Last weekend I finally became a true African: I got tribal marks. I'm not sure what the real name for them is, but we PCVs give them different names depending on the area: Mende marks, Temne ticks, Limba lines, Kono cuts, etc. Traditionally they are done by a medicine man, but I'm a little skeptical of Foday's medicine man status. I got the marks with a few other volunteers so I think the village just found whoever was willing to cut some white people. The cuts are small and made with a razor blade (we all bought our own new blades and sterilized them first, obviously). After making the cuts the medicine man rubs ash that he has blessed into the skin. These make the scars last. You can chose the number and location depending on what you want protection from. I got three on each shoulder blade, three on my wrist, and two on each temple. Marks on the back protect from witch guns, marks on the arms protect from evil spirits, marks on the face are for secret societies, and marks on the legs protect from snake bites. I find it ironic that the one thing I actually believe in here (snake bites), and that am frightened of, is the one mark I didn't get. Odd. These will probably be the only tattoo I ever get.
The other two most exciting developments in my life recently are my new nick-name and my new pet (only a dog, nothing exotic, unfortunately). My first acquisition was the puppy. One of my friends, Cat, has a dog that had 6 puppies over Christmas break. She was able to give away most of them but was having trouble finding takers for the only female (who also happened to be the runt). I, being the sucker I am, decided to look for a home for her here in Yele. I asked my neighbor, Pa, and he said he would love a dog. I figured this would be perfect because I could keep an eye on her but not take responsibility. How wrong I was. After the jolting 2 hour ride back to my house I took pity on the poor puppy and let her recoup in my house for one hour before passing her over to Pa. She hasn't left my house since. I have definitely lived up to my reputation in the village though for being crazy. I probably talk to my dog more than 90% of my friends here. She also has a name they don't approve of: Michelle Obama. In Sierra Leone it is very rude to give an animal a people name. It's like putting a swear on that person. I tried to explain that in America it's an honor to give a pet a people name, but they all think I wish terrible things on Mrs. Obama (for clarification: I don't). We've come to a cultural impasse about the whole pet thing. I love pets; they don't get it; I don't get how they don't get it. It's just not going to work.
A few weeks after getting Michelle I also was gifted my nick-name. All the youths here have a nick-name they go by outside of school. A few examples: 60 Cent Boy, P-Star, Messi, Very Nice, J-Love, All Of You. Obviously I became jealous of all these awesome names, so I asked some of the SS boys who live behind me to give me a nick name. You may now refer to me as Lady Fresh. I actually don't respond to Erica anymore. It's kinda fun because walking down the hall at school now my students call me Lady Fresh. I usually try to respond with either a salute or a curtsy, depending on my mood. Sometimes they mix it up and call me Fresh Lady. Or they just tell me I'm looking fresh today (not sure if the boys are trying to hit on me when they say that one--awkward).
Sometimes it's easy to forget that I'm not here just to get pets and nick-names, but I am actually here to teach. So, I figured I should also include some school updates. We are now in term 3. The end of the end for me (yikes!). Out of the 12 weeks allotted for term 3 I will only teach 4. Mostly that's due to the external exams (BECE) held in late June. I am determined, however to make them a jam-packed 4 weeks for my classes. I taught the first stages of cellular respiration to my bio class today, but talked so fast I think they only caught every fifth word. And I still went over time by 15 minutes. I just can't catch a break.
Going back in time, term 2 went fairly well. The SS1 class officially started and my JSS3 learned about lots of things like soil, water, air, heat, malaria, work, power, force. But, the big event of term 2 in Salone schools is sports. Last year we did not do sports at my school because it was my principal's first year and he wanted the students to do well on their exams. Sports cuts out at least 2 weeks of classes. For me it was more like 3. Anyways, this year was my first experience with sports. Sports is not actually sporting events but more like track and field. (When they're going to play soccer or volleyball they call it games.) They have all the traditional events: 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, relays, long jump, high jump, etc. But then they also have a few added gems, such as lime and spoon (running 100m as fast as possible without dropping the lime off the spoon), three legged race, needle and thread (one person sprints 50m with the needle, passes it off to their partner, who threads the needle, then sprints 100m), eating contest (eat hard dry bread as fast as possible), dancing competition, music and chairs (musical chairs). Mostly it was 2 days of me hanging out with my students and watching them run. I had a great time and really got to bond with some students. Mostly the ones in my own house. Every student and teacher (minus the ones on the sports committee who need to stay impartial) is assigned to one of four houses: red, green, blue, and yellow. During first term we had a 30 minute staff meeting about the colors. Yes, 30 minutes, and that's a conservative estimate. It may have been closer to 45. The problem was green and red since they are political colors. So we had to find suitable replacement colors. In the end the students rejected our new colors, so we went back to green and red. A good use of time. Anyhoo, I was lucky enough to be a proud member of green house. I still have a few pikin who yell 'green house' every time they pass my house. We, the noble green, came in second place, narrowly missing the top spot to yellow house. One of the best parts of the whole experience for me was trash talking my fellow teachers before the sports days. They thought it was hilarious that I kept trying to tell them green house was gonna kick their butts. Good thing my students ran fast so I didn't lose face.
Ok, on to some sad news, and I'm going to urge you all not to cry: this is probably my last blog post from Sierra Leone. I suppose there's a chance I'll write one more before I leave, but looking at my record in the past 6 months I'd say its unlikely. During our April break from school I went to Freetown for our COS conference. COS=close of service. The conference is a chance for Peace Corps to go over the things we should expect when we leave, both from the Salone end and from the US end. From here it's mostly saying goodbye, leaving well, final medical exam, and final reporting paperwork. For the US end its how to readjust to American life, how to apply for jobs, creating support networks, fellowship opportunities. I'd say right now I'm equally terrified of both ends of the upcoming COS process. As many of you know this has not been an easy experience for me, but recently I have bonded with a lot of my students and finally gotten to a point where I appreciate people so much more (I think that's largely due to realizing when I need to tell people they are being rude or annoying--which I do frequently). And I'm very sad at the thought of having to say goodbye to them. I also have finally realized how much of an impact a place so different from home can have on me after 2 years. One of the biggest lessons I learned here was that 2 years is a long time and a lot can happen in that time. I am mostly excited about coming home, but I am a bit concerned that I'll have forgotten some common rules. (What do you mean I can't drink in transport? I can't walk through people's yards? Why doesn't everyone stop what they're doing when I walk through the door, I'M WHITE?!?) My official COS date is July 25; I will no longer be a volunteer as of that point. However, it will take me a little while to make it home. Like many volunteers I am taking a COS trip. Instead of taking the plane flight home I am opting for cash in lieu, which gives me some travel money. My plan is to fly from Freetown with two lovely ladies, Sara and Liz, to Barcelona. We are taking the well known and respected airline: The Gambia Bird. I really hope we're on eagles from The Hobbit. Maybe we'll also find a mountain filled with gold. From Barcelona we are going to explore some of Spain on our way down to Morocco. In Spain we hope to hit Granada and Seville. Then cross the strait of Gibraltar into Morocco where we will wander imperial donkey-filled streets, ride camels into the Sahara, and watch snake charmers. Eventually I will fly out of Casablanca and arrive in Portland on August 18, 2013, with a craving for sushi and draft beer. (And Jamba Juice, Thai food, Indian food, pizza, salads, cheese, cupcakes, iced coffee, hamburgers, Chinese food, ice cream, Mexican food, and my Dad's cooking.)