Two Buckets and a Potato in Sierra Leone

I’ve been in Sierra Leone now for about 6 days.  It feels like I’ve been here for about 6 months.  Not in a bad way, though.  It’s just a very intense experience.  Minus the unrelenting sweating it’s quite nice.  It’s kind of like a bare-bones boot camp in the jungle, but instead of a screaming drill sergeant there are a lot of excited little African kids waving at you.  Getting a feel for this place is all in the details.  So here are a couple quirks from Sierra Leone to get things started: 

The Two-Bucket Bath:

Running water is rare here, and showers are virtually non-existent.  So what I’ve been introduced to is the two-bucket bath.  (But note that this is the luxury version in Sierra Leone… cheaper versions include the one-bucket bath and the no-bucket bath.) 

I start with a large bucket, set it on the ground, and fill it with cold water.  Imagine something like a garden bucket taken from your back patio.  The first time I did this, I was debating standing in the big bucket.  But I’ve since been told that only an idiot would do that.  So now I know.  Anyway, I stand NEXT to the bucket because I’m a quick learner and pick up the second bucket.  The second bucket is something like an old butter dish.  Mine is actually a margarine container.  I then dip the little bucket into the big bucket, fill it with cold water, and dump it on my head.  Ahhh, that’ll wake you up in the morning!  I repeat as I continue to convulse and spasm.  Add in some scrubbing and some more dumping, and that is your typical Sierra Leone shower. 

It may seem fairly idiot proof, but I made a critical mistake during my first bucket bath.  I wet myself down and then went to town with the soap.  I got a nice rich lather going, thinking to myself, “I’ll show this African dirt how we do things in America.”  What a mistake.  It was freaking near impossible to get all that soap off by dumping little buckets of water on myself.  Dump a bucket, still soap suds.  Dump another bucket, still soap suds.  After about a billion buckets I just gave up.  I would have had to use all the water in the Africa to get that soap off.  So the rest of the day I just left a little trail of soap bubbles wherever I went.  It probably looked like I have a major case of OCD with soap bubbles leaking out of my clothes all day.    Lesson learned: not so much soap next time. 


The Unwritten Rule:

I swear there is a rule here that every Sierra Leonean knows from birth.  The rule goes like this:  If you are under 10 years old and you see a white person, you are required to wave your hands manically, smile so all your teeth are showing, and begin screaming “Opotho” as loud as you can.  Every child does this, without fail.  When the small babies are squealing, it sounds something like “A Potato!!!  A Potato!!!” 

Opotho means “white person” in the native Temne language.  And not because my complexion resembles mashed potatoes… but that’s not a bad guess.  The mini history lesson goes like this: the first white people to explore Sierra Leone and come in contact with the Temne tribe were the Portuguese.  Opotho is the Temne version of saying “Portu” or “Portuguese.”  So the Temne are actually now calling all white people Portuguese. 

I thoroughly enjoy the children screaming “Opotho.” When I go jogging in the morning, they like to stand by the side of the road and touch my hand.  I’d like to get them more organized so they line both sides of the street and give me high fives on the home stretch.  If I could set up a finish line ribbon and have someone dump some Gatorade on me I’d have it made.

-Nicholas Sabin  


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