Re-Learning in Sierra Leone
by Stephanie Meyer, KF9
So after three hectic days, 30 hours of flying, a water taxi, a car ride, and a lot of help from friends, I have arrived at my MFI post in Makeni, Sierra Leone, with Salone Microfinance Trust (hereafter, SMT). (Never heard of Makeni? Check it out HERE) Having traveled long-term in Africa before, I was quite proud of the knowledge that I had, and fairly confident in my ability to get around the ins and outs of life in Sierra Leone once I arrived. What I found, however, is that I have a lot to re-learn…
I find that every country I have ever visited, and even many regions within those countries, have their own rhythm. Here in Sierra Leone, as in many countries in Africa, there is an energetic hum to life, but at times, things seem to move slowly. To my “go, go, GO!” American senses, this can at times be a little frustrating. Take, for example, my water taxi ride from Lungi Airport (located on an island off the coast of Sierra Leone) to Freetown proper. About 500 yards away from the coast of Lungi, we broke down. The battery was dead, and despite attempts by friendly passers-by to jump it, there was no choice but to wait for a replacement battery to arrive from the taxi company. I had to re-learn that frustration, anger, and complaint get you nowhere in these situations (a fact my fellow passengers could also stand to learn…). The best thing to do is just to sit-tight, wait for assistance (which often seems to move at a snail’s pace), and enjoy the scenery. Everything turned out alright, the battery arrived, and we made it to the dock only an hour late. I like to think that in the process I’ve remembered a bit of my patience.
Re-Learning the Art of the Bucket Bath
It sounds like it should be so basic, right? Wrong! For most of my previous stay in Africa (in Uganda, to be specific) I used a bucket bath. By the time I left, I was a pro. So when I arrived at my home last night, and was handed a gallon-pail of water, and directed to the “bathroom”, I thought to myself “psh, piece of cake. I’ve done this a million times”. In what seemed like no time at all, I glanced down to notice myself still covered head-to-toe in suds, and my bucket almost completely empty. When you’ve gotten used to the never-ending stream of water available in a shower, you tend to go a bit overboard on the suds, and be a bit too liberal with limited water supplies. The bucket bath takes finesse, it takes conservation, and it takes focus. It will probably require a bit of practice, but I’m hoping I will have it down again by the time I leave Makeni.
Re-Learning Celebrity Status
One of the facts of life that an ex-patriot in most African countries must deal with is that we tend to stand out. It is rather difficult to “fade into a crowd” and “assimilate with locals”. When I’m in a car, people stare. When I walk down the street, children yell “Hey! Potho!” (roughly translated, “Hey whitey!”). Makeni is not a particularly large town, and SMT has already had two Kiva Fellows. This means that everywhere I go, people say “ah, Kiva!” then exclaim with pride “you know, I knew Adam” or “I knew Nick” (if either of you are reading this, you pretty much rival David Beckham here in town…). As a bit of an introvert, it can be disconcerting to have someone waiting for you all the time, wanting to strike up a conversation. In a whirlwind of names and faces, it can feel very rude when everyone remembers me in the street, and I have to constantly ask people “what is your name again?”. After a long period of blissful American anonymity, it may take me a bit of time to get used to being famous.
Re-Learning to Love the Little Things
Ok, I admit it: this one is easy! It does take some focus and attention, however. There is so much to love and to experience in a new place, and if you aren’t careful to be watching for it every minute of every day, you may miss out on some of the best stuff! A short list of some “favorites” so far from Sierra Leone:
- Favorite Fun Fact: Schools in Sierra Leone offer pupils their choice of morning and afternoon shifts, so that even those children who must work are able to receive an education.
- Favorite Road Sign: “Love thy neighbor, except when driving. BE WARNED!” (and they weren’t kidding…)
- Favorite Taxi Slogan: “Life is Ridiculous” (in so many wonderful ways…)
- Favorite Reminder of Home: At night, when the air cools off, frogs collect on the paved roads to soak in the heat they have absorbed all day.
I promise to write more about SMT, loans, borrowers, and microfinance in general in my next post, but for the moment, I am just too engrossed by the wonder that is Sierra Leone to focus on anything else!/>