Friday, November 9, 2007

A Few First Impressions

I arrived in Sierra Leone exactly one week ago and have been busy nearly every minute. My first day was spent taking a tour of downtown Freetown, buying a cell phone and learning how to balance ventilation with protection from mosquitoes, something that involves quick leaps under my mosquito bed net after opening all of the windows in my bedroom. The second day I spent on a tour of a community where the Goderich Waldorf School has secured a 7-acre parcel of land on which it could finally build a permanent school building as well as faculty housing and a small farm. The third day, Monday, was my first day at the school and I have been there every day this week.

The school looks just as it did in the photographs you can view on the links I have posted, but I had not sufficiently imagined how it would feel to be among those buildings and with the teachers and children. I have been made to feel very comfortable in very new surroundings. The children are happy and playful and get themselves into trouble and do everything children are supposed to do, including follow their teachers attentively in their lessons. I am surprised only because most come to school without breakfast and the temperature under the tarpaulin roofs reaches the high nineties by 10:30 by which time even the smallest children are dripping with sweat. There are very few complaints, though, about the heat, about the hunger, about the gaping infected wounds many of the children have on their arms and legs, results of a lack of first-aid treatment for the simplest of cuts. The classrooms are open to one another, which means that each teacher is doing his or her best to speak over the noise from adjacent classrooms. The teachers have no break from child supervision from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and are working without the most basic resources of information and for very little pay. Nevertheless, they arrive every day. Attendance among teachers and students is remarkably high given the conditions.

I have taught two classes so far, but it turns out that classes one through four don't really have enough English to understand me, so I have been teaching them English as a second language, which is very useful for the children since they have to sit their state exams for entry into secondary school in English.

The days are long ones, dusty and hot, and a haze over the eastern mountains surrounding the city is the harbinger of the harmattan, a cold dry wind off of the Sahara Desert that, according to one of the teachers, turns everyone's skin white and cracks lips. It should arrive any day now and last for about a month. I won't mind a cool wind, but more dust won't be welcome. When I arrive home after school, the first thing I do is take a cold shower, turning the water a reddish-brown with layers of iron-rich soil that I have picked up on my clothes. I do laundry every morning and will probably be able to remain presentable if I keep up the habit.

I am living just south of downtown Freetown in the Babadori Hills section of the Lumley community. Downtown Lumley is a noisy hub for taxis and poda-podas, buses so named because when they drive into and out of the chasm-deep potholes in the roads they make a noise: poda-poda. I had my first ride in one this morning, sitting on a stool where the front passenger seat might once have been. Somehow the bus made the journey of a few miles from Lumley to Goderich in less time than any taxi I have taken so far: we made it there in 25 minutes this morning; usually it takes closer to 45 minutes. The potholes are really something to behold, but I wouldn't want to be held responsible for any car that was driven over them. Undercarriages are pretty well beaten up and exhaust systems often just fall right off.

There is a great deal more to write, but the keyboard is getting sticky, I am very thirsty and there is a crowd waiting to use computers in this internet cafe. I think weekly postings should be fairly regular from now on, so keep checking.


Jennifer said...

Thanks for the picture. Your words are so descricptive, I'm right there with you, even though the temperature outside my window on this Sunday morning is below 40, and my bus commute isn't nearly as bumpy. Some powerful first impressions.

It must be difficult for you to teach Enlgish as a second language when you are not fluent in their first language...a crash course for everyone!

April said...

Thank you so much for the news!!! We are all thinking of you here and miss you. Thank you especially for your stories of the children. It is but another example? more proof? That are more similar than we are different regardless where in the world we reside.

Keep posting! We will check!

The Sanguine Gryphon said...

So good to hear you're there and all is well. What an incredibly challenging year you're facing - I'm looking forward to following all your tales.

PS Your Vicious Circle misses you!

hjm22 said...

Hi, Sue! Glad to hear you are settling in. Your blog is an enjoyable read, and I look forward to seeing more. How interesting that the bus was faster than taxis! Let us know if that continues to be a trend or was a fluke.

Here in DC climate change legislation is actually moving forward! My publication is soon to be a tangible reality, as well. I leave for Bali, Indonesia right after Thanksgiving for the big UN climate meet-of-the-year - let me know if there's anything from there that would be of particular interest or use to you. And let us all know how to send things to you!

Be well,