Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Eventually I located Harry and his friend Joseph waiting for me outside. Joseph lives really close to the airport, so they instructed me to hop on the back of his motorbike and then took me straight to his house. Had I not had my experience living in Uganda, my introduction to the country would have been quite terrifying. I had arranged to stay at a nice hotel in Lungi for the night since I would have to wait until the morning to take the hour long ferry ride into Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Although I had been reluctant to pay the $100 for the night at the hotel, by the time I arrived after two days of traveling I was really looking forward to what might be my last night of some luxury for a while. But instead I found myself sharing a bed with Harry in a room in Joseph’s house. I asked for the bathroom, and was led outside to a latrine with a hole about 1.5 inches in diameter and of course no toilet paper. Welcome back to Africa!
I am now finishing up my fifth day, and things are actually coming along quite well. I spent my first Freetown night at a guest house, and then moved into a house with Harry and his friend Alfred. The house is on top of a hill overlooking the ocean, and is right across from a giant but dilapidated mansion that used to be the residence of the former president Siaka Stevens. I realized that first night that it would be really easy to get overwhelmed and hide in my room for a while, so I have made an effort to keep moving forward every day. I have started to figure out the crazy transportation system, carried out my first two meetings with NGOs for my research, and begun to explore the area in which I’m staying.
And now, I want to share a bit of an entertaining conversation I had with one of my neighbors, Joseph.
Joseph: “Where are you from?”
Me: “I’m from the US.”
Joseph: “I have a relative who has gone to the US.”
Me: “Where does he live?”
Joseph: “I’m not sure, but I think Mexico.”
Then later in the conversation...
Me: “How many children do you have?”
Joseph: “About four.”
Me: “How many boys and how many girls?”
Joseph: “Four boys and two girls.”
Sunday, July 27, 2008
I knew whatever my fear might be I must be brave. I wasn’t to show fright or to run off and hide. Still less was I to resist or cry out when my elders carried me off.
“I, too, went through this test,” said my father.
“What happens to you?” I asked.
“Nothing you need really be afraid of, nothing you cannot overcome by your own will power. Remember: you have to control your fear; you have to control yourself. Kondén Diara will not take you away. He will roar. But he won’t do more than roar. You won’t be frightened, now, will you?”
“I’ll try not to be.”
-The Dark Child, by Camara Laye
Konden Diara. After deciding that I was going to keep a blog for my Watson year, I started racking my brain for an appropriate title. I thought about it for a few weeks, but I couldn’t seem to come up with anything that was both meaningful and not incredibly cheesy. Nothing seemed satisfactory. During this time, I was reading a book by Camara Laye called The Dark Child. It details Laye’s experiences growing up in Upper Guinea before leaving to study in
The day the ceremony was to take place, a crowd moved around the town and stopped to pick up all of the boys of the right age who would participate in the ritual. The boys had all heard stories of Kondén Diara, a bogeyman of sorts, a “lion that eats up little boys”. The boys were warned by their fathers to be brave, and then at night were led by the older boys into the forest. They were instructed to kneel in a circle facing a big fire, and when they were all settled in place, they began to hear the roaring of twenty or thirty lions. It was Kondén Diara! They tried to remain brave for their fathers, but they spent the night terrified, facing the fire with their eyes tightly shut. In the early morning, they were finally allowed to get up, and the ordeal was over.
Laye explains that some time later he learned who Kondén Diara really was. It was not real lions they had heard surrounding them that night in the forest, but instead just the older boys using wooden boards to create the sounds of many lions. The description of this ritual got me thinking about fear of the unknown. As Laye says, this ritual was “childishly simple,” nothing to actually be afraid of. But as a young boy spending the night in the forest face to face with Kondén Diara, it seemed terrifying. I was about to leave for my Watson year, traveling into the unknown and coming face to face with my own Kondén Diara. So I decided that this would be the name for my blog, so I can always remember that the unknown is usually not as scary as it sometimes may seem at first. Stay tuned for news from