SwitSalone Six Months Later : feelings from the Inside out Outside in
Not last time I checked. I struggle to answer whether there is relativity to the way societies react/respond to mental illness…is my reaction a result of my recent Americanization or a natural reaction…Ah Dubois, double consciousness indeed!!!
I started teaching at FAWE again in October to keep busy and genuinely because I love those girls…and have always enjoyed teaching…initially I was there everyday, helping the homeroom teacher aunty Sarah, a thin frail dark skinned woman with sunken in cheeks. In my four year relationship with FAWE aunty Sarah has been at the school teaching class 6. She’s very good at what she does but I wonder how useful she is in a class of 80 children with varying levels and difficulties. The children enjoy the stories I read to them…from an African folktales my friend Natasa left for me back in July.
One day I was reading a story about a mouse in Egypt but there was no map of Africa in the classroom. I went to town the next day in search of an African map but came up with nothing. It took me a week to track down a map and when I got one at Victoria Park it was a map for a shipping and moving company. My students had only seen a large map of Sierra Leone and the Mano River Union countries. When I showed them the map of Africa and pointed Sierra Leone out to them, there were giggles all throughout the classroom. “Auntie Vickie Salone small oh”. I showed them Nigeria, Egypt, and Ghana and lots more. I explain that we come from a very small and beautiful country…they are amazed at the size of Nigeria. I love these girls…
Conventional wisdom tells me that they are the future. But my wisdom tells me not. Very few of them will actually get far enough for them to be considered a success, a break of from norm. When I put the statistics of how many women are key decision makers in Sierra Leone and I look out into my class at the cornrow heads and playful grins…it saddens me. They tell me all the time “Auntie Vickie I want to be like you when I grow up”…I smile as reassuringly as possible…
When I left New York I had a boyfriend…the same boyfriend I had in high school and college….6 years we were together…all of my semi adult/teenage life. Coming to Freetown I knew it’d be difficult (we are not strangers to distance) but as I became more and more frustrated with the issues and obstacles Swit Salone has to offer I also became withdrawn from him. I kept feeling this pressure to account for what I was doing, and all the exciting new things I was up to…I felt there was nothing to report. Between that and the frustrations of time differences and buying phone cards and feeling isolated, misunderstand; broke and unsure of my self things quickly became unbearable. Neither of us were meeting our expectations of each other…and I didn’t want anyone having expectations of me (I couldn’t meet those I had of myself), even if it was just a phone call. Did our relationship die as a result of SwitSalone or did it commit suicide all on its own…using Sierra Leone as a justification for self mutilation??? I honestly don’t know…only time will tell.
Being a single woman in Freetown is dangerous…other women see you as a liability and men see you as an opportunity. If as a woman money moves you then you will meet your downfall in this country. I’ve been courted by millionaires, policy makers, bankers and 419ers and as always money is flashed over and over and over again. I’ve been offered everything from a couple thousand dollars, a house, car, plane tickets, all expense paid trips, furnished apartment, air conditioning, to a job…all in exchange for my love a.k.a. whats underneath my lappa. I have to confess that its been a battle to resist the urge to just say yes. At 23, a recent college graduate, of course I’m financially insecure….savings accounts dry up easily in Freetown no matter how well prepared one is (and this one wasn’t that well prepared). When you have grown men some old enough to be your father getting on their knees begging you to be with them and at your beck & call one can easily feel drunk with power. Yes, the attention can be intoxicating but you will never be intoxicated if you are always aware that it is not about you. The adoration is simply to relieve some Freetown boredom that they may be suffering from since their last conquest. Anywhere else, I may be relishing being single but in Sierra Leone it is a trap…
This holiday season has truly been bizarre, the first Christmas season I’ve spent in Sierra Leone as a resident and not a holiday maker. The city seems odd, pregnant with bastard children struggling from identity crises…”the JayCee..JustCome”…the good, the bad, and the “no you didn’t”. They are here in all shapes, sizes, accents, and issues…mostly scattered all over the world by the war ( I wonder if there’ll be a national commemoration of January 6th in 2008).
I am desperately waiting for the holiday season to be over. The conditions in Freetown have pushed me to wanting a job here in town. I’ve been playing with the idea I am certain that in order for me to really live here and keep my sanity, I will need to be gainfully employed. I love Sierra Visions and I enjoy my work with the organization but I’m looking forward to some connection to a locally based institution so that I can pick up a routine and reduce the free time I have on my hands. The internship program that I was running when I first got here has ended and I will be writing a report on the experience and developing some best practices.
As December comes to a close and I look forward to 2008 I am shocked that my time here has gone by so fast and still so much remains undone. I feel much like the new government…I hope that the new year brings progress to the nation and that 12 months from now I can write about all the wonderful things that happened since I wrote this post. I hope that 12 months from now I am still in Sierra Leone with a greater sense of purpose and making the kind of difference that pushed me to come here in the first place. Making the kind of difference that kept me up at night in New York and distracted me from my life there. Before I came I felt that there was something pulling to Sierra Leone…a buried umbilical cord…perhaps…now that I am here I desperately need to locate what exactly it was that brought me here.
If you’re sitting somewhere away from Sierra Leone and missing home I want to send out a big SwitSalone hug to you. Let you know that it’s okay to not be here and that you’ll get here when the time is right. I wish you all the best for 2008 and eagerly await all the new adventures that await us.