Gray and Red turn to Green, White and Blue

Saturday, a late morning start, with the anticipation of a day at the beach. As we wait for the van to arrive, the skies grow darker and darker. We have been here for well over a week and had no rain to speak of even though it is the start of the rainy season. It looks as though it may hit in full force today – our beach day. As we head down the peninsula highway to River Number 2 Beach, a light drizzle turns into a torrent and the potholes turn into wading-pool-sized or larger obstacles for Musa, our driver, to maneuver around. The road, which is under construction, is a sea of red-clay mud.
As the rain continues to pour down, small waterfalls appear along the side of the road as the rain runs off the hills and mountains that line the coast. We arrive at #2 greeted by the entrance attendant holding an umbrella to fend off rain not a tropical sun. The rain, now steady but not torrential, will not deter us. We select two of the thatched-roofed huts lining the beach to put our supplies for the day in and head out to enjoy the day. Fortune smiles on us today as the rain ceases and moves offshore where we enjoy the occasional spectacular streaks of lightning. As the day progresses, shopping comes to us as vendors walk along the beach peddling their wares – batik, carvings, jewelry, etc. We swim, walk, explore the rocks in the surf, toss the Frisbee and enjoy a thoroughly relaxing day. The overcast skies keep the burning tropical sun at bay and the “sweat index” (no wind chill here) at a low level. What started as a gray day filled with red clay has become a wonderful day with the green mountains of the coast as a backdrop for the white sand and blue water of #2.

Chimps are 98.6% Human…Or is it the Other Way Around???


Time check: 10am. We piled back into the van for a day full of hair, hair, and more hair. The girls’ plaited braids, William’s beard (now as prickly as a porcupine), and a morning spent at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary proved to be quite a “hairy” situation to say the least. We zoomed our way to the fringes of Freetown and found ourselves in a landscape that felt like an entirely different country, inching our way up the side of a mountain until we encountered a himalayan incline (#A.Word.A.Day). Our driver, Mr. Musa, gunned the engine, smoked the clutch, and half the van started flipping out (DeJaco: Get us out of here! Wham: Let us pray). Ultimately, we figured it’d be a better idea to walk the rest of the way, turning around and holding our breaths as we watched Musa back the van down the summit, hoping that the brakes would hold out. We started the tour with our guides, Moses and Joseph, and the first thing we saw was the chimp rehabilitation center. Here, the staff works to stop the spread of potential diseases by inoculating the chimps against what we think of as childhood diseases and weaning them from human contact. Next, we proceeded to the playground area, where adolescent chimps frolicked and flirted with glee. This was our first real glimpse of the chimps’ interactions with each other, and it was awesome to observe their quirks and behaviors, such as playing follow-the-leader, walking hand-in-hand, and walking across tightropes with ease. From there, we hiked through the forest, stopping along the way to see the chimps living in community with each other, watched them peel and eat apples with baby chimps hunkered low to the ground. Young-uns climb trees and hurl rocks (from trees and, if not for our guides’ giving us warning, at US). B. Shell, Johanna, and Taylor were entertained when one chimp came over and clapped for them. (Moses even took the time to teach us how to say “hello” in chimpanzee: hu hu, hu hu). All in all, it was a great experience. The guides made a point to stress how important it is that we continue to work together to preserve and protect the habitats and lives of these incredible animals, and dubbed us ambassadors in our own country to further the work that the men and women at Tacugama Sanctuary are already doing. Before leaving, our group actually decided to adopt a chimp, meaning that we’ll be given semi-annual updates on one of the chimps with the money going directly towards the work happening at Tacugama.

After rumblin’ our way back to town, we made our way to Café de la Rose, where Brandon had a great convo with Mrs. Sandra, William talked it up with Mr. Hickson and Mr. Anthony, and Mrs. Marsha returned for the same ol’ steak sandwich she loved so much during her visit last year. After a slammin’ lunch, we hopped our way over to the market and, to say the least, it was definitely an experience. Picture this: a long, warehouse-like two story building dotted with windows and filled from floor to ceiling with stall after stall of merchants selling trinkets, carvings, jewelry, and traditional African articles of clothing. We were hailed by every shopkeeper in sight, asking us to buy this, bargain for that, and visit every stall before we left. Some of the group (especially Platero and JoJo) haggled for various goods, some were ready to skedaddle like a band of geese and get the flock outta there, and some just soaked it all in. After an exhausting, day-long excursion, we trooped back to Lacs and just laid low for the night. It’s Friday, May 24, and—for now—we must say good morning, good afternoon, and in case we don’t see ya, good night! Peace.

-Meghan, William, Dr. R, Dr. DeJac, and the rest of our Salonean family

Watch out for those umbrellas!

Helloooo from Freetown! Today, May 20, was a wonderful day of learning and teaching. To start off the day, we went to the Annie Walsh School and unloaded the boxes of science equipment and distributed them to the Physics, Chemistry, and Biology Departments. It was very humbling to see how thankful the teachers were of the equipment. The physics teacher expressed his gratefulness and explained how useful the equipment would be in furthering the girls’ education. It was a very satisfying feeling knowing that we were making a small difference in the education of the Annie Walsh girls.
Next, we split into pairs and went into different classrooms to talk about our life in the United States and compare/contrast our lives to the girls. Brandon and I (Meghan) paired up and excitedly went into a classroom full of smiling faces. We began by allowing the students to ask us questions about the United States and our lives. The girls were extremely eager to ask questions. They asked about our perception of Sierra Leone before coming, what our educational system is like, what we want to bring back to the U.S. from our experiences in Sierra Leone, our family, and our hobbies. When I told the girls that I love to dance, they squealed with excitement and asked me to dance for them. I took this as a teaching opportunity and told the girls to stand up so I could teach them something. They asked me to teach them ballet, so I demonstrated the five basic positions. I also taught them “tutting”, which is a style of hip-hop using your hands. The girls loved it and wanted to show me a popular style of dance in Sierra Leone called uzuntu. A girl immediately jumped up to the front of the classroom as another girl took out her cell phone to play the uzuntu song. I watched the girl and took notes, and eventually jumped in. The girls went wild and were laughing hysterically as I danced uzuntu. Brandon and I had a blast talking to the girls about our life. It was amazing to see that even though the United States and Sierra Leone is very different, we are more similar than you think.
Later in the afternoon, we piled in the van and drove to the U.S. Embassy in order to register ourselves. The experience was quite annoying to say the least. The employees doing the security screening at the embassy ordered us to take everything out of our backpacks. All cell phones had to be left behind since you can take a picture with them. Beyond that if it had a wire, a battery or liquid it was flagged on the x-ray screen and you had to pull the batteries, drink the water, squirt on a little bug spray and smear on a little sunscreen to get okayed. Oh, umbrellas! Apparently umbrellas are very dangerous weapons and had to be confiscated, too. We were finally able to fill out the forms and go our separate ways. I said deuces and breathed a sigh of relief as we left! We went back to the Lacs Villa and had a relaxing night, except for one person…me! As I was walking in the dark back to my room, I felt something biting my toe. I picked up my toe and saw a long slender animal hanging off. I screamed and flung it off forcibly. The bite marks cut deep in my toe and the blood was pouring. I had to army crawl back to the room because of the pain. My toe was burning and I had to suck out the poison. I barely survived….just kidding, it didn’t really happen that way. I just wanted to keep you readers on your toes and throw in something adventurous. I really did get bit on the toe, but it didn’t even bleed and the bite marks were barely noticeable. Good night from Freetown!

Meghan Wham

My, What A Lumley Beach!

This morning, we enjoyed the pleasure of sleeping in a bit, due to a later departure than usual being planned for us. Although, I was very slow to get myself out and about my wake up routine, as my two lovely roommates would be willing to admit. Despite the struggle with drowsiness, I donned my bathing suit and joined my companions in the van that still leaves tire tracks in our nightmares. The ride was pleasant, and I sensed that my fears, at least, of that van are well on their way to being erased. As soon as the numerous pairs of feet touched the sand, it was well noted that the group was being observed by many… well, all of the locals.

            This excessive attention spawned a sense of hesitation for the ladies to remove their cover ups and run into the water, although the nervousness quickly gave way to an appreciation for Target’s capability of catering to the diverse interests of females and their swim suit design preferences. Dr. Rhodes just sat and looked at the spectacle in humorous disbelief, curious as to why they didn’t just go into the water like the Daring Dejaco. Eventually, the talk of style and thrift had ended, and all of the girls went to enjoy the ocean while the boys enjoyed a rousing game of Frisbee with the Sierra Leonean boys. The boys definitely held their own very well against our self-proclaimed champions.

            Meanwhile, the ladies did their best to help Annie Walsh teacher, Mr. Steven, confront his fear of the water, in which he admitted that although he visited the beach frequently, he had never stepped into the water even once. Holding his hands for security and he in turn clutching theirs, they braved the waves and worked hard to get him to go deeper bit by bit. Although Christina did her best to offer her support, her height had bested her once again, rendering her ineffective in helping him jump the waves. As she took in more and more water due to being pushed down as everyone else managed to jump the wave, she handed the torch over to Taylor, who proved at least more capable than she was.

            Having had Mr. Steven lead by example, Mr. Kelly, Mr.Hickson and Mr. Richard jumped in right after, and both students and teachers found themselves truly enjoying the experience. Dr. Rhodes ran in as well, and swam right past the group until the point where at a glance it seemed that a white, wide brimmed hat was floating off to sea. After a good while, the group stepped out of the water to apply sunscreen onto what Wham would refer to as our, “delicate skin.” We all enjoyed some laughter as we sat in the sun for a bit to dry off.

            Moments afterwards, however, Taylor and Meghan found themselves in the company of two adorable little boys and acted as guardians and friends by cleaning the sand off of one of the boy’s pants while they played in the water together. Unfortunately, the excursion was at its end when many a member of the group began to notice that they were beginning to cook quite thoroughly. We packed into the van as Johanna was complimented as being an “African Princess,” by one of the beach goers, and with a sendoff as glorious as that, we found our day pretty complete and thoroughly enjoyable.

- Christina Platero

Our Three Hour Tour: Bridging the Gap Between Past and Present

Time check: 7am. We are up, we are up—ready to take on another awesome day here in Sierra Leone! Meeting Mr. Hickson, Ms. Millie, Mr. Stephen, and Ms. Kadie (who’re quickly becoming like family to us) in the lobby at 8am, we piled into the van (Meghan: Oh no, is this the same van we had from the airport?  Others, in unison: NO! It’s got a siren light!) and drove down to the docks to board a boat for Bunce Island. The island is one of Sierra Leone’s (and western Africa’s) most historical sites, a key fort that served as the jumping-off-point that fueled the transatlantic slave trade for nearly two centuries. On the way across, we took in some amazing views of Freetown, had some great convos, and kicked back to simply enjoy the open air. Our guide, Mr. Abdullah, proved to be incredibly knowledgeable and gave us an in-depth glimpse of the slave trade and Bunce Island’s role in its entirety. We hiked around the island and were given humbling insight into the mistreatment of the slaves by European, American, and—shockingly—high-ranking African traders. It was a reverent space saturated with remnants of the past, and I think it’s safe to say this was a day trip worth making. After making it back to Lacs, we spent the afternoon napping, washing clothes, and lying low before then venturing out to see the ocean (Beach No. 1) at sunset. We puttered along in the van (Meghan: Oh my gosh you guys, THIS IS THE SAME VAN!) without any mishaps this time, and took in a spectacular panorama of the city’s natural beauty at its finest. A short blog for a long day, but we learned a lot that simply has to be shared in person. Again, thanks for keeping up with our Salone 2013 team: we are grateful for your supporting all of us every step of the way. Good night!

-Mrs. Marsha, Dr. D, and the rest of the Skipper’s Crew

Word of the Day: Mucilaginous

Word of the day: mucilaginous (Dr. DeJaco shout out!). Quick side-note ya’ll: on Thursday night, Brandon and William (encouraged by the girls from Annie Walsh) decided that they would try the local Sierra Leonian dish called foofoo (ground cassava rolled into a doughy ball) and, after being asked by Jack (the server) what kind of sauce they’d like, they said “whichever’s your favorite.” When they brought it out, however, it turns out that B. Shell and his ever-faithful sidekick Will found themselves facing a bowl of cooked dark green, leafy, mucilaginous goop. After a whiff or two, Brandon bowed out and William…for some strange reason…just kept eating it. Moving on! Friday was an INCREDIBLE, GUT-WRENCHING, CRAZY day spent at Annie Walsh. We spent most of our morning observing in the J.S.S classrooms (junior high), getting a refresher on subjects and topics from our own middle school days (fractions, patterns, fractures, converting between number bases…okay, hold on a sec, did any of us ever learn these things in the first place?). Hayden and Johanna (a.k.a. JoJo) were surrounded by a gaggle of girls—touching, hanging from, and caressing them time and time again; Sarah—the blonde bombshell—took tons of pictures of the girls and discovered what it means to live the movie star life; Platero spent some awesome time swapping stories with the girls; Taylor and William kicked back and shared talk-talk (Krio for conversation) with the Home Economics, Math, and Music teachers; and the Prof’s (our Queens faculty peeps) just soaked it all in. Some of the group got a tour of the boarding house where 59 of the girls live, and let’s just say that—seeing how it’s a girl’s dorm—William had to shield his eyes from some of the “scenery.”  During a stellar lunch of groundnut (ahem, read: peanut) stew, Brandon, Meghan, and William were given the humbling chance to hear Mr. Richard’s story—the loss of his father, his surviving the rebel war, and the miracle that is his daily life. He told them that we must be compassionate, caring human beings committed to helping one another: through faith, through hard work, and through selfless servanthood. He exemplifies the peace of this beautiful post-war nation, but is willing to admit that they still have a long way to go towards becoming a united country. In the afternoon, Taylor, Johanna, Sarah, and Hayden witnessed a scene they haven’t encountered the likes of before: a man walking around the school grounds and going up to girls sent out of the classroom by teachers to dole out corporal punishment. Appalled, members of our group began to question the rightness of these actions, questions that will continue to challenge our own approaches to teaching and handling of others’ misbehavior as we work towards becoming educators ourselves. A sobering occurrence to say the least, the man’s actions and the girls’ subsequent reactions forced us to consider the bigger picture: in a country riddled with a past of domestic violence and male dominance, how far do they still have to go? And, on top of this, it catalyzed our group to question our own actions back home in the United States. We can all reflect on and rethink our actions, and this moment served as a crucial reminder for our group, helping us see the realities of a world (both here and everywhere) that many are all too eager to overlook or dismiss. After making it home to Lacs for the night, we rested, watched children slide up and down a neighborhood waterfall (whooping and shrieking with joy), and shared an awesome family dinner. All in all, it was a brilliant yet eye-opening day: a day worth living, a day worth sharing with all of you. Thank you for following us on our journey friends. Be blessed.

 

-Johanna, William, Dr. Dejaco, the Rhodes’, and the rest of the Rowdy Royals

The Annie Walsh Craze

The Annie Walsh Craze

After a restful night’s sleep (for real this time), we woke up recharged, refreshed.  A couple of the group were feeling a little gastrointestinal distress, but we headed off with hopes that they’d recover sooner rather than later which they did. Bouncing our way along the Freetown streets, we exchanged money at a school no less, not the bank, tried (and failed) to register at the U.S. Embassy (by the time Mr. Shakukamala parked the bus, we were already waiting to get back on because the embassy was closed—because it’s only open for U.S. citizens to visit two hours a day for four days each week), and headed towards Annie Walsh to spend the rest of our day. Mr. Stephen (head of the Biology department) gave us a tour of the grounds before letting us roam free like cattle on a hot patch of Arizona dirt, venturing into classrooms to observe, listen to the teachers’ lessons, talking and laughing and dancing with the girls, participating in a handing-over of supplies ceremony with the AWOGAS chapter (Annie Walsh Old Girls Association, i.e. an alumnae group), teaching Ms. Kadie the Electric Slide and Macarena (to name a few), and having an all-around FAN-FREAKIN-TASTIC day. Our group had some awesome experiences along the way, some of which included: Hayden getting “hair length” comments and scribbled notes from the girls, Sarah watching Mr. Stephen’s incredible animal-focused biology class, Johanna telling the girls “just call me JoJo,” B. Shell with the Iron Fist getting some one-on-one time with Mr. Richard, the P.E. teacher, Meghan’s getting a pen-pal request from one sweet, sweet girl, Ms. Marsha’s reconnecting with Winifred and embracing of the general excitement of all the girls in their interactions with the group, Dr. R’s watching the men unload the crates we shipped all full of science equipment from the van, Dr. Dejaco’s feminist quandary with the differing treatment between the guys and gals, William’s learning the “abijah” dance from his newfound friends (all forty of them), and Taylor’s “sharing”—through her phone—a picture of her dashing beau with the young ladies. After hangin’ out at the school all day, we wanted to experience a Salonian grocery store firsthand and let’s just say that CHRISTINA P. LOVED IT! Items foreign and local lined the shelves, and we could’ve sworn that the currency was for another country (in reality, it was: Leones as a matter of fact about 4300 to the dollar). We said “adaygo” to Ms. Yvonne and ventured back to Lacs for the night. After an awesome, laughter-soaked family dinner, the girls headed off, the professors called it a night, and the boys—William Y. and B. Shell—had an awesome convo. Tankee tankee (thank you) for joining us on this incredible journey back in the states. For now, we say—with contented hearts saturated with love for where we are—gud net.

 

-William, Meghan, and the Sunshine Gang

Kushe, mi brodas en sistahs!

Rise ‘n shine, rise ‘n shine sleepyheads! Wakey wakey! It’s 11am and it’s time to get things going for today! We meet Ms. Yvonne, Ms. Marcella, Ms. Millie, and Ms. Audrey (representatives of the AWOGA sisterhood, tied to the Annie Walsh School here in Freetown) in the hotel lobby after a not-so-long night’s sleep, shakin’ sleep from our eyes but excited for our first full day in Africa! We piled into the van (a RELIABLE one) and were immediately greeted with music from the Kingdom Kids and some Sierra Leone hip-hop artists over the bus speakers. Our driver, Mr. Shakakamala, put the bus into gear and off we went—bouncing, tumbling, and flying over potholes, ravines, and rock piles lining the traffic and people-congested streets. We started off by visiting the Bishop of the Anglican Church—Bishop Lynch himself (insert SCHWA sound of awesomeness here), and it was an honor to spend time with him, the priests, and many of the AWOGAS from Annie Walsh. It was truly a heartfelt, genuine welcome that we received from everyone we met, and proved to be an awesome blessing to start our trip off. From there, we bounced our way to the school itself, and what we were about to experience was going to BLOW OUR MINDS. We pulled into the school grounds and were ushered into the school chapel/auditorium, a massive room jam-packed with girls, girls, and more girls. Every eye in the room turned towards us, and let’s just say that—if we didn’t already stand out enough—having us sit on stage in chairs in front of all of them made us look like cacti sticking’ out of an ocean of Salonian teenage girls.

Sarah Hawley and students from the Annie Walsh Memorial School

The girls and teachers gave us a rock-star reception, and the teachers took a minute to introduce themselves. As each teacher said their name and subject, the girls gave us a taste of two very different kinds of reactions: for the female teachers, they gave a polite golf clap; while, for the men, let’s just say it was like girls at a concert where One Direction, Justin Bieber, and Beyonce were all performing at the same time (otherwise known as OneBeyonBiebs). They erupted into wild cheers (I swear some of us went deaf with laughter), and when they tried to turn it over to us for the intros, let’s just say Brandon got a wild response, the girls were received with big smiles and hearty claps, and William almost fell off the stage. After the intros, we ate a KILLER lunch of black eyed bean stew with rice and got some awesome time with the staff of the school. Eventually, we said deuces and made our way back to Lacs for a night of convos, sleep, and more sleep. From our Salone fambul to yours, we say—for now—adaygo (bye)! Check in soon for more tales of our crazy, once-in-a-lifetime adventure down here in the land of the Lion Mountains!

 

-William, Meghan, Johanna, and the rest of the rock star squad

Lungi to Lacs

Lungi to Lacs, long will you linger in our lives- First off we all arrived safe and sound after a longer than expected trip from Charlotte to the hotel in Freetown. Charlotte to Freetown was routine and we were warmly greeted by Mr Hickson and Mr. Thompson at the airport terminal. Welcome faces amidst the chaos of landing at Lungi airport.

We gathered our belongings with the students having done a great job of packing light and piled all our luggage and 14 people into a 12 passenger. Snuggly squeezed in, we headed for the ferry about 15 minutes away only to find that the last ferry for Freetown was long gone. Faced with few options we decided to drive the three hours to Freetown. For comparison the ferry ride is an hour. And thus the adventure begins…

To set the stage we touched down at Lungi Airport at 8:32 PM and were in the van by 9:25 headed to the ferry. At 10:22 we were on the road to Lacs Villa, our lodging in Freetown. We were cruising along caravan style with two other trucks following us. These were locals whom we had met on the plane from Paris who quickly befriended us when they discovered the reason for our visit to Sierra Leone. They wanted to insure that we would make it to Freetown without any problems. Before long (11:02 PM) the engine started to sputter and soon died. I’m sure I was not the only one who thought, “Uh-oh, the saying TIA (This is Africa) may really be true.” But, our driver, Musa, quickly remedied the problem, and we were on the road again to Freetown.

Then, a detour. In only a few more miles we came to a couple of huge dump trucks and a backhoe neatly blocking any continuation of our journey. There was a not-so-obvious detour on which we bumped along for an untold number of miles. During this transit, the engine died again and again. At one point a motorbike rider even stopped to help and he had a SPANNER wrench. Having a wrench allowed Musa to clear what seemed to be a block in the fuel line and we had a long stretch before the engine died again and again and again. Then we arrive in a small village – Musa knows a guy with a spanner. Ah surely now we will make it to Freetown.

Time check – 3:15 AM. On the road again, veritably flying to the Freetown peninsula and Lacs and sleep. Sputter, sputter, sputter. The “hoods up” again. Only, the hood is actually the engine compartment inside the van and every time it goes up, the driver’s seat goes back and squashes Carrie D. between her seat the driver’s seat and a large suitcase wedged between her and the driver. It’s Carrie’s job to hold the seat back to keep it from falling on Musa’s head as he gets the engine running again. This continues for a total of 19 times, but who’s counting – Taylor and Meghan are!

Oh, we also encountered about a dozen poice check points along the way, too.  The final episode is literally a few hundred meters from Lacs, but too far to walk since the streets are muddy from an earlier downpour and it is 5:05 AM. We all hold out breaths because with each cycle it’s been harder and harder for Musa to restart the engine and this time it seems the battery will die first.

Finally the engine catches, Musa races the engine to make sure it is working. “Back in the van everybody.” We pile in, ready to speed round the corner and into the Lacs compound. But, Musa shuts down the engine and walks to the back of the van and talks with our other companion from Annie Walsh who is accompanying us. After what seems a long time- but was surely only a couple of minutes- Musa cranks the engine and we do make to Lacs. Time check 5:26 AM.

We arrive tired but in good spirits and ready to continue our adventure. Tomorrow is our first full day in Africa!