Updates on Ebola Relief Fund

I won’t go in depth in this post about the severity of the Ebola outbreak.

It’s all over the news.

What is disturbing me is not the U.S. cases of Ebola, but the shift of focus in media coverage.

Our nation has been enveloped in a cloud of paranoia, blinding us of the realities. African communities in the U.S. are being shunned, sent home from work, stigmatized. Groups of people are stock-piling face masks, preparing for an end of all ends. Calls to cease flights in and out of the affected countries are gaining more traction. And all the while, people continue to die in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Source: Andre Carrilho

Source: Andre Carrilho

Let us not forget the reality of the on-going outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

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Let us step up to help end the suffering of humans, because we are humans and that is what we do.

Several weeks ago I introduced you all to the National Peace Corp Association’s Ebola relief fund. I am a member of the fund steering committee and have spent the past few weeks connecting with non-governmental organizations in Guinea to encourage their applications. We have received 32 project requests from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — 16 from Guinea alone! And they are still coming in! These project requests all combat Ebola and directly-related issues.

Today, I get to announce the release of a microsite that I have been working on for the past two weeks along with the staff at NPCA. Please check it out and pass it along!

http://www.NPCAebolarelief.org

Since the launch of the fund last month we have passed the $10,000 mark in contributions, which continue to come in steadily. But demand for project funding is far outstripping the amount we’ve raised.  The 32 requests already received have a need totaling close to $95,000. We have planned to distribute available funding by November 1st.

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Source: John Moore/Getty Images

Ebola isn’t waiting, so why are you? Every day, every moment, this gets worse.

“The people who come help: we need them yesterday. So let them come tomorrow!” – President Ernest Bai Koroma, Republic of Sierra Leone

Can you help? Donate today.

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People plan and God laughs

I close my eyes and instantly I can see it. It’s 5:00am and the sounds of the morning stir me; the long, unwavering chant of the call to prayer, the never-tiring rooster announcing his daily intentions, the gentle swish of broom meeting ground. I lay still in my morning sweat, half-drifting in and out of dreamworld until the noise of my family prods me out of bed. A quick splash of cool water on my face and I slip into today’s outfit. I unlock my heavy, metal door with three loud affirmations that I am ready for a new day in Guinea.

Click. Click. Click.

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But I open my eyes and it is 9:30am. I am in my room at my family’s house in Maryland. I have overslept.

This is the post that I never intended to write. The post that I never believed I’d have to write.

Things have been unfolding in slow motion for the past two months. Today it’s as if time has caught on to the trick it played on us and apologetically warped us back into reality; only the reality is horrid, is a smack on the face, is the full force of an explosion offered up to you in the words of an e-mail.

It’s with a heavy heart that we regret to inform you that sadly you will unfortunately not be returning.

I left Guinea with every intention of returning, every belief that my goodbye truly was temporary. We were removed from the Ebola outbreak at a time when it hardly seemed reason to go. Ebola hadn’t reached our villages, hadn’t affected our lives. Ebola hadn’t ravaged a region, sparked an international public health crisis, and defied all predictions of what Ebola might do.

I created this blog almost immediately after receiving my invitation to serve in Guinea (what can I say? I was very excited). The name “Guinean Dreams” seemed sophisticated and romantic to me. I had scoured dozens of blogs for information on life in Guinea and as I laid in bed, my dreams filled with the words of others. I was anxious. Ready to go, ready to serve, ready to learn.

People plan and God laughs.

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I served eight months in Guinea, a far cry from my planned 27. I learned more than I’ll ever be able to express, but I wanted more. I had not even begun to think about My Future, and now I find myself faced with it daily. Every night I dream of the Guinea I left behind.

I have a running list of things I should have done that now will never get ticked off. People I didn’t hug tightly enough, didn’t thank loudly and often enough. Work I wasn’t able to complete. Money I wasn’t able to give. People I couldn’t help.

Thinking about the what-if’s and the unfinished’s is a heartbreaking game to play. It’s up to me to begin this healing process by focusing on the things I did accomplish.

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I learned and spoke French and Susu every day. I lived with two beautiful families who took me into their lives and gave me love. I became a part of a close-knit community of people. I washed my clothes by hand. I fetched water from the well and carried it back on my head. I cooked rice and sauce, cleaned fish and chicken, and pounded rice into powder. I taught women how to make soap. I taught women how to cook more nutritious meals. I taught children English. I planted edible, nutritious trees all over my village. I implemented organic gardening techniques. I fasted for Ramadan and learned the 5 daily prayers of Islam. I became good friends with toddlers, teenagers, 20-somethings, and old men and women. I learned the importance of giving and sharing. I learned how to live with next to nothing. I rode a tiny, wooden canoe to an island with white beaches. I took bushtaxis through the lush, mountainous country side. I stared at the uncountable stars in the sky and prayed to God. I rode my bike up and down a jungle paradise and called it a normal day. I found more happiness and purpose and joy in my life than I’ve ever known.

I will, one day, return.

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For now, I’m working on getting money to local NGOs in the Ebola affected countries. I may be done with my Peace Corps service in Guinea, but I’m not done dreaming of her.

If you would like to donate, please click here.

Guinea will always be a part of me.

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A Stranger in a Strange Land

This time last week I was in a plane flying from Boston, MA to Baltimore, MD. Two kind strangers lightened my five hour layover by listening to my slack-jawed stories in the airport bar and laughing with me at the surrounding absurdities. They bought me Yuengling, a cheeseburger and a reassured comfort in the kindness of America. Now I write from between the sheets of my queen-sized bed in suburbia.

It’s been a crazy week.

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My post on Ebola went viral, picked up by both WordPress Freshly Pressed and the Today Show. I’m grateful to play a hand in the dissemination of information and have been touched by the outpouring of kindness and support from fellow PCVs and RPCVs. Welcome to all new followers — I hope you enjoy your stay.

Unfortunately, not all in real life have been as interested in hearing about Guinea, Peace Corps, or my temporary removal. I haven’t met much ignorance on the streets; feigned interest dominates. It’s as if many are content to just accept the fact that I have reappeared without wondering where I went. Before we left Guinea, Peace Corps staff warned us that people might not exactly care about what volunteers have been up to. Sipping a gin and tonic at the bar surrounded by old friends felt less like a reunion of changed minds and more like stepping into a time machine and rewinding back. The same as it ever was. It was easier to sit quietly and watch the surroundings than to dip my toe in the social pool and attempt to answer the infamous question – “How was Africa?”

54 countries, y'all.

54 countries, y’all.

It’s very easy to paint this whole situation in a negative light. I don’t want to be back – not to a home that no longer feels like home. It’s scary and overwhelming and my heart aches to be in Guinea. I’m surrounded by those who love me but who do not understand my discomfort. Fantasies of air-conditioning and pad Thai had during a 5 hour bush-taxi ride are now replaced by deep desires for peanut sauce and rice shared with family. If I let my brain roam free, a panic begins to rise. I’m working to reign it back in and focus on the positive, search for the silver-linings, and make the best damn lemonade I can with all these red, white, and blue lemons.

My counterpart's daughter, Oumou, with some food for me.

My counterpart’s daughter, Oumou, with some rice and sauce for me.

In the days preceding our removal from Guinea, a fellow volunteer shared with me a short story he once was told about the changing and evolving nature of self during the Peace Corps. You leave America as an “A” and you are slowly changed into a “B” by living in your host-country. When you return back home after service, you find yourself a new complex mixture of the “A” and “B” you once were — a “C”. And, if you return back to your host-country, you find yourself not quite completely the “B” you once were, but changed again into a “D”.

So I’m a “C” and navigating through old waters is proving tougher than imagined. Yesterday I had a grilled cheese sandwich from a local restaurant and cried at how good it tasted. Today I drove past my old high school and cried at how incomparable it is with the local high school in Koba.

The August heat of the mid-Atlantic reminds me of Guinea. It poured the entire ride as my mom drove me home from the airport – it felt like Guinea was with me, reminding me that it would be okay as my mind churned and tried to process the clean, paved roads of I-95. America has so little trash littering the streets, yet we produce far more trash than Guinea ever could. Where does it all go? The process of waste disposal in this country seems more magical to me than ever before.

I spoke to an airport worker in France in Susu. He was from Cote d’Ivoire but we both knew enough Susu to have a conversation about the day, the travels, work, and our families. He was a much-needed pick-me-up; a reminder that these two worlds don’t have to be separate and one flight home isn’t the end of an 8 month journey through culture, language, and life.

It’s only been one week and there are many more to come.

This is a layover – only we’re not sure just how delayed the flight will be and, fortunately, we can leave the airport. Like all layovers, how the time passes is up to us. We can plug in our earphones and tune out the world, recede into bedrooms and pass the day with Netflix. Or we can take a deep breath and strike up a conversation with the strangers to our right and left and share our stories.

There are so many interesting people to meet and interesting things to do. I can’t shut them out just because I’m sad and overwhelmed. Now, more than ever, I must remember positivity and to stay grounded.

The toes and artwork of one of my inspiring friends and fellow PCV, Amanda.

The toes and artwork of one of my inspiring friends and fellow PCV, Amanda.

In the weeks to come, expect to see posts detailing life on Guinea as well as readjustment back to the United States. Thank you for your time and support.

Best,

Sara