Sorry guys, been awhile since I updated. Things have been pretty busy with starting data collection and collaborations at Njala. On Tuesday I gave a public lecture at the School of Environmental Science at Njala about a paper Ernesto and I are currently working on about changes in tree species diversity and carbon storage in shade coffee over time. Surprisingly, there was great turnout and the students were really interested and asked great questions about how to conserve biodiversity in Sierra Leone, among other things. The School of Agriculture has asked me to give similar lecture on May 31. In other news, the beginning of the rainy season (now) signals the start of Delicious Fruit Season. All the best ones are in season now- mangoes, oranges, pineapple, avocado. I had no idea there were so many different varieties of mangoes. There are little ones with thin skin that are more acidic and have a mild mango flavor. There are big ones with thicker skin that have a HEY I’M A MANGO flavor, almost papaya-ish, that are green when they’re ripe. Those are my favorite because they’re huge and they peel easily- more bang for your peeling buck. And Bashiru has a tree next to his house that is apparently a hybrid variety that have an interesting, but delicious flavor. I’ve literally been eating 5-10 mangoes a day. Bashiru’s wife, Asatu, said she’d send a little mango tree back to the U.S. with me because she’s not sure how I will survive without one. Just to round out the food and animal report, the kittens are doing well. The calico one, Lily, is a fatty and is fulfilling her prophecy to become a Total Shit. She thinks her teeth are a valid way to communicate. The striped one, Tiny, is in fact tinier and also less of a shit. She’s also turned out to be a better hunter- I’ve watched her take down a lizard and consume it entirely. Lily just waits around for Tiny to kill something and then steals some. I’m back at Pujehun now and life is pretty sweet. I had a dresser built so I actually have somewhere to put my stuff, and I bought a rain barrel to collect water so that I don’t have to go to the river to wash clothes. It’s the little things, really.
Today I woke up really grouchy, because my stomach is sick AGAIN and, just like most days, I was woken up earlier than I wanted to be by somebody who wanted to talk to me about something. Privacy is not a Sierra Leonean concept. In fact, privacy is pretty much the same as rudeness here. Then I spent 30 minutes negotiating with a guy who is building me a shelf and claimed he has not finished it yet (3 weeks in) because he needs me to buy the sandpaper. That should be included in the price, buddy. Then I got harassed by a drunk guy at a fruit stand.
There are plenty of things that drive me crazy in Sierra Leone. But here’s what really pissed me off today: North Carolina passed an amendment banning any form of civil union that’s not marriage between a man and a woman. And guess what? Everyone in Sierra Leone heard about it. Not one, but several people brought it up in conversation today. And you know what? Not everyone agrees with it. Kari and I were sitting around with her friend Abu at his fabric shop in Kenema when somebody brought it up. And here was Abu’s take: “You know, I like energy drinks and I don’t drink alcohol. But some people like alcohol and not energy drinks. I like women, but if somebody else feels different, they feel what they feel. What do I care?”
You know why Abu doesn’t drink alcohol? Because he’s a Muslim. And that doesn’t matter here either. Around 70% of the country is Muslim, but even the Muslim school principals address letters to Kari beginning with “In the name of our Lord Jesus” because they assume she is Christian. And the Christians respect the Muslims. Nobody cares what religion anybody else is. Christians don’t care where Muslims build their mosques and Muslims don’t care where Christians build their churches. People tell me “It’s all the same God, so what difference does it make?” Meanwhile, several people in the U.S. who heard I was going to Sierra Leone warned me to “be careful, it’s a Muslim country, isn’t it?”
If we’re going to make foreign aid conditional on respect for human rights (which we are), let’s start making a better example, shall we?
I know this blog is turning into the animal, baby, and food blog, but I seriously couldn’t help this one.
You guys, I now have a pet monkey living at my house.
OneVillage Partners just hired a new coordinator for their education programs. His name is Bockarie Alpha. He is going to be living in the other room of the little house where I am living (it’s actually like two separate one-room houses attached to each other). Bockarie is awesome, and unlike any Sierra Leonean I’ve met so far. Kari and I were chatting with the agriculture officers in Pujehun this morning when Bockarie, who was to arrive that morning, called to say that he was bringing his pet monkey with him. Kari and I pretty much lost it, we were so excited. A PET MONKEY. Apparently his species is called “tuweh” in Mende. I haven’t figured out the scientific species name yet. I gave him some leftover yam to endear myself to him.
So, meet my new friend Combat.