November 12, 1991

Teaching Begins, and Education Continues


Haven't heard from you for a month, so I'm expecting a big haul in tomorrow's mail truck. I'm feeling pretty good about how I've been in my letter writing to everybody. I've written more letters than I've received -- individual exceptions to you and my Mom.

The adventure continues. This is now the second week of classes -- it feels good to finally be getting into the classroom, although it is as frustrating as everyone said it would be. More than once, I've recalled the philosophies of band-aid approaches to development. I feel like a small band-aid on a festering wound. I can see the value of building a latrine, but today my Form III (roughly sophomore high school level) students couldn't tell me what 7-3 is. After yelling at them for about five minutes, I wanted to cry. How many different ways can you think of to explain that 7-3=4? Sure, Abu has 7 mangoes and Fatu takes 3 away, but then how do you explain 3-7? Negative mangoes leaves them with a blank expression. Frustrating.

Haven't been to Freetown in over a month, but even if I'd been there I don't know if I'd splurge for stationary. I'm not sending random scraps -- I really do think about who gets what scrap when I write letters on the backs. I thought maybe the order of service for this "money service" -- a pretty typical order -- might be interesting. The service lasted a little over two-and-a-half hours, and I didn't understand much of it. The music was cool, though.

By the time you read this, my service will be 1/6 complete. No, I don't sit around ticking off the days -- I feel increasingly adjusted. Nonetheless, I miss you, my other friends and family. Last night, Rob and I were drinking palm wine with some other guys. He was being pretty quiet while I was talking to another guy. When I asked what he was thinking about, he said he was having a big daydream about what getting off the plane in America would be like. He said he thought he could expect around 20 people there to greet him. I told him I thought I could probably expect 3 -- the same three that put me on the plane. That's not a sad thing -- it just provided some discussion about the differences between our families. I think plenty of people will be glad to see me -- they'll just wait until I happen to be in the neighborhood to show it.

One of the palm wine discussions I had last night was with a guy I'd never met before. The discussion was about U.S. foreign policy. He was looking very hard for an argument, and he was as well-informed about international affairs as most non-Americans seem to be. I mean he knew his stuff. I remember sitting in 760 last year while Maribel ran circles around everybody with facts and incidents on international affairs. Americans (I'm making a rash generalization here) tend to be really stupid about international happenings. Anyway, I like to think I was able to hold my own. He started out by talking about all the international conflicts that America doesn't take an interest in. Then he noted that America's interests in the sovereignty of Kuwait is inconsistent with the apparent lack of attention we give to other conflicts. I felt like he was really trying to make the most of a coming verbal battle when he pointedly articulated how he thought the war was fought for oil and that America chooses its battles according to its own economic interests. He ended with flourish, giving me an opportunity to "defend" myself. I said "Right." This clearly wasn't the response he was looking for. He says "What?" (Sometimes there is a language problem.) I said "Correct." He looked as confused and disappointed as a cat when a mouse simply jumps into its mouth. Anyway, the whole thing ended up being one of the more indepth discussions I've had with a Sierra Leonean. Being miles away from Tom Brokaw and having BBC to listen to every day, I'm more in touch with international affairs than I ever have been. I don't think I care more about them -- I haven't been able to thoroughly break out of my American socialization -- but at least I know more about them.

Yes, I've started the essay for 701. It is titled Because You Can and is a synopsis of my philosophies on service. I had hoped to send it out on this mail truck, but I haven't gotten very far on it. I expect to meet your Christmas deadline, however.

I have tentative (very tentative) plans to spend Thanksgiving in Guinea. Three female and one male missionary from the hospital need one more male to meet their gender quota for overnight excursions. They've asked me to go on a four-day trip (Nov 28, 29, 30, Dec 1) to Conakry (the capital). I'm likely, however, to run into several travel restritions as a "new" Peace Corps Volunteer. I wasn't able to make my case in person, and I haven't heard yet how my request to Peace Corps administration is turning out. Heck, you won't receive this letter by Thanksgiving anyway. Ack -- the perils of international correspondence.

Still on the latrine business. Built a double slab yesterday (helped, that is) for a trench latrine here in town. I've got to check a couple potential sites here today, too. Further, two Volunteers just showed up on Rob's doorstep so we have to entertain them tonight. I'm responsible for going to find wine. I'm not sure when I'm going to write my last letter -- one to Mom and Dad -- before the mail truck comes. Now that I've got a real job, scheduling has gotten a little tighter.

Periodically, I find myself thinking "I need to tell Bob about that" or "I need to ask Bob for that," but I can't for the life of me think what some of those things might be. I called Mom via ham radio last week, and I asked her to give you a call. Hope she did.

I'm currently suffering from what is probably giardia, although I have sufficient aversion to the idea of shitting in a cup to avoid going to the hospital. If it gets worse or persists, I'll go. For now, I'll go ahead and sprint to the latrine every once in awhile.

Abu contines to be a great source of information and assistance. He is now one of my students, so now I'm seeing the flip side of the teacher-student-friend relationship. I'm sure it will work out well.

My cat is growing larger, but needs its shots.

I'm gaining weight and not shaving. Both are good.

Haven't heard from Fran Irelan, but expecting to soon.

Seems strange that your semester isn't too far now from being over. Hope it is going well. I look forward to hearing from you tomorrow.

Love, Mark