Turning a New Leaf

Autumn is always a peculiar time for me, however the ending of bright sunny weather can be a damper on anyone’s mood, especially since freedom and baseball is curtailed by school starting. I guess this is why corporations have picked up on this and started enthusiastically marketing pumpkin-themed everything and discounted getaways to warmer destinations. I think here in London, the weather changes starting earlier does not improve this, but nonetheless the shortie boots, capes, shawls, and even puffy jackets have signalled this. And if it weren’t clear before, the massive migration of students returning to campuses where libraries and computer labs were plentiful and I had my pick of the most coveted and comfortable chaise to hunker down for a seven -hour typing marathon. Soon I will be lucky to just find a computer.

In 2017 I didn’t experience snow or ice or any kind winter in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I regularly visited beaches and sometimes found it too hot to do anything. It is definitely not the case here and while I am not complaining, I am reminiscent about my extended trip, the relationships I had, and how friendly, warm, and inviting people are – and I miss that.

Back to Business

keep calm, s.c. rhyne, the reporter and the girl

Part of my frustration may have more to do with being back in school rather than wishing I was on the beach eating freshly caught fish (instead of the frozen cod I heated last night). I am at the point of my PhD project where I will be “upgraded” and almost to completion. I still remember coming onto WordPress to announce that I’m making this unbelievable change and moving to Europe, #movingforward #startingover and whatever tags I used then and now that the dream is almost realized, I still ask, “What am I doing here?”

Many postgraduate students always question their work, their capabilities… everything with their project. We are obsessed about this for 3-4 years while working on it, so, it is natural to have doubts or even to withdraw. I don’t feel like stopping but I am wondering if I made the right choice about the program I am in and my topic, it currently feels like there is a lack of expertise in my department to give me guidance.

My second issue is career path. So, I have always been career-minded, but now I need to really put myself out there and find jobs or fellowships related to my work. As much as I enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of working in the library, I need to look into teaching and research opportunities. I feel better about this, because once you start working in your field and networking, it makes the struggle feel more worthwhile. Ideally, once the semester starts I can get into the swing of things, however I did get a new job and just applied for mentorship. The last feat is publishing.

Publish or Perish

This is a common phrase in academia, some of the most top scientists that have made life-changing contributions to science or technology have a long list of publications. Publishing adds credibility because the top journals are peer-reviewed (related experts read and provide feedback) and usually only accept a tiny percentage of the thousands of submissions they receive each year. And that publication comes after the peers/editors give feedback and you need to revise and redraft, which can take months. Your publishing record can be a deciding factor for offering tenure at a college or university. Usually a newbie will be given a time period to produce this (maybe 2 or 3 years) during his or her probationary period. If he or she publishes and meet other requirements, then a position (assistant/associate professor) is guaranteed. If not, then she or he can be cut loose at any time. And even after one is tenured, it is still expected that you keep publishing to stay relevant in the field. For now, it would be amazing to publish once, even though I’m not seeking tenureship. So, now where do I go?

Life in London

So, as you may remember I don’t have any ties to London. It is a nice city and if I am offered a position I would stay here, but I am a leaf in the wind. For the right offer, I would go to continental Europe, Africa, or even back to America. However, I was thinking about buying property in the U.K., off-plan housing in particular, but I need to conduct more research on it and I’m hoping to find someone who has invested this way before. I asked a few folks who are my age range and surprisingly no one is thinking about buying property. I know it is expensive, but that’s why there are mortgaging options! I was talking with a friend who had been living in the U.K. for ten years and he didn’t know anything about buying property and had always assumed that one needed most of the money upfront (like 75%). Maybe, I’m just tired of renting but I cannot see myself living here and paying rent, utilities, and council tax on a property that is not mine. At least in the states, it’s common for the landlord to cover some utilities and pay the property taxes. And if I leave– rent it or sell it, that’s the point of being a homeowner, it is called wealth building!

Luxury-Apartment-London-05

So, like stages in the year, here I am again thinking about the next stage in life. If anyone is in London or knows what I need to do to survive here, then I would love to hear your advice. Even if you don’t know anything about London in particular, I still love to engage!

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Home…Again

Hi,

Do you remember me?

It has been a couple months since I posted and so much has happened that I’m not too sure where to start. I came back to London a week and a half ago, but feel different about returning back. First, my laptop was stolen coming from Liberia. At the airport, the airline agent for Royal Air Maroc told me that there was a laptop ban on flights going to the States. I heard about this ban, but was surprised since I was originating from Liberia and not one of the handful of cities on the White House’s watch list. However, I didn’t have a choice and that was the last time I saw my electronic companion. So, not to make excuses for being MIA, but I needed to settle down a bit first.

After spending most of the year in a sunny, warm, and cheery region, coming back to London was a little depressing. Not only had I lost my first apartment (I couldn’t sublet), so I didn’t have anything “mine” to return to, but I also didn’t have anyone to return to. Fortunately, there seems to be a little bit of summer left, as the past few days have been warm and sunny, so maybe someone is looking out for me after all. After meeting up for a drink with a friend, he strongly encouraged me to explore Tinder, I guess it’s the app that all the hip, young, cool Millennials are raving about, right? Although he has met a few guys on it and I know another friend who used it once and now lives with her boyfriend, I’m not convinced. I’m wishy-washy over online dating since I have used it plenty of times before, without any success. It also doesn’t seem to be any more reliable than offline dating.

My trip to Africa was amazing. If I could save some money I would return there for an extended stay; preferably Sierra Leone as I felt the culture was more friendly and inviting (they are world-renown for their hospitality) and the cost of living is lower than Liberia. I think both countries have opportunities available if you are someone with an entrepreneurial spirit as it is hard to get a job, but not necessarily as hard to start a business there. My field work and data collection went well even though my laptop was stolen, most of my work was backed up on a secured cloud system. It was more of a personal loss (my photos and music) and the violation that someone had done this.

Now I am back in London and the semester will not start until the end of September, but as a postgraduate student I am at work year-round and I have an important deadline on October 1st: my second annual review. This will be like a mini-defense as I present all the research I have done over the last 22 months and an oral assessment. I will receive a recommendation to pass and become a PhD candidate or just finish with an MPhil degree. In the U.S. our system is different, what would happen at this stage would be a pass to ABD (All But Dissertation) or a recommendation that the person only has enough for a Master’s degree. There’s remediation and things like that before it gets to that point, but nonetheless I have been making an effort to visit the libraries on campus and squeeze out another draft chapter.

However, that is a little difficult because of another change. Apparently while I was away, the U.K.’s Prime Minister also did a silly little policy thing and enacted Article 50 to officially start Brexit, which is the United Kingdom’s withdrawal of membership to the European Union (EU). Many U.K. universities, including my own, receive a lot of funding from the E.U. for research, as well as admission from E.U. students. When I returned, I reached out to my old supervisor at the campus library about working there again, but was told that my position had been cut. Well, I’m still going to patronize the library, however my visits are shorter as the libraries close at 5pm and the computer labs close at 9pm. Now, it is still summer break so I understand the hours may be different, but trust me when I say that this is very different from last year when I could have stayed in the building until 11pm during the summer.

Apparently the E.U. has halted its funding, according to a source from the grapevines. It hasn’t been cut, but it has halted and so that is why some student jobs are gone. However, the real hurt has come from the drop in admissions—E.U. as well as international students are not applying to the university here and this negatively impacts the institution’s bottom-line. According to my source, the budget broke even this year and so there is a big push to recruit students.

The good news for me is that they may not kick me out this year, even if my annual review is less than stellar!! I kid, but seriously, it is an unfortunate situation as the U.K. is still a great place to study and earn a degree, but maybe the rhetoric from the Prime Minister and her party regarding immigration and specifically that international students were “the worse prone to overstaying visas” may have deterred some prospective students. Especially those from poorer countries who do want to have a long-term life in the U.K. or other European countries, however not by fraudulent means because the rate of overstaying is miniscule. Many do return, or go someplace else, or are granted “legal documents” to stay in the country longer.

It is interesting having this conversation with my colleagues, because (surprise!) I am an international student even though I’m not sure if they see me that way because I’m American. They normally refer to those coming from poor countries, even though those students are just as talented and hard-working as I am. And while I sometimes forget that I am a foreigner here, I have been detached from the Brexit debate. One, I didn’t see it impacting my immigration or future here as the immigration rules for Americans are different than for E.U. citizens, so I think it should stay the same. And two, a lot of the racism and hate were not overtly directed at me, even by people who bluntly told me that they had it with foreigners coming here.

So, this is weird for me because as an American-born Black woman I’m used to bias and discrimination portrayed in a certain way, and the Brits do things differently, for a lack of better words. I’ve notice that I have become the invisible minority. I don’t know the full scope of Black British history, but I was surprised to learn that people of Black descent are only 3% of the population, which compares to 12% in the United States. While still a minority, at least in the States Blacks were the majority-minority and that holds considerable political, cultural, and economic influence. So, here in the U.K., is it possible that outside of London and Manchester that there are places where no one has ever interacted with a Black person? Wow. I know there are places like that in the States, but we are geographically much larger and more sparse out than England, and plus we have a history of segregation that prevented integrated neighborhoods.

Those are a few things that I’m noticing being back in the U.K. for a second time, it all connects to how I feel about my place here and future being in Britain. I thought I would have a life here, really living and working and maybe buying an apartment, but now I’m thinking about where the hot new places are, Denmark or Germany? One of the things I prized last year was that I had no responsibilities and could pick up and leave at any time. While this is still true, starting over again in a new place gets a little tiring, especially after settling somewhere before. Now when it is time to return home, I ask myself, “return to who and to what?” And sometimes even, “Why?”

So, I would love to hear your thoughts, I hope you guys will still listen to me!

Post it here or visit me on my Facebook page or tweet me!

Delirious

beach, sierra leone beach, rocks on the beach, S.C Rhyne

Wow, I have been MIA for April and May and for that I truly apologize. When I first came to West Africa I was so fraught about the poor telecommunication systems here and not being able to check my emails at least once a week, update apps on my iPhone, download new books on my Kindle, or perhaps most importantly; find new articles to help conduct my research. However, going online became less important and even though I now have better internet access here in Liberia, the minimal distractions have led to more creative outputs as I have been able to re-draft the first and second chapters of my thesis and re-submit them this past Monday.

Turns out, there is a reason why writers go to the ends of the earth to lock themselves in a hole somewhere, it really spurs you to think, imagine, and reflect on your experiences. This has really been helping me to process all that I’ve seen in West Africa and how it fits into my immediate projects as well as my long-term goals. Oh yeah, and I’ve also been busy with a new man in my life.

So, back in April on Easter weekend I was diagnosed with the most common and deadliest strain of Malaria, Plasmodium Falciparum. It was that Friday I went to the beach with a friend to frolic around in the ocean for a bit. While coming up to rest on the sands, I saw my friend talking with some other guests, as it turns out they are a part of the United Nations Children’s’ Fund (UNICEF) and the third guy was from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), my friend so happens to be a consultant for NGOs, so he was chatting them up.

When I joined the group, he introduced me and of course, that I am a student on field research, and one gentleman seem to pay special attention to me. “You shouldn’t go so far out in the ocean, the water is very very dangerous,” he said to me. I nodded and responded that I knew and at one point I almost did get carried away, but before I panicked I remembered the waves would push me back so I treaded water and waited for the current before I started swimming again. He had a thick eastern European accent, we introduced each other and connected on Facebook.

At the time, I thought he was OK-looking, kind of scruffy with a beard but nonetheless he’s with a UN agency and this could be a great networking opportunity for me. When he messaged me on Easter Sunday, I told him that I was on my way to the clinic since I was feeling ill, he expressed grave concern wanting to know every detail of the doctor’s reports, lab tests, and…etc. We texted every day and he had offered to come see me, or take me to another medical facility when my first treatment failed (Malaria is hard to cure), or even to live in his apartment for the rest of my time in Liberia; I resisted because I was staying true to my mission and my temporary stage here. It is the same thing I told my prior suitor in Sierra Leone, “I’m not interested in hooking up, dating, or being in a relationship with anyone while I am here in Africa. I’m focused only on my field work.” A.K.A leave me the fuck alone.

However, after I finished my Malaria treatment, I was well enough to return to work at the office. After catching up with a female acquaintance about my last few weeks and this weird beach man, I realized (and she encouraged) that his office was a few minutes away from my office and maybe it has been too long and we should have coffee together. So, I called him and he picked me up.

Fast forward to a month later and Mr. UN broke my last line of defense. Now to be clear, he had been making physical advances towards me since our first “date”. But has always shown boundaries and driven me home when I ask to leave. Looking back, I guess I should have seen that the sexual tension was heightening. Instead of me coming over for dinner at an appropriate time to eat (around 6pm), he was coming from the beach and since I live near there, he had picked me up around 7 or so, and we arrived after 8pm to his place. So, this is starting to look more like a sleepover than a casual dinner.

It began with his seduction tactics: the kisses, love bites, firm grabbing which started in the kitchen and somehow ended up on his couch. Maybe I had taken a reprieve to have a seat and he had stalked his way over to pounce on his prey.

I stood up, “OK, two things, first I like you a lot, but I don’t feel a connection. I need an emotional connection before we can be intimate, so I’m not ready.”

“Don’t worry,” he responded. “We will have the connection soon.” I rolled my eyes thinking he was talking about physically and literally connecting into me. So, I said dryly, “I’m also bleeding.” This man did not miss a beat. “I’m a police officer, I’m not scared of blood.” I looked him dead in his eyes and responded that it wouldn’t be sanitary, although that is technically not true, as proper condom usage would protect him, but I was sure this would quell his lust. I mean, surely, any man would be repulsed by the idea of—

“Hey, what are you doing?!” I exclaimed while swatting his hands away from my pants. He was actively trying to pull them down.

“Let me check.” He said. I nearly bursted out laughing, “You think I’m not telling the truth? Hun, I wouldn’t lie about that, it started a few days ago–”
“So, today is your last day?” He asked.

“Well, maybe…” I trailed off thinking about an easy way to explain post-menstruation bleeding and fluid discharge, when I felt him plunge into me, hard and desperate and my own body contracting and pulsating as a reaction to the foreign entity invading the tight space.

We both stared at each other for a moment, maybe he was gauging my look of shock and I was waiting for his reaction once he removed his hand from beneath my underwear.

Things are going to get messy.

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Obstacles in Development

beach, sierra leone beach, rocks on the beach, S.C Rhyne

Hey there world, what have you been up to since I left? I know the U.S. and the U.K are still turning on its head, despite me being out of the loop on day-to-day news. Meanwhile, I have moved from Sierra Leone to neighboring Liberia and have been settling in the last two weeks. I have finally reached a point where checking my email every day or once a week is not even producing anxiety-induced panic attacks; if someone wants to reach me urgently, they know how to.

Part of my field research here is about the context of social and economic development in West Africa. I ask a lot of “why” and “how” questions, but I have to remind myself, that Sierra Leone has only been independent since 1961, so no country 55 years after independence is smooth sailing; in fact, there is a certain country I remember falling into civil war, less than a hundred years after independence.

Liberia fell into a civil war in the late 80s, that spilled over the porous borders into Sierra Leone in 1991 with a coup d’etat of President Momoh. It wasn’t until after the Millennium (2002 and 2003) that both countries signed peace accords with rebel factions to finally end the wars. So think about how many years the United States spent rebuilding after being at war for 4 years, versus these countries which have been at war for more than 10! So rebuilding is a slow, multi-decade effort. For example, think about the children during the war years, many of them were out of school and are now illiterate or semi-illiterate adults (70% of Sierra Leone’s population is illiterate), so when you ask, “Why aren’t there enough doctors/nurses in the country?” or “How come teenage pregnancy is sky rocketing?” These are some of the long term effects of a devastating war.

I think the mainstream academic, development, and news media have already picked up on these challenges and main obstacles that people face in social development. However, since being here, I can tell you about more nuanced obstacles that are not reported. They may seem to minor for MSF or Red Cross to write a report on, but living with a family whose daughter is studying medicine in Cuba, I know that paying her school fees wasn’t the only challenge her parents overcame to have a daughter that is doing great things.

Internet

Right, so we know that internet access is limited in these countries. However, I don’t think I fully described the situation, even with places that have internet connection, the connection is painstakingly slow. Remember dial-up? Well, think that connection speed and reliability. It sometimes takes several minutes to load Google on my browser. Or it can take 10 minutes or more to email someone with photo attachments or to send to multiple recipients. It is also not uncommon for the connection to fail while doing something online or to lose electricity. By the way, these are my experiences going to my nearby internet café. Some people invest in a mini-router to have wifi access at home, and those are even worse. You pay 15,000 Le (about $2) for all day access, and there were times that as soon as I turned it on, there was no internet connection. Or I would have internet for the first hour and then lose connection for 3 hours. There were some days where I would wake up at 2 or 3 am to use the wifi to download some articles to read, because it seemed to be a bit faster since there was less congestion.

So when you think about how important it is for a student to have internet access to conduct research, this is a taste of what they experience. Most people seem to access the net on their mobile phones (there are data packages for 50 or 100 MB to browse social media apps) or if they are working, at their jobs. However, even at these offices, the internet is not the same hi-speed connection that we are used to in the West. A song can take 10 minutes or more to download and my iPhone took over 30 minutes to download the latest software to update itself. However, this is fast.

Noise Pollution

Every Thursday, there is a restaurant/bar across the street from my home in Freetown that liked to get the weekend started around 1pm. Yep, as I was writing this on my laptop, I had to take a break from reading an academic paper, because this bar decided that a good use of its generator power is to blast soca music from two or three subwoofer speakers rather than to refrigerate their milk. Even transcribing interviews in my earphones is challenging as I need the transcript to be word-for-word. When I first arrived to the east end of Freetown, I used to be awaken every morning by the sound of the rooster crowing, shortly followed by a church that played its sermon on a subwoofer speaker. Sometimes in the evening when a company is doing “advertisement” for a product or event, music can be heard playing well after midnight. And this happens on weeknights, when people regularly wake up 5 or 6 am to go to work.

So faced with the obvious challenge of not having 24 hour electricity, I can’t always use my laptop to do work or write. And obviously with lack of reliable internet, I can’t write every day, because I’m used to scouring the internet for things as I write. I had developed a system between reading on my kindle and using my laptop so that I’m always doing something work related when one device is being charged up in the tele-center (a tele-center is a place where they charge electronic devices for a small fee). But when a two-man party erupts, that sometimes means going to plan E.

Plan E: leaving the neighborhood.

Transportation

Now Freetown is major metropolis with the hustle and bustle of any capital city, and downtown is the place to be whether you need some unusual foreign item like cotton pads (I only know one place that carries them) or something less strange like a hair brush. However, getting downtown without a private vehicle is another challenge. Most people use motorbikes in Sierra Leone (and pretty much the rest of Africa) as preferred public transport. However, they were banned from operating downtown because the riders do not make safety a priority. Here is a picture of my first negative experience on a motorbike, this happened on a Tuesday on my way downtown.leg

So, I take a motorbike to a popular intersection where there is a street market but also vans to go downtown. Relatively, these vans are safer but objectively they are not safe. People are packed in like sardines, because they want to earn a minimum for transporting people on the route, often 5 to a bench when it can comfortably accommodate 3. These vans are slow moving because people walk on the street as many places do not have safe pedestrian walkways or the street vendors block the walkways. It is not uncommon for people to “jump in” while the van is moving, as I had to do a couple times, and once had a passenger help pull me in. It is very hot in those vehicles since everyone is on top of each other, and hotter when there is stand-still traffic. A three-mile trip can take at least an hour. As good and cheap as this transport system is, it only runs until 8pm or maybe 9pm. Not to mention there seems to be a weird flow of when the vehicles are available. It is easy to get transport (taxi or van) around 5 or 6 am heading to downtown Freetown (hence a lot of early arrivers to work) and between 11am and 1pm, however it is very difficult to get transport out of downtown Freetown between 5 and 7pm, when people are commonly leaving work, so a lot of folks, especially those who live in the east, will leave work around 3 or 4 pm, especially if there is nothing to do at work.

So traveling downtown to find another internet café, or even just a regular café to get work done has been helpful, but realistically is this something feasible every day?

So these are a few of the challenges that I observed living in Sierra Leone, a lot of locals don’t really complain about these things, maybe because they are used to it or there is no point in complaining? However, when we talk about obstacles to development, big NGOs like to focus on some of the more obvious things like lack of electricity, poverty, or health facilities, which are very important. However, for the working-class/middle-class Leonean some of these basic things that we expect in the West, like following noise codes or having a reasonable way to get to work, are not present here yet. If there was more focus on how to improve things for those who are trying to “get ahead” then it would also go a long way to motivating and encouraging people.

I’m still trying to find my roots in Liberia, I was lucky enough to find a family to take me in (like stray) and I hope to understand more about my new city, Paynesville.

The Fear of…Everything

Keeping an eye an out for danger is something everyone should do. I wasn’t scared about traveling to West Africa, despite the many stories I heard. There is danger everywhere and having lived in NYC when crime was high, without ever being mugged or hurt, I know part of it is the way you carry yourself and how you protect your personal belongings. The embassy has warnings about traveling alone and especially traveling after dark, which was something I didn’t plan on doing except short distances (like across the street for a drink or something). I haven’t encountered any negative circumstances here except for the stories. Everyone I know has been pickpocketed once, but there are even stranger and more unusual stories.

My companion constantly worries about me and even in my apartment he gives me the impression that I am not safe. All the windows have bars and every door has a lock, especially the main door which has four locks. I mentioned in my last post the security is a concern here, but its perplexing to think that in a country where its common to introduce someone (with no relations) as your “brother” or your “sister” then why are you so afraid of them? He told me the story of someone coming through the window using a long stick or handle with a sponge dipped in tar or adhesive to grab small valuable items like wallets or phones and thus to leave my belongings on the floor. Or how about my first time going into town on my own and I was told not to trust anyone, even when asking for directions. WTF?!

He admits now that he may have placed too much emphasis on my safety, but he wanted me to keep the reality of danger in the back of my mind. Yes, there is danger in the States and in the U.K. too, even though admittedly I may not always remember to lock every door and every window or even to zip up my purse as long as its jammed securely underneath my armpit. Or better yet, I didn’t know until now to have the zipper of the purse in the front, so it can’t be open from behind. Great, I learned something new about protecting myself from pickpocketing, I’m thankful for that. However, he constantly lectured everyday about thievery and assault that was waiting for me outside my door as soon as I stepped out without a chaperone, even buying fruit on my own could be a hassle as the price may double or triple once the merchant sees that I am a foreigner.

Facing Danger

Well, guess what? I take a motorbike to and from and pay the right price, a few in the beginning had tried to offer me double but since I knew the price, I would tell them with a smile that the correct price is 1000 or 1,500 leones and they usually agree. I think only one may have left and not given me the ride. When I take a bus into town, I pay and get change for the correct amount, no bus conductor or taxi driver has refused to give me change (unlike an experience I had in the Dominican Republic many years ago,) and I had to ask for directions several times from various people and they have usually been helpful even to the point of hailing a taxi or a bus for me. The latest I came from town was 8:30pm, which is quite late because the buses stop at 9pm or 10pm. Most people do try to make it home by 8pm unless it’s a weekend and/or they have a private vehicle.

So is it dangerous, yes, there is danger everywhere and I’ve seen the videos too. It’s odd because my companion had the perception that its dangerous in the U.S and mentioned the Orlando shooting and another mass shooting a couple years back. Yes, mass shootings are a problem and there needs to be some intervention (LINK). However, except for a few hotspot places like South Chicago, I don’t think most Americans feel like there is danger outside their doorstep. Or at least I didn’t think so until Trump made me think America is so dangerous.

When traveling, safety is a concern especially since it will be obvious that you are a foreigner. Even for me, being a Black American they know from the way I dress, walk, and look that I am a “JC” (Just Come) and its confirmed when I open my mouth to speak. I don’t blend in as much as I think I do, but I don’t walk around with large sums of cash, I always split up my money so I have my transportation money in small bills on top and easy to reach and larger bills buried deep in my bag, I keep my purse in front of me…etc. These are precautions everyone should take around the world, from Tokyo to Geneva to Springfield.

Understanding the Culture of Fear

Getting a lecture everyday about how dangerous the country is and how I can’t go anywhere without someone nickel and diming me is frustrating. I understand Sierra Leone doesn’t have the same safety and security infrastructure as the West and in fact many people are still traumatized from the civil war. In fact, from 1991 to 2003 was a period in Sierra Leone (specifically Freetown) where you could not walk more 100 yards without coming across a corpse. So maybe there is a “collective trauma” from the people that I speak with, as they are old enough to remember this period. However, I asked him, what do you think Westerners perceive of Africa and Africans specifically? I told him, I know he has concern for me and wants me to always keep these rules in my mind, but I asked him, “Did you really think when I told people I was coming here or when I alerted the embassies of my travel that they didn’t give me a list of precautions?” As Americans, we perceive Africa as a dangerous and mysterious continent filled with “dysfunction.” I’m aware things are bad here, but I’m still trying to keep a positive light on things, I came here to see the “good”.

I live in an apartment without running water and we had electricity last night from 2am until 7am, for the first time in 3 days. However, things are good and I am having a good time.

Another reason his constant lectures upset me is because I know he cares about me on a deeper level, and has even brought up the topic of children and having them visit extended relatives in Sierra Leone or even me coming back and staying here for a longer period if I find a job. Why would I live in a country where I’m too afraid to step outside my doorstep? Why would I send my children to visit their relatives in a country where someone may kidnap or kill them? He didn’t reply, he didn’t see that his attempts to “shield me” were making me question my decision to come here and wanting to leave as soon as possible. While I don’t want to minimize safety risks as there is crime and there isn’t justice; focusing on the bad and even scaring someone “a little” is counterproductive.

So how do you understand safety and security when you’re abroad?

Tell me @ReporterandGirl or post it on my Facebook.

Love at First Flight

Good day, smut readers!

This is my first post whilst on my trip in West Africa. For those of you who follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, then you know that I have been posting photos and such from my trip. I am currently in Sierra Leone and will be here until mid-March. I was very nervous about this trip for all sorts of reasons; one, it is part of my field research, so I’m not on vacation, I am here to do work and collect data and this will impact the viability of my thesis. Second, there were some logistics that were not yet solidly confirmed such as my short and long term accommodations and where in the country I would travel to conduct interviews.

Oh, and apparently, I’m engaged, so now I must think about that too.

I’m glad to say that it has all been working well. I stayed in a nice guest house for a few days before heading out to the most eastern region of the country, Kailahun District. This is where the rebel war of the 1990’s that had spilled over from Liberia crossed over in 1991 to overthrow President Momoh and displaced millions of Sierra Leoneans as they fled westward to the capital, Freetown, or to other places. A large part of the diaspora has yet to return, especially in a country that desperately needs educated, entrepreneurial, and reform-minded people to rebuild in a post-conflict and fragile setting. In 2014, this is also where the deadly Ebola virus had also crossed over and was the heart of the epidemic that soon spread to the rest of the country, and now people are rebuilding from that too. I plan on visiting some other districts along the South, and hopefully will make it to the Bombali district in the north too.

The good, the bad, and the ugly about traveling

Everyone has been very friendly to me, despite my companion and the family I’m staying with, warning me to view everyone as suspect. It is not in my nature to do so, however, I know that I am different and I look different, so I should be cautious. Especially at night and tonight I do plan to travel alone from downtown Freetown to my apartment in the Eastern side of the city. I am also the type of person who will forget to lock her (front) door and I never lock (I don’t think I ever had a lock and key, except for in the college dorms) my bedroom door. However, folks here take security seriously, even in the remote villages that I went to, its common to see 6 or 8 feet cement walls with barb wire and broken glass bottles on the top. As well as bars on the windows, all kinds of deadbolts and padlocks on front doors and each person’s bedroom doors. When I asked my companion why he felt it necessary to lock everything up, especially when he is living with family, I asked, “Are you afraid of theft?” He replied, that he knows that no one in his family are thieves, but this is Africa…etc.” There is suspicion of the other – that someone will try to harm you (physically or spiritually) or take something from you. As well as there are a lot of stories and rumors of people being robbed or kidnapped and such, in the States we call that news.

So, I do think this one person may be a little overly cautious, especially since I was betrothed (kidding) by a close friend of his to watch over me while I’m here. And he wants to make sure that nothing happens to me.

I can’t seem to escape…men problems

Speaking of my betrothal, my companion has taken a liking to me. I arrived very early on a Thursday morning where he met me and took me to my guest house where I stayed for a few days before moving into this apartment. He’s a very smart guy and politically involved and savvy, just the way I like ‘em. I would later find out, that he in turn, was surprised to see how young I was doing my postgraduate degree. There are many obstacles in Sierra Leone for young people to attain higher education, so to get a bachelor’s (a first degree, as they call it) is remarkable in of itself. But to see someone my age studying beyond that, is rare and very respectable. I guess he was not only surprised by my youth but also attractiveness. We talked a lot on Thursday about Sierra Leone politics, global politics, my thesis, my family,…etc. I felt very comfortable talking to him, of course, because I knew we would be doing a lot of traveling together and spending a lot of time together. Thus, it is good to get to know each other well. However, I may not have known that culturally I may have been crossing a line; by the next day he declared that he was falling in love with me and tried to kiss me. He really didn’t seem to understand what was wrong when I kicked him out of my guest room and threatened to christen my new Swiss army knife by slicing off his left nut.

Apparently, “being open” about yourself is a sign that you like a person, so talking about my family and myself…etc. He may have misread that as me falling in love. Thus, I made a call to a friend in London, who has spent some time in Senegal on his experiences. His advice:

  • Love doesn’t actually mean love. The word love is sometimes overused, when it really means lust or just really liking a person to date him/her. Westerners are much more reserved in using the word love until we know this is the person we want to settle with for life.
  • Men in West Africa, can be more aggressive. Not just in pursuing women, but in other aspects too. For example, I noticed that when my companion speaks with younger cousins around his compound “he orders” them assertively to do things (fetch water, boil water, sweep his room…etc.), now there is a respect for age and education, so as the oldest male relative, he does get to boss his younger brother and cousins around to do things for him, but heesh! As well, since he is an educated person (first degree) when we go to buy things from local shops or hop on the bus, he “demands” that they take us this place, or when they are going too fast or slow, or to give him his change now. In terms of love, if they are feeling something, its best to let the lady know upfront and now, hence why I found out from him so soon.

We talked a couple days later and decided to remain friends but even that has had tension and clashes. Like hand-holding (all sexes) is a common sign of close friendship and I had many times refused to hold his hand, which made him upset and wondered why I would refuse this. Not to mention, in one of our trips we had to share to a room.

These last couple weeks, he had let it known that his feelings had not changed, and even had gotten stronger the more he has gotten to know me. Even to the point of telling his mother that he was falling for me. His mother confirmed this over the phone to me too. On our last night before heading back to Freetown he said he had been talking to someone before he met me, but it hadn’t gone far. OK, I don’t give a shit. Really, we just met last week or so, and I’m pretty sure you had a life before me, anyway I’m glad he’s an honest Joe.

Sigh…More problems, am I in Nollywood?

Well, on the day of our return, when I was transitioning to my new apartment with a lovely older couple, he said he was going to introduce me to a female friend, someone my age that could keep me company in my new neighborhood, as the couple’s own daughter was away in medical school. He showed me a picture of her on his phone, then another picture, and another and another…and WTF, how many pictures of this female friend does he have on his phone?! I inquired deeper into their relationship, and it turns out she was the girl he was talking to…for two years!

Who the fuck does he think I am? Nobody “talks” for two years.

To be continued…

Ringing in 2017 (finally)

Hello World!

Those of you may remember the WordPress template greeting for your very first blog post, this is my first post in quite awhile. It seems when we last connected, I was lamenting over the pressure of the holidays and moving out of my lovely apartment in London for a field research trip to West Africa.

Thank you to those who responded with helpful advice about remembering to breathe and the real meaning of the season, but the dark fate of 2016 had struck me in its final hours and gave me pause to think about the importance of our lives and family.

My Christmas in London was absolutely lovely. I spent the weekend with a British family in Croydon, opening presents, eating, and drinking until I was blind. Really, its the stuff that movies are made of, to wake up and open wrapped presents (I got soo much stuff!) and have magnificent home-cooked meals and mixed cocktails at every meal and snack hour.

My move-out wasn’t too hectic, honestly the only thing that sucked is that I realized that I have way too much stuff. Like my personal effects quadrupled in the last year, despite me sending some books home earlier in the year, selling my major appliances, donating clothes, and giving away lots of household items, and throwing out stuff, including my favorite shampoo and conditioner because I had no where to pack them.

My trip to NYC started off with a 9 hour delay at Gatwick, followed by an overnight ride in an 1000 degrees Fahrenheit cabin on Norwegian airlines. I’m not shitting you when I say the flight crew didn’t even serve refreshments on this transatlantic flight. In fact, I had to get up and ask for a drink of water when I couldn’t bare it anymore.

My first day in NYC ended in a family medical emergency. My older brother, who had been sitting in the den watching TV, could not get up and walk upstairs without assistance. So I helped him up the stairs, where I noticed his sudden weakness and vertigo. The next morning I drove him to the hospital and my entire world crashed.

My brother is nonverbal because he was born with cerebral palsy (CP). However, he is friendly, smart, a sports jock, and a laid back guy. His only flaw is that he is a Leo and always has to be the center of attention. But what’s shocking about what happened, is that no one in my family could remember the last time he had a cold, let alone be taken to the ER.

The first 48 hours had dramatic highs and lows, after 45 minutes of being triage and sent to an ER bed, his vitals started to decline; his heart rate was at 32 and then the labored breathing started. By 8pm that evening, they supposedly had a bed in the cardiology unit, but he went into respiratory distressed and hypothermia. So he and our family spent the night in the ER room.

By the next morning when his body temperature went up to 92 degrees Fahrenheit, we noticed the heart rate improving too, but his breathing was still labored. Not only is this a difficult situation for anyone to watch a loved one, but having doctors talk to you about end-of-life decisions and aggressive treatments, like intubation, just builds on everything…Everything I took for granted. Everything that I missed or said. The times when I didn’t call home when I should have.

He did do better that day, and they made the decision to move him to a general floor instead of ICU, but the next day he downgraded a bit so the doctors said they felt better with him in the ICU so they could keep a closer eye on him. He didn’t get moved from this ward for another two days. While my brother did get better and came home last week, essentially as normal as before, we don’t have a real explanation for what happened as all the tests were negative, and after some antibiotics and steroids, he still continued to improve. So the professionals believe it was some sort of viral infection. In which, I responded by having the home professionally cleaned and offering to burn all his belongings.

He refused the latter.

So what does this mean? While I still have my brother, I actually lost a close friend the night I arrived. This New Year’s has given me a lot to reflect on. I have been so embedded in trying to “find myself” and “live life” because I felt tied down in New York, but none of that is important anymore. Not university, not my thesis, nor my trip. I was certain that night in the ER, that I would be emailing my professors to tell them I am not coming back this year. Because that is what I had to do, if it happened.

However, it didn’t, and I did not spend my brief time in the city going out for drinks and catching up with the latest gossip like I intended. I spent nearly two weeks shuffling between the hospital for 2-3 days and going home for a quick showers and food. I left for Manhattan twice: the first time for that funeral for my friend and again for dinner. I have been home making the most of my time with my relatives.

And you know, home is not a bad way to vacation. Its been rated 3 and half stars.

Happy New Year, everybody!