September 09, 1991

Volunteer Glory

Bob --

Well, I'm a Volunteer now.

I enjoyed the four days spent in Freetown, although this city, probably like most third world cities (or most cities if you're me), is a little unsettling. Over a million people, and no power of its own. There are quite a few generators for independent homes and businesses, however. We stayed in a pretty nice hotel -- it had running cold water and electricity about half the hours of the day. There are some really nice restaurants and beach bars, and I think I found most of them. One bakery looks and feels like its straight out of New York City (or so how one man from Connecticut described it). The patrons of this bakery were 90% white at any given time, a comment on the affluence of the enviroment. On the beach, I ate a pizza at another ex-patriot hangout called The Venue. The beaches are really nice, but a lot of beach vendors bug white people incessantly. I've heard several times now that "An American is a rich white person who ought to buy anything he/she wants." I saw people look really puzzled when I said I didn't want to buy something. Their only explanation is that I must be trying to get a better price, so they keep on with the sales tactics. A quiet time on the beach, unless you can get away to a more seculed area, is unheard of.

The swearing-in ceremony was like any graduation you've seen before, absent family. I had the honor of delivering the "Vote of Thanks" on behalf of my graduating class. Whether by skill, education, or blind luck, the speech meshed perfectly with the rhetorical situation. It was easily the best-received speech I've ever given. The first half of the speech was given in Krio (and by all reports, pretty damn good Krio I might add) so the class looked pretty good in the eyes of the ministers/diplomats and other host nationals in attendance. The trainers all beamed like proud parents. All my colleagues fell over themselves to come up with praise for the speech, with the notable exception of my nemesis and Kamakwie counterpart Jeanne, who continues to be a thorn in my side. Anyway, it was a really positive experience. Normally, rites of passage seem really superficial to me, but the transition from Trainee to VOLUNTEER is built up to be a big deal here. It was.

I was nervous those last couple of days before arriving here in Kamakwie. Getting here and moving in was mostly a positive and reinforcing experience. I feel like I am moving up and down a wide continuum ranging from elation to total depression. Last night, I hunted down six giant cockroaches in my bedroom before I finally got brave enough to go to bed. I don't have a pillow yet. The Muslims started praying at 5:30 AM. I didn't mind too much -- I hadn't slept very well anyway. I had a really hard time crawling out of bed this morning. I couldn't conceive of crawling out of this bed every day for the next 22 months. I got up, lit some candles, opened some windows. The unsmashed cockroach I saw this morning was a dead one -- probably killed by the powder and spray I put out last night.

I've been writing since I got up, and I'm already feeling better. Abu showed up to cook some corn pap. He said that cockroaches are a new acquisition for this house (it has been empty for awhile) and that once we start cooking again, the smoke should chase out the bats and cockroaches. I hope so. I'm looking for poison today anyway.

School is supposed to start tomorrow, which means I have my first staff meeting then. I'm not sure what the status of agreements is between the Teacher's Union and the government. Some teachers will teach. Some will hold out. I'll be trying to find my place in it all. I'm anxious to get my house in order and start teaching. Keeping myself busy in an ordered environment will be very important.

The mail truck will come every two weeks. I guess I will start several letters to different people and then supplement them until I have to surrender them to the mailman. It will be strange having a bunch of unfinished letters lying around. I've been thinking very seriously about getting my journal out. I think I'm on the verge of producing some serious philosophy. Only one way to find out.

Until next time...