Disclaimer: Sorry if I scared anyone a little too much with that Mefloquine story, but it is one hell of a drug. My suggestion; if ever travelling to a Malaria endemic region, take a daily drug, not a weekly. Everything else has been fine. Di bodi fayn.
So I’ve now been in Bo for about 25 days and I’ve established some routine. The school days are long. I leave my family at about 8am every morning and walk to the city hall with our morning walk group; four to seven of us on any given day, all living within about a two minute walk of each other. The walk itself is no more than ten minutes long, and although neighbors and locals know when and where we’ll be passing every day, it’s always something of a spectacle for them, seeing a couple of white kids walk through their neighborhood. I made a habit early on in Bo of telling and all kids my name, as they have a habit of running up and yelling “Pumei!” (‘Whiteman’ in Mende, the most dominant local language… it’s not offensive, or meant to be at all, just simply the only thing most people know to say when seeing a light skinned foreigner) every time they see me or any one of my Peace Corps friends. Having little kids yell “Munda” sounds and feels infinitely better than hearing “Pumei” every day. Kids are trained from a young age to value someone’s name, and when told once they never seem to forget.
I think the best way for me to convey my new lifestyle would be to break down one day.
620: wake up, fold my mosquito net, open up my drapes and windows
630-655: Stretch, pushups, situps
7: Say good morning to my family… and I mean everyone, fetch water from the well, Whatever little tasks I need to do in the morning
730: Bucket bath with cold water. I can hardly stress how much I’ve come to love cold bucket baths. I wash with about 4-5 liters of cold water from the well, and it wakes me up/relaxes me like few other things
745: breakfast… this can consist of several different options. On a good day, deliciously cooked plantains with a small loaf of bread and ovaltine with milk powder in water. But there have been days where breakfast is mayonnaise and spaghetti.
8: Walk to school, we all socialize ravenously with what little time we have between arriving at school and starting the morning session of training at 830.
830-1230: Morning session. On most days there will be a 15-30 minute break somewhere in the middle around ten oclock. Common topics are Krio class, tech sessions on various teaching techniques, bridging cultural gaps, personal security… there’s quite a wide range of classes we need and receive.
1230-2: Lunch break. Food is catered every day from a local restaurant called Yeane’s. It is the same food I get at home with my family, almost always a plate of white rice covered in a shifting variety of plasas, including but not limited to potato leaf, Cassava leaf, Okra leaf, Pepper soup, or Granat soup. Granat soup is a peanut based plasas, much like a Thai dish, and the majority favorite plasas for us. After lunch most of us walk into town for various things, maybe to stand in one of the three Lebanese markets in town (some of the few places that have air conditioning) or maybe in the open air market to buy a food or amenity that can’t be purchased elsewhere, or simply for a more competitive price. This time block also contains ravenous socializing.
2-530: Afternoon session. The same topics are covered as in morning session. Like clockwork, I hit a massive coma at about 230-245 every day. One part exhaustion, one part malnutrition, and one part boredom, it catches up with me EVERY SINGLE DAY. I also choose to sit in the second row… somewhat stupidly… making it that much more obvious for everyone behind me to see exactly what is going on. My friends love watching me slowly slump forward, fanning myself more for the sake of trying to stay awake rather than keep myself cool. Needless to say, I lose the battle every time.
530-630/8: Our daily free time. Curfew is at 8pm on the weekdays. Some days I play basketball, some days we play soccer; we’ve formed a community team with a handful of teachers. I try to get to the internet cafe once a week in this time block, that is even hard to do sometimes, hence my sporadic communication.
630/8-10pm: “Keeping Time” with my family. The Salone way to say hanging out. I have dinner somewhere in here, nine out of ten days it is rice with plases, on the tenth day it’s couscous. I sit and talk with my family for awhile, practice Krio, maybe learn a few Mende phrases, and if I have something that I need to do, I’ll retire to my room around 9 so that I’ll have some private time to stuy/ write/ play guitar if I’m in desperate need of a relief. I’m generally asleep by 1030-11, and wake up the next morning to do it all over again.
One of the striking things about my day, and the lifestyle in general is the amount of subsistence activities that permeate throughout it. Subsistence agriculture I am and have been very familiar with; it being a hallmark of 3rd world countries and developing nations. A jargon phrase to define simplistic production wherein a family or group of families only grows, or only has the potential to grow enough to feed themselves and their immediate members. With this system, there is no foundation for production yields extending beyond just simple needs, no potential for economic growth by means of increasing yields to foster growth, export, or monetary gains.
I give that explanation simply to frame the fact that subsistency is everywhere. Living in simple steps helps every one hear live a lifestyle that they can hold on to, one that is stable enough and will continue to be so, but does not provide any opportunity for socio-economic advancement. Fetch the water every day. Cook your meals every day. No refrigeration (some familes do, mine has no electricity). Budget for the day, the week, not the year. In so many ways things exist here to continue, they live to survive, not to grow and evolve. It’s a sad fact of 3rd world culture, and one that is not easily fixed in practice, much less an academic argument for the hell of it. But as I see it, that’s where my optimism meets pragmatism. If even just for a pigeonhole of an opportunity. These problems are not fixed easily, but the knowledge for advancement and positive change can always be introduced. As the Peace Corps like to define it; initiating the ‘contemplation phase;’ planting the idea so motivated individuals can take the measure in their own communities to change it. I hope I can find those people at my sight!