Salone Entry 19: Phase Two

December 8th 

With Daniel’s session yesterday, “Appropriate Classroom Language” we’ve started the most important part of the trainings.

Phase two as I think of it, where the trainings are predominantly led by Daniel and Rashid, not myself. We have eleven trainings over eleven days. I’m leading five (including the first three), the other six are spread equally between Daniel and Rashid.

The trainings I’ve so far run have been successful and very well-received from the teachers, but the real gauge of our success is how well Daniel and Rashid make the materials their own, and put their own personal stamp on their sessions.

For this project to have real potential for sustainable gains, both of them will need to be able to connect with material, see its value, and most importantly be able to defend it and answer the inevitably difficult questions that teachers will ask when they have doubts about the value of the material and new information.

Daniel had a good session. There was some uneasiness in his delivery, but I thought it was inevitable, resultant of him not yet being fully comfortable with the style and approaches necessary of delivering a training to other adults. Very normal.

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Daniel writing on the board as Mohammed Kabia volunteers during an exercise.
I told him as much as well, saying that he was working with my materials, and there would be some natural lack of comfort in doing that the first few times. But also in doing it more, he would build his own connection. It would soon enough be his material, and he would be the expert. All told, it was a very promising start, and I’m very much looking forward to his other two sessions, as well as Rashid’s.

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While the teachers were hard at work in their trainings, construction work was ongoing at the school. Here, the contractors are plastering the exterior of the junior secondary classrooms.

Today (December 8th) we started our session again around 3:45, fifteen minutes late, but this time with only about 14 out of 25 people present. The consistently late starts had started to annoy Daniel, and we decided to weigh options to try and make sure that the teachers arrived on time.

We decided to open the issue to discussion at the beginning of the session, and Alpha Jalloh, who has been consistently on time and was also annoyed, suggested that we move the training start time forward to 2pm. The suggestion was also made that we start docking people’s training stipends for tardiness. After five minutes of talk, the agreement was made among the fourteen of us that late arrivals would be docked 5,000 leones per training, and no-shows would lose 10,000.

After our session finished (it was on Growth vs Fixed Mindset, and the teachers loved it) we brought up the point again so that everyone would be made aware. It was a little controversial. There were complaints that as adults, there should be no need to dock people’s stipends as they were all responsible for themselves and should and would be on time.

Of course, five days of consistently late arrivals from several individuals proved otherwise, and both Daniel and I thought it was necessary to create accountabilities to make sure that people were held responsible for their personal (or lack thereof) accountability.

Where Daniel and I disagreed was in letting the teachers know what their stipend value was. I deferred to Daniel on the issue as I felt it was something that I didn’t have enough cultural awareness of to be able to make a very appropriate decision. Daniel wanted to keep the final value of the full stipend per teacher (100,000 Leones) secret, as he argued the not-knowing would help ensure to keep the teachers more honest in their attendance. I felt that in keeping it secret it was instead creating an air of dishonesty around ourselves. I thought we were creating a lack of transparency.

I stayed at the community center for a few hours after session to do some work, and to meet the two local Peace Corps volunteers, Ethan and Olivia Davies. Olivia was working with Prosperity All-Girls School, and Ethan was serving at Bumpeh Academy. Meeting them both also reinforced the parallel universe feel. Especially with Ethan, as he was in the position I likely would have held 2014-2016. They were living out the existence that I, Meaghan, and Emily (the other two Rotifunk volunteers) would have lived.

When I did leave the community center it was an hour past sunset. As I approached my house I could tell something wasn’t right. There were about 20 people outside, and they were arguing with each other. It was too dark for me to make out any person, but as I walked up to the small crowd, Daniel found me immediately and pulled me aside before I got close enough.

I asked him what was happening, and he told me there was a problem at my house. I told him the only concern I had was whether or not someone had broken in and stolen my belongings. He assured me that wasn’t the case.

The problem was instead a little comical. The caretaker, who Daniel and Rashid had come to an agreement with for my stay, had not informed the owner of the house, who lives in Freetown. It had also come out that the caretaker had been renting out the house periodically without informing the owner, and had been keeping the money for himself. Of all days, the homeowner had decided to make a trip from Freetown today, only to find out that someone random- an American- was staying in his house without his knowledge.

Daniel was mortified with embarrassment. I thought it was hilarious. Since I knew my stuff was all safe and locked in “my” room, and I was the only one with a key, the rest of the situation was in my opinion little more than a sitcom episode. It was obvious the caretaker had made a series of stupid, self-serving mistakes, and the homeowner, foolish as he was, was holding us responsible rather than his thieving caretaker.

More than anything, I continually reassured Daniel that I wasn’t bothered at all about the problem, and thought it wasn’t much more than a small inconvenience. I was doing what I could to temper his embarrassment and frustration with the situation.

After some sort of agreement was mad,  I went into my room and collected all of my belongings, and two okadas took my possessions to the Davies’ house where I was going to stay for the short-term future.

The only real shame was that we had already paid for the entirety of my stay at the house, and as I was being kicked out. The money should have been returned, but due to the intricacies of the dispute, and saving-face that is necessary for many disputes in Sierra Leone, we somehow weren’t entitled to any of the money that we had put down for my two-week stay in the guesthouse.

Ultimately it was a fool’s predicament, and I told Daniel and Rashid that rather than feel embarrassment for the situation, there should be a sense of relief that the situation meant they were now wise to the fools they had been previously dealing with and that they could navigate them more easily in the future.

I think it will come soon enough that we bring the situation to the attention of the paramount chief so that we at least receive some money in return on the broken contract. I only spent about 40% of our paid-for nights in the house. As with anything, whatever money we can recoup from the situation will go right back to the school.

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The community center, half an hour before we began our session on Growth vs Fixed Mindset
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