August 11, 1991

Connections to Home


A (probably) belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you. I would've sent you a card, but there aren't any. I hope you can discern my glowing sentiments through the recycled paper.

I failed to write last Sunday. I hope such lapses do not happen too often. Illness (my temperature reached 103.6 degrees) depleted any desire I had to sit down and write down reflections on my situation. Also, I will plead busy-ness, as we have just completed our most packed week -- the last before our site visits on Wednesday. After we return next Sunday, we will have a week of educational practicals. Then wrap-ups, swear-ins, a few days on the beach, and then I'm Kamakwie bound. I'm looking forward to visiting in a couple days, but I doubt that it will feel like home on that first, brief trip. I'll let you know.

I got your first letter about ten (or so) days ago. Getting letters is quite a status symbol around here. One guy got a package from home last week, and we are still worshipping small icons of him. The most popular item in the box was the newspaper his mother used to pack the items in. Using the D.C. address is "safest," but it takes a long time. I haven't heard of anybody having any problems with the international air mail address, though, and it might be much faster. That is, c/o Private Mail Bag, Peace Corps, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Might give it a try. Send stamps.

I guess I'm settling in okay, although I occasionally wonder what in the world I'm doing here. There is an American professor who teaches here -- he came here as a Peace Corps Volunteer ~17 years ago -- who gave us a number of VERY INTERESTING lectures this past week. His name is Joe Opala, and I guess he is pretty well known, in the right academic circles. He has done a lot of research on the historical connections between Sierra Leone and the US. A number of slaves were brought to South Carolina and Georgia from here, and Freetown was founded by re-patriated American slaves. The interesting thing about that first connection is that Sierra Leone salves who were brought from this rice growing area to the rice growing climate along the souteastern seaboard also brought malaria and yellow fever with them. As a result, they were able to live relatively free of white control and preserve their culture for many generations. They came to be known as the Gullahs. Pressure from the Army pushed some of them down with the Seminoles in central Florida. The Trail of Tears relocated many black Seminoles into Oklahoma, and some eventually ended up in Texas and Mexico. Consequently, there are residuals of culture and pockets of language which are very similar to the language I hear here now. PBS produced a special (last year, I think) called "Family Across the Sea" which chronicles the research done on this connection. If you could find a copy of it, you could at least get a good look at the people and places I'm coming to be a part of.

I have no doubt that your summer is more hot and humid than mine. The bad part is that there is no escape when the heat does come. All we can do is hope for cool rain, which comes frequently. Many Volunteers have friends who come to visit, and many of them make trips home. Both are expensive. Anyway, I want you to know that you would be perfectly welcome to spend a month in my home in Kamakwie next summer. A few injections and a couple thousand bucks would buy quite an interesting vacation.

I will mail a brief letter to KCRI today also. Looking forward to your next letter.

Love, Mark

P.S. My journal remains blank, and I already feel guilty enough about it! Hang on to these letters.