January 4th, Reflections of Sierra Leone: Extensions, Additions to previous post plus a new one…

IMG_1448January 3, 2014…

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.

IMG_1559I’ve begun to realize how, as a single woman, without anyone, including a strong male around, I’ve had to lift such heavy things in my life. Sofas, TV’s, tables…whenever I needed something moved, I moved it. 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. 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, 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 and the women…the women, keep giving me hints about wearing dresses and skirts…even some of the men have said a few things like, “yes, now you can go to the market to get a dress too.” 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?

IMG_1564Under 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…” 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. I had more choices. Here or there, I wouldn’t want to wear a dress, skirt, heels, stockings, etc…everyday. 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…

The other thing I’ve noticed with so many people around is that I haven’t been able to write as much or as frequent. 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 (MAC signal of power Loudly interrupts my goal of being quiet) sssshhh, I begin to write and prepare for a journalism workshop. 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. I 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. I like them both. Here, I follow Mary and Mary is truly revered here in this home. 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. They seem happy to do it…smiling…

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 arm is flaring up a bit? No worries, 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.

IMG_1470So, 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 through 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 the place to live. Full of beauty, life, laughter, prosperity and camaraderie amongst the tribes.  I hope this for them. I really do. I’ll talk about shopping at the market a bit later.

January 4, 2014

IMG_1510Last night we took some time off to have fun with our other Mousekee- I mean Musketeer, Mary! Lol…She wanted to exercise by dancing the night away and so that’s just what we did, all the way until almost 5 in the morning…Not so bad, considering that we started about 11:30 pm and oh yeah! We were 17 last night. Well, Kadia said she was 21, and WE were 17. I guess she wanted to still be the oldest and the leader of the pack!

IMG_1531Ishmil, of course, was our escort. And we had a blast! We navigated our way through traffic so that we could get out of the packed parking lot and then reality started to settle in and our 17-year old and 21 year old voices began to dissipate…. “Oh my gosh…is my knee ok?  We danced all night! Yeah! And I feel it too. I’m tired. Me too! What time do we have to get up in the morning? IN 4 hours???!!! Oh my gosh, I wanted to cry. Lawwwddd. 4 hours???!!!! Are we having hot flashes or was it just that hot in the club, or is it just sooooo hot in this car, or is it just so hot in Sierra Leone? Ishmil, are we taking short cuts to get home? Does anyone have an aspirin or Ibuprofen? We all laughed…then I asked the most important question of the evening….Are we still 17? We laughed again…nawww…we don’t think so. But, it was fun while it lasted….lolol.

IMG_1546I woke up this morning feeling really good…sweaty, hot, humidified (if that’s a word…if not, it needs to be, lol, means overly humid) and to Mary getting ready to leave to meet Kadia for their day trip. Oh, before I forget, did I tell you that I was having a little anxiety, not much, just a little, when I thought about breathing? Yes. You see, sometimes, the fumes from the cars are so thick that it can be hard to breathe fresh air in the city. Then, you move indoors and you’re thinking-relief, but because the electricity is not on, and the generator isn’t on, there is no real circulation of the air, no fan. So, you’re left with trying to breathe and survive in the thickening, hot, humid, sweaty, dense, particles that make up what some call AIR. But, as most SL’s do, I adjusted and made it through but…BUT…. I COULD NOT BEGIN thinking about putting on a lot of clothes to sleep in those conditions. Each night it seems that I’m sleeping in fewer clothes. One night, no socks, the next night, no shorts, the next night ABSOLUTELY no BRA, the next night, in the middle of the night, tucked way down in the silk sheets that we sleep on and under, the shirt is done away with as well. As long as my “girls” don’t wake up and jump out before I do in the morning, we should be ok. Lol. Whew…made it. Now onto another blessed day.

Do I miss the air conditioning right now? Yes. Do I miss having something really really cold to drink with ice? Yes! And it doesn’t have to be anything alcoholic like some of you may be thinking….smiling…Just a nice COLD TALL GLASS of WATER! Yes! I’ve even started to rinse in the shower in cold water because it feels so good. I wonder is this the time of transition where I’m feeling like, ok, I’ve been a tourist…I’ve seen some great things, I’m learning to adjust here and there…but what day is it that I’m leaving? Lolol…Naw…it’s been wonderful here and I couldn’t be treated any better. I’m looking forward to my next trip here. There are no guns so there are just a few arguments here and there but because Sierra Leoneans are known to talk loud, be dramatic, intense and passionate, I never know when they’re arguing or playing…so I just smile…I’m smiling now…and of course, while I’m smiling I’m shooting away with my camera! Lolol…How annoying is that? If they’re really arguing they turn and look to see a westerner in a car, recording them and smiling…lolol…hhmm…that’s funny.

IMG_1552Any way, back to this morning. I decided to stay in and schedule interviews, do some writing, transfer my footage over to my external hard drive, and work on my upcoming presentation on Journalism, Media Messengers and Activists in a Free and Democratic Society. There is an Open Government Initiative mandated by President Koroma and the Director of this initiative has asked me to give a Lecture/Workshop. They are already promoting it in the media here and next week I’m supposed to go on a promotional radio tour to highlight some of the things I will be talking about. They have invited all of the journalists, human interest activists, social activists, chiefs, etc…because they feel that they ALL have to work together to keep the government accountable. I have also met with the Chairman of the National Federation of Civil Society NAFCIS, Victor Koroma. No relation to the President, who is a co-sponsor of the event and also Mende, from the Moyamba District which I will visit in 2 days. I’m really honored to have been asked to help with this process. Wish me luck! The not so good news is that all flights are booked solid until the 29th of this month, which means that my ticket could not be changed so that I can assist in a journalism workshop with U of I colleagues and ACES colleagues. Drats! But next year!

IMG_1544My breakfast was waiting for me at the table. Sardines with onions and peppers, fresh bread, tea and oats with fresh fruit. Delicious. For lunch, I had fresh Cassava leaves with Chicken and cous cous. Yesterday, someone had cleaned our room, washed our clothes (by hand of course) and arranged our luggage for neatness. It was very thoughtful and nice to have this done for me/us.

IMG_1446I felt a little alone, lonely today because none of my running partners were with me and since I AM a visitor, there really wasn’t anyone to call to say hi, what are you up to, where are you going, want to come over, plus I, of course don’t know the language that well, so I kind of felt alienated. And then, just then, Kadia and Mary called to check up on me and Brenda, Mary’s sister came onto the balcony to make sure that I was ok, that I had eaten breakfast and didn’t need a ride to one of my appointments. So, I was good. Smiling…God is good.

IMG_1449My note to leave with you for now because I have other work to do is that a virtue that I have witnessed EVERYWHERE in Sierra Leone is that it is a VERY family-oriented culture, much like the “Old” African American culture with extended families and neighbors who would spank you before your mother did when she got home because you did something wrong. The “village” was going to make sure that you stayed out of trouble, ALWAYS! We have lost this I am sad to say, in some locations. Any way, here in SL, everyone helps everyone and anyone. There are sisters and brothers and uncles and nieces and none of them have to be blood-related to be called any of these titles. The SL’s truly live and practice the creed that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. No one has to be a stranger. Not a bad thing is it? Well, I hope you’re having an awesome day and enjoying the lovely luxuries that you have and I hope you get the opportunity to help someone today, someone you are not related to and through your selfless deed, you find peace in being their “keeper,” if only for a moment. Smiling…Take care.

IMG_1447

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