Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tradititonal Naming Ceremony

Here is an excerpt from my experience at a traditional naming ceremony:

At about 1:30pm my host came out of her room and said we should probably go to the ceremony first because we still have to buy a gift and she doesn’t want me to miss it. Of course, I’m thinking we should have been there forty-five minutes ago, but then I realize it is Africa time and we’re probably just about right. We stopped by the market and bought some cloth diapers (they do not have the disposable ones here, I tell her that is better, but the less waste concept doesn’t really seem to compute) and we proceed to the ceremony.

We had driven by the house on the way to the MP’s house, so I knew that the ceremony would be outdoors under a tarp that they had rigged up under some sticks. When we pulled up there were some cars parked on the road and the tent was pretty full, I was convinced we were late, but sure enough we got there and waited at least another fifteen minutes before they began getting things ready to start. The tent had seating on the sides with a large area in the middle where the ceremony was to take place, so there were about four or five rows of none other than plastic chairs, and some folding metal ones this time too, facing each other. This ceremony was to be largely Muslim in nature I could tell by the large number of men in head coverings sitting in front of me, I was right.

Eventually the mother, dressed all in white with a white scarf over her hair tie to cover her head, came out and sat in the chair in the middle of the space between the two groupings of chairs. The baby came out just after her swaddled in a white blanket that had to be hot. The two sat facing away from the house as the first Imam began to talk and pray. There would be a series of four Imams over the course of the ceremony, many of them spoke in Arabic, Krio, Temne, and English, so it was hard for me to follow all of what was being said, but I am pretty sure the gist of it is that they were praying for the baby and for the family. The second Imam to speak actually spoke while holding the baby in the center without the microphone (the others were just outside of the tent, as far as the microphone could reach from the porch where the PA that was going to deafen me was perched. After he spoke for awhile he lifted the baby up and spoke into her ear in soft tones, this was part of the tradition. On the ground, not far from the mother and the baby were some kola nuts in a bowl, nothing was done with them, but I am guessing that they have significance.

Before the name was announced the Imams put a dish in the middle of the open space and began to call for money. People would come up and drop in money first from the mother’s side and then from the father’s side. My host told me to get out a 5,000Le and put it in the bowl (she did as well) when they called the fathers side- as he was her friend, and how we got invited anyway. I believe that the money goes towards school and education fees for the little girl. After the money was given, people were invited to give their gifts to the family. My host had wanted me to give the diapers we brought, and so we both climbed out of the row again (the first time for the money, this time for the gift) and I gave it to the mother who thanked me, she later told my host she was glad that the white woman could come and see the ceremony. Finally after much joking and teasing and rousing the crowd (there must have been close to seventy five people there) the main Imam read the baby’s name, Zienab, everyone cheered and clapped.

It was at that time that they slaughtered the goat. I had seen the goat out of the corner of my eye (it was tied up over and behind my left shoulder a ways) during the ceremony and was afraid that it might be killed for the ceremony and sure enough I heard some bleating and then silence from the goat. I did not watch, but saw my host go over with my camera- she was once again the photographer, and then saw the bloody knife they had used to cut its throat. It was all I could to hold back tears (which luckily I did), I just really hoped that they were going to eat it and it was not just sacrificial, but still I got a bit sick to my stomach and considered becoming a vegetarian again. Then, I realized that this is what I am here for, to learn about tradition, and to understand how things are done and why, and I realize that this is an important tradition, I was pleased to see that they were cutting up the goat when we left (of course the blood stain was still in the dirt, but they had moved the goat to the large mat made of some sort of leaf) to cut it up for people to eat. I am quite sure I have eaten some goat while I’ve been here, there have definitely been some mystery meats, and there are so many goats wandering around, it is safe to say that slaughtering a goat is common, how else would they get meat here? I feel okay with the process by the time I leave, but I have never seen a goat slaughtered before and the bleats just about break your heart that is really what did me in. Just thinking about the bleats upsets me again- a knife to the throat, what a way to go. I know we are top of the food chain, etc. but I still don’t like killing something to survive. Obviously, this affected me more than I thought while I am writing about it. My rational side has completely made peace with the event; I just think my emotional side is having a hard time catching up.

Then, everyone got up and went to the food and ate together and drank sodas (as the group was largely Muslim- the wife is Muslim and the husband is Christian, despite being called Mohammed). Mohammed sneaked my host, her brother, and I cans for Carlsberg though, some of the others were a bit jealous. And of course, music was pumped at an absurd volume while people ate, drank, and socialized. Despite not really understanding all of it, it was an interesting ceremony. I think I like having a ceremony to announce the name of a baby, it is a good way to welcome the child into the world, although I cannot imagine not telling anyone the name of the baby for a week in the States, our families would kill us.

Several people have said that the traditional ceremonies are a good way to bring people together for peace. I believe that I have witnessed that today, especially as the Imam did a good job of including Christians in his discussions (from what I understood). It seemed that it was an occasion shared by all that talked about the future, the future f this child in particular, but the future of the country and of us all really. It was a joyous day for everyone and I think it brought people together to think about the future for this baby.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Amputee Camp

Well, I'm starting my community flashback with my trip to an amputee camp yesterday because it is still very fresh. Sierra Leone, unfortunately, has many amputees as the rebel soldiers were known for amputating arms and legs regularly throughout the country. Here is my blog entry, and a few pictures.

After lunch we decided to go to the amputee camp, as I that was one of the few places we had yet to visit in Makeni. The camp was back behind Wusum (one of two mountains in Makeni) and the compound caretaker had to ride with us to show us the way. When we arrived, the clearing where the houses were built was beautiful and the houses themselves were new and crisp and clean. They were neatly ordered and well kept. There must have been about fifty of them in rows of two or three deep. We drove until we found some people and asked for their headman. It is always the practice to see the leader first when entering a community. This way you have formal welcome and informal, as people will know if you have talked to the head man first and will welcome you more if they welcome you.

We were directed back to the entrance of the camp to the second house in the row. We pulled up and asked the people on the porch if the head man was home. After a bit of time he came out and much to my hostess’s surprise he was an old friend from before the war that she had lost track of and had no idea he had been amputated. You could tell she was quite moved and taken aback. He had lost his right leg above the knee and was using the type of crutches that link around your upper arm and have hand holds. He was very friendly and invited us into his home to tell us the story of the how the camp came to be. They were speaking in Krio, so I did not get all the specifics, but did get the general idea.

There was no official amputee organization to petition for the rights of the amputee in Sierra Leone. The headman saw that people were caring for the blind, the deaf, and the otherwise disabled, but no help came to the amputees. So, he formed an organization, which he registered with the government, and went on the radio to announce that he was registering amputees in the Makeni area, and many came to meet him and sign up (my guess is that this happened with similar organizations or maybe his still organization around the country, which is why there are amputee camps in a lot of the districts). He then met with the Norwegian government and talked to them about their involvement (as they were the group most affective in working with and for refugees). They agreed to build some houses if the groups could get some land. So, he worked very hard and found the land and convinced its owner to donate it. It is a bit far out from Makeni, which he didn’t like, but close enough that people could get into town if need be. At some point in time 20 houses were built and there was a promise of 20 more and then 30 more and recently the president came to see the houses, meet the group and the Norwegian woman who helped to sponsor the houses (after his description, I believe it is the same woman I met in in an amputee home that first day in Lungi). The headman is very proud of what he has accomplished (as well he should be), but fears that they still do not have a school or health facilities. I hope that in time those will come to the group.

He agrees to a snap, or the Sierra Leonean word for photograph, and also gives me permission to take any photographs anywhere in the village. We take some pictures of the houses, the magnificent view of Wusum and of the new well they are digging- by chance there are several amputees by the well and you can see them in the photograph. The village goes up the hill so we climbed the hill to get a good photo of the village with Wusum in the background.

I got out of the car to take the snap, and a little girl saw the camera, and like all little girls, she wanted a snap(the kids here go nuts over having their pictures taken and them looking at themselves through the viewfinder- it could occupy them for hours). How she was different than other little girls though, was that her left leg had been amputated and she was using a walker. She was so young that my guess was that she was just a baby when someone chopped off her leg. The thought of it makes me cringe and sick to my stomach at the same time. She was just a baby and someone cut off her leg. I was reminded of when a contact told me that the rebels used to ask people as they held a machete over their arms, whether they wanted a long sleeve or a short sleeve, and that would determine if they chopped off your arm at your wrist of your elbow. The atrocity of the amputation is shocking, especially when you see a whole camp of amputees. I took the picture of the little girl and some of the fully-limbed boys and girls nearby (in the camp, each amputee is entitled to one home where they can live with their family so there are many non-amputees in the amputee camp as well).

After their snaps (which I was glad to have because the horror of the act really sets in with such a sweet little girl) we headed back down the hill and took a photo with three men in wheelchairs who had lost all or most of both of their legs. They were the ones that had first told us where the headman lived, so they were happy to have their pictures taken. We also drove by a boy about ten with only one leg; he was likely a toddler when the rebels amputated him. I have heard so many war stories that I cannot even begin to imagine living through, but seeing these amputees really made me struggle to fight back tears, in fact writing about them brings tears to my eyes again. I can’t imagine how a human being could cut off a limb of another human being. I am so fortunate to be so sheltered that even though I have met the people, heard the stories, and even seen some photos, I cannot grasp the concept.

As we leave the camp (and drive on the road people used to run from the rebels) I think about the how the former rebels are living peacefully among the civilians here Makeni. I have probably met ex-combatants and have no idea. While I am sure the people of Makeni can know who was on what side of the conflict, they are able to get along with everyone for the good of the country. I am really is awe of this idea. I think even though I have heard it many times, leaving the camp is the first time that it sets in. Your current next door neighbor could have raped your daughter, or killed your son, or looted your home, and now you are expected to be fine. Many people have said they can forgive, but cannot forget. In honesty, I am wowed by the humble nature of all the people of Sierra Leone and their willingness to move on. I am confronted with anger about the conflict for the first time. I have done a good job of maintaining a researcher’s eye and learning about the conflict and the postconflict situation without much emotion, but seeing those amputees brings it home for me. I have felt angry when I have met the women that have told me stories of being raped, and I am outraged by the horrific details by which they recall their torture, but this was the first time I allowed myself to think about it and couldn’t help but wonder as we saw carpenters and drivers (largely the skills taught by the UN during the DDR program-Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration) if they were rebels, and if one of them had chopped of that little girl’s leg. I know that I have to take some advice from the Sierra Leone playbook and forgive but never forget. I can never forget the huge smile on that little girls face when I took her snap, despite having to use the walker that she has now or some other sort of crutch for the rest of her life. She wanted a snap; for a minute, she was a regular little girl.


Hi All,

I have made it back to Freetown now and have been trying to post some pictures on here, without much luck. So, I have gotten some on facebook, so those of you with an account can see them there, and will try again here. Now that I have daily internet access I will comb through my travelogue and give you some highlights that you have missed over the last few weeks. :)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Update from Second Community

Blog 03.06.09

I have made it to Makeni, my second community this afternoon. It is a good deal bigger than Lungi, but despite the electricity poles, I still do not have electricity during the day, or the internet, so once again these blogs will be few and far between until I get back to Freetown. My stay in Lungi was excellent and I now have over 20 factors that seem to influence postconflict community development in that chieftaincy. I think that is a good start, and I’m happy with what I’ve got so far. I have also managed to transcribe all the interviews (some of them I had no choice but to do them while I was there for translation sake- although many people speak and understand English, they are far more comfortable in their native tongue and I find are more willing to talk in depth when they can do it that way, rather than in English). My Krio is not getting better and do have to rely on my translators a lot, even though I can now at least get the gist of what people are telling me.

I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to two traditional ceremonies now, one a marriage ceremony, the other a naming ceremony. They were both interesting (and yes, I was in traditional African garb for both, and yes, I look a bit ridiculous by Western standards but got heaps of compliments here. It seems people are really happy that I am trying to fit in with the culture.) I also experienced my first slaughtering of a goat for traditional purposes – they did cut up the goat for meat and hand it out to the guests, so it did not go to waste. I am still processes how I feel about that- the rationale and anthropological side gets it, the emotional side is still a bit scared- we bought live chickens today for my meal, I don’t think I have to see them kill those though… I’ll let you know.

The children here love westerners and love to have their photos taken. They always want you to give them something, and although I did bring pens and pencils, some notepads, some candy, and some stickers, I have yet to decide how I feel about handing them out. While we were on Semester at Sea we did a lot of this, but now I feel as though the children are expecting westerners to give them things and I am not sure if that is a good thing or not. I have been reserving my handouts to the children I get to know and the families I interview as opposed to handing things out on the streets. The children seem amused enough with the photos, or “snaps” as they call them.

We are finally starting to get some rain, but not nearly as much as they normally get this time of year- thanks climate change! We had a rain, thunder, and lightening storm that took out our generator for awhile last night, so I slept with AC, that was just getting me ready for my new hotel where the AC is only on from 9pm-2am., needless to say, I am getting used to being a sweaty mess, I am definitely not winning any beauty contests while I am here. I do think I am starting to get used to the heat though, or maybe just getting used to being sweaty, either way I do not feel as gross about it as when I first got here. All and all, things are going well. I am getting a lot of good work done, and getting to know Sierra Leone and its people. They have such high hopes for development, but such a long way to go. It is impossible to know where to start, but many people have their ideas. I have had several folks try to convince me it is electricity, and at this point I am keen to that idea, but who knows what the people of Makeni will have to tell me. I will try to post some pictures soon. Hope all is well with you back home!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hello from Lungi

I have been in the north of the country in the Provinces since last Sunday. These areas are very poor and have no electricity. Some of the wealthier groups have generators, as do several of the hotels and guest houses. My guest house has a generator that runs from 6:30pm-7am, I have electricity other than those times. The only internet cafĂ© open to the public is on the grounds of the private hospital and is only open evenings during the week from 7-10pm, hence why there is not a lot of blog updating. It is ridiculously hot and humid and sweating is as common and breathing- for everyone, not just me. The people are friendly and welcoming although some of the children have never seen a white person before and either shout out “apouto” or white person or stare at me in horror. Most of the children have come around, although there is one little girl who continues to be traumatized of me.

I have conducted nine interviews so far and have talked to some wonderful people and have gotten some great information. I was also fortunate enough to attend a traditional marriage ceremony yesterday and am going to a traditional naming ceremony on Sunday. I have bought some African garb, as I cannot attend these ceremonies in western wear. The most traditional of outfits is very amusing, the second it a bit more “hip” but no matter what I wear, I am the only white person around.

I have now written about 35 pages of travelogue- and don’t worry I am not going to post it all here, although I may put some interesting pieces on when I am back in Freetown and have more immediate internet access. I can confirm some of the African stereotypes, people do carrying things on their heads and babies on their backs, and yes many of the local women do go around topless, it is so hot, I don’t blame them. I have gotten a few mosquito bites but no signs of malaria yet and do sleep with a mosquito net around my bed at night. I have had to sign in with the local chief to announce that I am in his chiefdom and he has participated in my study. I have had my participating consent form thumb-printed by an illiterate man and have drunk many a Star Beer and some palm wine. I am eating all sorts of weird and wonderful things and (knock on wood) haven’t gotten sick yet. All is well and going along great. I will move to the next community on Wednesday and will be there for eight days. I hope all is well with you all back at home. Sorry this is so brief- but trust me, it’s better than detailed 35 single-spaced typed pages. :)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Day in Freetown

Thanks to Jeff Bolster’s recommendation of Melatonin a few years back, I was finally able to get some sleep- that little herbal supplement does wonders for getting you on the right time zone! The bed was a bit hard and I was wrapped in mosquito netting, but I slept really well, and felt very refreshed in the morning. I lay in bed for awhile and watched South African soap operas- there may be even more drama in their soaps then ours and decided to get ready for the day. While the TV is nice, I think my favorite thing about this hotel room is the Italian language Top Gun poster on the mirror, Tom Cruise and Kelly McGinnis would be proud- or however you say proud in Italian.

Over my two cups of tea at breakfast I watched an older gentleman sweep up flowers and leaves that had fallen in the outdoor patio. The patio was made up of the usual red dirt and he bent over and used a hand held broom of sticks on the entire patio, it took him over an hour to do the whole thing. Once he got an area in a pile, he would bring over a big basket and put all the flowers and leaves in the basket and move on to the next section. It was tedious work, and I quite liked the look of plumerias dotting the patio, but understand the hotel’s desire to provide a clean atmosphere.

While watching the man work, I had a lovely chat with the waiter. I was the only customer for awhile, so we got to chat exclusively. Most of our conversation was about American music- he is a big fan of R&B and soul music- he was quite pleased when I introduced myself as Whitney, like Whitney Houston- one of his favorite singers. So, it is good to know that introduction works here as well as in the US. He told me a bit about the local music, although he does not really enjoy it, and also about how many of the children now that the music scene has taken off here, dream of being musicians, and in fact spend more time writing music and singing than on their assigned homework. The waiter didn’t seem to approve, and says that he does not want to be a musician, but that he would do it for fun maybe. Music has seem to have largely caught on, even more so than football- who would have thought?

The waiter has given me his e-mail address and phone numbers and promises that when I come back to Freetown in a few weeks he will give me the names of the best places to see local music, and what do on the beach- which is where he lives. He, like many of the Sierra Leoneans I meet, are very friendly, outgoing, and love to be helpful. He was also interested in my “project” here- I suspect that every Westerner that comes through is involved in some sort of project, as opposed to coming for tourism. I explain what I am doing and he says that he is sure I will find some good things to report upon during my time in the Provinces. I hope he is right, and eagerly look forward to my time there and to coming back to Freetown to do the work from the research I find. I thanked him for breakfast and the nice chat over tea, wander a bit around the grounds and take some photos and head back to my room to write a bit and wait to hear from Christiana for our tour around the town. I wonder if the goats I have just seen on the grounds have supplied the milk for my cereal, or might serve as my dinner tonight…

Christiana came to pick me up at around 11:30am and we got in the jeep and jostled our way into town. We made so many stops it is difficult to recall them all, but our first was at the Parliament. As it was Saturday, Parliament was not in session, but because I was with a semi-celebrity, we got a private tour given by a security guard and police man. We even got to see the minority and majority whip offices, a place even Christiana had not been before. The gentlemen were very nice and told me all the things of which I would want to take pictures, included the grave of the first prime minister and the blue topped buildings of the UN Special Court which took over part of the maximum security prison when the war ended. We also ran into a former FAWE employee who had started a new outreach program, and he very proudly showed Christiana his brand new offices.

Once back in the car, we took a drive to see Christiana’s new office building which is currently under construction, and going to be quite beautiful. We drove down the street and saw the President’s office and the Law Courts right across from the famous Cotton Tree that Christiana talked so much about when telling me of her childhood and her grandmother. I was sure to take a picture.

We wandered down the road past rows and rows of huts set up to sell all sorts of goods from backpacks, to suits, to shirts and trousers, to household items. The huts were largely of metal and some wood. People wandered throughout the streets in their brightly colored outfits carrying just about anything on their heads. We made our way past the huts to where the ships used to come in and bring slaves from the slave trade and up the stone steps where the slaves set free by the British under the Cotton Tree.

Next, we traveled to the market a two story lengthy building that had make-shift stalls where people would sell their goods. The first floor was lots of baskets and hand carvings and the second floor was half dresses, shirts, and fabrics and the other half jewelry and carved wood- very typical Africa- elephants and giraffes and other type goods. I will have to digest it all and think about my purchases. Luckily Christiana says some of my hosts are good shoppers, I think I will take them up on their assistance and advice.

Once we made it out of the market and got back in the car we drove through the slums of Freetown. This is where Christiana grew up and she says other than overcrowding not much has changed. The wooden and metal shacks were piled one next to the other and groups of people that you could not imagine even fitting into one of the houses were sitting in front trying to catch the breeze that is the only thing to help beat the heat. They mostly likely all lived in that little one room shack- generations from the young and the old all crammed in together. Our drive was quick, and I would have liked to spend a bit more time there and talk to the people… maybe when John comes we can go back. I remember from my time in South Africa that some of the friendliest people were in the townships, or slums. It went buy outside of the window in a flash, something I am not sure is fair for those people; I think their stories should be told too.

I have seen my first amputee victims- one missing one hand at the Heliport and one near the cotton tree today missing both hands. They had likely been chopped off by a machete during the war. I was glad that I had seen pictures and heard stories about such brutal activities so that I was not completely taken off guard- I am sure this is just the first of many such experiences.

Sierra Leone Men Lowest Life Expectancy in the World

For those of you who may have missed the recent survey on life expectancy... Sierra Leonean men have the least life expectancy in the world- 39 years. The country is also the least developed in the world rated 177 out of 177 by the United National Development Program.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I've made it to Sierra Leone!

Getting to the Brussels the airport wasn’t too bad, and by the time I got in the right lane (thanks to a Canadian who was in an opposite lane with me- we swapped- me to buy a national ticket, he an international), and on the right platform- I read the train number first not the platform number, I was on my way. I was also at the very end in the check-in lines, it took me forever just to find aisle 12, practically in another building, but I was the only one there and the check-in ladies were shocked I was going to Africa in just one bag- a fact that has continuously shocked me as well. Let’s hope I don’t regret thinking I can do a lot of laundry. After buying my small bottle of water for 3,50 euro (nuts!) I made it to the gate, after three passport checkpoints, and was on my way.

We will be landing in Senegal in about an hour and a half, and then on to Freetown… I think the Senegal landing will give me a bit of an understanding of what I am getting myself into, but who knows… I have learned that flexibility (a word beat into my psyche during Semester at Sea) will definitely be my middle name on this trip. I figure each challenge has worked out for the best- my committee fell apart and I got a great team that helped me get ready to go. My airlines reservations nearly doubled in price, and I got a flight into Sierra Leone directly (well sort of) with two days to cruise Brussels (which I think was just about right… could have been better if I was feeling rich), so now I am focusing on the positive that the housing situation which has me from living with Christiana to various hotels will work out as well. It is what it is and will be what it is going to be and that is about that.

Lowering into Senegal, the clouds are a pale dusty brown- more reddish than blue. They are thick, like soup- a creamy French onion or a lobster bisque. The density of the clouds is surprising to me, as I have just heard the pilot announce that we have “good visibility.” Our landing gear comes down with a pop, and I thought of the stories my parents have told me about their attempts to land in Senegal and having to circle the airport and make several attempts before a successful landing- maybe not the best stories to pop into your head and you are careening through soup-like skies to the runway. Through the soup came a sea of houses, like any large town, only browner and more neutral, with sand colored roads and little greenery around concrete dwellings. I was in Africa, and it looked like I knew it would, and my apprehension was replaced by excitement for my next stop, Freetown.

After a brief stop on the runway in Senegal, we traded about twenty passengers for eight. As we begin to push back from the walkway in Dakar, the cabin staff announces that they need to spray the cabin with “perfectly harmless” aerosol spray to meet local health regulations. Sure enough, an attendant on each side walks down the aisle towards the front of the plane with two aerosol cans spraying high above their heads. My guess is I am better off not knowing what it is, but it does have a sweet and citrusy smell. As we make our way down the runway I see that the concrete homes come fairly close to the runway with little separating the airport from the town. At the end of the runway, where we u-turn to come back down the runway and take off, children are playing soccer and pay no mind to the giant Airbus A 330 in their backyard. Again we are underway, next stop Freetown. As we climb in altitude I am surprised at what a large city Dakar is, and all the what looks like to be fishing boats in the bay, and am interested in learning more about it, my guess is that soon enough I will have enough homework, however.

We came in slowly over the ocean as the sun was starting to set and it gave the water a shimmery yellow tone- no soup clouds here. Sierra Leone was much more green and lush than Dakar. I can understand the rains and humidity now. We flew over lush lakes and rivers and pockets of villages here and there. The landing gear came down with an even more violent pop and I did not see an airport but think Freetown must be on the other side of the plane. The bay, as told, is quite large, and the sky is pretty hazy so I can barely make out buildings in the window across the aisle.

We walked down the steps and towards the airport in what was definitely heat and humidity, but it didn’t seem all that bad- I was wrong. As soon as I walked in the door I saw the sign with my name on it, what a relief that someone was right there. Two women introduced themselves to me and took me into the VIP lounge and then managed to process my passport and get my luggage while I had a chat on the phone with Christiana, my contact here. It was then that I found out the hover craft was broken and I had to take the helicopter across the bay to Freetown.

One of the women, after grabbing someone else’s luggage and having to return it, checked me in at the helicopter station where I found out the helicopters were not small, but rather large crafts that seated 22. I didn’t think that sounded so bad until I got off the shuttle bus and looked at them head on. Of course by this time, I and my fellow passengers, were drenched from sweat from being in an enclosed building in 88 degree weather with equal humidity, only to squish into Soviet era cargo helicopters for the flight across the bay.

The helicopter had row seats so there were eleven of us to a side. Behind us were circular port windows several of which were open. In between the two rows, which of course faced each other, was our luggage covered with a cargo net. Three crotchety Russians were our pilots and spoke not a word to us, but turned on their engines and away we went- sort of. It took us a long time to get up and going and I was pretty sure for a time that we wouldn’t make it in the air. I am sure I was clutching my backpack a bit more than necessary. We did finally make it up and over the bay, the engines were loud and the ride so shaky that my teeth chattered the whole way. Needless to say I was more than relieved to touch down on the ground.

Once we got over the city it was neat to see the different sections of town, the soccer stadium, and the beautiful beaches. I am looking forward to exploring the city a bit more and really learning its ins and outs. Christiana was waiting for me when I got off the helicopter. I think both of us cannot really believe that I am here- I sure can’t. She has international on her mobile so I called John for a two minute check in to tell him that I was here and okay and that he definitely did not want to take the helicopter when he came.

We collected my baggage and her driver pulled the car around so that we could venture off to the hotel. The road was very bumpy and only a small portion of the drive was paved, the majority of the roads looked like reddish dirt and mud, Christiana had told me they had a hard rainstorm this morning. It is part of the raining seasons, so I can expect a fair amount of rain my whole time here.

Christiana pointed out various parts of the city and then we pulled off to a side road and into a gated area which was to be my hotel. It is very lovely with gardened grounds to wander upon, and I would like to look at them a bit more tomorrow. It also has a restaurant which serves breakfast and dinner; I was not too hungry today though, so just ate one of my granola bars I brought along. My room also has an internet connection and air conditioning, which I thought I wouldn’t really need, but man, am I glad to have it! So, Christiana left me here so that I could relax and recuperate and begin afresh tomorrow. So I spent my night relaxing writing my thoughts and preparing for the next four and a half weeks...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ready to go...

The packing is nearly complete, and I am ready to go. I am looking forward to a bit of a layover in Brussels and then on to Sierra Leone. I think I have everything ready, but you never know... Thanks to everyone for the wonderful send off thoughts, wishes, and gifts. I look forward to sharing with you all my experiences!