Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pancake Brunch

Dear Angela, Ryan and Laura,
I'm sitting here in my wet swimsuit because I just came from a day at the beach, but I wanted to tell you about my day. By the way, you cannot say "wet" here In Sierra Leone. It means something completely different in British English, which is what most people speak here. Every time I say it, someone teases me. I'm trying to strike it from my vocabulary. Also, Minnesotans say "noooooooo" alot. I say it when I disagree with something and everyone teases me for saying it. I tell them it will be my legacy when I leave....everyone will remember me for saying...."Noooooo!"

This morning I invited my closest friends over for a pancake brunch....a real American breakfast. I have fond memories of making pancakes for you guys on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Remember when we would have toppings of blueberries or cherries or apples and whipped cream? If I didn't have whipped cream, I would use slightly melted vanilla ice cream and you all loved that. Ice cream for breakfast...what kid would refuse that? Anyway, today I made sausages and bacon and pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup. My friends called it "maple sauce" which at least I could understand. I made German coffee later and everyone liked that too. Laura makes the best German coffee ever and I have to say that today I would have riveled yours. My friends thought the breakfast was sweet tasting, but at least I exposed them to what Americans eat for breakfast, which is what cultural exchange is all about, right? I have realized lately that being here in Sierra Leone is not only about learning about other cultures, but also about exposing my friends to my American culture. I had a great time explaining how to prepare the pancakes: put butter on top of the pancakes, put some blueberries on top if you wish and then warm maple syrup. The things we take so for granted are totally foreign to others. What a revelation. I also made a rum cake and I also served cheese and bread for my guests who were too shy to try the pancakes. Everyone had a nice time. We talked about family and I showed them photos from my running album and from Angela's wedding. I am so lucky to have such good friends here. They all thanked me profusely for the breakfast. One thing I noticed is that everyone lingered after the meal. My Lebanese friends appreciate and value family and friends and they do not cut these visits short. In America, after the food is consumed, everyone usually goes about their business. Today, the brunch was a 3 hour affair and I was happy to spend this time with my very good friends.

Today...appreciate the people around you. Think about what makes them special. Think about what makes them unique. Remember back to how you came to meet them. I miss Angela, Ryan and Laura and Scott and Tom and Allison and Regina and Kristin and Kevin and all the people I have made pancakes for over the years. But I feel very lucky to have met such wonderful friends here in Sierra Leone...people to get to know and to share my life with.

Count all the blessings in your life. Be safe. Appreciate the small things.

And I hope all is well in your corner of the world.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas #3 - Interesting Party Quips

Last night I hosted a Christmas Party Open House. About 32 people came; including the Ambassador! She was the first one to arrive, which was quite unnerving. She is very gracious and commented on how lovely and Christmas-y the house looked. I got her a glass of white wine and anxiously awaited the arrival of more guests. The house filled up nicely. I had hired a cook to make the appetizers, but I made all of the Christmas cookies; spritz, peanut blossoms, strawberry bon bons, Russian tea cakes, and chocolate chip cookies. I also hired two girls to hostess. There was a nice mix of people from all over the world. A couple of things happened that I wanted to share with you.

When the maid/hostess first arrived, the light bulb went out in the living room lamp. I gave her a new bulb and told her to change it out. Next thing I know, the bulb is shattered all over the floor. I got a new bulb and went over to help her. I found out she had only "placed" the bulb in the socket; she had not screwed it in....which is why it fell out and shattered all over the floor. As I was screwing it in, I happen to ask her: "Do you have any lights like this in your house?" She said no. It dawned on me that she probably does not have electricity and certainly does not have anything with a light bulb in it. She looked at me like she had never even seen a light bulb before. in her life. I couldn't believe it! She works at the US Embassy as a cleaning girl. Imagine a world where you have never seen a light bulb.

I sat down with my friends from Lebanon and one of them had his wife arrive a couple of days ago from Beirut. This friend happens to have a pet money, Chico, tied to a tree in his backyard. I have been around this monkey a few times and he seemed harmless, although the idea of tying a wild animal to a tree depresses me greatly. So, when the wife arrived at the house, the monkey attacked her and she has bites and wounds all over her arms and legs. She described her ordeal and it seemed as the monkey was biting her, she could not move because the teeth were so far in her that it would tear her skin more to have struggled. It must have been terrifying! I thought to myself, when was the last time I was at a Christmas party discussing a monkey attack with an actual victim? Welcome to Africa.

As I said, the party included a nice mix of people. I invited people close to me and people I appreciate, so the party included the following: The US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, my boss (the second in command), colleagues from work, an attorney for the Special Court of Sierra Leone (who is from Ukraine), my friends from Lebanon and Egypt who are diamond dealers and land developers respectively, my cleaning lady, Mary and her husband...who I'm sure thought they were at a Hollywood party, (I bet they don't have electricity either, as she once asked me how to operate my vacuum cleaner, remember?) my other friends from Lebanon who have friends who work for non-profits here in Freetown, the outgoing and the incoming "high level security forces" in the US government, a couple of people from IMATT (International Military), an international journalist from Canada, a visiting woman named Sarah who started a company called "Brighter Tomorrow for Africa," and Hank and his wife Lisa; Hank is an accomplished singer/songwriter/ musician from Texas. Hank played his guitar and sang for us to close out the evening. I had a wonderful time and I think all my guests really enjoyed it too.

So far, I love this job!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas #2....and Sick Again!

First the good news. I unpacked all the Christmas boxes and I managed to bring almost all of the important Christmas memorabilia with me from Texas. You know how there are those special ornaments or decorations that really say "Christmas" to you? For me, that would be the home-made green clay Christmas trees that we made at a friends house when the kids went to St. Kevin's back in Minnesota. We spent the afternoon at the art teachers house, drinking cider and making these unique clay trees that we painted green. I always set them up by the manger. I was SO happy that I managed to remember to pack them and now have them here in Africa. I also unpacked the ceramic houses that make a village that my mother-in-law painstakingly painted for me back when she liked me. They are a warm Christmas memory. I was still waiting to find the manger, when in the very next box, there it was! Unfortunately, I brought the manger but no figures! There is no baby Jesus, no Mary, no Joseph, no camel, no angels, no wise men. So, I have this empty manger and I guess I have to assume that Mary and Joseph are still in the Middle East. I might have to make paper figures, as it just doesn't seem like Christmas without them. So the tree is decorated, the lights are sparkling, the house feels like Christmas, and all is well in Africa....well almost.

I am sick again. This time, it's not the awful African sickness that affects your stomach and your ability to eat. This time, it's a very bad cold and cough. So bad that when woke up this morning at 6:30 a.m., the moment I took a breath, I started coughing. I called the Embassy (sent a txt message, actually, as that's how everyone communicates here) and let them know I would not be coming in. For those of you who know me well, you know how sick I really am if I call and tell them I'm not coming in at all! Normally, I would call and say I don't feel well and I will be in later. This morning I knew that if I could not stop coughing, I would be worthless at work; not to mention contagious to everyone else. I dragged myself out of bed and started rummaging through my as yet unpacked boxes to see if I could find a thermometer. Eureka! I found it! I took my temperature....100. Wow, I guess that's why I spent last night alternating between freezing and shivering. I discovered a very old bottle of prescription cough syrup and took a couple teaspoons of that along with 2 ibuprofen for the fever and promptly went back to sleep until 11:30! Woke up feeling no better and decided to call the Embassy Dr. (Physicians Assistant, actually). She suggested I come in for an evaluation. So here I am, cozy in my bed, and she wants me to get dressed and drive to work! I was too sick to drive my own car, so I hired one of the Embassy drivers to come get me. (one of the perks of working overseas) I took a quick shower and threw on some jeans and headed to the Embassy--30 minutes away. It was nice to wear jeans to the Embassy because that's forbidden during the normal work day. The PA said I probably have bronchitis or a touch of pneumonia. She gave me a whole arsenal of drugs: daytime cough medicine, night cough medicine, Tylenol, and antibiotics. I went home and went right to sleep again. As long as I can keep the cough under control, I only have to worry about the fever; which returns like clockwork the exact minute the ibuprofen wears off. My temperature this afternoon was 101. Oh joy. So, it's just me and my blanket until the drugs have a chance to work. I'm trying not to think about the Christmas Party Open House that I am having for 50 people on Saturday...and all the cookies that are as yet not baked. I'm sure I will get everything done somehow.

Hope you are all well and healthy in your corner of the world.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas #1

Here in the tropics, it's very difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. Every day the weather is about 80 degrees and sunny. Palm trees abound, and the lush landscaping reminds me nothing of the harsh windy, snowy days of my youth in Minnesota. I called the US the other day for something and the person on the other end of the line said, "Happy Holidays" (which I suppose is the PC version of Merry Christmas these days) and I almost said, "what are you talking mean it's Christmas over there?" There are no decorations on people's houses here; I mean, people are lucky to have a shack with a curtain for a door so certainly they have no need for a pine bough wreath for their non-exist ant front door. Christmas lights? Remember, most of the time there is no electricity all that effort would be a waste of time. That is one thing I can definitely say I DO NOT miss about Christmas in the US....all those hours spent untangling the outdoor Christmas lights!! The last couple of years, I gave it about an hour, then I threw away the string of lights and went to Walmart and bought a new set. I mean, $10 for a new set is worth the agony of untangling the mess from last year! I think that is one of the mysteries of come when I CAREFULLY wind the strings of lights and CAREFULLY place them in the box.....then something like 345 days go by and they somehow tangle themselves into a giant ball? Or, how come the same string of lights that worked last year suddenly goes dark the very next year without even being plugged in! Do they use up their lifespan in the box?

So , today I decided to decorate for the Christmas Open House I am having next Saturday. I have probably already invited 40 people and since I find myself inviting everyone I see that I like, so I'm sure I'll be up to 60 by next weekend. I'm only serving appetizers and cookies and wine, so that should be manageable.

I took out the boxes of Christmas decorations I had brought...7 boxes in all. I well remember being in Austin in March and randomly selecting some decorations while the movers were waiting on me....from the 12 or so boxes of Christmas stuff I own. When I opened them today, I had no idea what I'd find. I have only opened 4 of them, but so far, so good. I brought the tree and set that up. It was strange to have to "unfold" all the little branches, because of course the movers wrapped the tree in paper to resemble a torpedo. Luckily the lights were already on the tree, which actually posed a problem. The lights are 110 electric current, so that means they require a transformer. Transformers are scarce in my house (I only have 3) so I have to put the tree where I can plug in the lights into an existing transformer. That meant the tree needed to be in the living room near the computer. There are only two outlets on the transformer, so whenever I am on the computer (which is one plug) I have to decide if I want to have the lamp on (the remaining plug) or listen to my ipod in the dark (because if I plug in the ipod, I cannot plug in the lamp). Such electrical complications. Then eureka! In a box, I found a 110 electrical strip that has 6 outlets! But now the question....could I safely plug the strip into the transformer with all those American appliances? I held my breath, plugged it in and turned on the power switch. The Christmas tree lights came right on and the tree looked magical! I was so happy I had not blown anything up. (Did I tell you I fried my DVD/VHS player when I got here because I stupidly plugged a 110 into a 220? Idiot!!)

Anyway, I have 4 more boxes to unpack, so I better get back to it. I already got a sneak peak at some of the decorations that made it and I'm happy. There are a lot of memories attached to the green quilted tree skirt I made, the cross-stitched framed Santa for the wall, and of course the little felt and sequined ornaments hand made by my mother-in-law for our first Christmas as a married couple when we had nothing and could not afford to buy anything. I think both Angela and Laura are hoping I leave them to them in my will! I hope I find the green clay trees that we made with the kids at St. Kevins...I hope I find the white crocheted Angel that I bought from a mail order catalog when the kids were young...I hope I find the manger...I hope I find the smokers from Germany....and I hope I find enough memories from the past to sustain me during this, my first Christmas alone.

Hope all is well in your corner of the world.

Oh, I send special Birthday greetings to my Mom and a VERY dear friend of mine, both of whom celebrate birthdays on December 7th. Wish I could be there to give you a hug.

Love from Africa,

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Day in the Life of Money in Sierra Leone

As I was driving home tonight, I thought about how different things are here than in the US. Duh! But then I realized that my friends in the US have no idea about how the money works here in Sierra Leone, so I thought I would share some fun facts with you.

Lesson #1 - The exchange rate is about 3000 LE (Leones) to $1.00. Luckily, it's been going up since I got here. The largest bill they have is 10,000 LE (about $3.00). That means you carry around a LOT of paper money!! The wad of money does not fit in my wallet, so the money goes in a white business envelope and I carry it in my attractive...NOT! For example, the other day I got out $300 in cash in Leones which was 297,100 LE (the exchange rate was a little lower). That means I got (29) 10,000 LE bills!! Imagine if you had 29 $100 bills in your wallet!

Lesson #2 - The money is VERY dirty. The money is dirty and brown and wrinkled and torn and smelly. You really wonder where it's been, but you don't want to know! People don't really use banks here and there are no ATM machines that you can trust. So people carry the money around in their dirty pockets, probably bury it in the dirt in their floors, who knows. I know many people who have hired drivers and other staff and they only let the staff touch the money. I know other people who always be sure and wash their hands after they handle the money. We have a cashier at the Embassy so sometimes I get fresh, newly minted money and I really like that. People don't see that very often. The money is colorful, and slightly more square than our American money.

Lesson #3 - What do things cost? This morning I had an egg sandwich for breakfast at the Embassy. I only eat two or three things from the cafeteria and that is one of them. It's basically a fried egg on white toasted bread with the crusts cut off with tomato, and some kind of cheese spread. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's awful. It was good today. The cost? 3000 LE. (for those math people out there, you already know that's $1.00) On the way home, I bought some bread--we call it "Head Bread" because the people carry it in crates on their head. (people carry everything on their head here....I will tell you stories about that but that will be for another BLOG!) Anyway, I think they come from the nearest bakery factory and they carry it around until they sell it all. It's like a loaf of french bread and it's fresh and delicious. Some of my Embassy friends won't try it because it seems to 'local' and they don't know how it's made and they are afraid it will make them sick, but I love it. It does not last long--no preservatives--which I also love. I saw a guy walking around with the crate of bread on his head (probably carries about 50 loaves standing upright) and so I pulled my car to the side of the road, rolled down my window and asked for a loaf. No need to go to the store can buy almost anything from the side of the road. I asked him how much, (as the cars were honking for me to get out of the way--I ignored them) and he said 1000 LE per loaf, (33 cents). I knew that was a fair price so I took it. (Sometimes they see the blue diplomatic plates on my car and they try to charge me more. ) He wrapped the bread in one piece of newspaper--I guess that's for sanitary purposes? I don't care, I eat the bread in one day or give it to the guards so I'm not worried about such things. Living in Africa is sort of like camping--you know when you go camping that if the food gets a little dirty, you eat it anyway! After the bread, I needed some bananas, so on my street, I spotted a vender selling them. A vender means there is a small family sitting around a low, dirty table with all the kids and babies huddled together waiting for someone to drive up or walk up and buy the few meager things they are selling. The price for 5 bananas was 1000 LE--also a fair price. I went home and for dinner I ate a delicious SPAM sandwich (there is not much fresh meat here) on my fresh "head" bread, with a bowl of bananas and milk. Oh about the milk here----no fresh milk. It's all processed and they sell it warm in the aisle of the grocery store. The taste isn't bad.... I have gotten used to it, although I have to remember to put a box in the refrig because I like it cold. After dinner, I wanted to get my car washed, so I asked one of the guards if he would do it. (I am becoming vain here and I like my car to look nice for the weekend. The ex-Pat community has servants to wash their cars so they are washed every day and look gorgeous.) The price for an inside wash and interior cleaning is 10,000 LE. I know I pay too much for it (the going rate is probably half that) but I feel it's worth it to pay $3.00 to have my car looking good. And the guard who washes it always gives me this big smile when I pay him. It's probably a whole day salary.

Lesson #4 - Gasoline and Banking. We get our gas from the Embassy fuel tank. I think the price is $4.50 per liter. To fill up my little Toyota 4-Runner, it's about $85.00. As you can see, the Embassy provides nearly everything we need--sort of like one-stop shopping. There are a few rules, though. The fuel station is only open three days a week for 3 hours a day. That means if you forget to get gas before a long weekend, you have to get it at a station in town. We don't usually trust these places, but in an emergency, you can go there. The cashier (bank) is also only open 4 days a week--three hours a day. If you forget to get cash on a Friday before the weekend, you are really in bad shape. There is NO place to get money here!!!! Many a time a fellow Embassy employee has asked around to see if anyone has extra money over the weekend, because they forgot to get included. Also, you have to write a check to take money out of your account (you use the same account you had in the US), so if you forget your checkbook or run out of checks on a Friday, you are screwed. Both things have happened to me. Forget all about debit cards and credit cards. We only use them for online purchases. That fact alone saves a lot of money. No impulse purchases here!

So, that is a quick lesson in currency and spending and money management in Sierra Leone. It's an all cash economy, you can buy things right from the side of the road without getting out of your car, but you have to plan ahead or you will go without. It's a little different than life in your world, huh? "All part of the adventure."


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!

I have a pumpkin pie in the oven. It smells like Thanksgiving even though it doesn't' feel like it. The weather here is hot and sunny--tropical. I miss the weather in Minnesota. You can take the girl out of Minnesota, but you can't take the Minnesota out of the girl. On tv, when I see people wearing winter coats, I can hardly remember people out there actually have coats!

Today we are invited to dinner at the Ambassador's house. A cozy dinner for 25; but honestly I would rather be cooking the entire dinner by myself for my closest friends. I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner in 1990, when we moved to Texas. Before that, I always had Thanksgiving at my grandmothers and later at my parents house. The first time I had to cook the turkey it was quite amusing. I think I called my Mom 10 times to get advise about the giblets, the gravy, the timing, everything. After a few years of practice, I got pretty good at it. Here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving memories. Enjoy and have a wonderful day! I miss you all.


First Texas Thanksgiving 1990: Made all the food with lots of telephone advice from Mom in Minnesota. Was thrilled to have a fireplace for the first time, so we made a nice fire. Unfortunately, it was about 90 degrees that day in Austin, so we put on shorts and turned the a/c on and enjoyed the fire that way!!

First Thanksgiving in Germany 1997: Invited neighbors, friends, and strangers who wanted to experience a traditional American Thanksgiving. Cooked dinner for about 15 people. Had to use my every-day Corelle dishes, because that's the only thing I had with 15 matching plates! Had to borrow tables and chairs from everyone. The most challenging part was trying to coordinate the food. I had a very small oven, so I had to use the ovens of everyone nearby so I had to figure out what side dish was at which house and when it would be finished and how to get everything on the table! The German guests thought it was quite strange that I served fruit salad with the meal. I had to convince them to try it, as they felt it was only for dessert. I assured them that we had pumpkin pie for dessert! Everyone had a great time. It was especially meaningful to explain to them that on Thanksgiving, all Americans are pretty much doing the same thing and eating the same foods. They don't have such a holiday in Germany.

First Thanksgiving back from Germany 1999: Dave (my ex) had left for California by then. Ryan was in college in Philadelphia, Angela was in college in College Station. It was just Laura and I. We were shell-shocked from moving back from Germany and without any family. I decided to make the whole dinner anyway; just for the two of us. Honestly, it was the saddest Thanksgiving ever. We had all this food, but no family or friends to share it with. I felt like I went to all the work but the joy was just not there. We had leftovers for weeks and I really wish we would have invited some homeless people to the table. That Thanksgiving reminded me that the holiday is all about Family and close friends.

This year I'll be at the Ambassador's house with my colleagues. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

'Been a long time...

I know, I know. It's been a very long time since I've written. Several of you have asked if I ever recovered from my illness---thankfully yes. They were never sure if it was definitely typhoid, but whatever it was brought me new appreciation for good health and also a new humble attitude about sickness in Africa. My sterile American immune system is no match for generations of unfamiliar African germs. Now, at the first sign of queasiness, I immediately stop eating and switch to plain white rice and Gatorade. I avoid any type of salad or fresh vegetables at restaurants and I am careful about eating out in general. You just never know. Some of the people I know even avoid ice cubes when they are out for fear they were made with unclean water. Welcome to Africa.

Here is an update on a couple of things:

I am still running. In fact, I am managing to run the Hash Run every Monday, which is about 5k and filled with lots of hills. We have to walk some, as the run follows through all areas of town, including running through the slums, people's kitchens, the beach when high tide hits, you name it. These days, I dream of running on pavement like a starving man dreams of steak or ice cream. We did have a Halloween run, where we ran on the beach road--which is all tar. The bad part was that we finished the run at dark, so we were running on the road right next to cars, couldn't see the road, no lights on the cars or the get the idea. Welcome to Africa.

Driving to work is a challenge. Driving at ALL is a challenge. On Thursday, I decided to try an alternate route and it took me 1 hour and 20 minutes to get to the Embassy! The drive is usually 35 dead stopped traffic. The total mileage is 12 miles. But by the time I got there, my car was almost overheating. I can't run the a/c for fear of going in the red zone, so I'm sitting in my work clothes, getting hot, and praying I make it to work before steam starts coming from the hood. Very bad way to start the day. When I got there, my lazy co-worker decided not to come to work at all, due to an ankle sprain a week earlier. That left all the work to me. We were having a presentation for 100 people at 10:00 so I had my work cut out for me. The presentation was a Health Program outlining the problems and possible solutions for HIV/AIDS, Maternal Child Mortality rates (1 mother in 8 dies in childbirth here), and general deplorable heath facilities (when you go to the hospital have to provide all your own bandages, medication, blood, supplies). The First Lady of Sierra Leone attended and also spoke on her topics of interest. When someone asked her about Female Genital Mutilation (a common practice 90% of the girls in SL are forced to comply with this disgusting tradition), she said the government does not tell it's people what to do and will not go against the practice. I couldn't believe it! If you have any questions, google FGM and see what you find. There is no reason for it, except it's an African tradition to dominate the women. Our Ambassador spoke right up and said that it's the policy of the American government to speak out against such inhumane practices and that they believe it's a violation of human rights to continue such practices. Luckily the program was almost over, or we might have had more of a political clash. Maybe the serving of soda and cookies helped smooth the mood. Africans are always happy for free food.

I am off to the beach just now. I've been home all morning doing house chores...catching up after being busy for the past couple of weeks. Hope all is well with you and I promise to write more frequently.

Oh, and everyone in Sierra Leone is VERY HAPPY that Obama was elected US President. They feel like they have a "brother" in the White House and are very anxious to see what policy changes might be coming. As a practical American, I'm just hoping the economy improves with the new administration. And yes, I voted!! I voted absentee. I have never missed an election in all my adult years of voting.

Think globally,

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Irony and Typhoid

Because so many of my new friends here practice the Muslim religion, I decided to give myself a challenge. Near the end of Ramadan, I told myself I wanted to try and experience what it felt like to fast for an entire day. Remember, they fast all day every day, for 30 days during Ramadan. I have never tried this before and I didn't know how I would fare. So, I didn't tell anyone I was attempting it in case I didn't make it through the end of the day. To be true to your fast, in the Muslim faith you cannot have anything to eat or drink from sun up to sun down. I knew I would not be able to make it without water, so I allowed myself small sips of water in the morning. I had to work all day at the Embassy, and I had to have some sort of energy level. The reason the Muslims fast is to remind them of the poor people who are less fortunate and have to live without food lots of times. They are reminded to pray for the poor and keep themselves holy so they can appreciate what they have the rest of the year. (at least that's how I understand it) It was quite an experience for me. The whole day, I found myself watching the many more hours until 7:15 pm when I could "break the fast" and eat again? I really noticed a drop in my energy level and attention span. I felt what it was like to not have any food in me and what it must be like to be poor and feel like that on a regular basis. I had a difficult time staying focused on complex tasks. My Muslim friends say you get used to the feeling of being hungry and they can function pretty well. They all get tired during the day and I felt this to be true also. By the end of the day, I was counting the minutes until I could eat again. I planned a special meal and ate by myself. Usually, Muslim friends will gather together and break fast together, but by chance I was alone. That chicken never tasted so good. I ate until I was completely full and never even cared if I over indulged. It was a good learning experience and I was proud of myself for doing it.

Fasting was Monday Sept 29. Tuesday was the official "ending of the fast" and I went out with friends that evening to celebrate. The next day, Wednesday, was an official national holiday; a "Day of Prayer" so we had the day off from work. Unfortunately, something happened Tuesday evening at the celebration dinner. I went to a restaurant that I have been to several times and ate the same food as everyone else at our table. But the next morning, I was violently ill. Those of you who have experienced "violently ill" will know what I mean so I will not describe it here. Just know that I have never been that sick in all my life. Four hours in the bathroom wishing for death and that was just the beginning. Unhappily for me, I spent my entire day off from work being sick. The next day I managed to drag myself to work at 1pm in the afternoon; mostly because the Foreign Service Health Practitioner convinced me to come in for lab work to see if I had anything serious. I also was hosting a cocktail party for my boss that evening and I had to make the final arrangements for the cake, the staff, and the food. My blood tested positive for typhoid. The FSHP said sometimes the test gives a false positive, but there is no other lab in Freetown to do any other tests on me, so typhoid is the likely diagnosis. Oh joy. Somehow I dragged myself through the cocktail party (it helps to wear a pretty black dress) but I could not sample any of the food I had ordered, including the sinfully perfect chocolate cake. I went home and collapsed. My boss was so appreciative of the party preparations (and I think he noticed how tired I looked) and practically begged me to take Friday off. I did. I never take days off work! I have to be near death! (I was) Friday, Saturday, Sunday...I ate nothing or next to nothing except for Gatorade and a tiny bit of white rice. I was finally feeling a little better on Saturday afternoon so I tried eating a few morsels of dinner. Mistake! Sick again all day Sunday. Now I'm totally avoiding food and I am really beginning to tire of Gatorade. I am also tired of lying on the sofa reading (I read 250 pages today) and watching tv. I WANT MY LIFE BACK! But I guess this typhoid is a bacterial infection and my stomach is being held hostage. The FSHP tells me to be patient, to wait and things will get better. I have already lost weight, so I guess that's better. The irony is that I spent Monday fasting and watching the clock for my next meal, and then I spent the next 5 days not eating at all!!! Life sure is crazy sometimes. Seriously, I'm really sick. Yes, I did have the typhoid vaccine before I came to Africa, but it's not always a guarantee. Welcome to Africa.

Here is a quick note I sent to my FS classmates regarding the quality of tv available on AFN (All Forces Network). Some may find it humorous.

Take care of yourselves!

That was the most funny email I have read in a while! It almost made being sick worth it!! Just kidding. I have watched some horrible tv since I've been sick. Our only offering here is AFN. They have limited programming choices and I found myself trying to find something worth watching. There was a ridiculous show I came across called "Beauty and the Geek" or "Beauty and Freaks" or some such nonsense. Apparently Ashton Kutcher is not being serviced enough by Demi Moore these days, because he is the executive producer. The premise of the show is to pair up 10 couples; one Beauty and one Geek (or Nerd or whatever PC term they use these days), throw them all in a mansion in some unlikely place like Malibu and see which couples roll their eyes the most or die off from lack of understanding each other. I mean, what's the sense in pairing up the top Hooters waitress with a MIT student when in real life they would never even meet each other! Somehow, there is kissing because all the beauties hook up and sneak around while the Geeks discuss logarithms and global warming trends. A real winner of a show, I can assure you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ramadan 9.23.08

One of the perks of this job is to attend events that I would otherwise never get a chance to do. Today our Political Affairs department arranged for us to visit a Mosque and attend a prayer service. We also distributed bags of food items for the people to utilize when they break their fast at the end of Ramadan; which will be in about 5 days. People who strictly follow the traditions of their faith are fasting and praying. Before taking this job, I really didn't have much experience with the Muslim faith. Ramadan means that for 30 days, the people fast from sun up to sun down. That means they don't eat or drink anything during those hours...for 30 days! They also give up alcohol, smoking, and sex (if they are not married). It's quite strict and since over 60% of Sierra Leone is Muslim, most of the people are in a state of prayer and fasting.

About 10 of us from the Embassy attended the service. It was voluntary, and I went because I have an interest in relating to other cultures and religions. I had visited a Mosque in Turkey, so I knew I had to cover my arms and legs. The organizer of the event wasn't sure if the women had to cover our heads as well, so we did not prepare for that. At the last minute she found out that the women needed to cover their entire head and hair, so we rounded up some pretty scarves from people at the Embassy, in an attempt to comply with the strict Muslim rules for modesty. We arrived at the Mosque and apparently our attempts to cover up were inadequate, so some Muslim women handed us beautiful black scarves that totally covered our hair, head and shoulders. We removed our shoes at the entrance. We were told there was a possibility that our shoes would be stolen while we were inside (they were not). The service began with prayers in Arabic, which of course we could not understand. We sat on the ground inside a cement building that was open on the side with windows; no coverings. The walls were hand painted with murals and designs; very elementary. There were prayer mats on the ground; basically thin woven mats that apparently stay in the Mosque all the time. We sort of crouched on our knees most of the time; occasionally getting up to stand and chant and then kneel back down again to pray and kiss the ground. This went on for 10 or 15 minutes. Now I understand why all non-Catholics complain about the standing-sitting-kneeling routine that I take for granted when I attend mass. It's one thing to do something out of tradition, but when you don't understand what's going on, it seems a bit strange to get up and down and up and down. The Mosque was not air conditioned and it began to get pretty hot. There were probably 300 people inside and it was quite crowded. I could feel the sweat trickle down my back under the two head scarves and the black sweater I wish I had not worn. After prayers, there was a speech by the Imam and then a speech by our Charge' de Affairs (my boss). Then we proceeded to hand out the bags of food stuffs we had prepared. The women were very orderly. They stayed seated, reverently, and waited patiently while we went around and handed them each a bag. We ran out of bags and we felt terrible! More people showed up than we expected. The women did not seem too upset; this is Africa and things in short supply are normal. Luck plays a big part in who survives here. The men, on the other hand, were a different story. I should mention that the men and women are segregated inside the Mosque. They enter by different entrances and they are separated inside by a low cement wall that has carvings carved into to it; so you can sort of see through the wall to see what's going on but you are segregated. The Imam prays to the men; the women are allowed to participate but the feeling is one of second-class citizen; at least that's my impression. I also noticed that the women have about 1/3 the physical space inside that the men have. Back to the food distribution - remember I mentioned that the women sat quietly on the floor while we handed out the food bags. The men stood up in lines and they were orderly at first. Later, as the food source dwindled, the men became aggressive. They began to push and shove each other for the bags. At one point, fights almost broke out and I could notice the level of danger rising. I felt uncomfortable - even behind the low cement wall. I was pretty astounded at the level of selfishness and greed that occurred inside the Mosque - a religious place where equality and harmony should reign. Again, this is Africa. I don't know if it was because food is scarce, or the men were overly pushy, but I remember clearly wanting to leave the scene as quickly as possible. We are trained in FS to remove ourselves from escalating situations of danger and this was quickly becoming one. We scurried out the back door to gather our shoes. We removed our lovely black scarves and handed them to one of the women who appeared to be an organizer at the prayer service. We headed back to the car to wait for the men, who exited from another part of the Mosque. Everyone was safe. On our way home in the car, the local radio station called our Political Officer (who was riding in the car with us) and asked for an interview. She answered the questions and another Embassy employee translated it into Krio, the local language. The interview was live, so in a way, we were all on the radio! All in all, the day was a rewarding experience and highlights one of the reasons I chose this job. The world is a big place; there is much diversity in people and religion and it serves me well to learn more about other people and places in hopes of uniting us by our commonalities and not dividing us by our ignorance.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Full of surprises

I know, I know, it's been almost a month since I wrote last. Several of you wanted to verify if I was sit alive....yes! I think as you become comfortable in a foreign place, things begin to seem more normal and then there is not as much to write about. Anyway, the theme of the blog today is surprises and I have quite a few.

Good surprise #1:
I may have mentioned that I've been losing weight. I cannot explain this unexpected bonus, but I'm certainly enjoying it. I would be even more excited if I had the opportunity to actually go to a store and buy clothes a size smaller. Alas, there are no stores here, so I have to bask in the glory of trying on clothes from ages ago that were always too small and suddenly realizing they fit! Not only fit; some are too big! My favorite dancing jeans from 2005 fit again. Sorry, Regina, you won't get them back this time! The Nike warm-up pants that I bought for Laura that she refused to take twice...that were way too small for perfectly! All the bathing suits I wore in Austin are too big. The capri pants that I bought in DC that were just a tiny bit too tight, well they are the only pants that fit me well now. All my dress clothes are at least a size too big or maybe more. I'm telling you, I swear by running for staying fit and for exercising. I can eat whatever I want, I feel good, I sleep well, I eat healthy, and the weight just seems to melt away. I was never even heavy, but it's nice to feel slender. Ok, enough about body image.

Good surprise #2:
I finally decided what to do about the missing dishes. After hours online checking out and Ebay and craiglist, I decided to go ahead and have my 4 missing boxes of dishes shipped here. The shipping is free (that saves me money), I'm used to my own things, and most of all, I could not stand the hassle of bidding and waiting and worrying about shipping all the way here. My dishes will be here in about 3 months. Oh well.

Big surprise!
About a week ago, I started to randomly feed a kitten/cat in our compound. It looked hungry and it jumped up on my balcony a couple of times so I gave it some of my leftover food. Five days later I came home from work and found this same cat lying on my balcony nursing two kittens! The very next day I came home from work and there were three kittens nursing. I started to be afraid to come home! After careful thought, I noticed that the kittens looked bigger than a couple days old, so I figure she had the kittens sometime before I started feeding her. She never looked pregnant when I first noticed her hanging around. She must have started to feel comfortable around me, so she brought the kittens up one at a time in her mouth. This was no small feat since the balcony has bars and it's up one half floor from the level of the parking lot. Anyway, she stopped at three so now I have 4 mouths to feed! My boss noticed mice at his residence, so he may take them all as his new pest control program. Good for me! I joined Foreign Service to be footloose, not tied to coming home every night to feed cats. (been there, done that)

Anyway, that's about all for now. Hope all is well in your corner of the world! Becky

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Everything comes together...or NOT!

Well, a lot has been revealed in the last 8 days. Not all of it good. First off, the worst possible scenario has come true about the dishes...they never arrived! I unpacked boxes for three solid days and each day I was sure "this" was the box with the treasure trove of dishes. NO. Not a single plate arrived. No dishes of any kind. Now I am the kind of person who collects dishes. I probably had 8 sets of dishes/china in Austin, and I loved them all. In fact, I had a set of pretty pink rose antique china that I posted on Craigslist before I left. When the lady came to buy them, I could not part with them and ended up bequeathing them to Laura instead. Me, who loves to collect dishes and serve meals on a different set each night, arrived in Africa for a two year assignment with not a single place setting. Grrrrrr! After some investigation, I discovered that the moving company (who was supposed to keep all the kitchen things in the "send no matter what" category); had actually put all 4 boxes of dishes onto a different section of the inventory and they all went into storage instead of being shipped to me. Grrrrr. Now I have to decide if I should ship them (which will take 2-3 months), buy something online, or buy something here (not a good option). Wish me luck.

I did start running again lately, so those 100 energy bars will come in handy. Yesterday I ran with a group called the Hash House Harriers. Check out their google info. They were started by a British group about 45 years ago. They run every Monday night here; on different trails through the city. They are very active all over the world. Anyway, last night I arrived late to the meeting place because for some reason as I was leaving the Embassy, my car wouldn't start. I had Motorpool take a look at it (they are right on site, which is convenient) and all it was, was a lose battery cable connection. All the bumpy roads make parts come lose. I have to get it tightened eventually with a real tool. The car got started and I was on my way. I found the meeting place but the runners had already left. There was one lone runner on the side of the road and I shouted out the car window, "Are you running with the group?" He said he was, so I asked to join him. I parked the car and jogged to catch up. We exchanged names as we started the run and I happened to ask him how his weekend was. He nonchalantly says, "oh, I just got back last night from hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro." What irony! Just when I'm trying to get back into running, I end up running with some ultra runner who hikes Mt. Kilimanjaro in his spare time! As I began to get short of breath because we were climbing a mammoth hill, I informed him that I run 12 minute miles and since I could not possibly keep up with him, he should just run right on ahead of me! He smiled that pensive expert runners smile and said of course not! He stayed right with me the whole time; even when I had to walk up another hill that looked like a training run for Mt. Kilimanjaro. The total run was about 45 minutes long (which is about double what I have been running by myself on the nice flat beach!) and we got to know each other a little. He is from Iowa originally and he even has a name from the Midwest; Brian Larson. He works for C.A.R.E and has been with them for a long time. Said he took the bar and practiced law for a while, but didn't want to spend his life like that. Nice guy and he really was patient with me during the run. After the run, the group meets back together and sings silly songs and drinks beer. Crazy, but good way to meet new people.

I just spent the last part of my evening doing laundry and ironing 5 shirts. Before moving here, I can't think of the last time I ironed anything. There was such a thing as "dry cleaning" in Texas. Perhaps you have heard of it? Well, there is no dry cleaning here. Nada. I guess I will be ordering some Dryelle from soon.

Speaking of things we don't shops. The lady who cuts hair has been gone for 2 months on holiday. I have not had my hair cut since April when I was in DC. That's 4 months ago!! The other day, I actually took the little tiny scissors off my Swiss army pocket knife and trimmed my bangs. I could not stand it any longer. When we were in OMS training in DC, many of my OMS classmates commented on why all the OMS's who had been in FS for a while, seemed to have awful haircuts. They must have spent too much time in African countries and lowered their standards!!

Speaking of dishes...I had my first real party on Thursday night. Yes, that would be a few days after I discovered I didn't have anything to serve on! I had already planned the party and sent the invitations out. I went out and bought 30 plates from the local grocery store. The plates were sort of like "seconds" that you can get at china factories in Europe. There I am in the aisle, carefully inspecting each plate to find 30 "good" ones, when the power goes out. Of course, it's totally dark and I can't remember where I set my purse! No worries, the power came back on when the generator re-started. Everyone is used to it here, but it still surprises me. The party was a huge success and everyone had a good time. It was a going away party for a nice young man who was at the Embassy for a 3 month assignment. He was smart and capable and kind and funny and he reminded me a lot of Ryan.

I better get some sleep. It's midnight here, which is pretty typical for me. Oh, I have been trying to watch some of the Olympics but every single time I turn on the t.v., it's boxing and I HATE boxing!

Hope all is well with you in your corner of the world,

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Some things you learn late....

I'm taking a 10 minute break from unpacking boxes. I think I've gone through about 25 boxes so far. I still have not found any of my dishes, my silverware, or my crystal wine glasses. I have not found any wine glasses at all , in fact. I did unwrap some nice bottles of Champagne, Makers Mark, and Pomegranate liquor that I forgot I packed. I found about 100 natural energy bars, so if I ever get back to running again, I will have snacks to refuel. I have enough energy bars to train for a marathon.

This got me to thinking about "what" I packed from the Texas house. I think I had about 15 boxes of kitchen things. As I unpacked most of it, I started to have this uneasy feeling that if I didn't use it in Texas, why did I ship it all the way to Africa? I thought about this a little longer and eureka, it hit me. I USED TO COOK. At one time, I utilized my kitchen on a regular basis. I fed 5 people for something like 20 years and I actually used all the stuff I unpacked today. The key here is "used to." I really have not cooked that much in the past 7 years. In 1999, when we returned from Germany; Dave left for California, Ryan left for college in Philadelphia, Angela was already at A&M in College Station, and I went back to school full time. For the next 2 years, it was only Laura and I, and I made small meals because we were both busy with work and school. After Laura left for college, I barely made anything more than a sandwich; unless I happened to be cooking for a date. The rest of the time I ate meals out or ate soup late at night after studying. I continued to bake cookies and breads and bars and that hasn't changed even to the present day. I really love to bake, and most of my friends already know this, as they have tasted the fruits of my labor in the form of mint brownies and banana bread. But cooking? I have not cooked any more in Africa than I did in Texas. I'm out a lot; learning about the country and the people here in Sierra Leone. So when am I ever going to use the 4 polish pottery baking pans, the crock pot circa 1978, the cappuccino maker that only Robert learned to operate, or the Pampered Chef deep dish pizza stone that never made it out of the box since it was purchased in 2000? Probably never. The polish pottery makes a nice colorful decoration on the top of my kitchen cabinets, especially since the ceilings in the kitchen are 10 feet high. Another crazy irony is that I brought tons of Tupperware. Which begs the question: If I never cook, how in the world will I have leftovers to put in the Tupperware?

All this reminiscing reminds me that I need to mentally update my life every once in a while. I need to discard what I don't use anymore; not drag it half way around the world. I recommend going through the spaces in your life and your house and get rid of things that are obsolete. I think we carry around way too many "things" that we have to manage. I don't mean shed everything. I really like some things I unpacked; the polish pottery being one. I smile every time I look at the pretty dishes I bought in Germany.

Now if I could only find those plates.....


Saturday, August 9, 2008

House full of Boxes, oh my!

It's Saturday morning. I feel asleep on the sofa last night after a really long week at work and finally managed to get a full 8 hours of sleep! Of course, the pounding rain probably helped.

My HHE arrived and now I'm surrounded by boxes. A sea of boxes that I must navigate for the days to come. A word to the light. I have 90 pieces of furniture/boxes total; for one person. I remember in Kenya where each person owned a coffee cup, a fork, and a blanket. Sure made moving a lot easier. I have really really enjoyed having my own bed again. And soft sheets! The welcome kit gives us sheets made of scratchy hardness. I forgot what it's like to lay on soft sheets! It was nice to see the antique coat rack, but they lost the little metal pans that go on the bottom for the umbrella holders. Hope they turn up. It seems strange seeing my white love seat in my living room in Africa. Seems almost a guilty pleasure to have it travel all this way. I'm planning to have a lot of fun unwrapping the kitchen things. I really want to find my Polish pottery and my china. I have never had a china cabinet before. Leave it up to me to base taking a new job on the notion that it comes with a free china cabinet! But I'll also be happy to see my wine glasses again. I am sick and tired of drinking wine out of beverage glasses! I'm going to start a list right now of things I want with me in my UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) for my next move. FS allows us 250 lbs of items they ship immediately to our next assignment. Topping the list will be: soft sheets, wine glasses, and 2 of my own towels!

Some of you have asked for photos. This is difficult for two reasons. One-I feel uncomfortable photographing people here. It's strange to snap a picture of someones life. I mean, it's not a novelty for them to be living in poverty. It's a novelty for me to take a picture of it. I'm trying to get over that so I can show you what it's like here, but it's not easy for me. It reminds me that I'm at the top of the class system here and that's uncomfortable for me. Two-even if I take the picture, downloading it takes so long that the computer usually crashes. Slow inernet connection here. (hey, I'm just happy they have internet and cell phone service, since they don't have running water or electricity!) So, in light of this, I found a web site that has some beautiful photos of the beaches here in Sierra Leone. I spend a lot of time at Bureh Town beach with friends. It looks exactly like the photos. Our cottage is right across the water from the island in the photo, so what you are looking at is the exact view we have from the veranda of the house. The first beach I went to was Lakka and it's also very serene; no people at all while we were there. River no. 2 (what a strange name!) is a little more busy; they even have people who will take your drink order and bring you a cocktail under a beach umbrella. Lumley beach is the beach in Freetown proper. That's the beach I run on. It looks exactly like that, and the sunsets are really amazing. I can see the beach from my apartment patio and watch the sunsets at night. It's about a 12 minute drive from my apartment to the beach. Now that I have the car, I hope to run there 4-5 times a week. Here is the link:

So, it's back to unpacking for me. Hope everything is well in your corner of the world!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Moving In

Today the shipment arrived from Texas. What a lot of stuff! While it was nice to see some things from home, a part of me wanted to send the big truck right back to the warehouse and tell them to give it all away! The irony of Foreign Service life is that they arrange it so you live with next to nothing for 4 months while you are at training and until your things arrive in country, so you get used to living with very little. Then, all your stuff comes and you wonder why on earth you decided to pack so much stuff and how on earth you will fit it all into your assigned house! It also reminded me strongly how much of a consumer society we are in American. I mean, I have 4 wardrobe boxes of hanging clothes and 3 large boxes of regular clothes and shoes. I mean, I'm not even a socialite! I have been getting along fine all these months with the clothes I bought in Washington and the few things I packed in my suitcases from Texas. I think I will do what other FS classmates have suggested...give a lot of my clothes away to needy Africans.

A recommendation to Foreign Service people who might be packing up for their first assignment. "Take half of what you think you will need." Literally, living a simple life is much easier. We go on assignment to meet people and work hard. We don't spend much time at home and having to manage a bunch of American stuff just seems silly. Bring what you really love and leave the rest behind. Here are a few funny stories about what arrived today:

*My bike is here! It still has my racing number on it from the last sprint triathlon. I would dearly love to ride it...but it's not a possibility here in Freetown. The streets are crowded with people, dogs, kids, chickens, broken down trucks, pot holes, street vendors. Smooth is not a part of the road structure and there are no shoulders or sidewalks. My bike will probably become a patio decoration!

*Somehow I ended up with the coffee table that matches the German furniture that I did NOT bring! That reminds me that moving day in Texas was so chaotic that some things got in the wrong shipment. The table was supposed to go into storage. Oh well. Not a big deal.

*I ended up with the mattress for the German bed that I also did NOT bring. I even got the sheets for that bed; which are double and I don't have a double bed here. Oh well. Maybe I will make a curtain out of the sheets!

*I brought my massive oak desk at the last minute because my first apartment was so crappy that the desk was inadequate. Now I have a nice State Department desk in my new apartment and a huge monster desk from Texas. Well, it could be worse, I could have no desk, right?

*I only had one thing arrive damaged and that was a metal candle stand that I bought at a garage sale. It says Made in China on the bottom, so that explains it. Not a problem.

I can't wait to unpack my kitchen things and start baking. I didn't have any measuring cups in the "Welcome kit" and I miss my banana bread! I also can't wait to unpack my own dishes. I think I have a "dish" fetish. I really like my colorful polish pottery and my china. Eating off white Corelle just does not make meal times interesting; much less fun for entertaining.

Enough about moving. I have boxes to unpack!

Hope all is well in your corner of the world,

Monday, August 4, 2008


So, I have not been home much, so I decided to stop by the grocery store and get a few things. You know...bread and milk and such. By the way, Laura, they sell Silk here! And did you know that Spam comes in flavors now? I bought "real" bacon spam. They don't have much lunchmeat here. Althought, miracle, they had salami at the supermarket today!

Anyway, parking is a problem at these places. A security guard helps you pull in and out of the lot because it's on a busy main road. They direct traffic (such as it is....two lanes, chickens, children, dogs, etc) so you can drive safely. After my shopping trip (after which the boy who carried out my things begged me to give him a job), I went to my car and the security guard said, "ok, I'm ready to drive you out now." Silly me, I handed him the keys and said, "ok, go ahead." I was parked on this really steep hill, in a place where I could hardly squeeze my body into the drivers seat and I thought it was so nice of him to offer to drive my car for me. Well, he just grinned at me as I handed him the keys. I took that for happiness at having the chance to drive a nice American car. He kept grinning at me and smiling. Finally, I got the idea that he was going to "direct me" out of the lot, not drive my car for me! So, I had to squeeze my body into the drivers seat; high heels and silk shirt and all. It was tricky but it made me laugh. I'm sure he thought I was crazy for even handing over the keys to him! Live and learn.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Bits and Pieces

Dear Everyone,
Below is an email that I sent to my OMS classmates. Quick test: what does OMS stand for? "Office Management Specialist." Very good. DCM stands for Deputy Chief of Mission; and that is the title of my boss. My old boss left the embassy and my new boss arrives on Wednesday. Anyway, instead of re-writing the whole email, here is a copy. Enjoy! Becky

Just a quick hello. My HHE arrived on Friday and it is still sitting in the warehouse here. I went and saw it and I think they send my whole house from Texas! I sure hope there is a LOT of packing material in there because I KNOW I did not send that much stuff! I have a bike I can't use; a desk I wish I didn't send because my old apartment had a crappy desk but my new one has an awesome desk. Oh well. Life in FS.

My car arrived a week ago, but it's still in "processing" for license and registration. I found out that no car insurance company will cover me here. That's reassuring. Luckily the car I brought is not that expensive and is not attached to a loan. I was informed that I can drive the car home tomorrow. Now, if I can only find the car key and the radio....somewhere in my stuff from DC.

It's rainy season here now, so it rains about half of every day. It reminds me of my childhood summer days back in Minnesota. I have a wonderful balcony that I have already managed to fill with lots of plants. I eat most of my meals out there, to get fresh air after all that time at the a/c Embassy. So sterile! I was used to spending a lot of my day out and about in my old job, and being tied to the desk is an adjustment.

And Amy is right....being the OMS for the DCM involves a lot of scheduling. I never even used Outlook before I got this job! I'm practically a pro now. I even use the colored flags and bars for reminders and task lists. The hardest part about my job is trying to coordinate the DCM schedule with the AMB. It's a small post so they go to a lot of things together and if the AMB OMS does not inform me of appointments, then things go awry. Being in the front office has it's advantages....last week I got invited to the National Day at the Egyptian Embassy. At 5:30, the Ambassador walked by my desk and handed me HER invitation to the party. She said she couldn't go, and asked if I would like to go in her place. (wow, only been on the job for two months and already I'm a stand-in for the AMB!) Well, of course! Me? Miss a social occasion? The party was that same night at 6:30. I dashed home with the duty driver and took a quick shower and changed. I went alone, but there were several people at the party that I had met at other occasions; which was a welcome relief. Near the end of the evening when most of the people had left, I met the Egyptian Ambassador. He was really nice. He was "holding court" with his friends and he included me in their traditional wine drink - hibiscus. Here I am drinking hibiscus wine with 5 dashing Egyptians and I'm thinking I chose the right post after all! (and for anyone who's counting...yes one of them did ask me out!)

So that's the news from Sierra Leone. And me? Write a short email? I guess you know me better than that!


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Happy Home

So, those of you in the "know" know that I have been VERY unhappy with my housing arrangement here. The apartments are nice, and spacious so that was not the problem. The problem is that my apartment directly faces the guard station. The guards could see me all the time. I felt very uncomfortable. The guards are nice; they just like to watch me a lot. They have nothing else to do. Well, imagine being a single woman and being stared at all the time you are at home. None of the other apartments has such a situation. I wrote two letters, talked to five people about my feelings. This is a hardship post as it is, and I didn't want to have hardship at home. The process of housing reassignment procedures is very strict. I was not getting anyone to understand me, but I kept trying. Over the course of 5 weeks, I wrote two formal letters, talked to five different people, and prayed a lot. I was so unhappy. The good news is that THEY APPROVED MY REASSIGNMENT TO ANOTHER APARTMENT ON WEDNESDAY AND I MOVED IN ON FRIDAY!!! This apartment is right next to my old one, but it's on the other side of the building away from the guards. I feel so content! I started unpacking and nesting and making it a home the very first day. By the second day, I almost had everything arranged. It looks great! I will take some photos and send them. I even started unpacking the things I bought at Sams Club before I left. You see, the other apartment always felt so wrong, that I never unpacked anything. I lived out of the three suitcases I brought on the plane. My well being was so affected in the old apartment that I never wanted to "move in and get settled." Anyway, I am sooooo very happy now. I feel like inviting people over!

I miss everyone. I did not go to the beach today; as the crowd that goes did not call. I think during the rainy season alot of people go on vacation to get away from the weather here. I stayed home and did some gardening on the patio. I have a balcony full of plants and I even planted the flower seeds that Laura gave me.

Love to everyone,

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I'm back...

I guess I should tell you again, that living here is not like living in a civilized country. Repeat after me...THIRD WORLD...THIRD WORLD...THIRD WORLD.

I didn't have Internet at home since last Friday because the woman I share it with went back to see her family and she unplugged the connection! I had to track down her maid, meet the maid, go inside and reconnect it, etc.etc. So, I finally got the connection late on Wednesday, but was out that night and the next two nights. So...this is the first chance I've had to connect with my people.

And I'm on the way out again tonight, so I just wanted everyone to know that I'm fine. I have some good news and since I'm probably now going to the beach tomorrow, I will write and tell you about it. It's been raining here more often, so the trips to the beach are waning.

Love you all and talk to you VERY soon!!


Sunday, July 6, 2008

3 Long Days....and Death

The foreign service is filled with much diversity. Not only in the people, but the job, the lifestyle and the emotions. Be ready for it.

On Friday, we had a huge reception for the 4th of July. It's customary for the US Embassy to invite all the important people from the host country to help celebrate Independence Day. We had a huge party for about 300 people. I actually got up on 4th of July morning and put on a sort of cocktail dress. That's the first time in my 50 years of living that I wore a dress on 4th of July! (later you will read that I wore another dress later in the two dresses on 4th of July will be a record that probably won't be broken!) The dress must have looked pretty good, because many of my co-workers at the Embassy smiled in awe as I walked in to start my shift. My job was a "meeter" which meant I escorted the guests from the security checkpoint to the front door of the embassy. It's quite a walk and I did it for about an hour plus. The funny part is this: it was windy that day. My beautiful hair got all messed up. I was wearing a sort of lose, low cut dress; which would have been fine if it wasn't windy. So here I am....escorting the minister of defence, presidents of companies and various dignitaries and the whole time I'm afraid to look down and see if my dress is blowing in the wind and exposing my black victoria secret bra! The trick about being comfortable is to not think about the problem...because in this case I could do nothing about it! Just smile, say hello, and hope I'm covered...literally! There were various speeches, toasts with champagne, and finger food. By the way, we as Embassy employees are told not to eat any food or drink anything until we are sure all our guests are served. We are literally told to eat before we do an we don't take food for the guests. We are literally working the event, not being a part of it. And for those of you we did not get paid overtime for working; even thought it's a national holiday and all the people in the US are having picnics and wearing jeans. All part of the job.

The second dress of the evening came in the form of dressing for a wedding reception. Only I can meet a nice young girl on a Friday at the manicure shop, talk to her about her wedding, and be invited to the reception the next week. So, I put on a summer cocktail dress, some strappy sandals and went to the reception around 9pm, which is what time things start around here. The young couple seemed so sweet and happy and for a little while it made me believe in love again.

The next day, Saturday, was local elections in Sierra Leone. The US Embassy sent a team of about 50 people to local polling centers to observe if the elections were fair and free. I worked the Ops Center (Operations center) which means I took in calls from the teams in the field and reported what was seen. It was really busy...I answered calls non-stop from 8am to 4pm. It's really exciting to be a part of the democratic process. After the elections, someone from the Embassy made a report to Washington, DC. Who would have thought I would be doing something like this? And no, for those of you keeping track; we didn't get paid. We do this as a service for our country.

Saturday afternoon I had the very best chicken I have eaten since my grandmothers recipe. I walked to a little Lebanese bakery near here that has rotisserie chicken and amazing Lebanese bread. As I was walking home, I slipped and fell in the rain! No, the chicken did not get ruined, as it was in a plastic bag. I will say that all my African neighbors were quite worried about me, as I fell really hard and actually got a little hurt. But mostly I felt humiliated and tried not to think about the fact that my first introduction to my neighborhood was falling on my face! Humility is everything...

Saturday evening, I went out with a friend to a casino. We played black jack and I actually doubled my money! I was loosing at first, but it got easier. I was always so intimidated to play in Las Vegas, but this was a small operation and actually quite fun. The guy next to me helped me "double down" and "pay insurance" and I learned quickly to watch and see what the "deck" was doing. It was cool to win!

Sunday was spent at the beach. I find it so relaxing to forget the issues of the week and just stare at the beauty all around me. I call it therapy! It's not crowded; and in fact, the only people around were the people in our group. Everyone here has servants and they cook the lunch, serve the drinks, open the gate to let you car in, etc. We listened to music on my Ipod and played in the surf.

Now for the difficult news. This afternoon, my cousin died. He was 52 and he died of cancer. I found out the news from an email my sister sent me. Not the way to hear that the person who was like a brother to you, has died. But I'm living in Africa, and that's just the way it is here. My phone is not reliable, my internet is not always right next to me, and I have to get news somehow. I knew he was very sick and I had talked to him on Friday afternoon...but it's still not easy. That's a part of this job that I will probably always hate....if something bad happens, you will not be there to get hugs from people you love. You will not be able to be consoled by your family. And in my case, I have not been here long enough to make a close friend to share this news with. Comfort will be hard to come by tonight. I talked to my Dad and cried. I talked to my sister and cried. I tried to talk to my daughter, but the internet was not cooperating. Welcome to life in the foreign service. Death away from home is not easy. I have been asked to write a eulogy, so I'll wait until I can think about my cousin who was like a brother to me and see if any words some to mind. Besides prayer, it's the only contribution I can make from here.

Appreciate every day you get as a gift. It may literally be your last some day.

Love from Africa,

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Etiquette in Africa?

Hi all,
Well, I woke up on Saturday morning and I actually felt healthy for the first time in a week! It was almost like....I was the energizer bunny because I felt so well. It reminded me how sick really I had been because feeling well was so unfamiliar.

Big social event happened on Friday. We only work half days on Fridays, and the Ambassador had invited a select few of us to her house for lunch. Ok, now remember this is the foreign service. She did not casually walk by my desk and verbally ask me to stop by her place for sandwiches after work. Oh no. I got an engraved invitation! It was all very formal! Her house is very beautiful (nothing like mine) and she has a staff of servants to pour the wine and prepare the food. For those curious in the crowd, she served Lasagna (yea comfort food!) and bread and salad. For desert we had mixed fruit in a crystal dish, topped with chocolate ice cream. No, it's not Amy's Ice Cream, but I'll take it. Somehow, I am really missing ice cream over here. It's not very available and it does not taste the same as the US. Anyway, enough about the food. I had a mini-crisis about the forks! I took several etiquette classes at UT, so I pretty much know how to butter bread the correct way (yes, guys, there is a proper way to eat bread at a formal table), and to use the silverware from the outside in. Well......the table was set with the dinner fork on the outside!! I saw my salad sitting right next to my dinner plate and I thought...what??? Why isn't the salad fork on the outside? So, of course, I sat there confused until I watched the Ambassador pick up her dinner fork and dig into her Lasagna. So, I did the same. I ate the Lasagna first. Strange. I mentioned this dilemma to someone at Post and they informed me that in Europe, they serve the salad after the main course, so that's why they place the dinner fork on the outside so you use it first. However, this person also told me that that rule only applies if you don't actually see the salad on the table...clearly a violation because the salad was sitting right there! This person also added that European style table-settings should only be used in Europe, and not in Africa. But of course someone else stated that the Ambassador can do whatever she wants and that's the prevailing rule! Thank you Emily Post. Cheers! Becky

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sick in Africa

I looked at the date of the last posting and really couldn't believe it. It's been over 10 days since I last wrote something. Somewhere in my mind, I think that all the things I see through my eyes, somehow make it to you all, without me writing anything.

I was really sick the last 24 hours. Welcome to Africa. (I say that a helps me keep my humor) Who knows why or what I encountered to make me sick, you just live with it. People told me to expect to get sick every now and then, so I guess it was time. I've been here for a month and the nurse said all my US immunities have probably worn off by now. It's no fun being sick alone. I was so sick that I started to wonder if there was perhaps something seriously wrong with me, but by the start of the 2nd day I felt better, although weak. The nurse said I can go 2 days being very sick before I need to worry or take medicine. Thanks for that!

For those of you looking for a good book to read, pick up White Man's Grave by Richard Dooling. It's a novel, but it's based on actual events. The book is about a Peace Corps volunteer who goes missing in Sierra Leone and the best friend and father who go looking for him. The book has lots of history of SL and local customs. It will help you get familiar with this country. On or about page 166, there is a story about the first time the friend gets sick in Africa. Let's just say he describes it well.

Here are some personal messages to see who's reading my blog, and also some recent perceptions of being here:

Vilma: It was so great to finally be able to run again for the first time in a month...and on the beach no less! I ran about 2 miles and walked a mile or so. I got way way overheated because we ran at noon and I think the temp was about 85 with the humidity at least that. All that running might be the reason I got so sick on Sunday. I probably over-did-it. However, I DID manage to pay volleyball and water frisbee on Sunday before I got sick.

Pam: I got your two postcards today. We only get mail about every two weeks. It was so nice to get your cards! If you want to have fun, you can send me some US stamps and stationary and I will write you and your Dad. There are no stamps here and I am running out. Greeting cards are also pretty difficult to come by, so if you get a hand-made birthday greeting, that's why.

Regina: I really really miss our manicures! I have only found one girl to do them here, and she does not do acrylic nails. So my beautiful nails are going to crap. I would love it if you would send me some nail polish because I will probably have to start doing them myself. The girl I found is also unreliable because she does not have a car. Again, welcome to third world! If you want to do the mailing, just send cotton balls, clear base coat, and a couple of bottles of light pink. I'm not as daring as you with the reds! As Pam for my address.....

Regina 2: How are the renters doing? Is the house back in MLS for lease? Any leads yet? Oh, and how is the pie shop? YUM>>>>>>>

Angela, Ryan, Laura: Someone write soon! I'm going to deduct mommy points if I don't hear from one of you.

Laura: I'm waiting for your care package. We got mail today, but it was only letters and bills. I'm hoping the package will be here soon. Oh, the reason you never got your NYT is because they would not allow it to be mailed to a PO box and for some reason the street address of your old apartment did not come up on their records as a "place for delivery." I guess you are not smart enough in Millerton to receive the NYT.

Ryan: I have an IRS letter to mail to you about your tax surplus check from President Bush. Have you gotten your $$ yet? Also, you have a subscription to "The Week" to renew. If you don't want it, I DO! We can get magazines here; albeit two weeks late. But I have determined that late news is preferable to no news. (this coming from a daily reader of the NYT, I know.)

Angela: Have you gotten your birthday card yet?

Allison: No, your package has not arrived yet either. Does it have any Pico in it??? I can't have it right now since I've been sick but.....

Allan and Rachael and Roy: The adventure is even more daring and exciting than I imagined. Every day I look out the car windows and see things you would not believe. I probably already wrote some of them, but really, the poverty is so prevalent that it overshadows everything. Here is something humorous: The taxi's here have all these "religious" sayings on them; like "god is great" or "praise Allah" or "the spirit is in ya" or whatever. I think they write those things so they can stay alive for the next days driving. Driving....oh my. The taxi's just stop in the middle of the road to pick people up. NO warning, no break lights (hardly any of the cars have lights of any kind) and you have to drive carefully not to hit someone entering or exiting a taxi. The dogs roam freely all over here. They sleep on the sides of the road and never seem to take a bit of notice of cars literally inches from their sleeping bodies. Most of the dogs seem underfed and mangy. Some are so thin I wonder how they will find their next meal with so little energy. Food is scarce for humans and animals.

Ok. Enough for now. We sick people have to get our rest.