Michelle Villeneuve blogs from Sierra Leone

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“Michelle Villeneuve is the newest One Sky intern to go to Sierra Leone. A student at Royal Roads University studying in a joint program of Environment & Management and Human Security & Peacebuilding, Michelle secured a scholarship through the ‘Accelerate BC’ program to fund her trip.

Prior to this adventure, Michelle has visited 9 other African countries with agencies such as Operation Croassroads Africa, Youth Challenge International and Oxfam Quebec, as both volunteer and project manager. Her intention is to continue to work in the international not-for-profit sector at the grassroots level; she may break down and get an office job with the UN when she hits her midlife crisis.”

Michelle Villeneuve blog

March 26 2009
On the eve of my departure for Sierra Leone, I find my thoughts settling on relatively inconsequential things...excitement over drinking bagged water (I love it, it’s wrong, I know), and wondering what the popular songs are in Sierra Leone right now. I’m dreaming of red earth and lush green rainforests with exotic species, each one so interesting and so necessary to the whole. The sights and smells of West Africa, already so familiar, but sure to be surprisingly different in this country that is so new to me.

All this very likely is my brain distracting me from the reality of the unknown...where am I going, what am I doing? I know as much as can be known, but that is nothing compared to reality.

I’m excited, I’m nervous. I’m grateful that I have another One Sky intern picking me up at the Freetown airport! The process of getting me over to Sierra Leone, in this tumultuous year of cancelled funding, has been long, and I can’t wait for this dream to come to fruition!

March 31 2009

Today, Larissa and I are spending much of the day holed up at Bliss Patisserie, which is clearly ex-pat central. I came here with designs on avoiding the ex-pat community as much as possible, but how quickly I threw the towel in on that one…not only are these people really nice, and obviously have a lot in common with me, but it’s also just who I’ve been introduced to so far. I expect the balance will shift when we go up-country to Kono. Which will be….sometime in the next few weeks? Larissa and Sheryle (filmmaker) are leaving on April 19th, and they want to visit the Outamba-Kilimi national park before they go, so it looks like we’re heading up there, along with one of the rangers from CSSL (Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, our in-country partner org), on Friday. Yay! It sounds amazing…crocs, hippos, elephants, lions, buffaloes, bongos, chimps, leopards and a bunch of fancy birds…we’ll be travelling mostly by canoe within the park…and of course, with Mr. Kamara, one of the chief wildlife experts in Salone as our guide. Should be excellent.

April 1 2009

I’m a bit sobered today...the excitement of past weeks and arrival is wearing off, and reality has some very dark components here. Not to say I’m not ecstatic, or that I’m upset...just missing home a bit, and somewhat overwhelmed by what I’ve seen in such a short time.

I get a chill every time I see political graffiti- I felt a full on physical shock at seeing ‘RUF’ tagged on a wall in Freetown. Within about 5 seconds yesterday, Sheryle, Larissa and I had “white scum” and “I love you” shouted at us on the street, and later on my own, a young guy walked by me and hissed “bitch”. I’m not taking it personally, I’m just saddened overall………..I really love it here, so I can’t explain exactly what is making my heart feel so heavy today, but I’m attributing it to culture shock and general arrival anxiety. No worries, I’m still on top of the world happy overall about pretty much everything.


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