The Home Stretch (August 3rd - August 28th 10th)

Day 45 (August 3rd) - Trouble on the home front

...the Peace Corps jeep dropped me off and I delivered a very awkward apology to my host mom. In addition to the stress of my disappearance and pursuit, the PCT's were dealing with the abrupt, unexpected death of Banjor's host mom (my neighbor) that morning. I joined several others in sitting outside his house for a few hours as a sign of respect. Deaths here are mourned for several days or even weeks; everyone available is expected to sit outside the house in shifts, 24 hours a day. Prodigious pots of food are constantly being prepared and distributed to everyone on hand. When a new person arrives and runs into the house wailing, it is expected that everyone else will follow along behind them belting out even louder sympathy wailing.

Day 46 (August 4th) - The day a pangolin showed up on my porch

A boy stopped by my house with a baby pangolin that he had found in the bush and I excitedly ran inside to grab my camera; apparently every other pomuy in the neighborhood did the same. This was probably not conducive to discouraging the future capture of threatened species.

Since I was home for once, I decided I would help my mom prepare my daily spicy root porridge and satisfy my cooking requirement. I ran away as soon as my mom asked me to use a plastic bag as a firestarter; my exaltations of the many merits of using paper and kindling fell on deaf ears. She generally seemed to regard me as a ridiculous person though she was apparently somewhat attentive to my health concerns - when she only added four tablespoons of salt to my dish, my neighbor questioned why she had used so little; "he doesn't like salt" I heard her explain.

A child was walking through New York with this baby pangolin he found in the bush

When I asked what he planned to do with it, he said "A mend em"

I don't know what the Krio word mend means, but I assume it's a method for preparing pangolin

The New York extension

My house

Underwear bush

Day 47 (August 5th) Aaditya Andorra

Monday was our first day of summer school; we were divided into groups of three (one English with either two math or two science), and we co-taught two 105-minute classes. We had two 50-person classes one JSS1 (6th grade) and one JSS2 (7th). We started out with class rules, a math assessment and a name game where I assigned each student a country with the same first letter as his/her name. The pre-test revealed that many of the students were doing addition and other operations by drawing hash marks on their paper and counting them, regardless of the numbers involved; the first problem, 123 + 72 + 235, took many of them the full 45 minutes. The name game was problematic because half of the students' names started with A, and there just aren't enough countries in the world that start with an A.

Vendors showed up with delicious corn bread and sour cream ice cream packets during class breaks. I'm pretty sure I chipped a tooth on a rock I found in my cornbread. The ice cream is widely rumored to transmit tuberculosis. Snacking is hazardous here.

Our summer school classroom

Assessment to see where they're at

Day 48 (August 6th) Don't eat the orange snow

Teaching the last class of the block is never easy our JSS1 group assumed the day was over and got up to leave before I even took the stage. And harder still is teaching fractions where fractional coins do not exist, and the word "half" means anything less than a whole, and not a single student has ever even heard of a pizza or 'slices'.

Word had gotten out that summer school was in session and the mid-morning break had more varieties of snacks available than I had seen in my entire time in-country. I decided to try an orange ice that all the kids were munching on, and I was instantly ill to the point where I was quite convinced I would crap my pants mid-lecture. My conjecture was that someone who had access to a luxury item like a freezer probably didn't have to rely on river water for making their drinks; this was not a valid assumption.

One of the students had her breasts exposed for half of my class. Was this in the dress code? I didn't really feel comfortable calling her out on it, so I just avoided looking at that side of the class.

Morning assembly

Massive fish at local LebMart

Day 49 (August 7th)

Alex included pictures of hands in his lecture to describe a shortcut for multiplication, and I decided to reuse them for my lesson on fractions. After class, the tech trainer who was watching us approached me, asking in a very accusatory tone if I had created a lesson plan. He handed me a review sheet where every point said something to the effect that I had not prepared for class. Half an hour later, the program manager gave me his own scathing review; I don't know that he actually watched me teach. I had a meeting with the acting country director that afternoon where he addressed my weekend wandering, my reviews in summer school, my failure to brook and cook, and my complete disinterest in training. I had failed PST. I would be returning to Freetown the following morning.

That night, we had a group 'bonfire' at Mapco where we made smores (with Digestive biscuits). We had a small charcoal stove, which one VAT took 30 minutes to start using a plastic bag.

Day 50 (August 8th)

Mecca didn't announce the actual date of "Pray Day" until Wednesday night, but it ended up being Thursday, and so everyone, Muslims and Christians alike, took the day off. Daryn went around distributing chocolates to all the host families, then he picked up Liam and I, and we drove to Freetown. Liam is an extended Salone 1 volunteer who is widely held to be the most interesting man in the world. He was an actor in Black Swan and made out with Natalie Portman.

The Peace Corps hostel is 180 degrees from anything I'd yet experienced in Salone. Four massive generators insure uninterrupted power, and water flows freely from every tap and showerhead. An air-conditioned computer lab has high-speed internet and wifi. A communal kitchen has a microwave, an electric kettle, and a french press. The book exchange has thousands of books, each labeled with all the volunteers who had read them and the villages they had visited. There's even a balcony where you can sit in a hammock and admire the sweeping views of the city and coast.

Several Salone 2ers were COSing and a couple Salone 3s were there doing research. Derrick from my group was there for medical, and when he left, Matt showed up to take his place. Coming from all the warnings and restrictions of our host family stays, I was surprised to find out that here we had total freedom - as long as we were in by midnight. I walked down to the beach and dodged around all the syringes and other debris that had accumulated on the sand from the recent rains. Just as it started to pour, Liam and Eric called to me from a beachside bar they were in the process of chatting up a couple of local girls. The walk back to the hostel was through a full-out downpour. Every road instantly turned to a whitewater river; in some places, narrow gutters created blasts of fire hydrant intensity. At times, I was legitimately worried that I would be swept away. Somewhere in the city, a mudslide caused a bridge to collapse.

Peace Corps Hostel

Old house on Signal Hill

The old woman believed she could turn invisible by holding her nose

City golf club

Lumley Beach after the rains

Day 51 (August 9th)

The rains continued all day; I left to get breakfast but came back soaked. If I had had any sort of foresight, I might have brought food for the rest of the day. Around 5, a few of us darted to a small shack across the street to get bean salad. The place was packed with young local men, who were all passing around joints. After half an hour, we were given four small black baggies that contained a mix of black-eyed peas, egg, ketchup and mayo, and darted back to eat them in the hostel kitchen.

Peace Corps lending library

Possible side effects include vivid nightmares, delusions, depressions and clown triceratops transmogriphication

Day 52 (August 10th) - The 52 States of America

Alaaka picked me up at 4 to go to the airport. If there is an international airport less convenient than Freetown's Lungi, I have not seen it. At a minimum, you have to take two buses and an hour-long ferry. By road, it's about four hours. We got to the speedboat terminal and waited 2 hours for the next departure; I was instructed to pay for the ticket ($40) with money that I should have supposedly received two days earlier, but I had never seen it. Daryn drove over to bring me the fare and, as an afterthought, handed me two extra twenties for food during my layovers. These two bills were worth significantly more than our 140,000 leone biweekly allowance at training.

There were some disconnects in the Peace Corps budget. My two one-way flights had together cost around $7000. Alaaka and another employee were flying to Senegal for a Washington-led safety conference with a per diem of $300 each. Why had the LCFs' $300/month salaries been delayed so long? Why had the one scheduled Saturday excursion only received a allowance of $100 for 43 trainees? Perhaps it's best not to delve too deep into the finances of government offices.

Alaaka took me straight to the check-in desk, then left to return to his hotel and await his morning flight. I considered walking out of the airport and grabbing a poda poda to Kono. Would my 60lbs of luggage still make it to Sarasota? Would the airline notify Daryn that I hadn't gotten on the plane? Would I regret missing my free ticket to air-conditioning and milkshakes? I still had my Peace Corps passport and multi-entry visa I would just come back in a few months.

I left at 10PM had a 6-hour flight to Paris. At the checkpoint, they put my bag through the scanners three times then confiscated my toothpaste; I squirted a dab into my mouth to save for later. I had a 7-hour layover apparently there's a good museum near Charles De Gaulle I didn't know about it, so I just sat in the airport. They had Playstation games you could play for free. This was followed by a 10-hour flight to Atlanta. I had been assigned an aisle seat, but some guy was sitting there; he claimed he wanted to be next to his wife, so he directed me to a middle seat between two people who both had a horrible infectious disease and were coughing and sneezing all the way across the Atlantic. After that, it was just a one-hour hop to Sarasota, getting me home at 9PM Sunday. Twenty-nine hours isn't half-bad for that particular stretch. Maybe, once the Salone economy comes up a little more, they can add a direct Freetown-Miami flight and it can be reduced to six.