1. Never leave anything sweet out -- red ants will attack.
2. Don't wear camouflage clothing -- it is illegal and they might demand that you take it off right there in the middle of the street and hand it over.
3. Most Sierra Leoneans love rice and pepper -- expect to have rice and something spicy with each meal.
4. There is such a thing as peanut-butter soup -- yes it's good, no it tastes nothing like peanut butter.
My first few days in Freetown have been many things! Culture shock has taken its toll and I'm slowly adjusting, you know getting the hang of bathing out of a bucket, eating African food (I've been an adventurous orderer and got pepper soup my first day, it was good but it was so hot I couldn't eat much because of how much water I ended up drinking), and trying to overcome my fear of bugs! Luckily ants aren't on my list of bugs I fear, because the second day I got home to find one of my suitcases infested with them! They were everywhere! I had left a piece of chocolate in my suitcase, zipped up in one of the pockets and those suckers found it and were having a field day -- unfortunately for them it also led to their demise. I just kept thinking in my head "Stupid American!" for leaving chocolate in my bag. Cockroaches and spiders are still on that fearful list and I've seen exceptionally large and fast species of both already.
Freetown was overwhelming at first. It was made for half-a-million people and now hosts 2 million. It is the most crowded place I have ever seen; it puts NYC to shame I feel. Also they say New York is the city that never sleeps...nope, it's this city. About the third night here, when the electricity went out and it was extremely hot, I woke up every half hour or hour during the night and every time I did I could hear plenty of people still out and about on the street.
In my first few days here I am seeing how much SLYAP does! In Freetown there is a more traditional YAP program, with a focus on mentoring, and support for schools and children to go to school -- usually through the financial assistance for school fees or books. People are soliciting Sanusi [Kargbo], the program director constantly for help. On Monday we went to assess a school that was asking for help in building a new schoolhouse. Their previous one had been destroyed in the last rainy season and they have been using a wealthy person's unfinished home as a school. Now that the person wants to finish their house they are being evicted within a week. So they are quickly trying to put up another structure. Sanusi and I went and looked at the building to see what SLYAP could afford to do to help, he decided on the zinc -- or sheet metal for the walls and roof. Supporting projects like these is a difficult decision. There is need everywhere, and important, valid need, and every choice you make to help one person, means someone else does not get help. And not just this imaginary someone in space, but someone in front of you, with a story you know, and needs that you see. That or it is even at the cost of your own program and the needs of those being served by it. This usually means that for many situations, including this one, donations will partially be made out of employees' own pockets.
I was asked what are some of my goals when I am over here. The main intention over here on a work aspect is that of running focus groups with the youth, both in Freetown and at Mile 91. The groups are going to be a forum where the youth will be able to have the opinions, ideas, and stories heard and this will help guide further YAP and SLYAP activiy. So the main goal is to successfully run those. After getting here another main goal is to LEARN KRIO! It is a frustrating language barrier, especially when there is so much English in it that you are able to pick up bits and pieces and then get completely lost again. A significant goal is to learn, and to learn many things: learn about the culture of Sierra Leone, about SLYAP and how it works, and also about my role in all of this -- what actions to take in my own life, what is the role of the U.S. foreigner internationally? If I want a career as an "international social worker" what is the most beneficial way to do that? And finally, another goal is to build relationships, to make friends and connect with people, to share life in this brief time that I am here. If there is one thing I have been learning this past year it is the importance of human connection. I have spent the majority of my time here with two women, Melrose and Thanya. Both have been incredibly welcoming and sweet! Melrose has already bought me fabric to have an Africanus dress made for me; she was shocked I did not have one already.
Thanks for the comments so far and not making me feel like I'm talking to myself!! I'll probably keep responding in the main body of the blog since it's a major pain to try and post multiple things due to the internet being so slow. I have several more stories and shall write about them soon!