July 21, 1991

Training Days

Hello Bob, how are you?

Sunday nite at the Panlap Training Site. I'm wishing I'd kept better track of what I'd written to you last week so I don't leave things out, repeat, etc. Anyway, things continue to go well. The body has gone through a few of the changes -- mild fever, aches, diarrhea ("runny belly") -- but I'm feelin' pretty good today. I watched one of the Volunteers here go through a mild case of malaria in the past day or so. He got achy and his fever shot up around 104 degrees, but he took his Fansidar and is feeling better today. A lot of people don't get off so easy.

I was in classes all last week. The focus so far has been on Krio, culture, community development, medical, and "general orientation" type stuff. All is being done pretty well, I think. The staff here is very capable.

Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a practical on latrine building. We got to dig some on the hole and mix some concrete for the cover. It was a neat experience. It was particularly meaningful for me, because I was asked to give blessings for the work being done. I hadn't even noticed that the group was gathered -- I was over watching the hole being dug -- when I heard my name being called and saw everybody looking at me. I went over to the group. The African veterinarian in charge of the site said a few words and then gave me two kola nuts, explaining that "He who gives kola gives life." I then had everyone hold hands as I gave brief blessing to "the ancestors and any gods we call our own." I was well received. It felt really good to be selected by my peers for this honor. I certainly do have my place among them.

I made it back to Makeni last night for beer and a sandwich. I'm just not used to cities -- especially this kind. The roads are in disrepair, and poor vendors line the sides of the streets. I'd probably come to terms with it if I'd get into the middle of it and buy something, but so far I've just been an observer. I'd rather go to Panlap to Aunty Y's to sit in a bafa and sip palm wine. That's more my style. In 8 days I find out where my placement is. I know the options include a small village on a beach, just South of Freetown. I will envy whoever gets that assignment.

Do you hear any reports of the fighting here? We can't get anywhere near a lot of parts in the South. The propoganda you might hear (I'm not sure how much I can say here) is that rebel forces from Liberia led by Charles Taylor have looted up into and occupied parts of Sierra Leone. Other sources support the idea that the uprisings are internal. In any event, the occupation is likely to just dry up and go away -- at least that is what some say. The uprisings are not popular enough to be sustained.

On Thursday we will be placed in groups of three or four in villages to live for several days. I'm looking forward to another trip to a village. I've been visited the last several nights by a group (5-6) of children from Panlap. I got to know one of the gatekeepers here (Mohammad), so I guess his little brother came to see this Mark character. I was completely surprised the first night. They came to the dorm window, apparently, asking for Mark. One of my fellow trainees found me in the dining hall and announced I had guests. Here I found Philip, Aja, Benjamin, and Franceska. I had no idea who they were or where they'd come from. I was just lucky to suspect Mohammad and ask the children if they knew him. "Yes," said Philip, "he is my brother." I wish he's just come out and said it, but that isn't their way. We went to Panlap and I bought them all sodas. Then, the Paramount Chief shows up. I said "Chief," (probably a good thing I don't know his first name) "can I buy you a beer?" He says "I never turn down a good offer." This guy's picture is in a Smithsonian exhibit titled "Paramount Chiefs of Sierra Leone" and I buy him a beer. Cool. He severed up palm wine and told stories and answered questions. Then we dropped off the young'uns on the way back.

The next night they appeared again, and sat quietly for about 90 minutes while I was teaching a girl how to play chess. There were six of them then -- another cousin and a boy named Ishmael. When they told me they wanted to go, I walked them to the gate and watched them disappear in the night. If they return, I'll take pictures.

I haven't heard from anyone yet. Still, I look forward to your letters. Hoping you are well.

Love, Mark