January 22, 1992

Death, Illness, and Unrest

I'm back. Mail truck comes today.

A little over six months in Africa, and I still miss school. I was laying in bed this morning trying to rest out of the my latest illness, thinking about what I might do when I come back. Some people think about food or electricity. Some people think about music or TV. I think about what school I want to do my graduate work at.

One of my students, Foday -- he is Tammy's houseboy and a frequent (and very welcome) visitor to my house -- lost his father last night. I haven't made it out to get many details, but he had told me last night that his father had fallen suddenly and seriously ill. I found out this afternoon he had been suffering from hypertension. Foday took tylenols and food from my house and started to spend the night, but a messenger around 1:00 last night reported that the family had sent to the hospital for a stretcher. Word today was that he had died. How many times in America can we hear a person say "... and I would have died if I wouldn't have got to the hospital." Well, here those people generally die. I'm glad I had my appendectomy back in college.

School is underway again. I'm not there today because I don't have any classes to teach on Wednesdays. I should go there anyway, but I'm not feeling too well. The closer I am to a latrine, the better. After I come home, I doubt that I'll ever look at (so to speak) diarrhea the same way again. It can get to be an omnipresent condition.

Abu is also here at home today. Two weeks ago, his stool sample turned up with hookworms. Last week, he had a nasty case of malaria. This week, his stool sample turned up with schistosomiasis. None of these explain the persistent pain he's having in his chest. Poor guy. Things have been kinda depressing around the Mr. Mark house.

Wish I could give you a rundown on the political situation in this country, but I'm having a hard time second-guessing everything. Apparently, the rebel situation seems to have quieted down for awhile. There are, however, a greatly increased number of people running around with guns. The wielders certainly lack disclipine, and it is not uncommon to hear soldiers randomly firing shots in the air for no good reason. I heard a story a few days ago about someone going into a town south of here and firing a few shots into the air. Rapid rumors gave way to panic and half the population fled into the jungle. Anybody with a gun here can be an effective bandit.
As far as I know, elections are still on hold.

January 31 is the official date when the government agreed to meet all the teacher's demands. the day rapidly approaches, and the government had been unable to fulfill their promise. The teachers are prepared to sit down, paralyzing once again the nation's schools. Parliament was supposed to meet yesterday in a special session to discuss the situation. I haven't heard what happened. More likely than not, February 1 will be the start of a vacation of indefinite length for us.

A strike giving way to violent or otherwise radical reform would probably not be a bad thing. Keeping the country limping along isn't helping anything. You've heard me say before that Sierra Leone is a 5th world country -- but the scary thing is that bulldozing it and starting from scratch would immediately move it into the status of 3rd world. I talked with the Peace Corps Sierra Leone Associate Director for Education a few weeks ago. He argued for the value of pulling out all international development agencies so the people will reform themselves and learn to do things for themselves. Most of the problems here seem to be human-made problems -- social, political, and economic. Until these convoluted problems are eliminated, the country will be unable to sufficiently address the problems of health, nutrition, and development.

Getting Rob back from his Christmas in Michigan has been really nice. He had some trouble re-adjusting (and is still feeling it some) to Sierra Leone, but we spent a lot of time together this past week, mostly with a cup of palm wine in our hands. We didn't do much for getting each other less depressed, but we were able to keep some good time together. He doesn't want to teach and he doesn't want to be in the villages any more. That doesn't leave much else. Hopefully he'll snap out of it. Wonder how I'll be feeling this time next year.

5:05 in the afternoon now. The mail truck came as I was writing that paragraph about Rob. The truck carried me to Tammie's house where we had a nice meal of rice and plasauce (what else?). I got two letters from you, one of which left my eyes moist as I left it to move to the lunch table. I'll write my response next time.

For now, I'll close. They buried Foday's dad this afternoon -- it has to be done immediately with this heat. The last couple of days have been a clue that the hot season is ready to begin. The cool night wind off the Sahara is starting to wane. The coming heat is supposed to be "unbearable." I'll let you know.

Need to write my lesson plans for school tomorrow. Nothing on the BBC tonight about the meeting of the Parliament yesterday (5:05 every day is "Focus on Africa"), but the mail truck driver said something about student demonstrations in Freetown. Maybe the ball will start rolling.

I'll send this letter with a short-term missionary who leaves tomorrow. This letter will undoubtedly reach before the ones to other people that I put on the mail truck today. I hope to get back on track with my letter writing so we can "talk" on a more regular basis.

Love, Mark