Friday, August 19, 2011

Two Years - Too Short

What at first seemed like a long two years turned into two years that was much too short a time. In August 1968 we left our fellow PCVs and headed by public transport to our post in Kenema in the Eastern Province. The trip from Njala to Kenema, with all our belongings either on the roof of the lorry, or packed away in the US Embassy in Freetown to later be shipped to us when we were settled in. For the first time since we arrived in country in July we were on our own, negotiating expenses, trying out our newly learned Krio, and heading into the "unknown." I remember stops in town like Bo, and Blama, and small villages on the way. The day was gray and cool (for Sierra Leone). Kids gawked at us in villages along the way. The road from Njala to Kenema was red latterite, bumpy, at times dusty, and at times hazardous. Susan and I were excited to be in the final portion of the beginning - we were ready to be there (at our post) and to get on with our teaching. Susan had teaching experience - I had none with the exception of the Freetown summer school program that we had just been in. We knew that Kenema was a big town - the capital of the Eastern Province. But we knew little else. By the end of the day glimpses of Kenema came from between the slats of the back of the lorry where we were seated. Kenema was busy that day - and with difficulty we found the Peace Corps office on Konbema Road and there met Jim Alrutz, a big hulk of a man, and the Eastern Province director. He warmly welcomed us, grabbed our belongings, and headed out of town to our school to meet the principal. I think Jim had been in East Africa prior to his tour in Kenema. A big guy, friendly, his family lived on the other side of town from us. My impression was that Jim was becoming a full time Peace Corps administrator - he was doing his time in hopes of advancement within the Corps. He was helpful, and told us about Kenema. Our school - Holy Rosary Secondary School was a new girl's Catholic mission school - and this was to be its first year. There was to be one form - about 35 students - and we were the only lay teachers. The sister principal was Sr. Miriam - and she along with Sr. Adrian (and later Sr Ibar) were to be our school colleagues. All our colleagues came from Ireland and were missionary sisters. Some had been in Nigeria but had to leave Nigeria when war broke out. The school had once been a Teacher's Training College but for some reason the TTC was fazing out. We were to have some teaching duties with the remaining teachers as well. Sr. Miriam met with us that first day - told us about the school and its goals, told us what we were going to be teaching, showed us to our house, and left us to unpack, organize the house, and settle in. She informed me that I would be teaching general science, and maths - and also PE. She also said that I was to be the netball coach for both the HRSS and for the TTC, and she gave me a book from the school library about the rules. Netball - a typically girl's sport played on a "court" (they called it a pitch), and with a ball like a basketball, was peculiar for me. Luckily the students knew the game - I provided some organization, some training, some practices, but mostly support.
School started uneventfully - I was the only man on the staff -I think the students were surprised by my presence but they adjusted easily to it. At first I was a bit strict, overly serious, and much too remote but as my comfort level improved, so did my teaching. Our students were fun. Their challenge was to turn school into a purpose that made sense. My purpose was to get these young students involved in their schooling and see it as important. School fees were severe and not to be wasted. Some of these students were from families with means and some were not. All had a working knowledge of English. They were between 13 and 14 years old. (The TTC students were in their twenties). So - here we were, two Peace Corps out of the greater Boston area - out of college a few months - and now teaching young Africans...

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