Friday, April 8, 2016

Return to Site!

Friday, March 25 (Written from April 2-8, 2016)

Palms whizzed by as we raced along the sandy red road. Each bend opened a new view beyond the dense tropical bush surrounding us. Small villages would appear, along with plots of agriculture and charcoal burning. Each jump in the road jogged my memory of site. Peace Corps Sierra Leone had surprised me with a personal escort to my former site. Despite our current travel restrictions in place, Peace Corps had allowed me to visit my home in the north alongside Abdul. I would be going back to Madina Tonko, Limba Chiefdom of Kambia District.

A rush of emotions filled me as we entered Madina. Even now as I type, I smile through tears. There's no sign, no marker upon arrival. You make your way down a gentle hill that rises to the town's mosque before the road gives way to an open junction. You'd call it a village, and in many ways it is. However, with 6 secondary schools and a population around 5,000 people, one could call Madina a rural town. I simply call it my second home.

I followed traditional custom, greeting the Paramount Chief first. My chief was happy and welcomed me warmly. Because my surname Solberg sounds like sol bag (salt bag in Krio), I thought it fitting to return with a large bag of salt for my community. I smiled and said “Sol bag don kam” (salt bag has come). I was known for such acts. My jokes were simple and bad at site, but they brought me smiles and forged the relationships I have here today. I met with many a friend as time allowed. I had been given two days in Madina before I needed to return to my current assignment in the south. Many friends were in disbelief. Some cried, and some were upset I had taken so long. I sat with many friends and colleagues, hearing stories recited. I was reminded of the time I went hunting and set fire to the bush surrounding Madina (though it wasn’t I who actually set the fire). Of the time Madina’s female soccer team placed second in our district and came home with prize winnings. Of the long-distance race I placed last in during our school’s sports competition. And all the animals I fostered to release or terrorize my neighbors (and some students in class). Countless stories were told. But more than anything, I was happy to hear my top female student had left Madina to pursue a science program in a nearby town. Though I loved all the extra-curricular activities, my fondest memories came from teaching science in Madina (my assigned role). I was ecstatic to hear news of a former student pursuing science! She is pictured in a previous blog entry receiving an award.

On the surface, little has changed in Madina. Buildings are still intact. Families still present. Madina is still a beautiful and bustling place of colors. None of the chaos the media brought to newspapers. Many of the surrounding villages had individuals infected by the Ebola virus, even one family in Madina. Unfortunately, this has greatly impacted the way people interact. Hand shaking, an integral part of Sierra Leonean culture has taken a blow. I found many neighbors clasping their own hands together to greet. Some friends were even hesitant to embrace my hug. It’s sad, but with time and continued hand washing practices, people will go back to hand shaking. Other changes I noticed were few people selling items while walking. Additionally, the bustling Luma Market that takes place Fridays had become a market for community members only. Trucks from Guinea passed, but nobody outside the community was selling at the Luma Market. But aside from these changes, Madina is still the community I came to know and love.

One of my close friends Kabba took our group of friends to a nearby beach (on the condition that I would not swim). Kabba had never shown me the place for fear I would swim with the crocodiles. He was smart in doing so, as I also love crocodiles more than the average person. It was a nice treat upon return. A tropical paradise. And a reminder of the beauty this country holds. We visited Kabba’s home village and he proudly showed me a new health post he had worked to construct. I was happy to see my friends involved with the CDC and the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children Affairs, making positive changes within and around our community. I dedicate this entry to them, and all their efforts.

Here’s some more background information:
Madina was my home from July 2013 until August 2014. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer Science Educator at the Government Secondary School of Madina (GSSM). I became proficient in Krio and learned common greetings in Tonko Limba (one of 14 dialects of Limba). On March 18th, 2014 Guinea announced the outbreak of a mysterious hemorrhagic disease. It wasn't until May 26th that the first recorded death caused by Ebola virus landed in Sierra Leone. It spread rapidly and a state of emergency was declared on July 30th. I was evacuated along with many Peace Corps Volunteers (pcvs) and Trainees from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia on August 1st, 2014 (this date may vary for other pcvs).

With the reopening of Peace Corps posts in West Africa I have returned as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer to serve as a higher education STEM Teacher Trainer in Kenema District, Sierra Leone.

Kind regards,
Dauda (Matthew Solberg)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Peace Corps’ Perspective on Ebola

I don’t wish to write about the statistics, the updates, the news you’ve all been following. I’m going to tell you my thoughts and experience I’ve gained on the ground serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone (August 2013-14). After all, part of my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to help promote a better understanding of Sierra Leoneans. I want to help people understand why this Ebola virus continues to affect people across West Africa, and give insight from another perspective and culture.

Standing alongside my Vice Principle Mr. PM and my top student’s Kadiatu Barrie and Osman Sesay.

Ebola has been a devastating virus, one that continues to affect people across West Africa. The challenges associated with serving as Peace Corps Volunteer Educator have increased as we have worked and continue to work (In America) to sensitize people about Ebola. 

Students studying various topics in our beautiful library. Thanks to the African Library Project (ALP), Kanga Schools, and Peace Corps, such resources are becoming increasingly popular at participating schools.

Despite what you may have heard. To contract Ebola, you must have direct contact with someone not only infected, but expressing symptoms of Ebola. It is true, there is currently no known cure for the Ebola virus. But it is important to note that people have survived Ebola. According to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone “As of August 11, 2014, a total of 181 patients have survived Ebola virus disease and have been subsequently discharged”. When infected individuals seek medical help early, it’s possible for you to overcome the virus, if your body can be kept stable. I also want to stress that preventative measures are as easy as hand washing and avoiding persons expressing symptoms of Ebola. Americans shouldn't be afraid. 

The many faces of my students.

The question you should be asking, is why does the Ebola virus continue to devastate the peoples of West Africa?In my opinion, the problem is an issue that has affected Sierra Leone and many developing countries for some time. The problem is education. Though there are many educated individuals doing their part in Sierra Leone to fight and raise awareness about Ebola, the root of the problem stems from people’s lack of understanding. Even now as Ebola continues to spread across the country, some individuals still refuse to believe its existence. One question I was asked frequently by Sierra Leoneans was “Yu wan day si Ebola”? Meaning, have you ever seen Ebola? This question often came about when local community members were deciding whether or not to believe this threat. After all, to some, seeing is believing. Even individuals in the most remote villages have heard BBC news, government speeches, and responses on personal radios… but some still choose to place blame (of deaths) in other areas. This ignorance stems from people’s lack of understanding of viruses. But is it that hard for us to understand this standpoint? Imagine growing up in a community with basic medical facilities and few educational resources. You’ve spent your whole life seeing your friends and family afflicted by various parasites and pathogens unknown to you. And how can you know?

Your parent’s could be illiterate. Your science teacher may not have a science background, let alone a degree. He could very well be a local community member just trying to help. Even when students are educated in topics like sanitation, how can students properly understand sanitation when it’s not practiced? How can they understand what a germ is from the chalkboard when it’s not reinforced at home? These are some of the challenges my student’s face.

Bobos (young boys) fishing during school hours

Even when community members have the ability to go to a nearby clinic or hospital, equipment such as X-rays are non-existent. How can you see and begin to understand what is affecting your body? Without such resources, it is no wonder people have a hard time understanding Ebola.  Imagine if medical practitioners came to your community in full-body protective gear? How would you respond if people you knew were taken away, given an injection, and later died? Think how this could be perceived by different peoples of the world. During my experience in Sierra Leone, I remember Sierra Leoneans describing the influx of medical practitioners as “fearful”. And they have every right to be afraid. People fear what they don’t understand. Unfortunately, it is their responses to this fear that have contributed to the spread of Ebola. Such responses have included avoiding tests, running, and hiding infected family members. Spreading Ebola awareness has and continues to be of critical importance to combat Ebola, but it does not explain how viruses work. Telling people to wash their hands does not create an understanding of sanitation. It all leads back to education. I believe we need to put more emphasis on educational topics such as germs, viruses, and sanitation.

Some people believe the consumption of bush meat led to this Ebola outbreak. However, it should be known that bush meat is regularly consumed by many Sierra Leoneans. A friendly reminder to cook your meat thoroughly! Pictured above are some neighbors preparing a monitor lizard and some roasted cashew nuts to eat.

Of course it is not purely education. There are countless factors we could list. Among them, cultural traditions that influence the spread of Ebola. One cultural aspect that could be influencing the spread of Ebola, is the amount of greeting Sierra Leoneans do on a day-to-day basis. It is customary to greet your friends, family members, and neighbors throughout the day. Greetings are very personal, with excessive hand-shaking, personal questions about your health, and little personal space. This is customary, and something you learn to love and appreciate about Sierra Leoneans. They’re the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of living amongst. Traditions associated with burials have also increased the transmission of Ebola. Washing and dressing the body of a deceased individual, infected with Ebola, is a sure way to spread the disease amongst community members. So to take precautionary measures against Ebola, some West African communities must go against their own traditions. Another challenge in the face of this epidemic. Thankfully, Sierra Leoneans and the people of West Africa are not alone in this fight.

Our Sierra Leonean Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitators (LCFs), staff, and Peace Corps Volunteers before a friendly soccer match. They are all family to us.

Many of our own Americans (along with countless other nationalities) are putting themselves at risk, working to help the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa defend themselves against this Ebola epidemic. They along with the peoples of West Africa need our support in more ways than we could possibly imagine. Though it is difficult to educate the peoples of West Africa from afar, we can do our part by educating ourselves. We can work to understand why this is happening and dispel our own misconceptions. Let us just remember to focus on the people facing this virus, not ourselves or our fears.

 The neighboring pikindem (children). Their hearts are smiling through their lips.

Here is a Cultural Story believed to involve one of the first Ebola cases in Sierra Leone:

(Translated from Krio and spiced up a pinch)

There was a married couple in eastern Sierra Leone. They lived in a small village near the border of Guinea. The man’s wife was a mysterious woman. She had a small wooden box, no bigger than a shoe box. The woman’s only condition with her husband was that he was never to open the box. It was forever to remain shut. The man found this strange, but agreed to his wife’s wishes. One day when the woman was out, her husband wandered the house looking for a cigarette. Suddenly, he came upon the wooden box. The smooth dark wood enticed him, and his curiosity got the better of him. He opened the box slowly. To his horror, a snake lay inside! Afraid, the man fell back in terror. Gripping the floor he turned to see his wife standing in the doorway. “Look what you have done; you were not to open the box. You have killed me… but I will not go alone! I will take you with me,” she said. And so the wife did. She took her husband with her in death. The mysterious box had kept her alive until opened. The box had unleashed death.

I heard this story several times from Sierra Leoneans in different parts of the north. This is a cultural story passed on to explain mysterious deaths. Soon after, these deaths became known as some of the first Ebola cases known in Sierra Leone.

Myself and my sisters Kadija, Mami J, and Halima Hotagua, accordingly

Thank you for taking the time to read my perspective on Ebola. I hope in some way, you've gained insight from another cultural perspective as I have.

Thoughts and prayers for West Africa,
Matthew Solberg

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Dry Season Means

(Pictures to come)
 I’ve spent time in Namibia, walking miles under the hot sun tracking wildlife, collecting camera traps, and performing various scientific inquiries... but at the end of the day, I always had water available. Having two large rain catches and a water well near my house in Sierra Leone, I did not concern myself with water during the first few months of dry season. That quickly changed when water became scarce. The last of the dragonflies had fledged and the bottom of my cement water cache became dry and pitiful. The thought of using an entire bucket (2 gallons) to bathe seemed ridiculous. I’ve since grown used to bathing with 2-3 liters. Three Nalgene water bottles to be exact. Had I known the large yellow containers Rachel (previous Peace Corps Volunteer) left were meant for water storage, I would never have cut them to pot plants. Dry mouth and dirtied, that’s the one decision I’ve regretted here. But you have to laugh at yourself once in a while. My efforts have since increased from drawing water out of the water well…to walking down to the water side (spring) to pull water and carry water up the hill. With dishes, clothes, and plants it starts to add up. Not to mention the amount of water I drink in a day (2-4 liters)! Just Imagine! I manage to get by with an average of 6 buckets in a week! I’d use even less if I could, but I’m constantly getting myself dirty scrambling after chameleons, jogging, and playing with dirty bobos (young boys). But at least their mango-stained hands leave me smelling fresh, right?

But dry seasons not all bad! Dry Season is a time of easy travel, community events, and cold drinks. Schools put on sport programs and picnics, encouraging students to work together with their houses (a house color is chosen for each student) to train and build a small house for the upcoming sports. Likened to that of a track meet, students participate in various tract events representing their house. Our school has 4 houses: red, blue, yellow, and Griffindor!... actually the fourth is white, I just couldn’t help myself.

Learning the Library:

Thanks to the African Library Project (ALP), our library is sporting a surplus of American novels! From Nancy Drew to Animorphs…even Harry Potter! ALP is an organization that has donated thousands of books to various schools/libraries across Sierra Leone. Not to mention the countless other African countries they have helped. I find that increasing the diversity of books in our library has allowed students to open their eyes to new perspectives around the world. Such books offer a gateway to new ideas, including careers these students have never considered. So thanks to ALP our library is stacked full of beautiful books –the best learning resources a village could ask for! My sincere thanks to the African Library Project!

There’s just one setback. I find that students continue to go and use the same Sierra Leonean textbooks. One reason in part, because their teachers use the same book(s) to teach. So despite having such resources, I found my students seldom expand beyond their comfort zone. A formidable challenge, but one I’m willing to accept!

This week I’m trying a new library activity! I call it “Smart pas mark”. It’s Krio and it means just as it sounds, smart pass the mark (or as we say, genius). My activity asks several questions over a specific topic of interest. The questions reference books and page numbers. Students have to work to find answers by reading from different books on display. It sounds simple, but many of these students have never learned to use a table of contents or index. Even the ability to turn the page of a book gently is something many of us take for granted. Students will have the opportunity to submit their answers in a box. During assembly I’ll award one lucky student with correct answers. This week the topic is Mt. Everest!

My last Adventure?

It’s difficult for some Sierra Leoneans to understand why an individual would want to spend two days climbing the highest mountain in West Africa, Mt. Bintumani. But that’s just what we did. Its true, we suffered. But those that contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength (Rachel Carson). And our reserves got us to the top! The journey began alongside three companions: Larissa, Lawrence, and Nicole. A group of sporadic, nature-enthusiasts whom I wouldn’t have traded the world for (they’re also fellow Peace Corps Volunteers).

It was a journey just reaching the base of the mountain. So we did our best to meet with friends along the way. Our friend Karen was kind enough to house us. We devoured her food, played with puppies, and teased pikindem (children). Hopefully our thanks were sufficient. Thanks again Karen!!!
We started the climb in Senecoral, a small village at the base of Mt. Bintumani. The children were on us like bees on sugar, grasping our hands and repeating the few English words they knew. We did our best to greet in Coronko. And in doing so, we made new friends. The villagers were kind to us, providing us with food, water, and an area to pitch our tents. We left late morning after negotiating for a guide with the town chief.  Before we knew it, we were already on our way. We traversed through agricultural fields, crossing muddy channels over lain boards and bamboo. Fortunately for us, fresh pineapple was one of the crops we passed. And we were ecstatic when our friend Sheku presented us with one. We enjoyed them near a cold flowing stream. After our break the incline became apparent. I was in the rear inspecting every leaf and fruit. It was my first hike through “intact” rainforest, and I wanted to make the most of it. “Intact” though it was, I learned there were more efforts needed. A nearby snare had caught a small species of arboreal porcupine (brush-tailed porcupine?). The creature itself had a rattle on the tail, reduced spines, and large incisors (perhaps to eat tree cambium or hard fruits). I suspect science knows very little about it. Despite joining our guide in dining on bush meat, I hoped there would be more conservation efforts in the future. As this area was home to a high diversity of life, a “hot spot” you could say. In fact, the path was little more than an animal trail. And it became increasingly difficult as the incline grew steep. I was thankful for the thick vines that acted as handholds and the shade provided by the canopy overhead. Some 12 miles later, light broke through overhead. Before I knew it, we had emerged, crawling onto an open plateau. Clumps of grasses made up the landscape with large boulders scattered about, similar to pictures I had seen of New Zealand. We had reached Camp 2. We washed at a nearby stream and setup camp. Next we found ourselves inhaling banana and groundnut paste (similar to peanut butter) on bread. We sat exhausted until our curiosity got the best of us. We explored the plateau and overlooked the blanket of green. We found ourselves standing at the edge of the Earth. My companions began displaying their yoga skills. And they couldn’t have picked a better spot! If we weren’t laughing, we were listening to the calls of nature. Birds, frogs, and unknown creatures called from the canopy below. My most memorable moment was listening to the echoing calls of the wild Western Chimpanzee alongside Larissa. Most inspiring! I felt my heart fill with passion for Mother Nature. And we hadn’t even reached the top!

The Summit:

We packed and set off for the last leg. Baboons watched us curiously as we trekked through their territory. An occasional bark reminded me of their presence. After easy walking, we saw Mt. Bintumani in the distance. She was the mother of mountains here.  But to face her, we’d have to climb another mountain. When we reached a tower stood before us. We continued climbing between the crags, gripping the Earth’s grass as support. We were climbing a wall. And when we conquered we may as well have been above the clouds. We collapsed and enjoyed the view for what seemed an hour. We placed a stone and left a message in the rock pile climbers have so characteristically left all around the world. A memorable trip I’ll never forget.

And just in time!
Look, the rains have come.

Until next time,

Matthew Solberg


Don’t tell me you know what a mango is. Because unless you’ve been to a place over-barren with mango trees like Sierra Leone, you most certainly do not. March and April have been a wonderful time full of ripe mangoes. Who’d a thought these delicious fruits would come during the driest part of the year? With no rains and scarcity of water, it’s hard not to see these fruits as a gift from above. Few children go hungry during this time of year. I constantly find small bobos up in the trees with bamboo poles, doing there best to pick the most beautiful mangoes strewn with yellows, oranges, or blushes of red. I quickly realized there are in fact, many different types of mangoes. Cherry mangoes, Guinea mangoes, grape mangoes, and smaller mangoes I have yet to learn the name of. I love each and every one. And I’ve joined the children in eating numerous mangoes a day!

I thought I would dedicate an entire blog entry to food! Perhaps this will answer some questions you've had about my life here as a Peace Corps Volunteer?

What I eat on an average day:

Many a day I wake up lying in bed waiting for that familiar call. There’s an echo in the distance, a glimpse of hope, and then I hear it again, “Hrraaaaaaaaaaap PoPppparaa”. No, it’s not an elusive bird species. It’s one of my neighbors selling “hot pop” (rice porridge). I throw clothes on, scramble outside, and throw greetings every which way until I reach. Its hot rice porridge mixed with sweet canned-milk syrup. It warms the body, and gets me ready to face some 60 students I will meet each period. Game face on, I garment myself in formal attire. I make my way towards school, doing my best to dodge sticky hands from neighboring pikindem (children). When I reach school I have the opportunity to get fresh bananas from a woman I simply refer to as “auntie”. They’re nothing like the imported bananas we have become so accustomed to in the states. Sierra Leone has opened my eyes to another world of bananas. My favorite bananas are short, fat, and sweeter than you could possibly imagine. They may as well be yellow torpedoes of deliciousness.

  During school we get a 30 minute lunch break. I race students to the 3 small stands we refer to as the “market”. Lunch ranges from beans on bread (home grown beans are cooked with onions, oil, and meat) to fufu (cassava root beaten and formed into small soft dumplings in a peppery soup). Many of my fellow teachers joke about my “need” to have lunch daily. Here in the village it is common for community members to only have two large meals of rice and plazas a day. We simply refer to my midday routine as my daily beans.

After school, I greet one of my favorite community members, Mr. Kainde. In addition to being a great person, I find Mr. Kainde to be one of the best cooks in the village. Many a time I find myself greeting Mr. Kainde and his delicious food! This counts for my early dinner. Dinner usually consists of rice with plazas (sauces) from a neighbor or nearby cookery (Mr. Kainde). Cookeries are small sit down stands that sell rice with plazas. Plazas include cassava leaf (my favorite), potato leaf, beans, tola root, green green, ect. Basically any kind of edible leaf, root, or seed beaten and mixed with salt, oil, onions, and fish. When I cook, I make Spanish rice, potatoes, eggs, or spaghetti. As much as I love rice... I find myself eating it everyday.

So what have a learned about Sierra Leonean culture and food?

1) No spoons needed!
2) You should never eat with your left hand (that’s the hand you wipe with)
3) Sierra Leoneans sit when they eat. I was called a “babu” (chimpanzee) when I was eating while walking. I suppose I resembled one slightly…
4) Meat is passed through the hierarchy of eaters.
5) There can be sharps things in food (bone splinters and fish spines), as most parts are consumed.
6) Valued guests/strangers are often left to eat alone or given a separate plate as a sign of respect.


My village does not regularly get fresh beef. Its available at times, but there are no cows in our immediate area. This leaves chicken, goats, and bushmeat. Bushmeat is one of my struggles. At times I wonder what I'm eating. And I do my best to educate my community about the conservation of wildlife and natural resources. I find when an animal has already been killed, whether I eat it or not will not change the behavior. So it is challenging. But like everyone else in my community I want a healthy diet. Thus far I know I've eaten some species of monkey, Maxwell's duiker, and a brush-tailed porcupine.


Fruits in season: mangoes, pineapple, oranges, grapefruit, papaya
Nuts: ground nut (similar to peanuts), cashew

My favorite?

ground nut paste (similar to peanut butter) with banana on bread. Its my power snack

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dry Season

Happy New Years to everyone back home!!!

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful holiday and I wish you the best for 2014.

Its amazing to think I’m nearly 7 months into my 27 month service here in Sierra Leone. Time has flown, and after 6 months I am beginning to feel like an effective volunteer. I came to realize that my role as a teacher was merely one aspect of my service. I find my role as a mentor and community member has had a much greater bearing.

After Peace Corps In-Service Training (IST) I’ve begun brainstorming secondary projects to put into motion. Naturally I would like my secondary project(s) to be conservation based, geared towards conserving wildlife and habitat while benefiting the communities of Sierra Leone. So after a brief update on school I thought I would share some of my experiences (and passion) with the natural wonders of Sierra Leone. Hope you enjoy!

Second Term:

My second term has started off well. And it certainly helps knowing what you’re walking into! I’ve begun teaching my High school students how to define life and the characteristics of living things. I find walking into the class with live samples always catches student’s interest. I thought an Agama lizard would make for a good quiz. I stood, lizard in hand, and questioned my class on how this animal consumed energy, moved, and reproduced (along with other characteristics of living things). But as fun as I have with activities, samples, and experiments... my favorite aspect of teaching has been shedding new light on something the students have seen a thousand times, but never truly looked at. We take so many things for granted in the world around us, but they shape our lives each and every day. My middle school students are learning such lessons, as I teach them about air, water, and soil. And I’m constantly learning as I go.

You know those silly academic tricks your teachers used to do when you were little? Never thought I’d be doing such things in a million years…and now I’m pulling popsicle sticks out of cups to call on students. Thanks mom. 

Outamba-Kilimi National Park (OKNP):

A quiet secluded place hardly known by the world. Most difficult to get to, and hardly “on the way” to anything. But such places have their rewards. My journey started alongside three wonderful friends I had met through Peace Corps, Annie, Stephanie, and Crystal. Annie and I are wildlife enthusiasts and were invited to help share our passion with our friends. But after having pulled dead snakes out of the river during our trip, I can only imagine what our friends think of us now…

We stayed in a nice hut for 20,000 leons, about $5.00 per night. After traveling such a road, a bed and mosquito net made for a pleasant suprize. We were right off the Little Scarcies River. Several birds I had never heard of called overhead, and monkeys paid our camp a visit in the afternoon. We took a canoe tour the following morning with the locals running the park. The river was quiet. Only monkeys and birds disturbed the silence. But we had our hopes set on something bigger. I scanned the water ahead for the beasts. I inspected every outcrop of rocks as we turned each bend. My hope was waning. Finally, after what seemed hours we saw them. An outcrop of stones in the distance. But with my camera’s zoom, Hippos! As we neared, our boatman pulled us towards the side opposite to the River Hippopotamus. Enough distance to enjoy a good view and for the animals to feel comfortable. Suddenly a large hippopotamus surfaced and showed us her size. It was a warning. Any closer to my calf and we’ll have problems. She was a mother. But we reassured her with our motionless boats. I could have sat there all day. We watched as mother and calf played. A pod of 9 hippopotamus. And if the people didn’t protect them, or fear them so, they wouldn’t be here. 

But there were traces left by something bigger...
Many Sierra Leoneans are under the impression that elephants had left the country. Perhaps they fled during the war. But the large gaping hole in the forest and trampled bank could be nothing else. This entrance, likened to that of the mouth of a cave, could only be made by an elephant. For the time being they’re out wandering the bush in Guinea. But a time will come when they’ll cross the river only to find themselves here in Salone (seasonal migration). I will return in the hopes of finding fresh tracks… maybe even a fleeting glimpse of gray hide. One can only hope.

Though my search for the Nile monitor was never fufilled, it led me to further discoveries at Outamba-Kilimi. I had been swimming amidst the tangles of trees overlaying the brown waters searching for the elusive lizard. Sadly, both rocks and trees lay barren. So I clampered up the nearest slough, only to find my hands amongst a series of buffalo tracks. Further inspection led me to find bush pig, mongoose, and numerous other signs unknown to me. It was a goldmine! I suspect I will find myself here again soon.

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary:

The Tacugama chimpanzee sanctuary was a wonderful escape outside Freetown’s bustling traffic and crowded sidewalks. I had travelled here in the hopes of learning about the conservation of chimpanzee and gaining some resources for my classroom. Tucked away on the mountain pass, a 1km shaded walk amidst birds and butterflies was all it took to reach the entrance. Steep though it was, the walk allowed us to appreciate the forest around us before giving way to the hooting chimpanzees. Our tour began at 10:30 sharp. We learned about the chimp's stories and family groups of chimpanzee living at the sanctuary. I was impressed with the educational murals and resources available at the sanctuary. The chimps had nice sleeping quarters which gave way to runs leading to large enclosures full of wild. Seeing the chimpanzee was no problem as they all came to greet staff members and accept their morning meal. I was only saddened by thoughts of such animals being taken from the wild both by Sierra Leoneans and Americans. Illegal trade, deforestation (coal burning), and bushmeat are the greatest threats to chimpanzee in Sierra Leone. Though I prefer such animals to be free in the wild, this beautiful sanctuary is a step in the right direction.

Burey Beach:

I had the opportunity to see more of the country traveling to Buray beach for New Years. And what I stumbled upon was far better than words can describe. And believe me, my fellow Peace Corps friends tried. A beautiful tropical beach came into view. Sandy beaches emersed from the mangroves, giving way to a picture- perfect postcard. Palms leaned, stretching for the sun. Perhaps over-barren with delicious coconuts, who’s milk I’ve come to love all too much? As if palms and beaches weren’t enough… the rocky outcrops gave way to an island. A trophy as good as any for the swim! And what lay beneath the waters was treasure enough for me. Turtle bones, rainbow parrotfish, and a variety of darting colors I have yet to identify. The one oddity I had packed was my snorkel mask…and boy has it come in good use! I watched fishermen pull up barracuda, yellow-fin tuna, and lobsters the length of your forearm. And as delicious as they were, I was saddened to see several female lobsters brought up bearing eggs. I knew such luxuries would not survive long without sustainable harvest (But that’s another project I’m working on). The locals were so kind to us! I was even invited to join some locals collecting oysters. I joined two young boys and an old pa on the rocks. Stone and iron rod in hand we dove amongst the rocks plucking the organisms from their fortresses . Now I have new friends and a free spot on the beach!
I hope these experience encourage others to travel and volunteer. There are rough times in basic conditions and I miss my friends and family more than I ever could have imagined…but I’m living life to the fullest experiencing different cultures and witnessing places few seldom travel. So take all this awesomeness as encouragement to pursue such experiences as Peace Corps.

A picture of my neighbors holding a dead Forest Cobra. As you can see, this specimen was over 2m long! This snake had been killed in a nearby village and was brought to me for my science class. We love our science!!!

Well... Dry season is coming, and its going to be a long dry season.
Until next time...

All my Love,
Matthew Solberg

p.s. My fullest and utmost appreciation to those that sent school supplies! My appreciation is just a small piece of what these students felt upon receiving such gifts. I promise to send pictures!