Thursday, April 26, 2007

...The Week of Presents...

Sorry it's been a while! I always feel a little bit guilty when I don't update my blog and I cringe every time I open up my email account, lest I get one of those emails that says "I've noticed your blog updates have become a little sparse..." Never fear! I'm here, but have had a very busy weekend and last two weeks. The start of the final quarter here at school was very busy, but now I think I've re-adjusted to the pace and am ready to invest in the final push towards SUMMER BREAK! Yes, it's only 7 weeks away!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a women's retreat up in the hills of Freetown - Leicester Peak, near the American Embassy (I kept those pictures off the net, just in case the government decides my blog is a threat to national security and shuts me down...) and the IMATT base. It was wonderful! Let me try to capture it for you...

Where I’m sitting right now is just gorgeous. I wish I could capture it for you. I am on a mountain, sitting in a garden, perched on a dark boulder baked by the sun. There is a breeze, a constant wind, really, that blows away the heat and humidity of the day. On my right is a flower bush bursting with fuchsia blossoms. On my left, a succulent shrub, more rocks, and some ancient moss-covered tree trunks.
From this hill you can see a great expanse of Freetown and the coast, and you can imagine a map of Africa and your current place on it. This is a place of peace, a convent, actually, and a discerning soul can sense the difference in this place.

The setting was beautiful, and it was a time to recharge. I played keyboard, we had study sessions and also small group times. During one time of prayer, someone prayed that I would receive 'presents' from God this week. When the week kicked off, I wasn't so sure that God had heard the request right - on Monday I received an email telling me that I didn't get the donning job I had applied for after all [insert shocked silence here] and I struggled to see how that was supposed to be a gift. But now, after a few days of perspective, I can see that it means I don't have to rush back to Halifax and I can take some more time at home with friends and family which will probably be a good thing - I was worried how I would fit it all in. Of course, I'm now not sure where I'm going to live, how I'll make ends meet, and on and on...but as Janet told me, "This is a chance to trust, Emily." Grrr. Fine. But I don't have to love it.

(Here is a picture of me, in case you might have forgotten what I look like. Oh. Still the same. Pfffth.)Tuesday was a ridiculously frustrating day. It started when the generator broke down at the school, meaning that I was teaching in stifling heat all afternoon and we were without power (ie: no air conditioning, lights, fans, computers, internet...) I couldn't do half of the things I wanted to and then, when I tried to find an internet cafe to use nothing worked at any of those either...until I went to my third one. Exasperation. But then, I managed to get online, looked up some new job info for when I move back to Halifax, and talked to a friend on MSN. The night turned out to be really productive, actually, so I suppose that can be seen as a blessing.

Yesterday my gifts were clearly identifiable. I had great communication with friends from home - a wonderful letter, a phone call from Jeff (thanks!), and also a phone call from Hanneke (she's coming to visit in just over 6 weeks!!). I also attended a bible study planning meeting...apparently next week bible study is going to be at my house....hmm. But I get to play keyboard! So, all is well. Also, I set up an 'exercise date' with a friend for Friday morning...I know...exercise. Don't worry, it's just a passing phase. Yesterday was a good day - definitely a good gift. It's nice when I don't have to look for the silver lining, but can appreciate the silver platter (right, Tasha?)

And so that is me, this week. A good week, I think, after all. Tomorrow is Sierra Leone Independence day which means NO SCHOOL! I have a holiday, Merry Christmas to me! I'm not sure what I'm going to do, but it involves sleeping in.

Finally, to leave you with a picture - this is an Ethiopian Hunger Cloth that was displayed at the convent I stayed at over the weekend. It was beautiful and simple. There is an explanation underneath, and you should be able to click on it to enlarge the picture to read the text. I also have some information that explains the different pictures on the cloth, but didn't want to post them all here. If you'd like to see them, ask and I can email them to you.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

...trivial pursuits...

Last night, I went to play trivia with a few friends at a restaurant by the water. My friend, Meghan, runs the trivia night, so it's always fun(ny) (she says, having only gone twice). This week I played on a team with two people from Ireland and one from England. Occassionally, I put on an accent. I don't think anyone noticed.

As the night wore on, some of the team members grew a little, peckish. In fact, it was one of the Irish girls...and this is what she said:

"I'm starved. I need a baked potato."

I looked at her. And then laughed (I would do the same of someone from PEI if they said the same thing).

In her defense she said back, "But potatoes take a god's-age on a kerosene stove!"

It was almost as funny as "Your hair is soft. Like a feather. Of a chicken."

But not quite.

Other highlights of trivia included:
  • trying to convince team members that there really are 7 continents now....not 5.
  • deciding that Dire Straits did not have a top selling album of all matter how much you wish they did (who?)
  • The Great Wall of China covers 1/20th of the earth's surface
  • "underground" and "under...und" are the only two words in the English language beginning and ending with "und" (uh huh, I can't remember the second word. Go figure).
  • "Queue" is the only English word that has three vowels in a row
  • doing OK in the WAR category (phew!)...except for those sneaky questions about ancient history...I'm such a failure. This is why the history department wants to trade me to Political Science. Or anywhere else.
  • yes, Antarctica is a continent. Sheesh. And also, it doesn't 'belong' to anybody.
  • prolonged cigarette smoking and tight pants are the leading preventable causes of impotence
  • rocks larger than 10 inches in diametre are officially called 'boulders'

As you can see, it was a gripping evening.

Wish you could have been there, we needed your brain!

Monday, April 16, 2007

...I'm a model, you know what I mean?...

I'm too sexy for my love too sexy for my love
Love's going to leave me

I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt
So sexy it hurts

And I'm too sexy for Milan, too sexy for Milan
New York and Japan

And I'm too sexy for your party, too sexy for your party
No way I'm disco dancing

I'm a model you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah, on the catwalk, on the catwalk, yeah
I do my little turn on the catwalk

I'm too sexy for my car, too sexy for my car
Too sexy by far

And I'm too sexy for my hat, too sexy for my hat
What do you think about that?

I'm a model you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah, on the catwalk, on the catwalk, yeah
I shake my little tush on the catwalk

I'm too sexy for my cat, too sexy for my cat
Poor pussy, poor pussy cat

I'm too sexy for my love, too sexy for my love
Love's going to leave me

And I'm too sexy for this song.

Thanks to Janet for the great pictures!
The first three are of the kitten, who I call Spartacus (we now think he's a boy's so hard to tell!) and then the others are of Beatrix, the Mamma cat. We moved the cats to Janet's balcony in order to keep them safe from Frodo-the-Dumb-Dog. There was an issue of how the cat would get down from the balcony but that was remedied with the introduction of the 'cat-walk.' No, it wasn't my idea. Janet rigged it up and had William hammer on the 'steps' when the board itself proved too slippery for Beatrix to climb on her own. Now she's very adept at climbing up and down...and I hum a little tune to myself when I see her 'strutting' her stuff. The other day she even made it down the catwalk with Spartacus in her mouth. (Ah! That makes me nervous. She didn't know what to do with him when they got to the they just trotted back up again. What was the point?)
I want to draw your attention to the first close up 'head shot' of Beatrix, made more classy by the morsel of cat food dangling from her mouth. Someone pass that cat a napkin!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

...When in Mange...

It took me forever to upload all of these pictures, and I'm sure some of you were thinking "gee, Emily's being fairly cryptic with this photographs, isn't she going to explain anything?" Fear not, friends, I am! I have been extremely busy over the last few days and have felt like I've only just been keeping my head above water.

The Easter break was great, but also very busy full of planning, working, batiking and traveling. I was surrouned by people for about 4 days with no real break, and so I need some 'alone time' to keep my sanity. I'm going to enjoy some of that this weekend. I have a whole weekend to myself! (well, mostly). I don't have much planned for Saturday, save some marking and lesson planning and a phone interview for the donning job at King's I'm really hoping to get for next year. There's a birthday celebration for a couple of the girls here Saturday night, and then on Sunday I have a rehearsal with a girl who plays guitar to prepare for leading worship at a women's retreat next weekend! I'm excited about that!

Today after school I also taught my first piano lesson to one of the boys in my grade 4/5 social studies class - we learned note names, identified octaves, and counted how many times the key patter repeated itself on the keyboard (only 5, it's not that big!). I enjoyed it and the kid is a pretty talented performer, so I'm hoping to have him singing and playing chords in no time! Fingers crossed!

And now, on to Mange!

One of the first pictures I took when I arrived was of these four women and girls at Adama's house. I like it because it represents four generations of women - from Grannie to baby and all the in-betweens. This is a close-up of the school aged girl from the above picture. She is one of the students that a teacher back in Canada sponsors (yes, Micky, that is you!) She is refered to as 'rasta girl' and her sister is 'rasta baby' by the people in the village. I swear. I wouldn't make something like that up.

The bulbs this man is carrying on his head are from a palm tree and are apparently used to make palm oil which is a main staple in the majority of Sierra Leonean cooking. Palm oil is a thick red oil, tasty, but most likely horrible for you. They also use MSG in a lot of their dishes...yum!

I travelled to Mange with Adama, and stayed with her and her mother in their home there. The trip up was quite the adventure, but not as exciting as the trip home! Highlights included:

  • A 1.5 hour wait sitting in the back seat of a poda poda before we left on our three hour drive up country. Mange is past Port Loko but before Makeni, if you're looking to orient yourself.
  • Stopping to help a woman who was apparently 'in a coma' which actually happened to not be a woman at all, but only a flat tire. Perhaps the Themne word for 'woman' is similar to 'tire?' Perhaps the woman was just really ugly?
  • Sitting next to Adama in the poda poda after she had wrapped a giant purple scarf around her head to protect her hair from the dust of the road, and tied a triangular bandage (she's a nurse and has access to these things) around her face, bandid style, to stop from breathing in dirt. I wish I could have taken a picture, but my camera was wedged somewhere under a seat inside my knapsack.
  • Eating 'cotton grass' on a stick. Apparently that is rabbit, or squirrel. Adama couldn't quite make up her mind. Although, 'cotton grass' is close to "cotton tail" and we all know that Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter were rabbits (ok, maybe only I know that...I did have a complete Beatrix Potter collection when I was small) so it may have been rabbit. It was delicious.
  • The three hour wait in the sun trying to find transport on the way back.
  • The drive on the way back, equally dusty, equally bumpy, but this time done with four chickens, three watermelons, a bag of papayas, a bag of mangoes, and Naimeh, Adama's mother. We kept the chickens in the trunk. Shockingly, two died on the way. I can't imagine why. Naimeh sat in the front seat. She survived.

This is the room that Adama and I slept and ate in. It was nice and the windows even had screens! Luxury!

One of the highlights of Satuday was our trip to the river (we actually made 2 but I only took pictures the first time). Adama doesn't really swim, but she splashes around. I swam out by some rocks and pulled a girl around in an old dugout fishing canoe. Later in the morning, people came to the river to do washing. There are various techniques....

One is beating the clothes until they bend to your will. Adama says that this method can tear the clothes and create holes in them. I believe her. If was were beaten with a paddle with that much force I'd probably have some holes too.

The other method is vigorously scrubbing the clothes with a brush and soap. I think I would prefer this method and it seems more fiber-friendly as well. Good to see that laundering is not limited to women!

This little girl was a-dor-a-ble. I watched her fill her bowl, splash it all over herself, dump the remainder over her head, laugh and repeat for about 10 mins. Eventually she tired of filling the bowl herself and kept handing it to her brother to fill, interrupting his decimation of a mango.

After the washing is done, and the swimming is over, the clothes are carried back home...

Up the stairs carved out of the rock face leading to the river once-upon-time by Chester, Adama's brother...
Through the dappled jungle...

Past the pineapple groves and the palm trees (I didn't know that pineapples grew near the ground...I thought they grew in trees! )...

To home, where the clothes are hung on the line in the backyard, or more discreetly in the washing house hidden behind palm fronds at the side of the house.

And while the clothes are drying, dinner is made. This dish is cassava leaves, very traditional, very green, very delicious. Cassava leaves are a bit like spinach, although not as nutritious, and this dish is cooked with fish, chicken, palm oil, ground peanuts and of course a pinch of msg! The sauce is served over rice and flavoured with hot peppers.

After dinner, you can sit outside on the porch and watch the sun as it slowly dies behind the Health Centre (hmmm....sketchy). For added viewing pleasure, the goats roam freely. Sometimes, they try to mount each other. If you're feeling in the gambling mood, you can place bets as to which one will bleat first. You just never know!

And then, when the sun has set and the mosquitoes come buzzing, you retire, to bed, to sleep. Yawn! All in all, a good weekend, great company, and some excellent pictures.
Thanks to you, Adama, Naimeh and all of your family.

And finally, for an added bonus: a random picture of yellow 'rubbers' used to carry water or petrol...and a blue bike used for riding or transporting things.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

...Spring Break...

"White girl!"

*hiss* *hiss*


*kiss* *kiss*

"Wetin na yu nam?"


"I love you!"

"Yu git fayn shape!"

*hiss* *hiss*

"oohhh...white girl!"


Just another walk down the road here in Freetown....

This is the 3-D model of Africa that one of my grade 8 students made. I'm so proud. *sniff*

We're on holiday now for a week, so I'm perpetually frustrated by bad internet connections at local internet cafes and thus won't be posting much this week. I head 'up line' or 'up country' on Friday with my friend Adama to the village she comes from called Mange. On Easter monday I'm going to cook a roast's going to be sweet! (which, incidentally is also the word used in Krio to describe good tasting food, how appropriate). My mother even sent me a recipe for making my own mint sauce, just in case I can't find it in the supermarket...and talking about that, I need to get going. So much on my to-do list and so little of it actually getting done...

Happy Easter everyone!