July 12, 1991


Shit, Bob, I'm in Africa.

Day 2-1/2 or so. The lag on the flight to Europe seriously messed with my time clock. Six hours from Paris to Freetown and a four hour bus trip to the PANLAP training site completed a 40 (or so) hour virtually sleepless journey. Arriving about 2 AM, we first spent some time meeting our training staff, made up mostly of Sierra Leoneans.

(Aside) I just looked to the North to see the sun drawing down about to the level of the palm trees. The few clouds send a multitude of colors into the lower sky. As I sit and contemplate this beautiful site, I ask myself "Why is the sun setting in the North?" and then I think "Gee, its going to be a long two years if I have no sense of direction."

Anyway, yesterday we got up fairly late (noon or so) and ate a hearty spaghetti meal. They will be weaning us onto African foods. The staff hired a small band of bamboo pipe blowers, drum pounders and cowbell-like-thing beaters. We followed (traveled with) the indigenous music makers to a village (Panlap) about a mile, uh, north of here. Lots of folk came out to smile and wave as our procession processed to the reception hut of the paramount tribal chief of the chiefdom I now reside in. After rituals of introduction and exchange of cola nuts, I got my picture taken with the chief. Should be cool.

The trip back included a bunch of youngsters who wanted to hold our hands. When we got back to the site, they sang and danced for us before moving on. That night, our staff put on a show of song and dance. First a song highlighting seven different languages here, and then we sang along with a recording of Three Dog Night singing "Joy to the World." Last nite I sat outside (about where I am now) and wrote the parents. About half of us sat outside and wrote letters/journals, asking questions of each other about names of places we had been.

I got the dreaded Gamma Globulin shot yesterday (along with a rabies shot) which is notoriously painful. The initial needle isn't so bad, but walking back to the main hall was a chore, and I could still feel it a little today. Everyone agrees, however, that the shot is less of an ordeal than Hepatitis A.

This is quite a beautiful place. Mountains, surface waters, palm trees, vegetation. However, diseases fatal to those of us who haven't evolved out of it await us in all these places. The MD gave quite a lengthy and compelling lecture today on the value of medications and personal hygene. Made a believer out of me.

[Next day, July 13]

Walked to MAKENI last night after that sunset, about 2 miles, uh, south of here. Went to a little veranda/bar with a bunch of Volunteers who showed up to present a panel discussion. Paid 130 Leones for an orange soda (about $0.45) and a beer for 200 Leones (about $0.65). STAR beer. Pretty good stuff.

The Country Director posed a question to some of us math types. Apparently, he believes that some of the fuel is being cyphoned off in transit to the training site. The fuel, which runs the generators here, is quite a precious commodity. Anyway, we are going to figure out volumes of the tank and increments of fullness to determine if some is being lost (or if we are getting what we pay for). Anyway, hence the scratches above. Didn't want to waste the paper.

I just got back from a village visit. Eight of us went with two Sierra Leone staff people to the village of Roketteh, a little place, uh, east (?) of MAKENI. I guess there are about 500 in Roketteh. Makeni is closer to 30,000. This was SO COOL. First, different folk showed us around. When we got back to the middle of the village, three women were making music with drums while several of us danced. We each paid about 20-30 Leones to the women. We went into a reception area then and met the chief (not a paramount chief) who was wearing a "Buffalo News" orange stocking cap. The people here (mostly the men) wear a lot of T-shirts from the West. One kid had a JOURNEY concert T-shirt on. Anyway, there was a short welcoming ceremony conducted in Temne (we had an interpreter) and included gifts of coconut and a dish of rice and cassava leaf. Good stuff. They opened the coconuts which were brimming with clear milk. Good stuff.

They love to have their picture taken. I pull out the Olympus and there are 20 kids trying to crowd into the focus area. They don't get too close or too far away and they seem to know how many will fit into the frame. I don't have to change the focal length or anything. *CLICK* and lots of smiles.

More dancing and Temne words, and then we came back. Times like this make me really glad to be here. Everything I've ever read, heard, or seen about African culture, food, music, dance, and spirit is being played out before me. And I'm a player in it, too. Well, almost.

Other times, I really feel the stress. Yesterday I got hit with the feeling that my loved ones are 2 years away and that something totally foreign awaits me. Huge bugs. Malaria. Heat. New people. A language or two I don't understand. Monday we begin Krio. On the 29th we get our site placements (though we don't move there for two months). Exciting and scary. They say that's how it's supposed to be.

Looking forward to your letters.

Love, Mark