Celebrate Good Times, c’mon!
A special entry day for a special occasion! This week I write to you on Monday, as it was my birthday weekend and we were partying soooooo much….not…haha. But we did get to celebrate good times! Saturday night we had a fun-filled evening as the Tacugama crew descended from the mountain to the Freetown beach for a meal at a local hangout called Papaya. It marked my 28th birthday and Sofie’s goodbye party (our current manager) – a bittersweet occasion. Customary here, as we’ve experienced twice now, they play local pop birthday songs on the restaurant stereo for about 10-15 minutes when it’s someone’s special day.
For the actual day, I woke up with a wonderful surprise of a mild to moderate case of gastroenteritis (luckily one end only, I’ll spare you the details). After trying to sleep in but running to the bathroom about 10 times in the span of 3 hours, things started to settle. I thought about enjoying the day outside, but guess what? It was pouring rain and windy and frigid just like today! Weather aside, I woke up to a lovely vase of sunflowers and a card thanks to neighbours Sofie and Conde! And at lunch, a delightful basket of food presents from one of the nice supermarkets in Freetown – some coconuts, cashews, chips, pappadum flour, granola bar flour (guess I’ll be busy cooking!), dried banana chips, and the driest hardest orange you’ve ever met! All accompanied by…wait for it…a CUCUMBER with candles in it!!! Or as Katie calls it, vegan cake bahahaha. Being my first international birthday (odd given my jetsetting ways, I know, but alas – September is a rare month for travelling when you’re in school!), it still felt really special out here. And even more special by the wishes from home and some beautiful messages from those closest to me.
This week also brought several new wildlife sightings! We were all on our toes when we heard wild chimps on Friday, communicating with our chimps and getting everyone excited. They were very close by, but alas, no sightings. We have heard rumours of the mysterious lady of the night, dubbed ‘Miss Congo’ – a wild (perhaps extra wild) chimp who enters the enclosures, finds a man to satisfy her needs, and then elusively slips away without anyone knowing how she escapes the electric fence. Perhaps she is an urban legend (or rather, forest legend), as she also has not been seen in a few years. A new gecko and toad joined the herpetile community in and around my house, and a spider dubbed Godzilla has been living in the shower of the volunteer house. No one seems to have the guts to attempt to move her. She also seems to be breeding at the moment…
A few snakes have also been in and around the premises this week, including what appeared to be a black mamba!
(Note to anyone: If you fear spiders, do NOT come here…they are EVERYWHERE and all shapes and sizes. In fact, there is large one living in my sink at the moment, so I think I won’t do any dishes for awhile…LOL)
We host a monthly yoga weekend for guests who can come stay at our eco-lodges and do several classes of yoga in a beautiful room nestled in the forest, followed by delightful buffets of local food. I joined one such evening class last weekend which was absolutely wonderful as I’ve been missing that part of my life for awhile. The setting is just stunning, and the best part was our visitor who appeared on cue as savasana (meditation) started and darkness ensued – a little owl ‘hoo’-ing in the background.
Speaking of visitors, I just noticed today how easy it is to call this place home. It’s only been a month, yet it doesn’t seem foreign anymore to say ‘I’m going home’ or to wake up feeling like this place is temporary. When I told people where I was going, the reaction was always shock and awe. Perhaps because it’s a place no one has heard much about and that no one really travels to. When they do hear about it, it’s likely in the context of Ebola or civil war (even though civil war was more than a decade ago) or it’s just lumped into ‘those strange African countries that are dangerous and always having issues’. People would always say “be careful” or “make sure you come back alive!”
Asides from our coworkers, I haven’t gotten to know many Sierra Leonians in town yet, but hope to in the near future. There are lots of Sri Lankans, Indians and Lebanese here as well who are often business owners that immigrated in the 1970s seeking new opportunities. Asides from Freetown, the rest of the country is dominated by rural villages. In a country dominated by Muslims AND Christians, it is really interesting to see an example of pluralism outside of Canada. People here might discuss religions and get into heated debates, but the fact that they can do that without killing or harming each other speaks volumes to their integration as a society. In fact, it is Eid-al-Adha today, and it’s a public holiday, as are all the Christian holidays!
I guess my point is, it is a place just like any other, with people just like any other, trying to make a living. While I wasn’t here during Ebola (and luckily it isn’t a current threat anymore) and can’t attest to the devastation and havoc it wreaked, most of what I have seen so far is relatively normal civilization. Yes there is a big culture shock. Yes it is one of the 20 poorest nations of the world and is severely lacking in development. The DRC, a country always in some state of conflict, seemed to have more development infrastructure than Sierra Leone! But really, once you adapt to the culture shock, it just feels ‘normal’. People here are as poor as many countries I’ve visited, but they don’t seem desperate. Safety isn’t really a concern (well maybe road safety but that’s it!), and the only common crime seems to be phone stealing. Having just emerged from the Ebola crisis, things appear stable and functioning here for the most part, and after a month, you don’t feel like there’s much to be concerned about.
These are my first impressions of Salone – maybe they will change, but likely they will just evolve as more details get filled in. So to those back home, you have little to worry about, life is just swell here. And to those who considered visiting but wanted to see if I survived first ;), well, I would welcome visitors any day! Good news is, the rainy season is on it’s way out so if you want to escape from winter you know where to come!!
Finally, one of our 2 new managers has joined the team this week. Anne has arrived from Holland with lots of experience and I’m sure she has information overload from her training! We are all sad to see Sofie go (we’re even having another Special Lunch today!), but also excited for the new team and what the future may hold for us.
As for the special lunch, well it is Eid AND Sofie’s goodbye, so I think the motivation for an eating competition will be superb tomorrow…will report back later! I always find it super weird to be in a country where the Muslim holidays are public holidays. I think I’m just not used to being in the majority! The special lunch is also special for me (although it will be full of meat tomorrow). It marks the week of my 10th year of veganism – a huge milestone for me. Although my vegan ways are flexible in Africa, and I feel slightly guilty celebrating this year, it’s incredible to think that 10 years ago today I committed to this lifestyle and have grown so much as a person because of it. 2006 was in many ways, the year I defined what it meant to be me, and in 2016 I am redefining myself, thanks to so many people and experiences who change me every day.
So Eid Mubarak, and Happy Veganniversary and Birthday and Cheers to everyone celebrating something!
P.S. Much love and prayers for the Dosani family in Oshawa. Just heard news that my friends’ mother has passed away after several months resiliently battling illness. Fahriz and Shaz, thinking of you guys from halfway across the world and wishing your family nothing but peace and strength at this time.
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