Thursday

Family and a few friends have asked what a typically day looks like here. I didn’t really develop a “pattern” or routine until recently, so here’s a glimpse into a day in Freetown.

Taking last Thursday: wake up at 7am. The neighborhood roosters, goats, and dogs that sing the praises of the morning usually start their show around 6am, but I’ve adapted to sleeping through them for an hour. I have breakfast, which consists of a bowl of granola from Trader Joe’s (bought enough from home to last me a good 3-4 weeks) and a few “Digestive” brand (local sweet) biscuits. Wash up, iron my clothes, fill my backpack, and walk down the street, where I meet my okada (motorbike) driver, Emma (whose name at first I thought was Amara), at 8:15. Hope on the back of his bike (with helmet, of course), and he takes me to the nearest junction, where I walk about 7 minutes to catch a taxi. The taxis here function like buses, shuttling from one destination to another, and for relatively short distances, charge 1000 leones a head. They don’t indicate where they’re going or willing to take you, so you have to yell out where you’re going. Thursday, I went to the country office, so I knew exactly where my taxi would be waiting (luckily, ones that go in direction are parked on the side of the street, so no running/yelling involved). The taxi waits for 1-2 minutes until all 4 seats are filled (sometimes we squeeze in 5) and we head to the next junction, which is about a 10 minute walk to my office. Door to door, it takes about 35 minutes to get to the office.

Once I arrive at the country office, I sign the lunch roster and pay 3,500 leones to the cook. This is an optional perk for all staff and persons working in the BRAC country office; pay a small fee in the morning, and have lunch prepared. I then hang out for a bit as people trickle in, and we head up to our desks around 9. Mbalu, the Kiva Coordinator, and I review the priorities of that day and week, which include visiting the area office (about 15 min away) and planning upcoming borrower visits. The internet is usually slow like molasses, if not almost entirely absent, so every day is different mix of online and offline work and finding a way to get things done. If I’m offline, I usually update my work plan, call credit officers to plan borrower visits, or prepare files for an upcoming project. Or, like I’m doing now, write a blog post. :)

Lunch time rolls around at 1pm and most folks head downstairs to the dining room. We dine on a plate of rice (aka a mountain of white, or sometimes “jallof” rice) with stew and fish or chicken. Rice is kind of a big deal here. No traditional “Salone” meal is complete without a large portion of it. Hang out until the end of lunch hour, 2pm, then head back upstairs. The rest of the afternoon flies by rather quickly (got to love late lunches!), and every now and then, a few colleagues and I will stand on the balcony to watch the passerbys or downpours, catch up on each others lives, etc. Usually when the power cuts out.

By 5pm, everyone’s clearing out and starting to head home. I walk back to the main junction, about 5-7 minutes uphill, and shout out my destination to the trail of taxis. One nods, indicating he’s going my way. Squeeze in, ride to the next junction, and pay 1000 leones. I have a 5-7 walk here, and usually drop by the local Lebanese-owned grocery store (there are many of these in Freetown). I check out the spice aisle and stock up on red chili flakes and Italian seasoning, then make sure to grab some olive oil and any last minute necessities. Once I leave the store, I give Emma call to see whether he’s at the junction, ready to take me home.

I walk to the area where Emma and I usually meet at, and am approached by 5-8 other okadas, usually men in their late teens/early 20’s, that yell: “white woman! Psssst! White woman, come here. Seat open. I take you.” They come up, circle me sometimes, get too close to my space bubble. Yeah. You get used to it, but it doesn’t stop being annoying (my Asian/Caucasian/European female friends all agree). Best reply is “My okada is coming, lef (leave) me.” Then I usually give a cold look and wave them away. I know, not super friendly, but if you aren’t firm, the okadas will just keeping bugging you. It’s an interesting mix – knowing where, when, and to whom you can be warm and friendly with, vs. cold and firm. Finally, Emma arrives, and we catch up on how our days went. He drops me at my apartment, and I head upstairs to my room.

That evening, I clean my room (it’s like India here, you have to sweep your space every day otherwise things get dirty very quickly), and get ready for a shower by putting a large pot of water on the stove. Shower (bucket style, yayuh), change, organize my backpack for the next day, and walk to a cross-street about 15 min away (the road I live off of is terribly rocky/underdeveloped; cars rarely come down this way). My friend comes to pick me up around 7:45p, and we head to a pub about 10 minutes away for trivia night!

There, a few BRAC colleagues and I form a team, pay 5,000 leones to join in, have a round of Heineken, and start the pub trivia extravaganza. It usually consists of 6 different “quizzes” – each team has to fill the answers to the game host’s questions, and after 2 rounds, each team rotates papers to “grade” one another’s quizzes. By the end of each pair of rounds, the host announces the standing of each group, and we continue with the rest of the game. By 11, the game is over, and the host announces where each team stands (we placed 5th among 10 teams. We’re fired up to take it next week!). This is part of a 4-week series, and the top 4 winners by the 4th week will receive prizes in the forms of bottles of wine and gift credit for the pub. We all head home, and my colleagues kindly offer a ride home (thank goodness, otherwise I’d have to resort to an okada, not fun or safe at night).

I come home, turn up the fan, change into PJs, tuck my mosquito net into the mattress, and if I have enough energy, read a few pages of a kindle novel. Call it a night, and set my alarm for the next day. Usually get woken up a few times at night from the neighborhood dogs (they like to pick fights into the wee hours of the morning) or the sporadic, freak thunder and lightning storms that send flashes of bright light and curtains blowing into my room.

That’s my Thursday! Once I meet more borrowers, train branches, visit new parts of SL, I’ll share what the experience is like. Now, what do you want to learn more about..?

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7 responses to “Thursday

  1. WOW Tej…so great to get a glimpse into your day to day routine. It sounds like you totally have a system down now and I love how you handle everything. Not that there was ever any doubt on my end…but you got this, girl. :) Your okada sounds nice, and I love that you’re eating so much rice! When you come home…I’ll make you tons of Basmati! =P Keeping giving those cold shoulders when you have to, and next time, have a Heinken for me too, baby! ;) Miss you and love you very mucho. :)

  2. I am very much enjoying your blog! I would love to hear your thoughts at some point on…
    Something you stressed about in SF that seems trivial or silly now?
    The reverse, something you took for granted in SF and now value?
    Could you describe the people you interact with? At work? In transit? Socially?
    Sorry for all the requests, hee hee.
    Miss you!

    • I’m so touched to hear that! Those are some great ideas. It’s a bit hard to think of something stressful in SF that seems trivial now.. I’m definitely learning more about what I take for granted and value more already.. and oh! the people. Girl, do I have some stories. Will certainly share. Thanks for the suggestions! Miss you!!

  3. I’m inspired reading your blog! Appreciate the updates. When is the best time to call?

  4. Top, senksberrymuch! I must say, I actually do regret not bringing vanilla scented candles here. Haha. Time here is PST + 7, so really, anytime after 10:30am PST is totally fine. I’m usually up until 11pm (4pm PST) everyday, so reach out to me whenever! I hope all is well out there.

  5. Seriously, I look forward to your blog posts! Really entertaining and insightful! There seems to be a lot of resemblance to life in India and in Freetown (the bargaining, stares, and what not). I imagine having the background experience of dealing with such things in India has benefited you to handle them in Freetown – true? Have you grown accustomed to the water? Its awesome that there a some reliable folks to help you get from A to B (i.e. Okada)! Most important question though: Have you found a favorite beer? :)

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