Saturday, October 8, 2011

isaac vs. america

over the last 2 months that i have been here, some of the sierra leoneans that work in the galley with me have become legit, good friends. something that i was actually not really expecting to happen. this one's name is isaac. he is not just one of the people that says my name and asks me how my day is and moves on, but he is one of the ones that with every single conversation we have, makes it his goal to learn about me and where i come from and why i am the way i am. he was the first person to open up to me about his experience during the war, and our relationship has grown ever since.

i'll try to describe him for you. this guy is ridiculous. picture a 5' 5", dark black african man in his early thirties, missing a few teeth, built like a freakin tank, completely out of pure, solid muscle (and tells me every day that i have big arms but they are soft like a baby...), and will take a 6-inch deep metal pan full of searing hot steamed rice out of the oven with his bare hands. every time. this dude is crazy in the head, but he is an amazing man. he had been asking me for a while to come visit his house because he wanted me to meet all of his family and see where he lived. i kept saying "yea! totally we should do that, let's figure out a time..." just like i would do when someone who i had lost touch with while in college wrote on my facebook wall that we needed to hang out sometime (but for some reason, it never ends up happening...). i mean to be honest, isaac is a great guy, but in my head im thinking, "he lives like an hour away, im probably gonne meet every one in his village and they will all stare at me like they do everywhere and point and whisper and giggle and want to touch my hand, and i will go see his house, which i can already picture, and then eat some food that i will probably regret, then come home 10 hours later." remember, im just being honest. the only difference between saying "yea lets hang out!" in america (with no real intentions to go out of your way for it), and saying it to a west african, is that they dont just forget about something like that and let it go. after i had given the green light on the hang out, he was determined to make this thing happen. i was going to his house whether i wanted to or not.

so we made a time 2 weeks in advance for me to go spend the night at his house after work one night. (if he was going to remember the committment was an entirely different thing in my mind, so i just decided to roll with it and see what happened........)

he remembered.

 i dont think he actually ever stopped thinking about it come to think of it...
so here we go. spending the night at a day workers house. a little scared, not too sure where i was going, where i was sleeping, what i was going to sleep on, or eat, or drink, but whatever, lets just do it. it was an amazing experience, and an honor to get to see how he lived life away from the ship. i met everyone. e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. his brothers, his sisters, his nieces, his nephews, he friends, his neighbors, his pastor. they were all from an area called Kono, which was one of the places that was hit hardest by the rebels during the war because of the diamond fields there. they had all been uprooted and moved to freetown, and there they became family. they became family because they had no one else. if they were from Kono, they were his family. i began to realize that all these people i had met were not really his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, but they were all he had, and in his mind, that is what they were to him. it is what they are to each other, not just him. i learned so much from getting to see where he lived and getting to actually sleep in his house. which was one room, with a bed, a window, and some clothes. yes it smelled, yes it was hot, yes i was certain i was going to get malaria, and no i didnt sleep, but good gosh, isaac could seriously not have been more thrilled that i would actually come to HIS house and sleep in HIS bed. he just kept saying how he never thought i would actually do it, and that it is unheard of that a white man would stoop to such a "common african man's level and sleep in his own bed" as he put it.... sad. this is the point where i wanted to get rid of any thing of any material value and throw it in the toilet. just a common african man? if i could be half the man that isaac is i would be doing ok. somehow they have been led to  believe that white people are more than common men because we have money.....thats an entire other can of worms though.

isaac kept saying to me, "james. when you go home to america, you are going to forget about me." or "james, any time i have made a friend from america, they will go home and never talk to me again. they just forget about me. please dont forget about me." at first i just wanted to reassure him with the ol, "of course man, i wont forget you! we'll stay in touch! here's my email...." but will we? was i serious? i could see in his eyes that he had been hurt by other crew members before me who had invested in him, said they were his friend, then moved on once they got home.

but thats the west, isnt it? the land of facebook and texting, insincerity and surface level friendships? im not on a soap box here, but you try explaining to a west african who has only known true friendship (meaning loyalty, sacrifice, and giving someone the only shirt off your back if they are in need) why us westerners cant seem to keep our  promise and at the least check in every now and then. ask how he is, ask how is family is. thats not even a sacrifice. i was kind of embarrassed to say the least at how cheap friendship has become to me. i pulled out my ipod and showed him my facebook friend list. i said, "isaac, let me show you what the term "friend" can mean to someone in america ....i started scrolling through a list of 800+ names that i have become friends on facebook with (after deleting about 600 others in the past year) and showing him my "friends." out of those 800 names i could probably pull out a good 15 or 20 that could be a friend like isaac was prepared to be to me, but i was embarrassed. it didnt make sense to him. he had a look of confusion on his face as i explained the idea of individualism vs. collectivism (not confusion by the big words, but confusion of the idea.). it really troubled him that we would live like we do, but he finally started to understand my culture. a culture of looking out for number one, getting more things, and when you have everything you wanted, getting new versions of what you have. i dont really have a lot more on that, because honestly i havent really processed it enough to write more. it is just amazing to me that the people here truly have absolutely nothing of physical worth to them except each other, and that is all that they want. they may not have an ipod or car or tv or job, but they have a community of "family" that will always be there for them.

 its about relationships, folks.

they live so differently here. relationships especially. it is a completely different ball game. it is things like this that i am finally starting to learn and get a hold of, just in time to leave. i will be here another 36 hours, and thats it. back to the land of set prices, traffic laws, and white people. im not really good at goodbyes...i kind of hate them, so i usually try to suppress any emotion and just get them over with. its not good, i know, its just a thing i do.

more later. i have loved this experience more than i could have ever imagined.
this wont be my last post, im sure ill have more to say, more pictures to post....if you want to surprise me with a big sign and a tall, cold glass of cow's milk at the airport, i wont be mad.

love you lot bunches,


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