October 09, 1991

Birthday in Freetown

Bob: I've got three of your letters with me here in Freetown. Two arrived on the mail truck last Wednesday, and I brought all my mail that arrived that day with me as I rode back on the mail truck. One more arrived this past week. One advantage of being here at the hostel is that I can go check for mail any time. I'm here attending a meeting for the Volunteer Representative Council, but I'll comment on that more after I've addressed a few things in your letters.

Your September 8 letter: I'm glad to hear (albeit secondhand) that Carol is thinking about swinging this way on her Africa tour. I hope you are still milling potential plans around in your mind, too.

One frustrating thing about being here (that I sure didn't expect) is that I can't keep up with college football scores. I sure appreciate the highlights that you have sent. Even though KSU never played very good ball while I was there, there was something magical about just being able to go and cheer or boo with all the other people in purple. I really miss it.

I'm glad to hear that Wes changed into Social Work. Ballsy move. I hope he's happy. Tell him I'm proud of him and I'm behind him all the way. I hope that your decision to include him in your close circle of friends has been good for you, too.

Your September 15 letter: Visions of cold weather in Manhattan bring a wistful smile to my face. Good memories. The rains here are supposedly slackening, but this weekend in Freetown has been a wet one. By the end of the month, they should be pretty intermittent. By the end of next month, they will be almost gone.

Thanks for the birthday greetings. Your two letters arrived in Kamakwie on October 2. Your September 22 letter I picked up on my birthday, October 4. I received timely birthday greetings from you, my parents, Dan, and my brother Don. I actually heard from a lot more people this week, but the birthday greetings was not an explicit part of it. Nonetheless, I felt very supported.

I spent my birthday sitting on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and eating beach food. I bought myself a beach shirt, and I accepted sodas and beers from Volunteers who wanted my birthday to be a good one. It was. The day was beautiful, and I thinkI was wise to dedicate my birthday to a day of rest at the beach. Now I'm 23 and living in Africa. Ph.D. by 31? We'll see.

I don't know what to say about your job. As you have noted, by the time my response arrives, the mood swing may be long gone. However, this swing of yours has been recurrent. I think it is a foregone conclusion that you may be happier somewhere else. But then again, maybe not. Only you can decide. Wherever you go, my letters will follow you.

I hope things continue to go well with the dissertation. Keep me posted.

How are Tom and Tandy handling the teams? I really do have complete confidence in them. What new developments are happening with the CSP? KCRI?

I will compose that essay on community service that you wrote about last month. Writing has been coming very easy to me of late. Too bad the journal is collecting dust. Anyway, when I get back to Kamakwie I'll think through it and set aside some time to compose it. I doubt that I'll make it back to Freetown to type it, so I appreciate your offer to do that for me. But keep these letters just in case.

Thanks for your continued encouragement. I have periodic twinges of homesickness (especially when I read and write letters), but I think I am adjusting pretty well to the surroundings. The country is oppressed politically, socially, and economically -- this impacts everything -- but the micro-aspects make the stay here worthwhile. The people are friendly, the palm wine is abundant, and the weather is nice. I have a roof over my head and food for my mouth. I don't have a job yet, but I've been able to fill my time.

I have no idea when the teaching strike will end. Every week, I hear "next Monday," but Monday comes and goes without any attempts in opening the schools. After reading the most recent list of demands in a recent Freetown newspaper, I'm pretty pessimistic about the idea school will start any time soon. Even if this term does get off the ground, one demand is for additional raises (significant ones) in January. This may mean more strikes in January, assuming that the current one ends before then. I've heard from several sources that we may be given options for reassignment (to another country) if the strike lasts into December. My initial reaction is that I would like to stay here rather than go through the whole cultural training and adjustment again, but I don't know how I would react to being jobless for another two months.

I have been able to keep somewhat busy, but I think I've described those activities in previous letters. I have really enjoyed the past weekend I've spend in Freetown. I don't like the city, but seeing other Volunteers has been good. The last three days I've participated in meetings of the Volunteer Representative Council. I represent about eight of us along the Kamakwie road. I like it so much because if was so familiar. A small group of people who make an agenda, work through issues, divide them, work on them for a day, reconvene, report back findings, brainstorm some more, split up again, write, meet the next day with the administration with our agenda, make reports, write up results, send letters, and have a few beers. I felt like I could have done this forever. There was one day that I forgot to eat. My agenda item is called "money matters," and I got to read policy manuals for living allowance increases, draft letters, etc. I was right in the middle of an incredibly efficient committee that interfaces with a helpful and productive administrative staff. The secretary is currently on my butt to finish up my reports for the minutes, but she can just wait.

Anyway, I've got a list of things to buy yet before I head back up-country in a couple days. then I'll dig in and... I don't know. Keep visiting villages, I guess. Look for a project proposal to write. Build a few latrines. Teach during the evenings. Maybe school actually will start before too long.

Well, Bob, that's the news from here. You could do some research for me: what are considered to be (according to some published sources) the top ten (or so) schools in sociology and/or rural sociology? What kinds of interesting things (programs, degree tracks, assistantships) do some of these schools offer that might appeal to me? What other schools have some interesting things? I figure that you know my mind as well as anyone.

Thanks, and I hope all is well.

Now the chairman of the VRC is chewing on me to get my reports done. Good thing this one is coming to a close.

Love, Mark