Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thanks for the goat, Mr. Ambassador

A few weeks ago, the US Ambassador to Sierra Leone came to my village to observe our Latrine Project, which was funded by the US Embassy in Freetown. It was a quick trip, but I was fortunate enough to be invited to tag along with him to a bridge opening in my chiefdom, and then to have lunch with the him and the girls in Moyamba. It was an awesome day, ending with him giving me the goat that the villagers gave him as a thank you. Like I told him- best re-gift EVER (incidentally, Krio has rendered me incapable of speaking decent English. I used the highly-creative adjective “awesome” at least 20 times while speaking with the Ambassador. So if anyone can recommend a quality ESL class in LA when I get home, please let me know). It's been an eventful, travel-packed few months. Our school had its annual sports meet in the end of March- always a colorful event. Although unparalleled in its ridiculousness and bluffing (bluffing-v-wearing the most absurd clothing you can find, ie. Chinese designed, based on American hip-hop fashion. 2. Acting too-cool-for-school.), it is a blast. The entire village and surrounding villages all come out and get way too into junior high kids doing track and field events. Following sports, we had our Close of Service Conference in Freetown. They put us up in an really nice hotel overlooking the ocean, and then beat us up with America for 3 days. Lots of ups and downs, but overall fabulous to see everyone and eat like champions. After that, seven of us went to the Gola Forest, one of Sierra Leone's two national parks. It was an absurd trip getting there, spanning three vehicles, four flat tires, and two days, but very cool once we arrived. The trip back was even more insane- we were stranded in the bush because the giant transport truck we were in back of crapped out, and then it started raining, and then out of nowhere a beautiful SUV driven by a couple of miners traveling from Liberia to Sierra Leone picked us up and gave us cold drinks and cookies. As usual, nothing works, but everything works out. Gola was pretty cool, but didn't really do it for any of us. I couldn't put my finger on it until I got home. The next morning, I went jogging along my usual bush path and stumbled upon some twenty monkeys jumping around the trees and generally enjoying themselves. It was then that I realized that my village is truly in the middle of a rainforest, and far more beautiful that that sorry excuse for a national park. But they're trying, so good for them. One of the really interesting aspects of this experience is the exaggerated highs and lows we feel. Everything good is great, and everything bad is the worst thing that's ever happened. This past weekend was an excellent example, although both the low and high were warranted. The low- my neighbor, a sweet, rambunctious 2 year old named Ali died on Friday. Ali had a massive head- he resembled a bobblehead with stronger neck muscles, and every morning on my way to school, he serenaded me with a horribly obnoxious chorus of my name. God how I missed it this morning. Anyway, he, like so many children here, died of being sick. Sick with what, nobody knows, and nobody asks. Dead is dead, and knowing what killed him won't bring him back. “God knows why He took them, it's not up to us to question,” the villagers say. I have obvious issues with the connection between a lack of investigation into the cause of death, and other kids dying of the same thing, not to mention that their God kills 2 year olds for sport around here, but I can't fault them for handling it the way they do. All investigating would do would be to prolong the grieving process, and God is as good a defense mechanism as any other, I suppose. No matter where you are in the world, there is no better medicine for a case of life than a wedding. Luckily, I attended my very first traditional marriage on Sunday. In typical Sierra Leonean fashion, it was big, long, and had no shortage of food, booze, and ear-shatteringly loud music. Such a fascinating cultural experience. The chairman of the event (Heaven help you if you try to have an event, or even a conversation for that matter, without a chairman) began the ceremony by handing out envelopes of money to the bride's family on behalf of the groom. The bride's father informed me that this was not at all about the money, but about respect. I told him, “My friend, whatever you need to do to convince yourself that you're not selling your daughter off, you do it.” Next, everyone from the bride's family put in their two cents regarding the event. Riveting stuff. The best part, however, was what followed. The chairman finally asked for the bride (Bride and groom were not present up to this point. I couldn't help but think how cranky some of these American bridezillas would be about that. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE TO STAY IN MY ROOM DURING MY WEDDING?! ARE YOU F******G INSANE?!!”) to come out and confirm that she “agrees” to be sold off to her soulmate. So they bring out the bride, covered with a veil, but it's not the bride! The family is hiding her in the room, until someone forks over more cash. Brilliant drama, hilarious comedy, I was a huge fan. Finally, two fake brides later, the real bride came out, agreed to everything, and Wa-la! the good times and bad have begun. We then proceeded to eat, drink, and dance our faces off. In terms of projects, everything is going really well. We're hoping to be completely finished with the library by June 20th, only 20 days behind schedule, or from a local point of view, 200 days ahead of schedule. All we have to do is cement the floor, make the ceiling, and paint. We're so freakin close I can't believe it. We're still short though, so all that “finishing” business is based on us raising just a bit more money. If you haven't helped us out, now is a great time! The school farm is also going well. We're planting swamp rice, corn, and okra, and are hoping to finish planting this coming Friday. All good stuff. This is me specifically avoiding the topic of having exactly 2 months left. Yup, that just happened. Sorry for being MIA, I've been really busy, and more importantly, trying to stay as present as possible. Thank you, as always, for your support- it has carried me this far, and will carry me through the next few months as well. Peace and Love, Brandon

Friday, February 3, 2012

I Don't Brake for Bats

It was just another day of travel as I watched the driver slamming on the brakes with both feet, yet the car didn't seem to respond as one might know, by slowing down. “No problem,” he says, “the pads are a just little worn.” He yanked the emergency brake like he was ejecting from a flaming fighter jet and finally about 100 yards later we rolled to a stop, thus transforming his previous statement into the understatement of the year. Very rarely is it a good thing when a vehicle runs out of gas in the middle of the African bush, but that day I was thankful.

Something else I'm thankful for- dead bats. I have a serious bat problem in my house. It sounds like there's an entire bat community living in my attic, leading to problems such as bat feces leaking through the gaps in the ceiling, squeaking all night long, and worst of all, bats occasionally inside my house. Twenty months in Africa has dulled my fear of spiders (they're giant, but kill mosquitoes), mice (I kill 'em), and rats (I don't touch 'em, but I don't shriek like a school girl anymore when I see them); bats, however, do not fail to give me a near-paralyzing case of the heebie jeebies.

Two weeks ago, I was reading in my bed, just another mellow night at Casa de Surba. I was getting sleepy, so I did what any non-Sierra Leonean would do and went to sleep (*Interesting fact time* Sierra Leoneans don't sleep. Ever. They call each other at all hours of the night, which would be so much more heinous of a crime if they weren't calling to just say hi, because they miss you. But the interesting part is that I heard a caller on BBC say that this lack of phone etiquette can be blamed on Sierra Leoneans jumping from no phones anywhere in the country to every person over the age of 12 having a cell phone. They simply never learned what's appropriate and not in terms of the phone. Interesting, huh!). About 30 minutes later, I woke up to an abnormally loud squeaking sound, obviously from a bat. I grabbed my flashlight, did a quick scan of my room, and sure enough, six inches from my face was a bat. My heart's beating faster just thinking about it. After jumping out of bed faster than a kid on Christmas morning, I froze. I didn't know what to do. Obviously I had to expedite this vile creature's exit from my living quarters, I just had no idea how to do it.

After a few minutes of just watching it, Africa Me kicked in and I grabbed my broom to kill the bastard. I tried whacking it through the mosquito net a few times to no avail. Finally, I opened the net to let it fly out, leading to more hysteria, broom swinging, and awkwardly pre-pubescent whines. Then it trumped me and flew under my bed into the corner of the room. After the bat played its trump card, I slept in my spare room, dejected and petrified, but at least I was bat free for the time-being. The next day it was nowhere to be found. Sweet Baby Jesus I hate bats.

Luckily its not all rabies-ridden flying rats and four-wheeled death traps over here- we're building a library!! We broke ground last weekend and are flying along marvelously, with a target finish of May 31, 2012. The books are on their way via Books for Africa (, the furniture is being made thanks to a grant from the Friends of Sierra Leone (, and thanks to my friends and family, we are going to build a freakin library in a rural village in West Africa. That is just so badass, and I am so very thankful for the unwavering support of such a fabulous group of people. We still need some funding to finish the project, but I have no doubt we will meet our goal of giving Bauya something we all take for granted- books.

I had an awesome Christmas and New Years. Salone 1, the group of 35 volunteers who were the first to return to Sierra Leone after the war, put on the first annual Peace Corps Sierra Leone Girls Conference, more popularly known as GLADI-SL (Girls Leading and Developing Sierra Leone; gladi means happy in Krio. Cute, huh?). Again, supported by our friends and family, we each brought two girls from our school to Moyamba for a two day conference with the goal of empowering these fabulous girls and women to become the leaders of tomorrow. It was such a great event, we all worked our butts off, and the girls had a blast while learning a lot and getting themselves a healthy dose of empowerment. Liz and I spent Christmas in Bauya, cooking fabulous food and joining the community contest of who can get the most inebriated. As usual, we lost, but the best part about that game is that nobody really loses at all. After Christmas we headed with some of our buddies to Banana Islands, a tiny island chain about 10 miles off the coast. Believe it or not, it was legendary. Some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever laid eyes on, unbelievably good food, and wildly cheap. Definitely the best trip we've taken so far.

That's the latest, folks. I'm doing my very best to ignore the elephant sitting in my parlor, remain present, and let six months from now be exactly that...but it's sooo hard. Every day, every different emotion flies through me as I contemplate my life here, and my life back home. I am so very happy here, and have learned so many invaluable incites into who I am and who I want to be. I am blessed to have such wonderful Peace Corps friends, blessed to have such inspirational and hilarious friends in Bauya, and blessed to have such an encouraging support network back home. Most of all, I am blessed for the love I am surrounded by, all over the world.

Thanks for that love, support, and remaining interested in the tiny space I'm occupying.


PS. A bunch of us want to do a transatlantic cruise on our way home. Ideally we'd like to leave from Morocco around the first week of August, or anything close to any of that. If you have any suggestions, please email me. Thanks!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Goat Jail, Water Skiing, and Sustaining the Payment of Teachers

“The chief put my goat in jail and I need some money to get it out,” said my neighbor, Musa. Until this point a couple months ago, my front and back yards constantly smelled like shit. Goat shit to be exact. Needless to say, I couldn't have been happier with this new form of animal justice sweeping through Bauya, or more surprised that I turned conservative after moving to Africa (hyperbole, exageration, lie, etc.). Orwellian! you say? Anthropocentrism! you accuse? Maybe so, but every time you leave a chair unattended does it turn into the local bathroom? Didn't think so. *Update* I'm currently helping them draft similar legislation that will lock up the chickens, pigs, ducks, and turkeys.

I was on my way to Moyamba last weekend to collect the first transfer of donation money. After three and a half hours of waiting for a vehicle at the junction, an NGO truck finally pulled up. Remember those commercials where a driver would pull over to a DUI checkpoint, and when the driver got out, a pool of booze spilled out of his/her car and the cop said, “Busted!”. Picture the same thing but with an NGO vehicle and a deluge of palm wine. For a brief moment, all I could think was, “So this is safer than that motorcycle over there?” But considering it was the only vehicle that had passed through my village all day, I was in no position to turn down a free ride in the party-mobile. And obviously, the ride to Moyamba was awesome. The palm wine was flowing, the music was loud, and new friends were made.

At the bank I withdrew enough money to pay five teachers for the next two months as well as put down a deposit for a variety of tools we will be using to start the School Farm Project. To spread the business around as much as possible, we are splitting the work between the local blacksmith and an organization in Moyamba called the Able and Disabled Center. The founder, an inspiring man named Santigi (I know, great name right?), started a metalwork shop whose mission is to provide training, limited housing, and work for the physically disabled in Moyamba. Wonderful guy, wonderful organization, and a pleasure to do business with. We are now in the planning phase for the school farm. Our agriculture teachers along with project coordinator are figuring out what we want to plant, where to get seeds (we're hoping for a community contribution), and the planting schedule. Watching the teachers work with such renewed vigor makes me indescribably appreciative to be the conduit between your hard-earned money and these happy, hard-working people I am lucky enough to call my friends.

If you haven't donated to our cause yet, please, right now is the perfect opportunity to make a significant impact in the lives of some amazing human beings. We can pay a teacher for a year with $420, or for a month with $35. We can buy the zinc needed for the roof of a library for $250. I promise you that we are working our butts off over here to ensure that any and every dollar contributed is being put to excellent use.

Another way you can contribute without giving a dime is by helping me with the following problem: through the incredible generosity of my friends and family, we have raised enough money to pay for two years worth of salaries for five unpaid teachers. That is an amazing feat and one that should be applauded, but the problem is that it's not sustainable; it will take continuous outside contributions until the government is able to pay all of its teachers. I'm looking for a way to make this project sustainable, perhaps through agriculture, perhaps another way. Irregardless, the solution is above my pay grade. I'm hoping that someone out there has an idea, or a contact in sustainable development who might have an idea. Right now, this would be even better than money.

On a sad note, my host mom, the woman who opened her home to me for three months during my training last year, died last month. I have been to far more funerals here than I had in my whole life back home, but for obvious reasons, this was much more personal. Mama Makiu was a badass in every sense of the word. Her husband died about 10 years ago and her only daughter lives in the capital teaching in a secondary school; but that didn't stop her from housing eight children who are distant relatives as well as her best friend, a blind woman named Aunty Chris. The only thing bigger and louder than Mama's bark was her capacity for love, and I will remain eternally grateful for her hospitality, immense knowledge, and unconditional kindness. I miss her every day. All that sadness aside, what this culture does really well is grieve and then move forward, but without ever forgetting. The forty day ceremony is a Muslim tradition adopted here by Christians as well, and it is a great experience. Tons of food, great music, and everyone sitting around sharing stories and remembering the life of a uniquely loved woman. The process of death and bereavement in any culture is worth studying because you can learn so much about a culture from the way they handle it. Not surprisingly, Sierra Leoneans handle it very well.

We finally started school this week, and only three weeks after the originally scheduled start date!! All kidding aside, it's going really well. Shockingly well. I would love to hug the person who made Peace Corps a two year program. You spend the first year as close to drowning as you ever want to be in your life, but your second year water skiing. It's amazing. The school appears to be operating much better, which could be a result of teachers receiving a fair wage for their work, but also could be my outlook. The students are behaving like civilized human beings, which could be the result of us drafting and distributing a Pupil Code of Conduct, but again, it could be that my outlook has simply changed. My best guess is that it's a combination of all those things as well as the beautiful realization that, while I don't think you can every be fully integrated without spending many many years somewhere, simply put, I'm comfortable here. This is home.

Peace and Love,


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's All Happening

Saying we were nervous about seeing our parents for the first time in a year is a whopper of an understatement, but luckily, Hannah, Katie, Evan and I had Sierra Leone's own Star beer to ease us into it. My mom and Denny were here for one phenomenal week and, though they left nearly three weeks ago, I can't walk around without every other person requesting their exact location and state of health. They kept on calling their experience here a blessing, and while I have on occasion found their language a tad dramatic (just a tad, and mom you know I love you!), they nailed it this time. I try to the best of my ability to write out how special this experience is, and how charming and warm the culture is, and how freaking beautiful it is around here; but being able to actually prove to my parents (and maybe myself too) that I am truly excelling at living just by being here is something I will never forget.

And speaking of things I won't soon forget, a gigantic thank you to Mark Liu, Carla Reed, and the folks at for all their hard work on Completed Project #2: the St. Peter's website!! It is our hope to raise money for projects we're working on as well as let everyone back home get a little glimpse of life in Bauya.

We're currently beginning the groundwork on three projects that will pay teachers, build a library, and improve the students' farming skills. The great thing about these projects is that they have not only been the idea of the administration and staff of St. Peter's, but the projects and budgets have been written by my principal. It was and is my belief that the only way I would ever get involved in secondary projects is if I am nothing but a supporting figure in the background, a link between the school and the money.

I mention this because if we can accomplish these projects, and that's an enormous if based on the amount of funds required, it will be because the principal and staff of St. Peter's, the local stakeholders, and the community at large made it happen. Our goal is to both improve the quality of education and give the gift of education to the children of a once-great nation, and to aid them in returning it to its former greatness. The children of Sierra Leone were born into their situation, they did not create it. But they're the only ones who can transform it, so let's help them:


Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Poda Poda Blues

The next time you crack open a delicious can of tuna for lunch, I want you to imagine the following: picture squeezing yourself into said can and sitting down in it. Just when you're the most uncomfortable you've ever been in your entire life, picture your two best friends wedging themselves on either side of you and shoving their goat under your feet. Now, for good measure, have the neighborhood kids play kick-the-can with your “vehicle” for a few hours. Congratulations, you've just traveled in a Poda Poda in West Africa, the only means of transportation we Peace Corps Volunteers are permitted to use. All it takes is one trip in either the front seat, where any sudden slamming of the breaks and your kissing dirt potholes, or the back seat, where you're sure to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair if you get rear-ended, to know that the only thing this could possibly be a “safer option” than is a Humvey in Afghanistan (sorry Afghanistan, I know, cheap shot). Either way, as I play sardine in the back seat of a Poda Poda and watch everyone on motorcycles zooming by with their hair majestically waving in the wind, I ponder the irony that being flexible sometimes doesn't actually allow you to move at all.

I promise, I'm almost done bitching, but first, allow me to catch you up on the goings-on of the last five or so months since I've last written. January through March sucked. I spent most of the time being sad, pissed, bitter, and generally resenting everything about Sierra Leone and my situation here. Good news passed! Apparently, it's referred to as “cultural fatigue,” and just about all of us were suffering from it at the same time. Just when you think you've successfully navigated your way through culture shock and are totally integrated and have mastered living in Africa, cultural fatigue sets in. It makes you irritable, grouchy, and downright unpleasant to be around, but thankfully, it does pass. The cool part though is that just when I was at my lowest, I would force myself to get out and walk around, and invariably, without fail, something really cool would happen. Someone would feed me, talk to me and make me laugh, or even just say hello; but no matter what, someone in Bauya would always make me feel at home.

Next came April, a fascinating month. School was, for all intents and purposes, shut down for a month in preparation of a two day sports extravaganza that happens at most schools in the country once a year. I actually had it pretty good on account of my principal being fantastically driven and willing, almost eager, to piss people off in order to accomplish his mission- to teach. Some of my colleagues didn't teach in March either, giving these overachievers what I would have called an extended spring break, but what they called torture. Most of them far surpass me as a teacher though, so I suppose their reaction is not surprising. But needless to say, the St. Peter's Sportstravaganza was AWESOME. It was fantastically refreshing to see the kids doing something they enjoy doing instead of doing something they're forced to do, and selfishly, it was nice not being seen as the Mussolini of my school and show the kids that I like to have fun too, just not while I'm trying to impart in them the grammatical nuances of the gerund. Next year's project will be to see if I can get them to squeeze sports preparation in after school and at night so that we can teach a little in Term 2 as well.

Good news, the rainy season has arrived!! My God it's been hot. Too hot to write a blog, that's for sure. Typical dry season though, it just can't let go. It keeps coming back hotter and meaner than ever, but the respite that the rain provides is truly rejuvenating. The beginning of the rain season also means it's plating season. This weekend was spent clearing and plowing my mini-farm on the land behind my house. I'm planting corn and okra in the back, and the cassava and potato leaf on the side of my house. Also very exciting is that due to my method of planting flowers (throw as many seeds as possible everywhere in the front of the house), it looks like a botanical garden puked in my front yard. A fun cultural difference I've discovered is found in the way we look at things like flowers and plants. For example, my neighbors call them weeds and keep trying to get me to burn it all to the ground. “Fat chance,” I say. “Enjoy the snakes,” they retort. As usual, they win, but until a snake bites me, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of my garden.

I'm currently developing a few projects with my principal, who is lighting it up. We've already accomplished the renovation of the school and a few weeks ago attended a signing ceremony at the US Embassy in Freetown to secure funding for a toilet project (surprisingly, not a shitty project at all...hiyo!). The digging has begun for a staff toilet, and we will be refurbishing the student toilet as well. In addition, we have three pretty big projects in the pipeline which I am eager to share the details of, but we want to put a few things in place first.

I'm looking forward to Term 3, mostly because it couldn't possibly be worse than Term 2, but also because I feel like I've learned a lot and am significantly more prepared to deal with the trials and tribulations of teaching. What it's looking like this experience is boiling down to is that academic year one was not a complete wash, but it's just so different that what I expected and what I experienced as a student. Year two, however, is going to be a whole different ball game. My principal and I are already working on a Code of Conduct for both students as well as teachers, and were planning a teacher in-service training. Our preparation is going to be much better which should lead to a much more productive and successful school year next year...inshallah.

Well unfortunately my time is out, but even more unfortunately for you I'll be writing again soon with a summary of our project proposals. As always, thank you for your love and support, it is felt.

Be Well,


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Aaaaand we're back!

Right, I know, not much of a hiatus, but as difficult as it was to try to put this experience into words, I realized that it was selfish not to share my life here with those who helped me get here, those who are considering a similar path, and those who want to know how they can help within the confines of their particular environment. And, with every passing day, I feel more and more secure here, thus better equipped to cope with the duel lives I'm leading while writing a blog that connects me with home and living in a village in Sierra Leone. Just to remind everyone, I remain a floundering, somewhere-in-the-neighborhood-of-average writer struggling to find the words to share what is, to-date, the defining experience of my life. So thanks for bearing with me, thanks for the encouragement, let's get on with it.

IT IS HOT AS HELL HERE!! We knew we had it good during the rainy season, but man oh man, we had no idea how good. The dry season is like that a-hole neighbor in the downstairs apartment who starts dating your ex-girlfriend roughly two weeks after you broke-up. Come on, dry season, let me at least move my stuff out of her apartment first! Anyway, it got hot, and fast. But lots of fun things have been going on, so I'll live. I'm the goalkeeper for the Bauya Football Club, and before you spit your drink out on the screen and start convulsing with laughter, let me remind you that in my better days I was a halfway decent volleyball player, so I'm pretty good with my hands. The real trouble starts, however, when that pesky ball comes anywhere near my feet. Either way, my record thus far is 2-0-1 as a keeper, and I'm freakin loving it. The best part is that, due to the lighter shade of black I wear on my skin, people expect me to be way more useless on the football field than I am. That, and when we play neighboring villages, my skin color is, in itself, a hilarious distraction that the opposing team really struggles to ignore. So I'm having lots of fun with all of that.

As far as school goes, things are going pretty well. Unfortunately, I resigned as the vice principal of St. Peter's last month, but the school is running smoothly and my outlook has improved significantly. The brief reign of Mr. Surba as VP was marred by rampant corruption, information suppression, and ultimately, a coup d'etat. Just kidding. It did create unforeseen problems though. I found myself in between the teachers and the principal on a number of issues as well as between the community and my principal on another issue. What I had to remind myself is that my job is literally to come here and make friends, and as an administrator, one often finds themselves having to make decisions that piss people off. So I kicked that job to the curb and refocused my attention on the classroom and the development of my school.

In the development department, thanks to the help of family and friends back home, we are moving with a full head of steam in the right direction. First, one Ethan “Class Act” Wright donated the money to purchase two soccer balls for my school to play with. We have some fabulous players in the school, but their skills really don't shine when they're basically kicking around a deflated balloon. Next up, we have the infamously-inseparable duel, Patrick Brown and Carla Reed. While simultaneously losing their cookies and becoming more enlightened than any of us, they managed to donate the money to give my school a MUCH needed once-over. We're lacking some pretty basic stuff here (doors to the classrooms, who needs 'em!), but you have to start somewhere, so thanks to Pat and Car for shoving us in the pool. Moving on, and while it's just in the preliminary stages, a huge thanks to Mark Lie, Jeff Skelton, Allessandro Fard, and Matt Wright, for your not-so-unbelievably enthusiastic response to my request for website development help. Very soon, instead of having to avoid drooling on your keyboard while you sleep through a blog post of mine, you will be able to keep tabs on St. Peter's by going to their very own website. Really awesome stuff brought to you by current and former employees of, a kick ass website that basically sells your used car for you (that's not free advertising, Reza, I'm going to be hitting you up next year when I'm fund-raising for an additional building at school!). Last but not least, my right hand wo-man in the States who is really spearheading all of this on my behalf, my sister Marisa. None of this would be possible without her reading emails to me over the phone and acting as my Chief Operations Officer. To the jackasses that haven't hired her yet: thank you, you're making my job much easier!

Thank you all for putting up with that massive shout-out, and I tell you for free that all those folks are probably uncomfortable with me giving them attention for their generosity, but this place needs a bit of help. I was listening to a BBC special tonight about Sierra Leone, and the host was asking people if hard work alone can pull them out of poverty, or if they need outside help to do it. In my opinion, working hard is circumstantial (there are farmers here that work their asses off every day just to feed their kids ONCE a day, yet there are young people who don't lift a finger and complain that white people have it so good and they can't wait to go to America where things are so much easier), but the main thing my students lack is inspiration. And when Americans, who whether rightly or wrongly are idealized as the smartest and best at, well everything (except football), give not just money, but tangible goods that improve the kids' lives on a small, yet incredibly significant, scale, it gives them a glimmer in their eye. That glimmer is inspiration.

For the most part, the people in Bauya work hard, are eager to develop their community, and are unconditionally devoted to their families. Their greatest attribute, however, is their ability to smile and joke about anything and everything. Sure, they'll complain about their situation (one that most would call trying, at best), but they'll be laughing while they do it and shoving whatever food they have in your mouth. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly the community needs (the school needs are much more clear- a new building with a computer lab and library – Project St. Peter's 2011!), but whether or not you believe in them, they believe in themselves, they believe in their family, and they believe in Salone.

As always, thank you for reading, thank you for your support, and thank you for your love. It is always felt. Oh, and Merry Christmas!! I'll be spending my first Christmas in Bauya and couldn't be happier about it. Be well, have a wonderful holiday, catch up with you in 2011!

Peace and Love,


Friday, October 15, 2010


I'm sitting on the floor of my room. My computer on a little bench in front of me, a candle flickering to my right, thunder looming in the distance accompanying a light rain and a symphony of crickets outside. Today was a pretty good day. I woke up and went for a run through the jungle as the sun was rising. I made breakfast (a three egg scramble with onions, garlic, and peppers hot enough to put hair on even my girly chest), took a bucket bath, and went to school.

This “writer” would request your patience as I take a brief aside to explain a mild daily struggle. Although the official start date for school was last Monday (9/13), the first students just showed up yesterday (9/20). This is, and will continue to be, one of the most frustrating cultural adjustments- the idea that dates and time mean close to nothing here. As an American, my entire existence has been based on dates and time. One minute late is still late, the Blackberry alarm is constantly going off reminding you to be somewhere or do something, and between watches, cell phones, and clocks everywhere, there's really no excuse for not being constantly aware of the time. That being said, just typing that makes me appreciate the subtle (albeit very subtle) charm of simply enjoying the moment rather than having this ever-looming, yet invisible force reminding you of whatever you're not doing. I have no doubt that within two years I will adjust to the devaluation of time; of course, I will then return to the States and be fired from my first job, admonished by friends and family for being an inconsiderate prick, and miss the first quarter of all sporting events. But I digress...

So I went to school and sat around waiting for my first class to begin. I hit a rough patch yesterday for a myriad of reasons, and was disappointed to return that state of bummer when I arrived at school. For the second day in a row I couldn't get it together, and was left uninspired and a little worried. But I walked into my second class, and God knows why, everything clicked back into place. I had a great lesson, the kids picked up on my energy and responded in kind, and the best part was, I brought JUG to Sierra Leone. For those of you who didn't attend a Jesuit high school, JUG stands for Justice Under God, and is basically detention with a much scarier name. Luckily I teach at an Anglican school, so this is a very graspable concept for the kids. God = good, but scary.

After school was out, we had a pretty productive staff meeting, which, in classic Sierra Leonean style, took two hours due to the first half hour being reserved for the reading of the agenda and then introductions (which could be viewed as unnecessary considering we've now all known each other for five weeks, but hell, it's only time we're wasting, right?). I returned home to make dinner (an hour and a half process just to make pasta, but highly enjoyable nonetheless), got calls from Natalie and Tommy (don't worry everyone else, I know how hard it is to download Skype and spend the 30 cents a minute on talking to your “friend” living IN AFRICA. Just kidding. Well not really. Okay fine, I'm mostly kidding.), and I've now taken you back to the beginning. Just a typical day living the dream over here- a few downs, lots more ups, and everything in between.

Some highlights of the past few weeks and some random notes:
Twenty-three of us went to River No. 2 a couple weeks ago to spend a few days R'ing and R'ing before school started. We rented rooms in a bungalow on the sand and had an absolute blast. It was paradise, with cold beers, coconuts, and fresh oysters on the half shell (a dozen and a half for $4) served daily. Picture plush green mountains protecting the white sand from any, well, people. Just stellar.
I harvested my first batch of corn last week and cooked with it. I wonder if that's as shocking to read as it is to type? My sweet potatoes should be ready for harvesting by December.
Another shocking update, I'm the self-appointed King of Tank-tops in SL. I certainly have my fair share of competition from both Sierra Leoneans as well as fellow PCV's, but my collection is rivaled by none.
A cobra snake stopped by my house on his way to presumably end someone or something's life today. Luckily my neighbors tried to hit it with a long stick. Score: Cobra 0, SL Youth 0.
Committees I'm on at school: Debate Society (Head), Disciplinary, Sports, Health and Sanitation, Teacher's Welfare, and Development. I've joined a Women's Club sponsored by the Red Cross. Don't worry, boys are allowed as long as you can show proof of a recent negative coodies test. I've also teamed up with some other teachers and am advising their Youth Group. Interesting note about that- due to the massive social setbacks caused by the war, “youths” are considered to be anyone from 15-35. Update: I'm now the official Vice Principal of St. Peter's. I'm expecting a hefty salary increase somewhere in the neighborhood of 0%.
My school has two teachers that have been teaching full time for four years now, yet are not on the payroll and have not been paid once in that time. It makes asking anything of them justifiably difficult, yet for the most part they do their jobs valiantly with only mild grumbles here and there. It's a wonderful reminder that there are some people who value education. And if you happen to have any connections in the Ministry of Education in Sierra Leone, please put in a good word for my coworkers. Thanks.
In the next few weeks and months I might be hitting some of you up in an effort to raise funds for my school to have some sports teams. We can't afford the volleyballs, soccer balls, and basketballs it takes to field these teams, so competing will be difficult at best. In advance, thanks for your consideration.
I could really use some good books and would be unbelievably grateful if you dropped off one or two of your favorites at either my mom or dad's house (or if you are currently applying for sainthood, send them yourself- address below. Letters, notes, and pictures also welcomed and encouraged). Again, thank you!

That's pretty much all for now. I'm hoping that accompanying this blog posting will be some photos I've taken of my house as well as some randoms from the experience so far so that you can get a visual of what I struggle to describe. By the time I get to an internet connection (probably a month from when I'm actually writing this), this could change, but here's my current thought process regarding my internet usage: my life here is very very complete. I have an amazing house that I'm quickly making a home out of, a really rad girlfriend, a supportive network of very close friends, a job that keeps me busy, and a cell phone that connects me to anyone back in the States. The last time I went on the internet I felt a bit shaken, emotionally. It was like taking steps backwards, and that is not something I can afford to do right now. In an effort to stay as present as possible, this is me taking a bit of a hiatus from blogging and checking email and Facebook. I'd always love to hear from you on the phone, and if there's something urgent that you emailed me, just hit my sister or parents up and they'll let me know. Thank you for understanding, thank you for reading, and as always, thank you for your support. It is felt.

Until next time, Peace and Love,





Brandon Brown, Peace Corps Volunteer
Peace Corps
PO Box 905
Freetown, Sierra Leone
West Africa