Peace Corps Days in Sierra Leone

by Lisa Walker

“People here don't treat their houses as we do. Their houses are places to sleep and keep their belongings, nothing more. With their dirt floors, mud brick walls, sparse furniture, and lack of decoration, the rooms of the few houses I have been in have felt like caves .

“Now think of your own home. It's hardly a storage area, but a place in which you can spend your days quite pleasantly. It has comfortable furniture, art work, painted walls, polished wood floors and carpeting, all arranged to please the eye.

“None of the houses in Kangama are like yours. Part of the reason is that these people are poor, but the main reason is that they live outside. They don't spend enough time in their houses to care if their rooms are aesthetically pleasing.”

“I was thinking about how I would tell Sierra Leoneans about breast reduction. It would sound like this (in English with Krio words to give you the right flavor): "Some women who have boobies which are big too much don't like them. They say that they hurt them and that other people make them feel ashamed of them. So, what they do is they go to a doctor. The doctor cut-cuts their boobies to make them small more. When he is done, the women have small boobies and they are gladi." If my audience didn't think I was lying or that they misunderstood me, they would probably say, "But isn't it true that God gave her the boobies...."”

- from Lisa Walker's Peace Corps Days in Sierra Leone

Peace Corps Days in Sierra Leone isn't really a book.... it's a web site. But what a web site it is! Although the pictures are few, it's the most complete memoirs of a volunteer's Peace Corps experience anywhere on the web -- and in the amount of content, it is the equivalent of a book of at least two hundred pages.

It is also well worth reading, although below I will tell you how to read it off line so that you don't tie up your telephone for hours. Lisa spent a year and a half as a fisheries volunteer in Sierra Leone, and this site combines daily journal entries with essays on her life. She lived in a fairly remote village without electricity or running water, and for reasons related both to the situation she was in and her own way of responding to it, she did not have an easy time of it. Despite many experiences that she clearly treasured both at the time and in retrospect, she wound up quitting the Peace Corps early. She documents her life so well that the reader can understand the context of her early termination, despite the fact that there was no single reason for it.

Walker is a fine writer, and this book is perhaps the most revealing and honest book I've written by a Peace Corps volunteer. It's not entertainment, but it's compelling and bittersweet in its honesty and detail.

I give it **** (out of ****).

You can read Peace Corps Days on the web, but given it's length (it really is the equivalent of a medium size book) that might prove inconvenient. So here is what I will do: for anyone who wants, I will email you an executable file that will expand into the entire Peace Corps days web site (minus the illustrations and photos) on your C: drive. The file is about 330k. Create a directory for it and then run the program (it's an exe file) and it will expand into the entire site, consisting of dozens of html files. Use your browser to open the file entitled index.html (using the File.... Open.... command) and you'll be at the beginning. You probably won't want to read it at one sitting (it's too long), but you can "bookmark" where you stop the same way you bookmark a favorite site on the web.

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