…And so I write again…

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My view Kent Beach

January 2, 2014…

It is now one day passed New Years Day and I’m at the home of the Director of the Open Government Initiative. A beautiful morning with fishing boats, fishermen, a beautiful sunrise and beautiful ocean waves.

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Early morning fishing

Plantains and scrambled eggs with onions and bread. God is good and may my blessed journey continue…I started my day with American Gospel music. This was the first time I even thought about playing music from my ITunes or even remembered I had music on my laptop. It felt really good to hear some of my favorites. Again, feeling as if I’m an African American in Africa, and it’s ok. Smiling. I will tell you about my visit to Kent Beach a little later. The video is amazing and I look forward to showing it to you….Thank you for reading.

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No words needed

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View from Mary’s Sister’s place

If I haven’t told you, I’m now staying with Mary Bangura. We’re staying at  her sister’s home. It is a very nice home, tv’s, nice furniture, decorated very nicely and sits across the street from the ocean and the ocean breeze. There is a lot of room. Just down the hall a cousin lives in a few rooms with her children. There are also nieces and nephews who live between the top and bottom floor. There are also grandchildren I think…who also live here. All in all, I think I have seen close to 12 or 15 family members, including some sisters. The brothers and uncles come over each day to see Mary and to see if we need anything. When they are around you don’t have to lift anything heavy. And that is really nice. I’ve begun to realize how, as a an unmarried woman, without anyone, including a strong male around-in general, I’ve had to lift such heavy things in my life. Sofas, tv’s, tables…whenever I needed something moved, I moved it. Although I see men lifting heavy bags, ironically, I have seen women lift up huge cast iron pots of food to feed the masses that I’m sure weighed more than any piece of luggage I’ve ever carried or even the luggage gripped tightly by men.

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Sad because we are leaving

The separation of gender performance is real. The interesting thing about that is that before now, it didn’t really bother me. Now, it doesn’t bother me but I also think of how it must feel to be a woman in such a genderized culture, a lot of things that are deemed “masculine” are done for you. In fact, not only have I noticed the locals and others glaring at my “wearing pants everyday attire,” ironically, I have felt a little more feminine during my stay so far in Africa. See, even though I wear pants, tennis shoes, and functional shirts here…because I am working, which is a dirty, physical job, I am still biologically a woman. So, the men treat me as such.In America when some men see women dressed a certain way, they ASSUME that that woman wants to be treated like a man. If you follow me. I have never allowed this assumption. I do what I please and wear what I want but I ALWAYS like to be treated as a lady.

DSC04847And the women…the women, keep giving me hints about wearing dresses and skirts…even some of the men have said a few things like, after I have given a compliment to a woman about her dress, they’ll say “yes, now you can go to the market to get a dress too.” Like this will make me REAL HAPPY! lol. If my mom were alive today, you could ask her, since I was 3 years old if wearing a dress everyday made me happy. lol. It appears that the women want me to feminize myself like I’m missing out on something (perhaps a husband) and the males feel the same way. In this culture, a woman is brought up a certain way by other women as well as society to be a certain way so that they can be married…so that someone will want them. That comes first. How does this make me feel? Under the “eyes of disapproval, hhmm..that’s an American for you eyes…that is why she dresses the way that she does…I feel sorry for her eyes…she’s so pretty and wasting it all…” Well, I feel HAPPY to be an American! Not saying that we don’t have these gender performance policies and regulations within our country…I just feel that I have been able to grow up with a lot more opportunities to be myself in America…to define and designate my sense of Self. Especially growing up in the family structure that I was so blessed to have.

IMG_1331I dressed up every Easter like most American girls do…a ribbon in my hair, a cute dress on that seems a bit short but because you were a child, it was ok…black patent leather shoes that I thought were soooo cool because they were always shiny, and beautiful little white bobbie socks. Yes! That was the outfit…Oh! plus, a little purse with nothing in it but a nickel and a dollar and maybe some candy. I was ready. And my mother was ready for the Janice that emerged after the service who was ready to play! She was ready with my “change.” Jeans, t-shirt, socks, and tennis shoes. Of course the same t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes that I wore ALL of the time and were my favorite! She was the best! And my dad, he’s the best too. He never treated me like anything else but a lady…even when I was kicking the neighborhood boys butts in football, baseball, basketball, softball throw. Yes! I was blessed by my mom, dad and my brothers and sister who loved me THOROUGHLY within my gender performances. I had more choices. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to have choices. But, we all know that even in America, women are judged by their appearance and gender performance…hhmmm, are women truly free, anywhere? Or is this freedom confined within your own personal space? HHmm…just asking.

DSC04842The other thing I’ve noticed with so many people around where I’m staying with Mary, is that I haven’t been able to write as much or as frequent. This is the first morning that I have written a measure of substance. Mary and I share a room and when you leave the room, there is always someone around…so there is no privacy. I think this has caused me not to be free in my thinking. This morning, I woke up before sunrise and quietly, while breathing quietly in the dark (MAC signal of power Loudly interrupts my goal of being quiet) sssshhh I tell the computer, I begin to write and prepare for a journalism workshop I’ve been asked to do and to blog for you. I found peace this morning and a way to function despite being confined in such close quarters. So I guess I found a way to adjust just like many here have had to learn to do to survive.

IMG_1338I think of the school children who have had to study and read in the same conditions. Hhmm.., while you’re pondering this I must remind you that all of this is the way it is now only because of the war. The streets, living quarters, stores, restaurants, people…all had their own space here and I am told it was neat, organized and beautiful. Because of the war, many people who fled and then came to Sierra Leone after the war are afraid to return to their provinces. So, many terrible things happened in their provinces that the people are traumatized and they don’t want to ever go back. This has made Sierra Leone extremely crowded. So, everyone must share everything. Space, road, food, money, etc. They are too traumatized to leave. I’m guessing that it’s like how some of the Jewish people don’t want to ever return to locations of historical atrocities even though it may be where their homes and fond memories are located. It is too traumatic for them. So sad. Interesting similarities, yes?

Oh yeah, and here, to save energy, when the electricity goes out…that’s it. No fan, no charging of equipment, light when going to the bathroom, until the next day when the generator MIGHT be turned on for a moment. But, it’s understandable. Fully. So, I am adjusting. I am being fed well here. Mary’s sisters prepare our meals in advance and like other Sierra Leoneans, like to see us eat. So, far, I’ve tasted a little difference in the food here at Mary’s versus Ishmil’s place with Kadia. Here, I taste a little salt in the food, there’s more fish in the diet, and for breakfast it’s oats and fruit, like papaya rather than bread and cheese or bread and butter (a meal that will last in your stomach for hours which is its purpose). I like them both. Here, I follow Mary and Mary is truly revered here in this home. She is the oldest and has done much for her family. and they do everything for her. We leave when Mary leaves. We eat when Mary eats. I still don’t know where particulars are, so I ask Mary and she has someone get it for me. Even Mary says she is terribly spoiled here. It’s all good. It feels nice to be spoiled anywhere and they seem happy to do it…smiling…Mary is a kind person, Like Kadia and Ishmil. Very gracious and kind.

By the way, I went to the market to buy more tokens of respect for particular individuals. Because of their mistrust of the people from the WEST, especially journalists, in order to take pictures, interview, etc…and to show thanks to the cooks, caretakers, luggage carriers, drivers, taxis, etc…you should offer a gift. You don’t necessarily HAVE TO but it’s definitely not a bad idea.

Eeewww…did I tell you that with all this lifting that I have to do (instead of a caretaker doing it for me like at Ishmil’s) my tendonitis in my right arm, near the elbow, is flaring up a bit? No worries, I’m not tripping again, it’s from playing basketball and typing so much, so I got this…smiling…dang, where’s my Aleve? Lolol… And oh yeah….one more thing, Mary is a Christian raised by ministers, pastors and missionaries. So, we have all participated in Christian prayer and worship here in the home. I didn’t bring any Aleve, so a massage will have to do.

So, I will leave you with this, I know it’s 2014, but it appears to be like any other day and year here…and oh yeah, forgot to tell you that for the first time, someone has said that music is played so much here because it helps everyone deal with the sadness of their lives and conditions. HHmmm…interesting, on one hand, I’ve been told they play music CONSTANTLY throughout the day and night because they are happy people and now, I’ve also been told that they play music to escape the sadness. Hhmm…interesting isn’t it? Perhaps they play to keep the hope that things will get better…that things will return to a sense of “normalcy” when Sierra Leone was a place to live. Full of beauty, life, laughter, prosperity and camaraderie amongst the tribes.  I hope this for them. I pray for this for them. I really do.

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HOPE for a Better Tomorrow

As we say in America, Keep HOPE alive. Thank you Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Just beautiful! I’m really enjoying reading your updates and seeing this side of the world through your eyes. I find your comments on gender expectations challenging to wrap my head around. You know me, I wear my makeup and do my hair everyday but still enjoy my jeans and boots. The thoughts you’ve written make me wonder … Do I take pains to look “feminine” for me … Or others??

    • Hi Kodi! Thank you so much for reading! I can’t wait to get back and see you and my friends. Yes, the gender aspect is very interesting and it’s an interesting question that you ask. HHHMMM. Thank you for your comments and I’ll talk to you soon. Hope all is well.
      Blessings,
      Janice


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