Peace Corps Training for Sierra Leone, 1985

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Reference: Training: Peace Corps Training for Sierra Leone, 1985

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, July 14, 2001 - 2:23 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Training for Sierra Leone, 1985

Peace Corps Training for Sierra Leone, 1985

Peace Corps Training for Sierra Leone, 1985

Training Starts

It's 5:55 a.m. and I have to report to a van at 6:15 to go to breakfast. This gives me a few minutes to write something about my new adventure.

The basics. The food doesn't give me the slightest urge to reach for seconds. I want only enough to keep me going until the next meal and sometimes not even that. As for sleep, we are not getting much. Despite adminishments to get enough rest, we haven't been given the chance to go to bed before 11:00 p.m. and reporting time is always at 6:15 a.m.

On to the people. This recruit group is made up of bright young people from all over. There are several Californians, many mid-westerners, one lone Bostonian, and a few southerners. Our backgrounds are varied and include degrees in psychology, history, political science, anthropology, music, business, biology, natural resources, and philosophy. Only one person is actually trained in fisheries. Another spent many weeks in Alaska cleaning fish in a factory, but that didn't teach him about growing fish. We represent more colleges and universities than we do fields of study, among them Michigan State, Stanford, Reed, Carlton, Mississippi State, University of Utah, Berkley, Stonehill -- a Catholic college near Boston, University of Kentucky, and a number of small liberal arts colleges of which I've never heard.

I want to tell you more about the people, but I have to go to breakfast soon, so I'll tell you what training is like. It's frustrating. On Tuesday the head trainer announced that training had officially begun and this was our last clue about what we were supposed to do. The main rule of training is that we are on our own. We can't get help from our comrades nor look to the trainers for guidance. I feel like a kid with an important and immediate question to ask and all the adults around me are ignoring me. I would name this program, "How to take control of a situation in the face of insurmountable odds." (July 10, 1985) Training Notebook Entry

Training After Several Days

We are learning to farm fish by ourselves, which does not mean there is no structure to the program. The trainers have in mind certain tasks we must do and as we complete one we go onto the next. We are given few any details about the tasks, so we usually flounder around a great deal trying to find our way.

As an example, the trainers instructed each of us separately, after we had shown ourselves worthy, to write a plan for farming fish using only our heads, pens, and paper. We thrashed around for days until we devised something passable. We couldn't refer to books nor discuss the problem with friends nor ask for hints from the trainers, whose attitude was, "You have my instructions. Now fulfill them." This is the kind of thing that we, a bunch of liberal arts majors who have never met a farmer, much less considered being one, are doing.

Our latest assignment was intriguing. I had to devise a plan for stocking my pond and the hint was to make a point by point comparison between raising something I knew about and raising fish. I chose broccoli, although I've never planted a seed of the stuff. I claimed that each broccoli plant needs four square feet of area and, after prodding from the trainers, that each fish needs the same amount of space. Because I said that each broccoli plant will yield three pounds of broccoli, I said that each fish will yield three pounds of meat.

The idea was that both broccoli and fish are biological things and so can be compared to each other. Once I grasped this concept, I used it to figure out how many pounds of fish I needed to stock my pond. When I was born, I weighed 6% of what I weigh now. By comparison, each of my stocking fish will weigh 6% of three pounds or 1.5 ounces. Continuing the analogy to broccoli and myself, I learned that I am going to stock my pond with 670 fish or 63 pounds of fish, that they will weigh three pounds each when mature, yielding a total of 2,010 pounds, and that the growing period will be 57 days. All these figures may be wrong, but with them I am going to start my pond. Stay tuned for what happens. (July 16, 1985)

More Training

It's 7:00 p.m. and I'm sitting beside my pond. It's peaceful on the farm tonight because everybody else is off having their pictures taken. I already have visa photos, so I came here to drain my pond of several more inches of water. Since I last wrote, I been given a pond and some fish. The trouble is that I have to find out how many fish are actually in the pond, my job for this evening.

I have some terrible news. Larry, a fellow volunteer, killed all his fish today. He drained his pond too much, confined them in too small a space, and suffocated them to death. This news depressed me more than anything else so far. Larry made the worst mistake possible and now looks as if he were in shock. As for me, I realize that death when farming fish is a real possibility and easily brought on by any novice, no matter how careful and attentive. This cast a cloud over the rest of my afternoon.

When we are not mucking around in ponds or writing cockeyed fish plans, we are either playing volleyball, eating, or having organized discussions about what we will encounter overseas. Last week the range of acitivies was greater because we spent four evenings in a swimming pool practising "water proofing," floating bellyside down in water. We did this one night for a full hour, so I now know how to survive if I ever find myself in water far from land or boat.

Volleyball is our main form of group entertainment besides talking. After dinner we play several games, some of which are fun and some vicious. Fortunately most of us can enjoy the game without having to win, so our evenings are spent laughing, joking, and bobbing the ball.

After volleyball, we enter our dear classroom again for a scheduled activity. We've seen slides of Costa Rica, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, and Thailand. These belonged to our trainers, most of whom have only recently returned from overseas. The slides from the Cameroon appealed to me the most. The rich lime green color of the landscape, the grand mountain, and a tribal chief's "man," who prowls the streets in a strange garb and beats those who don't bow to him," fascinated me. I may soon be seeing in person what I saw on the slides.

Last night, instead of seeing slides, we discussed Peace Corps volunteers and how they are to deal with their political opinions while overseas. Our trainer, through he wasn't happy about it, had to read a memo to us from Washington that explained the evils of communism. A far from enlightening or enlightened memo, it received many barbs from this group of volunteers. (July 18, 1986)
Shots and a Party

Shots and a Party

I'm in the health center now waiting to get another set of shots, which gives me the opportunity to write at least part of a letter. Spare time these days is precious.

We had a party last night, which is rare in this training program, but the party wasn't just to talk, drink, and be merry. We were expected to practice our social skills. The Peace Corps does not want people who are socially incompetent working for them. They want their volunteers to be gracious, courteous, attentive, responsible, and discerning. Our assignment for the end of the evening was to introduce one person in the crowd, so we had to be alert and interact with as many people as possible.

Kiki, the master trainer, is always plying us with the question, "How do you know he is who he says he is," and we rarely have a good answer for her. Usually it's, "I believed him" or "I took his word for it." To this, she gives us a disdainful look, which has not deterred us from a willingness to be gullible. Last night, however, we discovered we had been had, which might make us more discerning in the future.

A week ago, a man named Abe Riffle came to the pond site to teach us how to make nets. Abe was insulting, disrespectful, crude and funny as hell. Every other word that came from his mouth was obscene and he was constantly insulting the trainers. Abe was at the party last night, but his real name is Mike Clark, a fisheries volunteer who just got back from Guatemala. None of us had suspected that Abe Riffle (April Fool) wasn't a beer-drinking drunk who tied knots for a living.

One man I met last night, Gary Shapiro, spent time in Indonesia teaching orangutans sign language. After the Abe Riffle escapade, I was skeptical of Shapiro's story, so to prove he had contacts among orangutans, he whipped out his billfold and showed me a picture of one of the apes. I didn't get her name, though, so I can't check to see if she really knows Shapiro.

Another man, names Hulsy, spent a year in Alaska working for Vista educating Eskimos to use modern appliances and live in modern houses, so they do not use twenty times more energy than necessary.

Many of the guests at the party were ex-PCVs, had spent time overseas, or had experience in fisheries. It was hard to get detailed information from the former PCVs because they had been instructed not to reveal anything that we did not specifically ask about.

This is another aspect of training. We are being pushed to ask good questions. Because all the people we meet are versed in the manner they should adopt towards us and the information they should or shouldn't give, it feels like there's a conspiracy against us.

It's evening now and 46 arms hang painfully from 23 sets of shoulders. 23 heads are also suffering and several stomachs are upset. This is the result of the shots. (August 2, 1985)
Training Change

Training Change

Training changed today. We have been tending to our fish ponds the last two weeks. I twice drained my pond and twice removed my fish to count and weigh them, and so I learned the virtues of doing it right the first time. Moving 1220 squirmy little fish out of a pond and back again is hard labor, about 20 hours worth.

Imagine me lugging around buckets heavy with water and fish; dragging a fifty foot net through a pond and breaking my back in the process; and trying to trap a one ounce fish while kneeling in mud and almost blinded because the fish flop their tails and splatter my glasses so much that the world looks like a big mud ball. The second tme I finished the job my pants were so heavy with mud that they almost fell off.

If you are wonderng why I didn't count and weigh my fish right the first time, I can only say that I was not the only one and it is not as easy as it sounds. Had I killed my fish first, I would have had no problem, but I was supposed to keep them alive, which made the job quite taxing. Now all I have to do is keep my fish healthy and fatten them up. Then it will be time for the slaughter.

This next week, we are each supposed to research a topic in fish culture and the following week, give a four to five hour seminar on it. Mine is marketing/processing. Sounds dull compared to disease or fish biology, doesn't it. I'm to learn to gut, skin, behead, fry, smoke, broil, and bake fish. I also get to sniff around to find out about markets, prices, and displaying fish. Once I know how to prepare and sell fish, I'll teach ten other people. Next Saturday we are having a fish fry at which I and another person will coach trainees in the "how tos" of fish preparation. Lots of fish heads will be flying and I can invite whomever I want. Anybody want to come?

I am living in a cockroach-ridden, drab University apartment with three other women. The only time we are in it is during the few precious hours before bedtime and when we are sleeping. Otherwise the place is abandoned and it looks it too. With our busy schedule, we have no inclination to throw out our trash, clean up the tons of dirt that flakes from our clothes and shoes, or fold our clothes. We are living in a pigsty, but since we don't have time to notice, it doesn't matter. (August 2, 1985)
Birthday Pholio Phrom Dad

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps Training



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.