This is an add-on to the last post, addressing a lot of questions about Sierra Leone, and I should also add that if anyone has any questions whatsoever, feel free to ask. I was only there for forty five days, so maybe I will/won’t have an answer.
What kind of internet access do you have?
Internet was sketchy. Every major city has cafe’s where you can access the internet, but speed and connectivity are nothing like what we expect and are used to in America. I was online for about 45 minutes to an hour every week. Not very much time. Taking internet speed into account, simply uploading a pre-written blog post could take nearly twenty minutes, leaving me with little time to read and respond to emails as well as catch up with international news.
How many other volunteers are with you?
My cohort is 55 people. We had started off at 56, but we had an early drop out, only one week into our stay in Bo. We were the largest post-war cohort yet, with Salone 1-4 ranging in number from about 30 to 45 people. So by national standards, we were a big group. Since Peace Corps service lasts two years and new people are brought in every year, at any given time there is one cohort in the middle of its service, one coming, and one going. Once we would’ve been settled in at site, there would be about 100 actively serving Peace Corps Volunteers in Sierra Leone; Salone 4 & 5 combined.
Do you like them? What are they like?
I love them all. The fact that we have all been jettisoned back to our homes of record all over the nation has made this situation even more difficult, because we have been rid of the support network that we already, and so quickly, leaned heavily upon. Nowhere else are conversations about bowel movements, inappropriate cultural reactions and liquor packets more normal than in a group of Peace Corps Volunteers all trying their best to fit into a new culture. Despite being shot back home like shrapnel, we’re all keeping in contact and doing our best to make social contingency plans, anything from cross-country road trips to week-long hikes.
Everyone is so different, there’s no one consistent vein of personality or habit that runs through the group. Some people are hyper-idealists, some realists, some with huge ambitions and some just looking for something different. There is always so much to talk about and so many things that make us all pronounced individuals, and yet the fact that we were, and still are going through a situation that most people never will in their life has only elevated our strange attachment to each other.
Have you seen any cats? (obviously bring back a cat with you)
Cats are everywhere, and yet I had a lot of trouble figuring why cats never get anywhere the same size as house cats do in America. Made no sense to me. Turns out they eat cats regularly. It startled me quite a bit at first (I should add that I didn’t actually see anyone eat a cat) but in some parts of the country, or maybe even in some neighborhoods in big cities, you’ll have to do WHATEVER YOU CAN to get some food in your belly. It’s very unfortunate from our side of the view, but it’s also very hard to understand the depth of difficulties that many people in Salone have to go through.
But the mini cats are absolutely adorable.
How are the people? Are you fairly integrated yet?
The people of Salone are wonderful. A unique group of people, so welcoming, open, compassionate, and unconditional. From the first minute I was with my host family in Bo I was made to feel like one of them. My host mom knew that one of her, as well as the entire family’s responsibilities, was to help me integrate into the culture. So they threw me into the deep end of it. I woke up before 6 am the first morning to sweep out the house, fetch water for the entire family, and cook my breakfast of fried fish and potatoes. Although the intensity of my work at home never matched that first morning, my host mom did make sure I was always pushed to integrate, and I appreciate immensely what she did for me. Having a large, social family was wonderful integration and practice, and being such an economically grounded family probably provided me with more homespun opportunities to learn the culture than I think most of my colleagues had.
But back to the people…. It’s hard to quantify how friendly the culture is. Salone LOVES strangers. Within a few weeks I knew half of the people on my walk to training every day because they made a habit to say hi every morning. Without fail. I enjoyed it and played along, and I’m sure even the least social person could be delightfully warmed be the genuine happiness the Salone stranger shares when saying hi. I’m trying my best not to say hi to strangers in America and ask them how their body is, or how they slept last night.