Sunday, August 21, 2011


Kenema was a large town by Sierra Leone standards. Although we lived on the southern outskirts of it, we still stuck out like a sore thumb, especially in our Dama Road neighborhood. There was rarely a time, when we were out, that everyone didn't know that we were headed somewhere.  Clearly we never needed phones.  And thus we knew all too well the fishbowl phenomenon that surrounded us. And we felt it to some degree. On Many a day, after our chores were done at school, we headed "down town" to go shopping. At every door we would have to stop, make conversation with folks we knew, greet them and ask how they were doing, how the family, was, and what was new (we rapidly learned to just say "hi" and to move on was rude by Sierra Leone standards; in fact Sierra Leoneans frequently laughed at us for how we were so rude to each other i.e. to our fellow Peace Corps when we might pass by each other in Town).
So heading down town could take time, and when we returned, our neighbors might insist that we come to eat ("Awamu Meheme") and to refuse, or to pass by again without stopping and eating or without offering an worthy excuse as to why you couldn't stop to eat, could really be problematic. And, of course we stuck out in our neighborhood. The only two white people in the neighborhood, it was obvious when we were out and about. At first this made us self conscious - there was clearly no way to blend in. Eventually as we mixed better with our neighbors and our comfort level was made easy by people's friendliness - the 'mixing' became easier and walking about was no problem at all. My neighborhood became my neighborhood - there was no more to it than that. Just like any neighborhood anywhere this Dama Road section became our comfort zone and our neighbors became our friends. I began at some point to recognize folks from home in my neighbors...started seeing some neighbors as having similarities of personality or even appearance with friends (or even family) that I had left behind in America. And as I relaxed I began to be able to appreciate the wonderful humor that was all about me and the wonderfully beautiful story that was a part of everyday, upcountry Mendeland. Don't get me wrong - everything was not perfect. Just as with anywhere there were ups and downs. When the illicit diamond miners from Kono District (to our north) were driven out - they showed up in Kenema and petty thievery became problematic. But this was not just directed against us - all our neighbors were put on watch as the nighttime prowlers stole from everyone. And nighttime could be tedious when these thieves were breaking in and you had to call out for help ("Tief....Tief....Tiefman"). Yelling would coax sleeping men out of their beds, they would come and chase the thieves off. Nighttime could be quite nerve racking. However, our neighborhood worked well - and people got along with each other. At some point we were lucky. We became part of this small niche, and we felt it. Not special - just part of a neighborhood that we enjoyed.

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