Re-Learning in Sierra Leone

15 October 2009 at 04:00 10 comments

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…

Re-Learning Patience

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!

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  • 1. Avani  |  19 October 2009 at 14:40

    Stephanie –

    You summarized so well – maybe some things I’ll need to “re-learn” in Nairobi. May all your bucket baths henceforth go well!

  • 2. coambse  |  17 October 2009 at 15:49

    Hey Stephanie, I know your travel pains a little to well I am about to post my first blog about my travel to the Philippines.

    I am glad to hear that you are getting settled in.

    Best of luck

  • 3. Gemma  |  15 October 2009 at 20:25

    Hey Stephanie, glad youir travels went well and good luck with the bucket shower.

  • 4. robpacker  |  15 October 2009 at 19:32

    Hi Stephanie,
    Great post. I’m also a fan of the bucket shower from Indonesia days but am pretty relieved not to be re-learning it in the cold of Kyrgyzstan!
    Looking forward to more updates on your celebrity status,

  • 5. lethalsheethal  |  15 October 2009 at 08:52

    Wow you really bring the scene to life! Gotta love those bucket showers.

    Great post – looking forward to more!

  • 6. Jan & John, KivaFriends  |  15 October 2009 at 07:18

    Our world is a wondrous place. Maintaining awareness of that is the challenge when life begins to get busy or difficult. Thanks for sharing your re-learning, be well in your Fellowship, jan

  • 7. Julie  |  15 October 2009 at 06:36

    I’m glad you arrived safe and sound!

  • 8. stephanie  |  15 October 2009 at 06:21

    Congrats on a wonderful post, and whirlwind arrival!

    Thanks for all you’re doing!
    🙂 Steph

  • 9. Eva, KF9  |  15 October 2009 at 05:21

    Definitely chuckled @ the bucket shower (which I’m also working on mastering) and celebrity bit. Great post Steph, can’t wait to read more about your adventures in Sierra Leone!

  • 10. Howard Zugman  |  15 October 2009 at 05:05

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thanx for the detailled post. You may be in a relearning phase but it sounds to me as if you’ve got most of the main ideas down pat pretty much already (particularly the “patience” thing.) Looking forward to your future posts.

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