Salone Entry 24: Last Day in Country

December 18th

Last day in country. The plan had been to stay in Salone for at least a week or two after trainings finished, but the culture shock of going from Iraq to Sierra Leone, amidst all the madness of the former, has been to much for me. I’m flying out tomorrow morning to Brussels, Belgium.

Over the past few days I realized that I needed to get out and go somewhere completely different to help really unwind from Iraq.

As long as I stayed in Sierra Leone- even if I went to Bureh Beach as planned- I’d still be stuck in work mode.  Since late August I have been all-consumed by work, at some points putting in 70-hour weeks in Erbil. The last few months my mind has been fully occupied by Iraq and Sierra Leone with little to no time or energy for anything else, and as long as I remained in either one I wouldn’t have the chance to start moving on from all the failures of the former.

So I bought a ticket to Brussels. Can’t think of any other place that is much more radically different. The same cost bought me a ticket to either Morocco or Belgium, but I felt like it was time to do some Europe. Cold weather, good beer.

It was a busy final day in country. I spent the morning typing and organizing material for the BADP website, and then in the late morning met up with Rashid so that we could have our follow up meeting with the Evangelical Mission. Just meeting up with Rashid was an ordeal itself.

I had no idea until a few days ago how tortuously slow it is getting anywhere across Freetown. I’ve been staying in Lumley Beach, in the far west of the city. Rashid’s house as well as the mission office, are in the far east of the city in the Wellington District.

Rashid and I did eventually meet up in the center of the city, at the Cotton Tree. The giant Cotton Tree is the national symbol of Sierra Leone, and the landing place of a group of freed slaves who returned to Africa in the late 18th century who founded Freetown. It is still a very popular gathering spot for locals, who often make offerings for peace and their ancestors below the tree. It was also one of the inspirations for James Cameron’s “Avatar”.
Because I’m a map freak, I can be hyper-sensitive to things like urban planning, or more often the lack thereof. I flip back-and-forth with how I feel about it.

Some days the madness of sprawling cities might drive me nuts and I wonder how people normalize losing half their day to things like traffic and poor circulation.

Alleyway in Freetown
Other days I love the organic lunacy. Freetown has made me feel both. At one point today we spent seventy minutes in the car to travel less than a kilometer (I ended up just getting out and walking/standing alongside the car), and at another point we were driving on an unfinished road on a bluff overlooking the city and its charismatic insanity.

I enjoyed my meeting with the Evangelical Mission. I thought we were going to spend the entirety of the time discussing the trainings and outlining what potential there was for future developments.

Instead, they surprised me with a big showing of thanks for what I’d done over the past two weeks. They presented me with an official certificate of appreciation for my work in furthering education and improvements at Bumpeh Academy, and they also presented me with an identification card making me an honorary member of the mission, and a global ambassador for them.

Meeting with the administration of the Evangelical Mission and receiving a certificate of appreciation for BADP’s work in Rotifunk.
We did eventually get to talking about the trainings, and I realized that Rashid had been keeping them informed of the trainings as they progressed, as the mission leaders  seemed to know a lot of the details about individual sessions and were impressed with what information Rashid had passed along over the past two weeks.

I told the mission leadership that I was very impressed by how Rashid and Daniel performed as trainers, and that they were in a position to start identifying other individuals who could be capable of delivering sessions.

I also showed them several of the videos that I’d recorded of different moments during Rashid and Daniel’s trainings as proof of the atmosphere and value of the material being shared. They loved seeing the videos and enjoyed some of the real-world applications, such as the demonstrations within Rashid’s session on “Getting Around the Resource Barrier”.

Immediately after showing them the videos I reminded everyone in the room that we were in effect only halfway done in evaluating the trainings. I said that, although I had a stack of papers with honest appraisals of the teachers of the trainings as well as quiz notes from each, we would not be able to fully appraise the value of the trainings until January, when Rashid and Daniel were able to observe teachers in action and see how they were applying the new information they’d received. They overwhelmingly agreed.

Bishop Khazali surprised me again in saying that with the positive news he’d received during the trainings he was already trying to earmark a September time block to collect most of the school leaders and administrators across the mission’s schools to deliver the materials, if I agreed to help and share them, of course.

I agreed without hesitation, saying that providing the materials was the least I could do, as Rashid and Daniel were developing a good sense of co-ownership over the materials themselves. I also added that with Rashid and Daniel’s crucial input, we could fine-tune the trainings, taking what we’d learned in Rotifunk, and make sure that each session is even more situationally appropriate for staff in Sierra Leone.

I couldn’t guarantee him that I would be there in September if the mission were to go through with the idea, but I did remind them that I am always in constant contact with Rashid and Daniel, and we could together make sure that the material is ready, and that both Rashid and Daniel are ready and confident to deliver it to train up new trainers.

I don’t suspect funding will be the issue I first I thought it would be, as we only briefly discussed it. I did a get positive vibe on the subject, as Bishop Khazali said that all arrangements could be made to make sure that staff are accommodated in Mile 91, where they would plan on holding the training (due to its central location).

More than anything, I got the impression that the Bishop was very excited about the possibility of his teachers receiving updated methodology for the classrooms, and he wanted to make sure that they received the information no matter how it was funded, and that he saw this move as an essential expense for moving the collective needs of mission’s education profile forward.

When our meeting concluded, Rashid and I drove to the Peace Corps Headquarters, which was unfortunately on the other side of Freetown. Another brutal stretch of slow roads.

I wanted to make sure that I had the chance to see my old Peace Corps Training Managers from 2014. We arrived at the office later than expected (traffic) but I did still manage to see Tondi.

Abubakar Mahaman “Tondi” from Niger, was the training manager for our Salone 5 Peace Corps cohort in 2014. He was everyone’s rock, and who we all went to when we had a problem. He must be the most-loved person in the Peace Corps Sierra Leone program.
The drive from the Peace Corps office to the ferry terminal was frustrating. That aforementioned seventy minutes for less than a kilometer? Yea, that was on this drive.

Only last August did Sierra Leone install its first post-war traffic light. The war ended in 2001. So there’s been at least 15 years without a single traffic light in the country. Although that’s somewhat beside the point, I still think it’s anecdotal of what the traffic situation can be like here.

We were stuck on that kilometer stretch of road from 6:30 to 7:40pm. The last ferry across the estuary (we had to make it as I had a 5am flight) was scheduled for 8pm. When we did get off that crawling kilometer, our driver was going about 40mph on a dirt road against head-on traffic with the horn blaring. None of us wanted to miss that boat.

Now I know if you’re sitting in America reading this, or anywhere developed, that sounds like complete insanity. And in many ways it is. My apologies for normalizing it, but in places like Sierra Leone and Iraq it is very common to speed into head-on traffic if you’re desperately fighting the clock. For better or worse there is a great deal of normalcy to it here. Traffic laws here are just guidelines at best, and in a lot of developing areas the road culture is dualistic; people are very aggressive if they have reason or need to be, and are otherwise very reactive and tolerant of being cut-off or marginalized, as they know when they need to be aggressive, others will be tolerant as well.

We did make that ferry. Just barely, we were the last car, and it took some arguing with the port authority to even get our car on the boat.

On the ferry crossing the Tagrin Estuary, towards Lungi Airport
We spent the night at a friend of Rashid’s in Lungi, waking at about 2:30am. By 3:15 we were in the airport, and by 5am I was on my jet.

Until next time Salone. Wi go si bak!

One thought on “Salone Entry 24: Last Day in Country

  1. I will never,never,never again complain about Los Angeles traffic!
    As for you, Dawson; welcome to the Old Continent!

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