Orientation and First Two Weeks of Pre-Service Training (June 20th - July 7th)

Day 1 (June 20th)

Unlike much of the tropics, Sierra Leone managed to pick the right timezone, and the sun rises at 6:20 rather than 5 in the morning. Walking into the courtyard, I found one of the Matts stretching, and together we ventured out to see what 'exercise facilities' had been provided for us within the school compound that was to be our prison for the next four days. We found a soccer team practicing on the main field and approached the coach to ask about a workout. He had us spend the next hour doing windsprints, ball control drills, situps, pushups, and planks alonside a group of elite athletes. My abs hurt for the next three days.

Breakfast was a bowl of rice gruel and coffee. My expectation was that West African food would be bland and nutritionally deficient this fit that bill nicely. Our morning class session consisted a half hour talk on how we would spend the next few days, followed by a two-hour break. The medical team began with their barrage of shots the first in the rabies series and meningitis in quick sucession in the same arm. Our lunch was cassava leaf and rice, a staple dish of mashed up green stuff, palm oil, and a random smattering of unidentifiable meats (I once got a jawbone that appeared to belong to a cat or monkey). The security guy, Alaaka, drew up a map of town and told us about such landmarks as the Cotton Tree, State House, soccer fields, police stations and markets Daryn, the lead coordinator, quickly interjected that Alaaka "just liked drawing maps", and this in no way implied that we would ever actually be permitted to venture out into the city.

Dinner was a tasty plate of chicken, veggies, and french fries they were making an effort to ease our digestive systems into the local culinary scene. The group stayed up until past 1 playing mafia, bananagrams, spoons, and other games we were still jetlagged, but more than that, we had not yet succumbed to the African sleep schedule, which, for whatever reason, necessitates 11 hours of sleep a night.

Day 2 (June 21st)

While the rains held off during the day, on the second night we got about as much rain in an hour as any point in the US gets in a year. I thought about how my little 2-foot-high cycling tent might fare against the tempest that pummeled our hotel. The previously announced 6am soccer practice had been moved to a less muddy alternative field, but I hadn't a clue where this might be, so I opted for a jog instead. I toyed with the threshold of the compound, placing one foot beyond it, my eyes frantically darting from side to side. I followed a loop around the compound that came to around 1.7 miles with no repurcussions.

Breakfast was eggs and fried banana bread. We had a half hour talk to give us a broad overview of how we would be spending PST and then an hour-and-a-half break. For these first few days, I would speculate that this pace was meant to provide us with ample time to get to know the other volunteers, but as weeks passed and our schedules stayed roughly the same, I would be forced to conjure up other explanations. We had a 1.5 hour development talk that seemed to serve no other purpose but to give some pretense for waiting until midday to eat lunch. For the first two weeks of PST, two current PCVs, Brooke and Colin, would be assisting the trainers; the organization would do well to replace all of the PST sesssions with Q&As with current volunteers.

Once again, we would get a heaping pile of rice covered in a thick green slime this time it was kren-kren, which the current volunteers swear is in some way different from cassava leaf peppered with various pieces of whichever animals happened to wander by the kitchen that morning. The trainers labeled this dish as 'sweet bad bad', which is Krio for delicious.

We had our first Krio language lesson that afternoon with LCF Saio; here we would pick up greetings and asking for names and ages. That night, myself and a few other volunteers would read every dialog in the textbook, and understand pretty much all of it; while the text initially looks like gibberish, reading it aloud, you quickly discover that 98% of it is nothing more than bastardized English. You shouldn't take this to mean that you can actually understand a single word a native speaker says. Everyone's favorite phrase of the night was 'mi bele de go run', meaning 'I have diarrhea'; most of the volunteers would get a lot of use out of this one.

We got our PC-issued $7 cell phones that enabled us to call any other volunteer or staff member for free. Texting was not free, which meant we would actually be forced to talk to each other rather than just send out impersonal mass messages to the entire group. The phones let you assign an icon to each contact, so we spent much of the following break trying to pick the icon that best suited each of us. They also had an impressive repertoire of ringtones; I chose 'Obnoxious Crying Baby'.

We got a 'walkaround allowance' of 140,000 ($32) for our first three weeks in-country. Since all accommodations, transport, and meals were paid for, this basically amounted to beer money. On average, beers cost 4,000 leones each. And the average volunteer ran out of this allowance on Day 17. Since we were locked in a Catholic boarding school for our entire time in Freetown, we could not start buying beer until Day 5. This means that the average volunteer bought 35 beers in 12 days, or about 3 beers a day. This would make a good word problem for my future algebra classes.

We received med kits including all sorts of useful drugs, including an ample supply of condoms in case we had already burned through the pack we got 36 hours before. We also got a copy of "Where There is No Doctor", since we would mostly be serving in villages located hours from the nearest medical facilities and miles from the nearest cell signal.

We were issued tie-dyed Africana shirts/dresses and piled into six land rovers to drive to the State House to meet the country's president. One might expect that you would be required to pass through a security checkpoint and walk through a metal detector or get patted down in order to meet the head of state, but we just walked straight into an auditorium to await the arrival of 'His Excellency'. After a bit, a marching hymn played over a set of tinny speakers, and the president entered. There were a few speeches, during which many of us briefly dozed off (despite the news cameras sweeping over us), and then we went up on the roof for a picture with the American ambassador (who claimed he would try to stop by each of our villages).

The night continued with a trip to the Stadium Hostel, where we were met with an enormous buffet, featuring roughly every dish available in the country (including a 10-foot-long barracuda), and a live DJ blasting West African pop tunes. We immediately began dancing, and, apart from one short hiatus for a few brief speeches by important government officials, the dancing continued for the entire three hours we were there including the time spent standing in line for food. A tiny local girl stood in the center of the crowd, busting out one amazing move after another, while the rest of us tried in vain to keep up.

Day 3 (June 22nd)

The staff performed a skit for us that very aptly conveyed every host family experience I had had until then. A family ambushed their new white child, babbling incoherent welcomes and stroking her hair, then showed her how to bucket bathe, then brought her an absurd amount of food and abruptly disappeared. The next scene was everyone sitting around the living room, every member of the family staring intently at their guest in total silence.

Our soccer field was consistently full, so a few of us ventured across the street to a preparatory school that had sweeping ocean and city views, and a field big enough for 15 concurrent games it was also full. We ended up playing on some stairs alongside 10 local kids.

Day 4 (June 23rd)

The 5:30AM call to prayer lasted a full 30 minutes and made sure I didn't commit any sin so great as sleeping in til dawn. In the early morning darkness, I ran to the Cotton Tree, admist plenty of other joggers, market vendors, taxis, and stray dogs. My bathroom had running water for once, so I treated myself to a proper shower. It shut off right around the time my entire head and face were covered in soap; this was problematic since I hadn't bothered to refill the bucket I typically used to bathe; I managed to grapple for my boxers before blindly stumbling out into the courtyard to wash with rainwater. Half the group went to the on-site Catholic church at 7; the music was a bit lackluster and the priest's microphone seemed to be plugged into a distortion pedal, but it was over in an hour, giving us plenty of time to grab deep-fried pancakes from the breakfast hall before boarding our 9am bus. .

The ride to Bo was four hours long, broken up by a stop in Pineapple Town where we played a game which involved hopping around on one foot whilst kicking a rock, and Colin bought pineapples for me to present to my host family. Arriving at the training site, we found all of our new families waiting for us. But prior to meeting them, we were presented with a bizarre cultural performance involving a guy in a devil suit and another who pulled yarn and a hard-boiled egg out of his belly.

We were told to walk around and introduce ourselves to random families until we found ours. Mine seemed a bit confused by the pineapples I presented to them. We were given huge platters which we loaded up with rice and cassava leaf, and ate from the communal dishes with our respective families. The Macauleys lived in a very nice house on a big chunk of land in New York (a suburb of Bo). The father was away on business, but among those currently living there were Mama Susan, brother Salu, a random helper guy whose name I have not learned, Susan's small children, Emmanuel and Jo-Jo, and at least three other children who seemed to have only a loose association with the family. Two of the younger children broke into tears and screamed violently whenever they saw me; the family thought this was very amusing and carried them to me at every opportunity. The house had two large TVs but no electricity, and a showerhead but no running water. Two 40ft-deep wells on the property provided the water needed to wash and flush the toilet.

Salu took me on a walking tour of New London and Brihma Town, where we visited Susan's sister and several of the other volunteers. Dinner was sweet potato fries, chicken and cucumber, which my host mother reasoned would be kinder to my weak American intestine than rice and kren-kren. Peace Corps had issued an edict that we keep our windows closed at all times for security reasons, but this wasn't going to fly in 90-degree weather; I fought Mama Susan`for 15 minutes before I finally convinced her to look the other way.


The streets of Freetown


A devil


One of the host fathers pulling yarn out of his belly to impress the ladies.

Day 5 (June 24th)

My host brother knocked on my door at 6:30AM, "Are you not going to school today"? Classes wouldn't start until 8:30. His concern was premature. My breakfast was a spicy omelette which somehow held onto about six ounces of vegetable oil. This would be the grounds for one of many battles to shift my family's perspective of American dietary needs.

The first three hours of classes were spent comparing our respective amenities. Aside from a few whose host mothers ran businesses selling popsicles or cold drinks, most had no electricity, and almost no one had running water; some had only an outdoor latrine and were provided chamber pots for after curfew. Kim had been picked up in a Mercedes and driven to her private guesthouse, equipped with Satellite TV and a hot water shower, that sat on the grounds of her family's mansion. It wouldn't be a true third world experience if all our homestays were equal, we needed disparity to really drive the point home.

We were assigned language groups of three or four people and were dispersed to houses around the community to learn Krio. Most of our language lessons consisted of reading the book's dialogues nine times in a row and working through the included exercises; our teacher seemed in many ways to be a product of the education system that had spawned him. The Safety and Security lesson bombarded us with acronyms and mnemonics and scare tactics, without ever once attempting to convey a meaningful fact or singular word of advice.

Cups were distributed for a coffee break and we were told to keep them on hand for future breaks, but we would not see coffee again for several weeks. This was unfortunate because lunch amounted to about three pounds of white rice, topped with a leafy, palm oil garnish, and was inevitably followed by classes engineered to dull our senses.

Six of us took an afternoon jog up Candy Mountain. Candy is one of several random geologic upheavals scattered around the otherwise flat Bo, and from the top, you can behold the far reaches of the city, which seems little more than a country crossroads. I went home and stared at my family for an appropriate length, and then sat to eat an absurdly large dinner of curried cous-cous, chicken, fried sweet potatoes, a whole pineapple, Asian snack crackers and popcorn; as always, I sat alone at the table, with my three plates, two cups, and four spoons, while my family ate with their hands out of a common dish on the porch.


Delicious spicy omelette -- saturated with about a pint of vegetable oil


UN Peacekeeping vehicles at our training site

Day 6 (June 25th)

First thing in the morning, I ran into Bo along random backroads and found everything to be closed; since our classes ran from 8:30 to 5:30 each day, and the walk to town took forty minutes, there was little hope of getting to a shop during business hours. Okadas whiz by every 2-5 seconds, just itching to take you anywhere in town for twenty cents, but these are forbidden. There are no other taxis. Apparently there was once a bike rental service that allowed Salone 1ers to pay a few thousand and get to town quickly, but this has since disappeared.

After spending the morning rehashing the safety acronyms we had learned the previous day, we had a cultural sensitivity class on how to eat and act and such. I promptly passed out, and, when the guy next to me rose his hand to speak, this became very obvious to everyone in the room. It was even more obvious when I fell asleep in the language class that followed, given that I was one of only four in the class. I would chalk it up to jetlag. This excuse would work for another week after that, I would just claim I had diarrhea and go somewhere else to sleep.


Post-lunch siesta

Day 7 (June 26th)

I was intrigued by a class called "EPIC journey" on the schedule, but this turned out to be an anything-but-epic discussion on mental health. After school, we made a circuit through all the host families in New York I considered drawing up a "Map of Stars' Homes" and selling it to our hordes of adoring fans. Colin, my host family's previous PCV came to eat dinner with the family, but as is the custom, the whole family exited the room and left the white people to eat alone; a little bit later, my six-year-old host brother was deposited at the table to silently watch us eat this was a great honor for him. My family liked Colin more than me; they called him Chief Bumbaley because he was always bringing girls home; I was a disappointment.

Day 8 (June 27th)

PST homestay is a second childhood. No longer could I prepare my own food. No longer could I clean my own clothes. No longer could I take a car or bike or bus to get where I needed to go. All of my needs and activities had been outsourced. Saturday would be the day I would learn to wash, to shop, to draw water, and to generally survive on my own.

I hitchhiked to Bo after lunch to get the USB dongle that would finally get me the internet access I so craved. The shop was out of modems until Monday. A forty minute walk meant I would miss the first half of a session on dumbing down your English so African children can understand. Bummer.

After school we had a fifty-person frisbee game on a 30m-long field covered in broken glass and razorblades, then we went to see Chris's monkey. Action Jackson was not a particularly sociable monkey and seemed fairly discontented with his lot in life he would repeatedly leap into the air, only to be immediately yanked back by his chains. None of us had any inkling of how to get back home from Chris's house, but fortunately there was a small child on hand that conveniently knew where every last one of us lived.

That night I talked to a university student, named Foday, who was of some relation to my family. He lamented the state of the Salone education system, claiming that university lecturers had to supplement their meager incomes by accepting bribes from students for better grades, and that they are reluctant to give out good grades to their best students for fear that those students could return to steal their jobs. Foday loves America; he is a Republican and an avid supporter of George W. Bush. He doesn't care much for Obama on account of the killing of Gaddafi, who has apparently done a great deal for the people of Sierra Leone.

Day 9 (June 28th)

Friday was village day, so we met early in the morning to cram into landrovers and drive down a muddy track to Koribundu and watch a Sierra Leoneon school in action. The flaw in this plan was that the school we were visiting was Muslim, and was not in session on Fridays. So, the administration pulled the best students in and created some mock lessons to give us a good show.

The first lesson of the day was on a healthy diet, and the teacher just copied a bunch of high-sounding definitions onto the board that he himself didn't seem to understand and had the students take turns reading them aloud. Afterward, the tech trainers presented a talk on the Sierra Leoneon educational system, which was mostly just a bunch of big acronyms and was itself pretty representative of the broken-ness of it all. The town cryer, who is apparently a legitimate government official in these parts, gave us a tour of the village.

Back in Bo, we went to a very westernized Lebanese supermarket and got peanut butter and Snickers ice cream bars. This would become a common haunt for our group, given that it was perhaps the only place in town with air conditioning, and probably the only store outside of Freetown where you could find Nutella. Returning to Mapco (the training site), the group broke out ukeleles, guitars, and harmonicas for the weekly jam session. As we all sang along to Wagon Wheel, I imagined my friends back home were likely doing exactly the same thing (though four hours later).

Most went out to Vicani's, the New London club where we would doubtless spend many a Friday (and Saturday and Tuesday) night. At 7 o'clock, the 5000L cover was not yet being enforced and we had the dance floor all to ourselves, and the bouncers let us move freely through the gate to grab 500 leone rum packets and 1000 leone ginger beers from the vendors outside. Then the group stumbled home through the dark to make the 10PM curfew; my neighbor and I half-carried one volunteer who had a penchant for drinking a few too many packets.


Village school


Ubiquitous lizard


Standoff



Small villagers


Pomuy (Mende for 'white people')

Day 10 (June 29th)

There is a law in Bo that dictates that everyone stay home and clean on the last Saturday of the month from 5 to 10AM anyone caught on the streets during this time, is subject to a 100,000L fine. I supervised the cooking of a very elaborate breakfast porridge which included seven kinds of root vegetables, Magi cubes, palm oil and bananas; like everything else, it took over two hours to prepare on a three-stone fire. I was then taught to 'brook', which involves vigorously rubbing your clothes together in a bucket until they are sparkling white and utterly destroyed; socks might survive one such cleaning, while cotton shirts tend to make it through two to three (though the first brooking renders them a size larger). I washed half of a token sock while, in the same interval, my host brother washed all of my other shirts, pants, socks, and underwear he then proceeded to finish my sock for me.

Gardening class taught us how to say ho and machete in five different languages. We used a few cutlasses (Krio for machete) to clear a large plot of land and piled dirt in lines over the cut brush. A group of forty volunteers walked into town to use internet and completely overwhelmed the trickle of bandwidth coming into the cafe. While we were there, the power went out and the place promptly filled with the diesel fumes of the generator. The power goes out most days but only in the wet season in the dry season, it never comes on in the first place.

That night, Paige's family (my nearest neighbor) was having a party for a graduating eighth grader. Mark and I stopped by to find the house clogged with a hundred random children, and Paige dancing in the middle of them; the temperature in the living room hovered around 115. I made a token effort to dance alongside my friends, then quickly escaped. But there would be many more graduation parties to come - providing white people for such events, to awkwardly dance for the amusement of the locals, seems to be one of Peace Corps' primary roles in Bo.

Day 11 (June 30th)

Three miles north of town, there is a big bald rock jutting out of the jungle. Seeing it there makes me wish I knew something about geology. As it is, it makes for a good viewpoint break halfway through a run.

It was the first Sunday I would spend with my host family and I came home to find a radio evangelist preaching against sotomy: "Just say no to mommy and daddy business through the anus." I went to a service with my host mom; it started at 9 but Susan seemed to be in no hurry and we walked in at 9:45, halfway through a sermon by a man dressed in a coat with a fur-lined hood (heavy winter coats are more popular than you would think, given that it never drops below 75) it was largely in Krio, but from the pantomiming, I pieced together that it had something to do with butterflies pooping. The service went for two-and-a-half hours more and included testimonials, speaking in tongues, and the visitors shaking hands with every single other person in the congregation. I would go to training the next day ready to complain about the length of the service, but would discover that my church experience was shorter than that of nearly every other trainee by a span of two to three hours one had a 6-hour service where everyone writhed on the ground as their demons were cast out.

"Today we will go to a naming ceremony." Mama Susan was now solely responsible for my social calendar. She seemed peeved that, on my account, we couldn't just take an okada and had to walk thirty minutes to get there. I would be too.

The ceremony was to commemorate the naming of a 2-week-old baby. There were probably a hundred people in attendance; thirty were adults, presumably with some connection to the family, and the other seventy were random children from nearby neighborhoods who had heard there would be free food. The grandfather said a few words, everyone processed up with gifts and handed them to the mother, each adult guest was handed an individually wrapped meal consisting of rice, veggies, chicken, and coke, and then the music was cranked up and the children danced. Garbage cans full of ginger beer baggies were emptied to placate the mob of kids. The older people just sat with glazed expressions, not dancing or speaking to each other or doing any of those things I've come to associate with parties. A bearded man with crazy eyes stood before the crowd, holding aloft a textbook on the Arabian peninsula, and busting out one sequence of crazy dance moves after another; my host mom explained that he had gone to high school with her and used to be quite normal, but someone had since put a curse on him and now he was very strange. Susan decided I needed to dance, and asked her brother to dance with me; apparently, no one found this awkward but me.

I was still being eased into the local cuisine, so I got both rice and plasas, and chi

cken and french fries; the theory was that I would eat a little more of the African food each day until I ate only rice and plasas. I put some of the green vegetable slime on the fries and left the rice untouched; judging from my family's reaction, this was just about the strangest thing they had ever seen.


Random uninvited kids dancing at party


Bad marketing


My king-sized bed



The family well and half-finished mud house


The veranda

Day 12 (July 1st)

We walked around Kibbie Town for our language class and struck up conversations with every person we encountered; we were well equipped to ask them where they were from and what work they did, then silently stare until our teacher became uncomfortable and signaled to say goodbye. In America, it would be abnormal to approach someone's house and ask personal questions, but in Salone, it's expected. Getting from one place to another inevitably involves crossing through several people's backyards, and it would be rude to pass by without striking up a conversation - regardless of how little clothing the residents might be wearing at the time.

When I got home, I set about preparing a row in the garden. As with brooking, my host brother was significantly faster and more thorough. With our efforts combined, we finished a 20m stretch that would be ready to plant in a few days.


One of many half-finished mansions


View from New York


Public service message in Krio


Shops of Bo Town


"We Sure Ball"

Day 13 (July 2nd)

My quest to get an Airtel modem led me to walk the forty minutes to the shop for its 8am opening; I wouldn't make the start of my 8:30AM class, but I had long since dismissed the possibility that the session could include some new bit of vital information, that wasn't painfully obvious to every single person who had ever survived til their twenties. I was told the guy with the modems wouldn't arrive until 9, and at 9, I learned that the modem had not yet left Freetown. I went by the central market to buy seeds to plant kren-kren and grin, then spent an hour at the internet cafe, and made it back just in time for the mid-morning coffee break. No one had picked up on my absence in the first session; this realization would not be conducive to a strong attendance record going forward.

I had made it back in time for diversity training; they had shipped in a Muslim, a Chinese guy, and an African-American from the far corners of the country. None reported treatment any different than what the rest of us had experienced.

For the sexual assault talk, they brought in one of the three volunteers who had been assaulted in PC's most recent 4-year stint in Salone. She had prosecuted the guy, gotten him locked away for two years, then flown home for a month of counseling and afterwards returned to her site with the understanding that there was nothing she could've done to prevent it.

This was the day for our one and only site interview. It was questionable whether my interviewer understood anything I was saying he just read questions off a form and jotted down tiny, non-representative segments of my responses. I suppose site selection wasn't particulary important - we would only be spending two years in these places after all. For what it was worth, I expressed that I wanted to be stationed in a tiny mountain village that could only be reached by a thirty-mile ridgeline bike ride.

It was on this day that the group discovered Graceland, a minimart with an adjacent shack only a few hundred meters from the training site. We would spend many an evening here, avoiding awkward hours with our host families, and trying our darndest to win the Star Beer goat jackpot.


The ol' watering hole


Local vendors


Moving day


Jolof rice for dinner

Day 14 (July 3rd)

We were divided into groups and tasked with coming up with an activity for the July 6th field day. I suggested a revolutionary war reenactment or scavenger hunt, but the group voted to instead give people fake passports and have them jump from station to station and learn about the White House, apple pie, the Statue of Liberty, and football. Our group's was the only activity that would never make an appearance at field day.

School was followed by a Erin's cardio kickboxing workshop and a game of volleyball on a field riddled with razorblades and other items not conducive to aggressive play. I went to a new internet cafe that had a number of machines dating from the early 90s that were all sharing a 3kbps connection over a USB modem. Just down the street, I was thrilled to find bags of Dutch oatmeal that might finally replace the grease gushing omelettes I got each and every morning but I would soon discover that these did not fare well on the 3000-mile ocean voyage.

It is worth mentioning that in Sierra Leone, the ground is lava. We take it for granted in the States that you can pick out a patch of grass and sit, or roll around, or do push-ups this is not an option here. Every single inch of earth has been contaminated in some way, whether it be by the excrement of an animal or child, or more often, by all manner of litter. It is impossible to pick out a spot that won't give you some sort of disease. A yoga mat is a solid investment.


This boy is named Precious


The winning football team


Drinking with the African children

Day 15 (July 4th)

The trainees had thus far quietly endured everything the trainers threw at them, but in our second (or maybe third) 2-hour gender equality talk, the frustration was palpable. We had to get up, and as a group, move from one side of the room or the other to indicate whether each in a series of statements (like 'Most men are physically stronger than most women') was based on gender or sex. We were on the verge of a mutiny; fortunately for the trainers, the two weeks of training they had provided thus far had sufficiently dulled our minds and weakened our spirits so that we could do little more than march unquestioningly onward, like lambs for the slaughter.

In honor of July 4th, our lunch included a whole fried fish, french fries and some sort of weird cabbage salad exactly like mom used to make. Our last period was alotted to eating popcorn and soda and watching Anchorman. We hatched a plan to get an okada driver to bring us marshmallows so we could make smores over a bonfire, but this, sadly, never came to pass.


Trifold newspaper hat and razor wire


Slippers for sale


Chris's goat


Our trusty guard dog

Day 16 (July 5th)

We watched the movie War Don Don about the trial following the end of the war, and got the insight of the staff, many of whom had seen the destruction first-hand. For language class, we suggested that we go to Graceland and order drinks to practice our restaurant vocabulary. The teacher seemed surprisingly receptive to this idea, but early on we had been told of a policy against drinking with our teachers, so we opted to go on a walk instead.

Day 17 (July 6th)

The trainees all showed up at 7:30AM to tie-dye gara cloth so that we could make our own Africana clothes. We were not informed until a week later that the language teacher running the class was actually exacting a fee of 25,000 leones for each cloth by our estimate, she pocketed at least half a mil.

For our celebration of the 4th on the 6th, hordes of children and some host parents turned out to celebrate America. We had sack races, cornhole, twister, and a water balloon toss, and a really fun game where you blindfold someone and have them chase after a second blindfolded person who has to blow a whistle at regular intervals. One trainee group drew a map of America on the ground, played American songs and had everyone dance in the appropriate region; the sight of so many dancing pomuy seemed to leave the locals frightened and bewildered.

We ditched our families to go back to the Mapco compound for bean burgers and fruit salad prepared by some of the Salone 3s. This wasn't anything like a Fourth of July barbeque back home. But it was even less like rice and plasas. And in that way, it was truly beautiful.

I finally returned to the modem store, not at all confident that the week I had given them would be enough time to get a modem in-stock. But they had in fact managed to finally get one to their second-largest outlet, and I broke out the remainder of my American cash to pay the hefty $65 pricetag. The manager couldn't figure out how to convert the price in Leones to dollars, so he just handed all my money over to a nearby money changer who proceeded to short me about 300 leones per dollar.

It was an annual tradition for the trainees to face off against the trainers in football, and Peace Corps rented out the city's largest stadium, arranged for refs and uniforms, and put on a good show for the hordes of random people who turned out to watch. To give themselves a competitive advantage, the trainers had hired security guards and other ringers, and managed to edge us out by a point. A local reporter took our picture with some guy who was playing guitar in the stands for spare change, and we presumably appeared in the Monday edition.

As with most other nights of the week, many of the Salone 4s, as well as all of the Salone 3s, 2s, and extended 1s who had come into town for the bean burgers, went out to Vicani's. The staff had decided to pick the most gullible among us and charge a 5000 leone cover for a show that started at 1am, knowing full well we had a 9 o'clock curfew. At one point, Taylor went on a hunt for street food. Acheke had been brought up in our Krio language class but we still had no idea what it was. When we found a cart selling it, we were excited. Taylor ordered one and the woman piled gari, egg, onions, ketchup and mayonaisse into a black plastic bag, which, when filled, bore a striking resemblance to the dog poop baggies that my roommate used to leave in our garbage. No spoon was available, so Taylor attempted to eat it as a horse might eat from a feed bag. This was entertaining.


Gara tie-dying


Twister


50 states cornhole


Style points



Sack race


The children didn't want to waste their water balloons, so they took them home instead of throwing them


Blindfolded whistle game




This kid has never heard of Toy Story



The Ice Cream Man




Dance-off





Our finished gara cloth




Putting Jesus on your packages protects against theft


A special July 4th meal (on July 6th)


The cheer squad



Local musician


Sour cream yoghurt ice cream


Trainers vs. Trainees


Day 18 (July 7th)

Mike, one of the VATs for the week, took a few of us to the 7:30 Mass at St. Pious, which, at a mere 2 hours in length, was the shortest service in town. The clergy and choir danced down the aisle to the beat of a drum band; unfortunately most of the music was in Mende and no hymnal was provided, so it was hard to sing along. The homilee was half in Krio, so I missed most of the jokes. Wooden signs were held up to alert you that it was your turn to come and receive the Eucharist. Announcements lasted for twenty minutes and were followed by a lengthy explanation of who is and who is not entitled to receive the Eucharist (apparently, if you go through RCIA and receive your First Communion, this does not automatically entitle your three wives to receive it).

At 29, I was the oldest member of the Salone 4 group. We often pondered why everyone in our group was twenty-something, when a significant percentage of volunteers were older. Salone 3 had mostly the same range but also included two fifty-something members. Mike was one of these, and hanging out with him was a different experience. On the way back from church, he said "I know a restaurant that didn't make me sick so I like to go there"; as it happened, we too liked things that didn't make us sick, and we assumed that this restaurant was roughly on the way home, so we agreed. He ended up leading us twenty minutes in the opposite direction to a tiny cookery shop in a dark hovel in the transport park that served his village. He had clearly spent way too much time there and knew most of the vendors and struck up conversations with each of them. The cookery served up a tasty mix of black eyed peas, noodles, ketchup and mayo.

One of my Sunday habits, since I typically exhausted my reserve battery's charge on Saturday night, was to go hunting for a place to charge my laptop. I went to the hotel where all the language trainers stayed, and was directed by my Krio instructor to one woman's room where I sat for hours working on my blog. I was eventually invited to come eat, and dined from the same plate as five of my teachers; naturally, they talked about me in Krio the whole time.

That night, Nick's family hosted a party that did double duty for his sister's graduation and his arrival. Nick gave a long and poignant speech to thank his family, and I gave a far shorter and less poignant speech that included my name and state of origin. We were handed Jolof rice and macaroni and coke, then Paige and Mark showed up and the four of us were forced to dance in the center of the crowd. They laughed riotously and applauded our meager efforts, but the novelty wore off quick; when Paige and I returned to the stage later, the crowd looked on stone-faced, and afterward two girls approached Paige and, with looks of deep concern, flatly stated "Please do not dance anymore. Your dancing is not fine."


Good electricity? Obviously someone didn't pay their property tax.