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

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