Thursday, February 5, 2009

What it was Like [continued from below]

Father Ganda - was the first Sierra Leone priest; later became Bishop of Sierra Leone

Country cloth as noted was becoming a rare commodity by the late 1960's due to the labor intensive nature to produce it.  In those days there still were weavers - perhaps one in each small village. As noted below the process took a lot of time (and effort) and since country cloth was a remnant of earlier times - and perhaps not stylish - women, except for the most rural no longer wore it preferring the more stylish tie dyed material. A country man might wear country cloth - a paramount chief might also wear it - and at times when there were local celebrations you might see some folks in robes of cotton - but for the most part people were gravitating to Europen dress, or to the locally dyed but European produced cloth which came and was sold in West Africa in the droves.   
Students at HRSS came mostly from the provinces with most coming to Kenema from the area. Most of our students in those years were Mende - there was a smattering of students who were Temne and Susu, and perhaps Loko. There were also 2 or 3 young Lebanese students many of whom were Muslim. The Lebanese sent their children to HRSS because the sisters were strict, because the education that students received was perhaps the best in the country, and because they felt that Mission schools were safest for their daughters.  At the TTC the students were also varied.  Our first year the HRSS had one form (form I) and our students were probably about 13 or 14 years. They were a spirited group. Fees for school were steep by Sierra Leone standards and I remember there being a lot of pressure on the students from time to time in this regard. A few students left after their first term due to their inability to pay. Students were required to wear a school uniform of crimson (with a yellow trim ribbon) and a crimson beret. They were always well-dressed in this regard. Out in the street they wore more stylish dress - usually what was called docket and lappa or even sometimes a more European style - but again always well-dressed and more formal.  It was the Peace Corps that in the early 1960's introduced sneakers (they called them either Peace Corps or Crapes). In those days they were canvas sneakers and what was frowned upon was how we took such poor care of our "crapes," allowing the canvas to discolor and allowing the sneakers to shred, breakdown, and disintegrate. Sierra Leoneans took good care of their canvas sneakers - keeping them white and many times polished white. I think there was a certain annoyance that locals had to our informality in this regard, but there was also a certain appreciation for this same informality that was to some degree a part of how we - as Americans - interacted with people in our work. We had been warned early in training about how some might be irritated with our "dirty crapes," but over time these became part of our uniform. As Peace Crops most of us also appreciated the beauty of the tie-dyed material and we became vigorous purchasers of material which the women had made into dresses, and the men had made into shirts. At local celebrations most Peace Corps volunteers wore this local dress and I think this had a positive impact on our image. 
Of my teaching I was never very pleased. I was not very innovative and although I had studied much of what I was teaching (at University) I was never really happy with my own performance. It was not a lack of confidence. It was more that my teaching methods seemed to me to be mundane, and that very few of the students were moved by what we did in class. We were lucky to have some very good students both at HRSS and at the TTC. I trust that as they continued their education they came in to contact with better teachers.  I did work hard at classroom preparation and planning.   
My relations with the sisters was cordial although at times strained. I was young and found my sister colleagues very dedicated - and of this I was impressed. Many had given 30 or 40 years to working in West Africa. Some had previously worked in Nigeria but had been driven from there with the Biafran (Nigerian) War. So they lateralized to Sierra Leone and created life anew and continued their mission work. Some had started when Colonialism was in full bloom. Some had learned to adjust to the changing world as colonialism fell apart. And some were new at that time with a long road ahead of them.  Our students had a deep respect for what they were doing and at that time a few Africans became sisters (actually one was from Sierra Leone (Sr. Rosa) and another was from the Gambia. The sisters were kind to us and always inclusive. 
We did have several visits to Blama to Father Enunugu (?sp) who was from Nigeria and was in those days a real go getter. Hard working, industrious he was a friend of Lee and Michael Behnke who were volunteers there. The Behnkes introduced him to us. Blama was about 12 miles to our west - and from time to time Father Enunugu would invite us to dinner at his house there. We also got to know Father Ganda (photo above) who at that time was the first priest from Sierra Leone. Later to become Bishop of the country - Father Ganda had us to dinner at his house a number of times. He was unafraid and always willing to express his opinions politically. He was a brave man - well-liked by our students - and a leader in the community. 
Despite our teaching for the Catholic Mission we were never very much involved with religious life there. We were not Catholic and this may have annoyed some. There may have been one or two times when I went to a service in the mission church by the convent but I do not remember what this was for. There were certain feast days or holidays when we might be invited to the convent for supper but these were not overly religious suppers - they were usually secular and cordial. I was always so impressed with how religiously stylish the convent house was - floors being (as I remember) tiled - walls being somewhat stucco - and the place being meticulously spotless. This was also true of the school buildings which were kept in the very best of shape. It was a very well-equipped school. 


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