Monthly Archives: September 2011

Be Loved

This week was one of those weeks that I knew would be challenging. I expected I’d come home exhausted, feeling dirty, possibly a bit disheartened, which I did. But thankful and loved as well.

I have been waking up each morning feeling lethargic. A bit unmotivated. A bit annoyed. Frustrated. Overwhelmed. I sometimes think about the other fellows in my class and wonder how they’re doing, what adventures they’re chasing, wondering whether they have down days as well. How happy they are in their placements, with their respective MFIs, if they feel lonely too. I think about my loved ones, what they might be doing at this hour. I think about the other placements I might have had, whether I would be waking up in a different bed in a different country, if it weren’t for a change in circumstances. Really bad thinking. I tense up thinking about the local men I’d have to answer to on the street with the “I’m married, just leave me.” I stress about my workplan, about my responsibilities. Worrying that I won’t make an impact. That no matter what I do, Freetown will stay the same, poverty won’t change, people will still struggle. I let my shoulders droop when I check my email and don’t receive any new mail from my loved ones. I let myself sulk. It’s a really sad routine, I’m fully aware, and don’t take any pride in admitting how lame I let myself get on the down days. Before I moved here, I would have never let myself get this negative on a daily basis. Maybe in special cases (after facing some sort of rejection, going through heartbreak, being sick), but otherwise, my body would reject it.

Not anymore. Lately, there have been more down days than usual. The hub of negative energy makes its daily rounds. I encounter it every day, and sometimes let it persist for a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. Lately, I’ve allowed it to linger for longer than usual. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s the loneliness that makes me feel like sulking or complaining, thinking about the “could haves,” and less of, “wait, isn’t this what you wanted for years and years? Didn’t you light up talking about this opportunity?” I make more excuses, like I have the right to feel crappy because of reasons x, y, and z. I have these internal dialogues between the negative hub and my quiet optimism every day.

My day yesterday started per usual, taking okada and taxi to one of the branch office. On today’s agenda, Mbalu and I were supposed to visit one branch office in Waterloo, which is usually about an 1.5 hour drive by car. Since neither of us owns a car, we rely on public transit. So this is how our day went:

Morning: meet at the area office. Leave at 9:30 by poda-poda to Kissy, the east side of town (more poor, crowded, and full of pickpockets). Arrive there after an hour. We walk down Kissy road to catch another poda-poda to take us to Waterloo, another hour away. Except the routes are all messed up today (the recent downpours ruined one of the roads, making it difficult for poda-podas to navigate), so we spent about 20 minutes asking people where we could grab a ride to Waterloo. After finding the tucked-in alleyway, we saw three vans/poda-poda looking vehicles stopped, bumper to bumper. Apparently a small accident had taken place (no evident damage), and the drivers were off in a verbal fight. Eventually, two of the three vehicles left, and once the third car opened its doors, Mbalu, I, and about 20 other passengers pushed and shoved our way into the vehicle. “WATCH YOUR BAG!” shouted Mbalu from 3 feet in front of me. “SOME PEOPLE WILL JUST STEAL FROM YOU HERE!” I slipped into a space next to the window, holding my bag like it was my infant child, certain I’d damaged one of my “sitting” muscles/bones in the process of jumping onto a metal rail. The hot morning sun was just started to bear upon us, but luckily we jumped into a poda-poda in time to hide from it.

The poda-poda took us directly to Waterloo, where, after 2.5 hours, Mbalu and I met with 2 credit officers. We spent 3 hours going over my workplan, Kiva’s partnership with BRAC, and the pilot to active transition, and I faced the burning, common question from credit officers:

­­­­­”Why should we (credit officers) help Kiva? There is no extra incentive for us. We do so much work, get paid very little, with no promotions in sight, and no extra compensation. Why can’t you (Kiva) change this? We are struggling. We get no promotions, no upward mobility.”

Honestly, the system right now kind of sucks. No, it really sucks. You would lose sleep thinking about it. From what I’ve read, many officers get paid around $150 a month. Transportation usually costs $1/day, food about $4/day, so if you do the math, it’s virtually impossible to save or make the occasional splurge. Each employee’s experience is different, but what I’ve unanimously heard is that Sierra Leone does not have much opportunity for ­­career prospects, growth or promotion. BRAC operates on a different level which I’m slowly beginning to understand, and from what I’ve heard, moving up, or anywhere, within the organization, is very hard.

Now Kiva funds go only through the MFI to the borrower, and do not support operations. Kinda wish there was a way to bridge this. I really feel for the credit officers and Kiva coordinator. Freetown is a very expensive place to live. High costs of living, high unemployment, and low per capita income make for a difficult financial balance, and a hard hustle.

Afternoon: We had achecke (local food that consists of: couscous or rice, noodles, mayo, sometimes stew, and some sort of fish or meat) – Mbalu, the 2 credit officers, and I, and talked about life in Freetown, marriage, and religion (most frequent questions I’ve been asked so far: why aren’t I married/planning to get married soon, and what are my religious beliefs). After a nice lunch, Mbalu and I make our way back to Freetown, but hit a few hiccups on our way back. Apparently, due to the fluctuations in gas prices, taxis are on strike, thus less available. Poda-podas then become in higher demand and fill very quickly, especially over long distances. So Mbalu and I wait about 15 minutes for one to come by (thank goodness) and it takes us back to the east side of town, where the sun is ridiculously scorching. No taxis to be found for 10, 20 minutes. Water supply running low. Head throbbing. Feet failing. Then finally, Mbalu asks a young stranger in a blue Nissan if he could drop us closer to the center of town. He agrees, turns up his Bob Marley CD, and off we go.

The bumper-to-bumper traffic has us sauna-ing in the car for a good hour or so. I lay my head on the seat headrest, watch the pedestrians and salespeople walk by, with the Marley song “Be Loved” drowning out my thoughts like a nice pour of Jameson.

After reaching town, the driver, Michael, drops Mbalu at her evening class, and takes me to my junction further into the city. He pulls over and says, “Make sure you find a good okada here.” “Ah yes,” I respond, “I usually call my friend to take me home.” I pull out a little cash and gesture towards him to please accept. “No no,” he nods, “No.” I shake my head back, “Please, Michael, you’ve helped us so much, take this please.” He still doesn’t accept, and I slowly exit the car, speechless and touched by kindness. I don’t know where Michael was supposed to go that day, what was on his agenda, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t to detour through the east end of town, sit in traffic, bake in the sun, and take two people into town during rush hour.

I arrive home, and as expected, feel tired, dirty, and overwhelmed. I push the negative hub out of my system for the evening, a think of the kindness so many people like Michael have shown me. And I feel thankful and blessed. Whether it’s Mbalu yelling at a taxi driver for trying to rip me off, or taking me around to find a cell phone and cursing the young boy who tried to pick pocket me.. or the Indian couple who approached me in a grocery store, immediately invited me over for dinner, and treated me like their own daughter.. or new friends who goes out of their way to give me rides to social functions in Freetown and back home… I’ve been touched by the selflessness people have practiced here. It’s on an entirely different level than what I’ve experienced before, so still takes time to digest and fully understand, but hopefully I can remind myself of the kindness that people possess when I feel an ounce of negativity, and use it to replace the hub in my daily routine.

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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..?

This small world

Yesterday, I finally went into the field to meet borrowers, and was reminded of how funny and small this world really is!

My day started when I met a branch officer (and new friend), Aminata, at her office to start our borrower visits. We visited two BRAC clients, both hard-working, impressive women featured on Kiva, Marie and Ethleem. First stop was Marie, who owns a pharmacy business and is using her loan to expand her business and stock up on high-demand products (malaria medicine and blood tonic fly off her shelves). She’s been in business for a few years, and has managed to earn enough to send her eldest child to college! The second client we met with was Ethleem, a passionate and charismatic borrower who is using her loan to expand her stationary business. She supplies local schools with text books, notebooks, and paper, and was inspired to start this business after seeing how severely schools is Freetown lacked these educational necessities. She also shared her goals to someday start an orphanage and build schools in Freetown. Call her another hometown hero.

Wait, speaking of which..

While waiting downtown for a taxi to head back to the branch office, I saw a familiar face flash by in a white SUV. “Wait, who…?” my mind drifted. Then click! Guess who it was? The hometown hero himself from my first day in Freetown! I ran to catch up with the car, which pulled over to the side of the street. The hometown hero hopped out, greeted us all, and asked how I was enjoying Freetown. It was a funny, warm moment that reminded me how small this city – and world – really is.

Once we arrived to the branch office, my colleague, Aminata, told me she was planning to interview a client for Kiva, and ask whether I’d like to sit in on it. Sounded great, so I sat tight, and in rolled in a woman who had “topped up” my internet SIM card last week. She owns a small store in my neighborhood, and a week ago, of all the top-up joint in all of Murray Town, I walked into hers. 😉 I remember her well: after giving her my usb modem and SIM card, she gave me a puzzled look and went running across the street to consult with more folks on “topping up,” or adding credit, to my internet SIM card. She then returned with a topped-up card in hand, and insisted to come back immediately if it didn’t work­. I was so excited to see a familiar face join the Kiva family, and look forward to experiencing more small-world moments in this new city.

Oh, it’s a small, small world.

Testing the waters

Last week and this weekend involved a fun medley of intense, eye-opening organizational experiences, socially active engagements, and beach adventures.

Oh hi, hierarchy!

The organization I’m working with, BRAC, is pretty awesome so far. I’ve written a Kiva blog post on BRAC and the main objectives of my work plan (will post soon), and there’s a lot off the work plan I’m observing and learning about at a rapid rate, mainly about the hierarchy and dynamics of a large, global NGO.

Some background on BRAC: it was established in 1972 in Bangladesh, and has since expanded to serve 9 countries. BRAC has over 30 branches in Sierra Leone alone, and employs local professionals as staff. The executive staff hails from Bangladesh, where they are recruited and trained. You see the interesting mix we have here: Bangla upper management, and local junior staff.

With this separation  naturally comes hierarchy and a different pattern of making requests and getting things done. This is currently the biggest challenge for me, and will hopefully turn into the greatest personal lesson in patience, since I practically have efficiency and multitasking locked into my DNA (and totally to my detriment here). Here’s an example: let’s say you want to get something printed. You ask a colleague to print a document, he kindly agrees and offers you his computer. Plug in your thumb drive (called a “stick”), open the doc, hit print – but wait, no paper. “Ah yes,” your colleague response, “I don’t have paper, we have to go ask for some.” You head downstairs to request paper from the accountant, who is out of the office, and then visit your colleague’s manager to ask. The two engage in a little back-and-forth chatter of something along the lines of, “She needs paper” and “I supply you with enough, allot your resources properly. I can’t help you today.”  A colleague standing nearby hears the paper debate, and kindly offered to supply  some. Problem solved! We run upstairs, print the document, and my colleague returns to his work. This was a minor example experienced last week that illustrates the layers of communication necessary to go through in order to achieve something I have always taken for granted, a task I mindlessly take care of without considering who else my action will impact, or how it will effect the budget and organization’s paper supply. The same applies for requesting reports from other teams and staff that Mbalu collaborates with for Kiva. There’s a whole line of people I’m going to have to learn to talk to in order to understand who handles what, who I run to when there’s a report or we’re hitting a hard deadline (like now). Should be eye-opening, especially since my only professional experience has involved working at a very flat, non-bureaucratic nonprofit, where everyone was encouraged to direct a problem/question to the person(s) it directly pertained to.  Eye opening for sure!

This week, I have two major projects creeping up: repayment reporting (reporting on Kiva loans), and borrower verification (sort of like an audit for a sample of ten Kiva BRAC borrowers). Both are super critical to the partnership, and highly depend on other teams and navigating the hierarchy. So please think positive thoughts for me. I think I’ll greatly need them . :-/

New friends and the search for stability

In other updates, BRAC colleagues invited me to trivia night at a local Irish pub Thursday night. I formed a team with my colleagues and their nice friends. Trivia night was AWESOME – each team had several pieces of lined, numbered paper, and were given questions about pop culture, TV/movies, food/beverage, current events, geography, and music. We’d swap answers with another team to correct each others quizzes (bring me back to 8th grade!), and were scored accordingly. My team, called Clueless, placed 7th among 14, and are ready to get together again and kick some major trivia butt next week!

Friday night, a nice friend of a previous Kiva fellow invited me out to a restaurant on the beach called Independence. I kid you not, it’s ON the beach. They were playing 90’s R&B (Tevin Campbell! LL Cool J and Boyz II Men! SWV! My head almost exploded) and I met his friends who all had come to Freetown over the last 9 months to 2 years ago for work, hailing from the UK, Lebanon and India. They were super nice, social and cool – we chatted for a bit, then headed to a dive bar called Atlantic, closer to Lumley beach, open-air, and also along the water (beach level). I met more expats, some now from the UN, British High Commission, financial institutions, and more, from Egypt, Italy, Belgium, and Greece. We danced, had a few drinks, chatted, and played some foosball. Before I knew it, it was 5am and my body was ready to call it a night.

Overall, I was excited and relieved to finally go out and meet folks, make some friends. I’ve never been a part of an expat community, and am new to the dynamics of creating new relationships that lack a specific context, other than “we’ve all moved to this country from somewhere more familiar.” It takes me back to first days living in Davis and London, except in college, you’re more or less sharing the same context with someone else. You know what I mean? You feel this desire to connect with someone, to create a friendship and close bond to share and find a sense of stability, and hope it happens quickly, which of course, doesn’t, since good bonds take time to form. I’ve always been pretty bad at maintaining acquaintance-based connections that don’t share any common thread. I guess it depends on context to a certain extent, but given my relatively short tenure, a part of my worries that I won’t find something stable. Agh. Alright, I’m making myself nauseas writing this because, let’s be real, a person could (and does) have more serious issues to worry about in life than the prospect of not forming a strong bond for the duration of a 4-month long fellowship, so thanks for continuing to bear with me (seriously, if you’re still reading now, I am touched and think you are really, really wonderful).

Anyway, as I explore this new side of developing relationships, understanding permanence and the lack thereof, hopefully reaching some enlightenment and revelation, I will continue to write about it, and very much welcome your own perspective on developing quality relationships in a mixed-context setting.

Life’s a beach, ride the waves IF you have a board

The next morning, friends invited me on a trip to Bureh beach (one of Western Area’s loveliest beaches), and it was amazing. We drove for 2 hours on crazy bumpy, washed out roads (Indian Jones Disneyland ride status), passing by waterfalls, lush hills and valleys, refugee-camps-turned-villages, shantytowns, more hills and narrow roads. Once in Bureh town, my friends Wissam, Suzanne and Fulvio hit the waves with their surfboard/boogie boards, and I spent some time hanging out on the beach. One of their friends who works in Bureh town, Tommy, prepared lady fish (which he caught that day) for us, with a side of cassava chips, tomato/onion gravy, and enough rice to fill your recommended weekly carb intake. Best meal I’ve had so far in Sierra Leone! Shortly after, we all jumped in the water, and I tried boogie boarding for the first time. Fulvio gave me step-by-step instructions and lent me his board for a while to enjoy. After 45 minutes of boogie boarding fun, I decided to try it without the board (funny when we think we can challenge nature, call me Ishmael), and definitely got devoured by the waves (dived too early and I felt like a t-shirt in a washing machine on spin cycle). After this happening twice, consecutively (final reality check), I chilled along the beach and dried off. Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and I am so thankful to have met kind people who were just as excited to have me experience Bureh for the first time as they were to be there themselves.

Alright well, I should get ready for bed. I’ve finished a rather satisfactory dinner (flat noodles, sautéed with fresh garlic, onion, soy sauce, and a touch of red chili) and should get ready for the day tomorrow and long week ahead. I’ll try to post pictures and video here as soon as I find faster internet connection (pushing 12.5 kbps right now, whaaaat), but check them out on facebook if you have the time.

The second-day trough and a humbling reality check

If the last three days are any indication of what the next few months have in store, I am in for quite a ride! Foreword: this is a long description/rant of the past 3 days, so brace yourself.

I woke up Thursday morning excited and pumped for my first day at the BRAC office. I traveled by okada with a young man in my neighborhood, Ibrahim. My commute by okada is about 15 minutes, give or take a few minutes, depending on traffic and weather conditions. I took a flipcam video during part of my commute – will post that as soon as I can. The scenery is stunning, definitely a highlight of my day is my commute (sans the insane rush hour traffic and iffy roads).

At the office, I was greeted warmly by each staff member (there are about 25 in total). Unfortunately I can only remember the name of a few (I’d be lucky if I knew 1/5), but everyone across the board was friendly and welcoming, asking about previous fellows and my background. Now, some first days are nice and slow, usually an ideal time for one to observe to organization, take it all in – but mine was more of the jump into the deep end! Within the first hour, Mbalu and I met with the microfinance manager to review my work plan and identify my fellowship objectives. I prepared myself for the biggest priority of my tenure, which is to take place this month. Exciting and a little intimidating!

After settling into my desk and starting on a few projects, I joined the staff for lunch, prepared by a cook by a small fee; we enjoyed rice and fried fish with this delicious red sauce.  No one talks shop at lunch, which is a pleasant, and everyone breaks from 1-2pm. I felt my old habits kicking in – upon finishing my lunch, I started heading back to my desk, and Mbalu and colleague Prima cried, “Where are you going? We still have 20 minutes left!” Hah. Reminded me that seldom did I ever take full lunches in the states. It was a great opportunity to chill out, watch one of the renowned downpours, and meet with BRAC staff (one of whom grilled me on Hinduism, it was pretty entertaining).

Day number two was a reality check in many respects.

First realization: Nothing will go as planned, smile and laugh it off. This is advice I’ve been given by the previous Kiva Fellows who served here, Eric and David. They both mentioned that during their fellowships, they would think they had the flow down, and then something would come in out of left field and completely rearrange their schedule or way of thinking.

Additionally, Kiva expressed to us at training that we’d eventually fall into the “trough of disillusionment” after beginning our fellowship, and advised us to expect that we may feel prepared with tools and knowledge going into the field, but will hit challenges when applying what we’ve learned to our work. I definitely started to hit mine the second day, but am patiently learning how to work through it and climb out. Everything is a learning experience, and one thing I’m trying to remind myself is to take David and Eric’s advice, abandon my perfectionist tendencies to avoid frequent frustration, and roll with it. Plus, it’s only been 2 days. I need to relax.

Second realization: I stand out, time to get used to it. Mbalu took me to the market Friday after work to pick up necessities. I was thrilled to (1) buy food, since I was living off of granola and cliff bars, (2) explore the marketplace, and (3) see other Indian people! I assumed since there was a decent-sized Asian and Lebanese population here, I’d blend in a little, but nope. Stick out like a giraffe. With that of course, comes the fun game of bargaining down and trying not to be taken advantage of or paying twice than regular price, being called out on the street and sometimes honked at. Certainly this is not a unique phenomena; this happens every in the world where one is clearly not a local, but I think this is the first time I’ve had to deal with a more extreme case. Best way, I think, to deal is accept the fact, and make friendly with people. Other fellows successfully made allies in their neighborhoods and were subsequently treated like most locals. I think it’s all about relationship building, which absolutely takes time.

Third realization: This city is EXPENSIVE. Hats off to people who work hard to earn wages and live in this city, because boy is it pricey. I purchased a bag of lentils ($9), basmati rice ($10), a box of Lipton tea ($7.50), and couldn’t believe what I had just paid. Produce is a little more reasonable, but just given that fact that one usually has to dedicate a large part of their budget to transportation alone, there is little money left to spend on food, necessities, or even save. It’s very saddening to observe this cost economy trap in one of the poorest countries in the world. I’m very interested to learn more about this subject and hopefully can gain more insight over time.

Fourth realization: It will get lonely. After a fun first two days, I came home in high spirits, but an odd breeze of loneliness unexpectedly set in. Thankfully, my sister called me my first evening after work, and my dad called me when, inconveniently so, the outgoing call credit on my cell phone and internet credit ran out  (yay for Skype call forwarding), You have to love the timing. Friday night, alone, no internet, phone, or company. I’ve acknowledged that I will feel lonely frequently right now, and hopefully that will slowly change as I stay here. (But I continue to welcome calls and highly encourage them! J)

Today has been better, considering the micro-trough I hit yesterday. I met with the BRAC staff in another Freetown office to introduce myself and discuss my/Kiva’s objectives. Most of the executive staff I met with at BRAC are Bangladeshi, so we spent half of the time talking about my work plan and BRAC’s goals, and the other half talking about Bangla-Indo-Sierra Leonean politics and culture. It was quite a diverse and entertaining series of discussions!

I took public transportation by myself for the first on my way home (one taxi, one okada, and negotiated the fee, woohoo), and explored the street I live near. Added credits to my phone and internet SIM cards, and tried to make conversation with a few locals that run neighborhood business (most of which are small retail shops and phone carrier “credit top up” locations). Overall, it was nice to start taking baby steps and push out of the small comfort circle I’ve arrived with.

Realizations, regardless of the experiences that elicit them, have already become valuable learning experiences. Here’s to more to come..