September 29, 1991

Into the Villages

Bob: On the mail truck last week, I got your letters dated 18 August, 20 August, and 24 August. I only had six letters and a small package from home -- three of the letters were from Sweet Ol' Bob. Thanks for your diligence. I hope you have a sense of how much I appreciate it.

Missing people is tough. Even when I used to be surrounded by the familiar, anyone I missed was just a phone call away. Now, I've only been on the phone one time in the past 12 weeks. Sometimes 2 years seems like a very long time, and sometimes it seems very short. I've already completed nearly 1/8 of my service time! By the time you receive this, that will almost certainly be true. My Close of Service date is in July of 1993. I'm going to try to accomplish all I can in that time.

I heard from Dan in France. His letters are in the format of a small newspaper (complete with advertisements, cartoons, puzzles, etc.) One of the headlines was Bob "Burns" through Maine -- a short report on the hurricane that his family endured. He asked me how you're doing. In another article, he mentioned a friendship that he was developing with a guy a little older than himself. He said that he hoped that the friendship would be like "you and Bob."

Thanks for your contact with Fran Irelan. When this letter goes out on the next mail truck (this Wednesday), it will be accompanied by a letter to her and a letter to the World Wise Schools program in Washington. I hope everything works out okay.

I just took out my camera to take a picture of two boys who wanted to sell me bread off the top of their heads when the camera refused to work. Shit. I don't have my little book with me, but I think the signal I'm getting is for the battery. Shit. If you can come up with a Quick Shooter Zoom 2 battery (lithium DL223A 6 volt), I'd REALLY appreciate it. I don't know what I'll do if a new battery doesn't fix the problem. I'll look around in Freetown next time, too. Damn.

Now I'm looking at your August 24 letter. It seems almost silly to respond at length to something you wrote over a month ago. Most of it is probably obsolete. Thanks for telling me about the CSP team party at Carol's house. Sounds like the usual good time. Really wish I could have been there, but in some respects I'm glad I wasn't. It's hard to explain. I guess I've moved from one job to another where I have more respect and responsibility and control. (Or less, depending on how you look at it.) Anyway, I've accepted that I've left that behind. I miss the people, but I like this hands-on work better. Which brings me to "letter to Carol." Thanks for the warning that she's been expecting a letter from me. I've written a sizeable letter to her that will go out the same time this one does.

This past week, I had a real strong, strange sense that I ought to be preparing for class. It was more than just preparing to teach -- I do that a lot anyway -- it was a sensation that I needed to be at a university. It wasn't the usual "gee, I miss being at school" feeling. Maybe I was just bored and the old "do something" response kicked in while I still had the old "do something for class" mentality. Hope I don't lose it.

Right now, the welcome short break (via the teacher's strike) is turning into a too-long break. Although I'm pretty much able to keep busy, it's not a real productive kind of busy. I'm hearing fairly solid rumors that there is some kind of settlement between the Union and Government and that school will start before too much longer. I've been warned, though, that if I'm expecting the school to make me feel "productive," then I'm in for a big let down. I'd be safest to expect the worst and plan to be really frustrated. We'll see.

I think I've mentioned one Volunteer here named Rob. He's from Michigan, but he really is a good guy. He has gotten heavily involved in a secondary project (his primary project is teaching biology and health science at the school) involving the construction of pit latrines in neighboring villages. He is involving me in his current project in a small village called Kasasie. In Kasasie, ~160 people live in 22 houses. There are only 2 working pit latrines in the village. It was a great experience for me to watch Rob work with the community spirit of these people to hammer out an agreement. We will supply cement, molds, transport, tools, and technical support to their sand, rock, water, and labor to construct 11 new latrines. On our last trip, we mapped the village and sited the latrines, roughly one per two households. The head of each house held a short conference with their co-latrine-head to decide where it should be. Then they agreed to have five feet dug in the holes before they invited us back to inspect them.

I think I've mentioned it before, but community development and self-help are part of the vocabulary and part of the lifestyle of the people. There is, however, a dangerous mentality that the white people will dig them out of their problems when they have nowhere to turn. This is putting a serious damper on the ingenuity of true development. Are we just perpetuating that mentality? Maybe.

The Wesleyan mission called on me to assist them this past Wednesday. They had me drive the Land Rover (same make and model as in The Gods Must be Crazy) to a pretty good sized neighboring village where four hospital workers conducted an immunization clinic. I got to tally polio, tuberculosis, measles, etc. shots for over 80 or so children under 1 year. There is an impressive media campaign in this country to educate mothers on the importance of immunizing their children. There are signs and posters everywhere. I guess in a country that has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, the people would be ready to listen. Anyway, driving the vehicle wasn't so bad, but the roads were NASTY. In some places, I'm not sure why the Land Rover didn't tip over. After sweating profusely, I was glad to get back and head off to the villages where the palm wine is. I'm glad I'm not a missionary -- they can't touch the stuff. I kinda get all the advantages (well, a few anyway) of being a missionary without the disadvantages.

The missionaries here are very friendly. I've been enjoying Sunday nite fellowship with them, which includes electricity and sometimes includes a cold drink. Both doctors play chess, and one of the women gave me a haircut this past week. I'm trying to avoid getting too wrapped up in the people at the mission -- that would certainly compromise the Peace Corps experience -- but they are nice to have around for sanity's sake.

Well, my cat is now toilet trained and sits quietly in my lap. I haven't seen a cockroach in my house for around ten days. I haven't seen Jeanne for as long. I'm meeting lots of people, and they seem to be accepting me fine. My language isn't progressing too quickly, but a lot of people seem to speak pretty good English. The food is good and the rains are cool.

I hope life is good in Manhattan. It's strange to think that school goes on there without me. I look forward to hearing from you in Wednesday's mail bag.

Love, Mark