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!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Research Questions and Methodology

Okay, for all you academics who are curious about what it is I'm actually going to be doing in Sierra Leone, this post is for you!

Purpose of Study
The lessons learned from this study offer the potential to reveal what traditional ideologies and practices, such as cultural factors, including leadership and reconciliation, and structural factors, including educational and political institutions and housing and community spaces, may be important for community development after conflict in Sierra Leone, and why.

Research Questions
In an effort to understand the necessary ideologies and practices for community development in postconflict Sierra Leone, the following research questions will help guide this study:

1. How and why do cultural ideologies and practices influence or shape postconflict development?

a. How and why do traditional community collectives or groups influence or shape development after the conflict?

b. How and why does traditional leadership, such as the chieftaincy, influence or shape postconflict development?

c. How and why do traditional ceremonies and rituals, including reconciliation processes, influence or shape postconflict community development?

2. How and why have structural factors (including institutional arrangements) influenced or shaped postconflict community development?

a. How and why has the building of housing shaped postconflict community development?

b. How and why has the building of community spaces shaped postconflict community development?

c. How and why has infrastructure shaped postconflict community development?

d. How and why has the educational system shaped postconflict community development?

e. How and why have the political institutions influenced postconflict development?

3. How and why have non-traditional ideologies and practices influenced or shaped postconflict community development?

a. How and why have NGOs or other international organizations shaped postconflict community development?

b. How and why have other western influences shaped postconflict community development?

As there is so little research on postconflict community development in Sierra Leone, applying existing theory to the fieldwork may not allow for a comprehensive analysis of the data. Using the grounded theory method, the fieldwork data can be systematically compared and analyzed so that the story the data tells and the theories that emerge from that story will generate understanding about postconflict community development in Sierra Leone (Patton, 2002). Data collection will occur over an intensive five week visit to Sierra Leone in May and June, 2009. Subjects for this research study will be the members of two different Sierra Leonean communities. I will be conducting one-hour semi-structured qualitative interviews with 12 to15 members of each community.

The research for this study will be analyzed in two ways. First, I will view each community through the lens of a case study.
Using the data I have collected about the events and happenings in each community before, during, and especially after the war, and my observations, I will write a case record (Patton, 2002), or a written account of my data, experiences, and impressions of each community separately. Once each case study is written, I will compare the two cases using the technique of inductive analysis to comb each case study for emergent themes (Patton, 2002). As these themes emerge, I will be able to compare and contrast the case studies in order to form a more comprehensive understanding of postconflict development efforts in Sierra Leone and why these ideologies and practices were used.