Similarly, our peer educators (essentially school-based CHWs) are trained to transfer knowledge, encourage behavioral change, and direct to qualified resources for their school and community peers. We are in the process of training a teenage mother to manage and organize their activities, furthering the goal that beneficiaries are empowered to help themselves. CHWs are ideally able to carry out the program in the absence of any outsider presence – but for paying salaries. That is the catch. We envision a future when national policy demands CHWs are paid a minimum salary by the government as a means to increase the number of CHWs in the country and motivate a slow shift in knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral changes in the local community. Thoughts?

 

November 24, 2010, 1:45pm
Kono Clinic

This morning, the second skit took place during assembly at KGSS, which included details of contraceptive use and a real-life condom-banana demonstration and lesson on how to use a condom. After the play, we offered to hand out free condoms to the students. An international NGO called Mary Stopes gives free condoms to anyone and boxes of free condoms to NGOs like ourselves who are teaching about sexual and reproductive health. Having just learned about the importance of condoms and how to use them, the girls clambered over each other to try to get free condoms. However, one of the administrators of the school told us that we could not distribute them as this was a Catholic school and against protocol. Unfortunately, we had to tell the girls around us that we could not give them the condoms after all, but that we would try to figure out a way to make them available.

The Teachers
After the many minutes it took to get out of the crowd, we approached three male teachers to present the problem to them. They said that handing out condoms during assembly like that is unprofessional. We suggested going from classroom to classroom and distributing them with a brief educational lesson as accompaniment. They seemed more amenable to this idea but said that we would have to confirm it with the heads of the school because condom distribution is a controversial matter and given the religious positions in the school. Then, one teacher looked at the condoms and asked, “Are they for women?” After a short, mildly surprised pause, Fatu said, “No! They are for the men!” and one teacher replied, with a smile, “I think some of the teachers would like some as well!” Fatu immediately offered the condoms from the box she was holding and they looked around them and suggested that we step into a classroom. There were students milling around but not actively monitoring the conversation. I responded with the same mildly joking tone: “Why? They know you are having sex, too!” and he replied, “Yes, yes, they know, but still, we should come inside…” When we went in the classroom, Fatu said to take as many as you want and held the box out. The first teacher reached in and grabbed as many strips as his hand could hold – perhaps 30 or 40 condoms in total. They continued to grab and distribute condoms in a bit of a confused frenzy before mentioning that there weren’t that many (the box has 200) and Fatu very willingly handed over the entire box.

First take-away lesson: Even the teachers at the school are uneducated about condoms. They did not recognize a condom or know that it is worn on a man, and they did not have access or seek access to free condoms in the community.

The Principal
Then, we went to the principal to ask her permission to distribute condoms among the students. She, as usual, was generally quiet and accepting of what we said, asked, or suggested. Her only comment was that this is a religious school and that we would have to ask the sisters whether they agreed with distributing condoms. She also did not see the assembly because she was working in her office. It is unfortunate that many administrators and teachers (half the student body who are latecomers) do not see the skit, and it is also unfortunate and surprising to the average expat that they would benefit just as much from the skits, since they don’t know anything about the topics, either!

The Sister
We then went to Sister Mary’s office to discuss the condom distribution with her. We prefaced by explaining how the pre-survey had identified that many students were having sex but did not know how to use a condom for protection, so we gave a presentation about it during assembly. We wanted to distribute condoms but were told that we first had to get permission. She listened attentively and then asid: “But you know, when you give the girls condoms, you are encouraging them to have sex. You understand?” There was the first myth, one that is not always easy to talk about, since the person that holds this opinion is often staunchly bound to this opinion and fashions his/her reasoning according to the opinion rather than critically questioning it or considering other arguments. She explained that at that school, they encouraged abstinence, to desist from sex altogether. Surely enough, our continual attempts to point out that there are still girls that will have sex and that it is important that they have access to education and the tools to stay protected, were not entirely satisfying.

As the sister explained that their position was the discourage the students from having sex at all (without further discussion), she insisted, “You can abstain. You will not die!” and continued with, “I have never had one once. Not one!” To that, we tried to emphasize that not everyone would have the strength and values that she does and that these people would need help, education, and access to resources. Then, the sister said that condoms don’t even necessarily work. She said that when the doctors told her daughters about the condom (thinking back, she must have meant daughter in the religious community sense, since she doesn’t have any biological daughters unless they came about by immaculate conception), he said that it often does not even work or is unsafe. This was perhaps only thing that really shocked me, although it shouldn’t have. My guess is that the “doctor” she is referring to was not a real physician, but I don’t know the details of the situation. It does disappoint me that there are people out there masquerading as medical personnel who are advising that condoms do not work.

Mary explained that she did not know what a condom was and would not even be able to recognize one. She said it with such insistence that made me think it was intended to be a reason why the girls should not be taught contraception. We excitedly asked if she wanted to see one, pulled out a condom, and gave a banana demonstration. She was quite fascinated and amused. As she held and examined the condom packet and condom, her face frequently changed back and forth between fascination and disgust.

However, Mary was very welcoming to our arguments and treated us with great respect. Our conversation was cordial (although both Fatu and I were probably a little too energetic and forthcoming in our arguments, coming out of the presentation and frenzy of condom-clambering girls) and she was very willing to hear our points. She ended by telling us she would have to consult the sisters and come back to us with a decision. Stay tuned to hear about the condom distribution front at KGSS!

Conversation Ensues
Following the event, Fatu, Ahmidu, Alimamy, and I had a discussion about the debacle outside the school gates. The conversation moved from topic to topic and is difficult to capture in detail, but there were many interesting points that were raised. To mention a few: Ahmidu mentioned that in the years past, teenage pregnancy was a problem but not nearly as big a problem it is now. He suggests that it is the relatively new popularity and availability of pornography that has made young people more sexually active and made the rates of teenage pregnancy rise.

Another point is the degree to which Ahmidu is willing to discuss sex or teach his children about sex. I don’t mean to single Ahmidu out and make him a scapegoat – he is simply one of the only people who are willing and capable to have these discussions, so he is our best window into the local perspectives (even though sometimes his views may misrepresent Kono given his Freetown upbringing). I remember last year, Chris and I were mildly frustrated that Ahmidu would not teach his children sex ed until past 14 or 15 years old, when we have spent months traveling from amputee camp to camp educating the community about the importance of early education (in areas not limited to sexual and reproductive health). Today, he explained that he would teach his son, but not his daughter, and that he would simply tell his daughter not to have sex or he will disown her.

It is always particularly frustrating me when I argue with him about these points. Part of the reason is that I feel that his behavior is mildly hypocritical; he is part of and supporting a program whose tenets are early and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education. It combats a culture of silence where discussion of any sex-related topics is taboo and parents force their daughters violently to abstain from sex without explanation or further discussion. When he hints that this would be the behavior he would follow, I don’t know how to argue. After all, he knows all the arguments and reasons, because they are part of our program. However, the main reason why it frustrates me is: if we cannot even convince Ahmidu, a reasonable, educated, well-intended local partner from a liberal and modern-thinking part of the country, then how can we convince an entire community living in the rural provinces with old-fashioned ways of thought? Perhaps I am being too harsh on him – I often am, simply because he had been the Sierra Leonean that I can debate and converse with most easily by far – or perhaps I am being truly ignorant to the cultural intricacies of this world.

 

November 24, 2010, 1pm
Kono Clinic

Unsurprisingly, just like last year, I’m very blog backlogged. There are so many interesting things that have been going on in Kono and Freetown, from the rest of the PEPTOK training sessions, to stories from teenage mothers, to the HIV/AIDS myths that exist in a world of aid and corruption, to the arrival (and departure) of Dan and his Baylor colleagues, to various meetings with government and funding agencies at the capital, to eating authentic Beijing hot pot in Freetown, to the beginnings of the PEPTOK campaigns, to frequent visits to the local tailors…the list goes on and grows with every hour in this environment. I will try to fill in the gaps over the next few weeks, and although they may come in a bit of a disorganized fashion, I hope they remain as engaging and discussion-filled as possible.

Developing the skits
Without too much background explanation, our peer educators in the PEPTOK program are putting on a one-week campaign this week, which is Fatu’s final week in Kono for the calendar year. We started by encouraging them to come up with small skits for certain topics (ie. how babies are made, contraception, stigma and solidarity among pregnant teens, etc). At first, the results were pretty unimaginative. Both groups of 4 girls had the same skit: one girl would approach a second girl and ask about how babies are made, or what condoms are. The second girl would respond that she does not know and suggest that they visit a third girl to ask. So, the two girls would go to the third girl and ask about the same topic. The third girl would give the same response and suggest that they visit a fourth girl to ask. The three would then approach the fourth who would supply then with all the training materials related to that topic in an unengaging and uncertain lecture form. It took quite a few different thinking caps and approaches to encourage the girls to be a little more creative, since the idea of making a skit, a story, a creative piece of art work, an engaging educational tool, were all foreign to them. Needless to say, group activities are absent from the local education system.

Eventually, they were able to produce slightly more complex stories with genuine characters. We used these as ingredients to come up with a more elaborate Western-style educational skit with characters, plot twists, resolutions, and take-away messages. First, we put together four separate skits teaching the following four topics: puberty/how babies are made, condom and contraception, healthy relationships, and solidarity and support for pregnant teens. Then, we strung the skits together so that the characters and story lines were continuous, as a means to entice the crowd to look forward to the next act. The girls weren’t very used to the idea of acting or memorizing lines, but each of them had their own character and they pulled off the acting job quite well. Many of them are natural performers and not at all stage shy, compared to the average American classroom.

Our finalized skit is a creative and catchy one called “The Game.” We began by modeling it after something like the “Sex on a Saturday Night” skit that is performed in university and mandatory for all incoming freshman. It is intended to teach about sexual assault and is followed by a mediated discussion about the issues being raised. I would love to see “The Game” distributed among other NGOs and educational campaigns and initiatives, or adopted by the government ministry of education, and widely used throughout the country or West Africa. The story and the script is specific to the local culture but follows the creative structure and take-home message style that many Western educational skits use. I will make the script available over the next few weeks on this blog (most likely a password protected page, next to the Dictionary and Krio Modules on this blog) so that you can all look through it.

The skit is quite fun! There are a few storylines and a few characters that you really want to know more about. To make a long story short, there are three female friends, three male friends, a few parents, and a few bystanders. In the beginning, a girl and a boy approach their mother and brother because they have both hit puberty and don’t know what is going on to their body. At that point, the brother eggs the boy on and tells him that he is now ready to play “the game” in will from that point on be nicknamed “The Game.” As the story unfolds, he stays true to his name, as his bad boy friends are introduced to the complexities of relationships, sex, pregnancy, and contraception. Among the three girls and guy friends, there is an abstinent couple, a sour-turned-healthy relationship, and an unhealthy relationship in which the girl becomes impregnated. Important messages include puberty and the role of menstruation/ejaculation, fertilization and how babies are made, healthy relationships, how to negotiate with and educate your partner, contraceptive use, pregnancy and what to do if you or a friend gets pregnant, the importance of solidarity and support for pregnant teens, and more. At the end of the story, the boys go back and confront their leader, “The Game,” and tell him: “We have to talk. This isn’t a game anymore…” – stay tuned to read or even watch film clips of the whole story!

Schedule
The campaign takes place from Monday to Friday for 20 minutes every morning during assembly at KGSS (Koidu Girls Secondary School) when the student body crowds around the stage in the middle of the school’s quad for announcements and presentations. We prefaced our four skits with an opening session where the girls acted out a silent skit showing different scenes that a pregnant mother experiences (childbirth, raising a child, etc). The main attraction of the opening session, however, was the guest speaker. We have been working with a young mother named Finda (who I will expand upon in another post) and she agreed to come share her story on stage in front of the hundreds of girls that make up the KGSS student body. She is strong and brave, for it is not an easy task to share your personal experience, particularly when you might be faced with heavy stigma and criticism. However, her talk was powerful and the students were unusually silent as they listened to her tell her story. During the following four days (T-F), the girls have been acting out 10-15 minute skits for their peers.

Research Component
This campaign is conducted as a health knowledge intervention with an associated research project. Before the campaign began, we conducted short 25-question surveys assessing the knowledge and behavior of students about relevant topics (knowledge about condoms, contraception, pregnancy, relationships, and their current and prospective behavior). After the surveys are over, we will give the same surveys to another randomized group. Then, the same survey will be reconducted in three months time. The purpose is to evaluate whether the program had an impact on knowledge or behavior within the population. If there is a visible improvement, then this gives us evidence to move the program forward and expand to other schools and communities.

Unassorted anecdotes and thoughts
First, it is very difficult to organize and plan campaign events with the girls, just as it is very difficult to organize and plan events anywhere in Sierra Leone. Since they do not have phones, we are unable to contact them when they are absent. They are often absent without excuse. If you ask them very directly why they are late, they give a noncommittal answer that just frustrates you more if you are not feeling very generous and charitable.

Yesterday, during the first skit, the actress playing the main character did not arrive until after the assembly was over. She actually had an excuse: Her uncle did not give her mom money so her mom did not have money for her to take public transportation (bike) to school. She lives far, so she had to walk. But she knew that she had to be there on time to play in the skit, we insisted. Why, we asked, did she not ask her uncle for money – not to mention, her uncle is Uncle Ben and he knows all about our program and that she plays the main character! Or why, we asked, did she not borrow a phone to call us and let us know? Why, we wanted to know, did she not do anything that might have either helped her arrive on time or notified us of her absence? She had no response. It was a difficult situation, since another girl (who we had previously written off as a substitute given her lack of commitment and attendance to the training sessions) had played her part and done it quite well. Both had record of irresponsibility and of being unreliable so we could not fairly give either the part based off of that alone. We ended up letting the understudy keep the part because the audience already recognized her as that character, and the original girl had no choice but to become the understudy. I felt bad!

Second, another challenge is that half of the student body comes late to school and misses the assembly. After the first skit, we stopped a bunch of girls and asked them what they thought of the program, but they responded that they were all latecomers. There must have been the same number of or more latecomers than there were students in the audience during our skit! At that rate, a school-based intervention would be very difficult to execute and tricky to measure the impact of.

Third, it is difficult to get the girls’ attention or to get them to quiet down. However, the chosen method of discipline at the school (and almost all other schools in the country) is through physical punishment. Male teachers walk around with thick sticks that they use to hit or beat girls because they are misbehaving, or as an example to get the other girls to behave. It’s often uncomfortable to have to wait and witness the girls being beaten, or cowering on the ground to avoid the stick.

Moreover, I stand in the crowd at the front of the audience to film the skits, so I am in the middle of the student population. Today, the teacher on stage was extending his hand into the crowd and whacking random girls to get them to quite down, and he yelled at them to get down on the ground unless they wanted to be hit. All the girls around me were cowering in fear while kneeling on the ground and I was not sure what to do. I stood at the front, my camera prepared to film the stage, feeling uncomfortable and uncertain as to what the appropriate behavior would be. He kept them down there as the skit unfolded and upon my constant asking, they admitted that they could not even see the actors from where they were. It took several screams to the actors and coordinators to pause the play and allow the girls to stand up so that they could actually watch the event.

There are countless challenges that present themselves as the campaign days unfold, and some are more frustrating, ethically confusing, or culturally controversial than others. However, education is definitely occurring. The students are learning from their peers and there are proud moments where I can really sense that the girls around me are absorbing what their classmates are explaining through their characters and stories. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the survey and hope to see a positive impact on the girls’ knowledge.

 

November 24, 2010, 1:40pm
Kono Clinic

Komba enters the room.

Komba: Katie!
Me: Komba! How are you?
Komba: Fine. Where is Fatu?
Me: KGSS. Do you know where the extension is? (An “extension” is the power strip that converts and expands the power outlet. It belongs in the administrative office but disappears every time you need it, every day.)
Komba: The extension? Ehhhh…Ahmidu have it.
Me: But Ahmidu is in Wardu right now. (Wardu is the amputee community a bit farther from the clinic next to our farm. He left a half hour ago to go to the farm.)
Komba: Ye-es.
Me: Ahmidu took the extension to Wardu?
Komba: Ye-es.
Me: Why does Ahmidu need the extension?
Komba: Well…there is one amputee there.
Me: …? But why does he need the extension?
Komba: Well, she is not feeling…bright.
Me: …? But why does she need the extension?
Komba: He took the extension with him.
Me: …? But why does she need the extension?
Komba: No no, he took it yesterday.
Me: He took the extension yesterday?
Komba: Ye-es.
Me: Then where is it now?
Komba: Well, I no know.
Me: …ok. Thanks.

It’s a bit comical, or a bit confusing, or a bit sad, or a bit frustrating depending on your outlook. But imagine that every other conversation is something like this. It’s a two-way misunderstanding, to be sure. Argh!

 

November 20, 2010, 12pm
Bailor’s House

Last Wednesday night, I swung by Aries on the main Kaingkoidu road in Koidu town to meet up with Anna, one of the Danish girls, Jacob, the other Danish girl’s (Nina) visiting boyfriend, and Uncle Ben, who escorted the two to the nightclub. It would be the last time I saw Anna and Jacob in Koidu because they are leaving to Freetown before I return to Kono, and then they are returning to Denmark. We’re going to try to rendezvous in Freetown next weekend, though, before they leave. Since Chris (last year) and Fatu (this year) both do not enjoy checking out the nightlife scene in Sierra Leone, I’ve been pretty unexplorative. It’s great to have an opportunity to see what goes on at night and socialize with other expats that are looking for an evening of relaxation over 1-dollar STAR beer or South African Savanah cider.

When I separated from Bailor and Fatu, I immediately noticed a few guys on the periphery begin their hunt. I quickly called Anna to seem occupied and to make sure I was heading in the right direction – Aries was either 100ft to my left or to my right, and there were tons of people around on the street, so I wasn’t too concerned. It was pretty obnoxious, though, when one guy kept walking alongside me as if he were my walking companion despite my requests for him to go away. Later, after I reached Aries, he approached me and said that the reason why he was standing so close was because some of the other guys were plotting to steal my phone, or rather, grab it out of my hand as I used it. It’s a reasonable explanation, but I wasn’t sure if I was convinced, so I thanked him curtly for his consideration and turned back to my friends.

Anna brought me through the inside of the nightclub, which was pretty sparse, had some lights, a half-wall sized mirror, and some idly dancing locals. We went into the back courtyard (“We prefer outside,” she told me) to where Uncle Ben and Jacob were chatting with some other expats and locals, by a small stand selling beer, cider, sodas, water, and the usual variety of suspicious energy drinks. Aries was playing mainstream American hits (think Top 25 for the past few years, from Iyaz to Celine Dion to Akon to Dancing Queen) which were a lot of fun to dance to, but Anna felt that it was kind of boring and preferred the cool African beats. After a word with the DJ (who had a ridiculous name which I forget, but it was something along the lines of “DJ Awesome” or “DJ Fantastic”), he started playing African hits, such as the Nigerian “Waka Waka” that Uncle Ben enjoyed so much (“Sawa-sawa-sawa-yay!”) .

I met a few other people at Aries which reminded me how nice it is to socialize and how fun it is to meet new expats or other NGO workers in the area. I also met Jason, a Canadian who started his own NGO called Accountable Development Works (check it out: accountabledev.com). After working with one of the larger aid agencies for a few years, he got frustrated by the overwhelming amount of corruption and inefficiency and decided to diverge and pursue a smaller venture that works with and funds local NGOs to actually address development issues at a community-level and strive to empower the local people. Sound familiar? We had a lot to chat about, since his experience aligned so well with the daily challenges faced by GAF/NOW. He has been coming in and out of Kono for 6 years (wow) and lives with his local partner, which makes him the only expat that I’ve met (besides Jim from Ibis) who does not live at Uncle Ben’s. I introduced Jason to Dan and Bailor on Monday just before Dan left, and it’s a possibility that future partnerships may line up.

I returned to Freetown with Bailor and Dan that morning at 4am on the “A. Bess,” or the bus that is similar to the government bus but is “faster” – meaning that it leaves earlier and arrives earlier, but is no shorter in length of travel time compared to the government bus.

The past two days have been on business and meeting filled. More details to follow, and some of them are really interesting!

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