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Monday, October 3, 2011

First Month at Site (sorry it's long...lots of stuff happened) :)

Ugh, It’s so hard to blog with a 13lb (or at least I think) puppy on your lap. Not to mention he’s teething. Yay. :) Okay, Sorry for not writing sooner. The honest reason is that I’m having lots of fun at site and have been waaay  to busy…and I haven’t charged my laptop. Okay, enough excuses, let’s get to the stories.
          First off, I am teaching 7th and 8th grade General Science, and 10th and 12th grade Biology. I started with 7th, 8th, and 10th. But the science teacher who is supposed to teach 11 and 12th is still gone. (surprised? And I’m really nice :) and like teaching the 12th graders.
          There was a PTA meeting the Sunday before school started. Most of the teachers came. The parents missed that memo. But we have a PTA so I can’t complain. The board is very nice as well and is very excited about Holly and I fixing the library. We had one day of school on Monday and then everything halted on Tuesday when Madam President stopped by on her campaign run. Holly and I saw many community members dressed up as ‘the devil’. They were all very creative and all the kids were terrified. Holly paid for them to dance for her. (Kid likes to play with fire, what can I say). I wasn’t feeling well, so I watched. There was much yummy street food and people to meet and our students took very good care of us. We managed to get our picture with the president. It’s not like she had her arms around us….she totally had her arms around us. Or that she shook our hands and we got to tell her where we were from in the States. I proudly told her I was from Wisconsin (she first went to university in Madison, WI) and Holly got to say she went to Harvard (Ellen Johnson got her second degree there). We also chatted up her granddaughter who was on the campaign run too. Robin is starting her last year in law school in London and certainly has the accent which threw Holly and I for a loop. We wished her luck, ate some rice and soup with our Liberian community members and headed home for the night. (p.s. when the president visits your town: 80 bajillion people turn up from nowhere, there is non-stop honking from the motorbikes, people probably get trampled, and everyone stands in the town’s center alllll day waiting for her to show up. It’s a really cool experience.)
          I took Naw wei to school the first week (hang on *pushes puppy off lap*) and the kids loved it. I used him in 7th and 8th to teach observation. I compared his color, shape, size, and features to the bread I brought also. They really loved the end of the lesson where I showed off Naw wei’s tricks (sit, down, shake) with the help of the bread. But every other day he stays at home while we are at school. He hangs out in the backyard with the ducks and chickens and tries not to squeal and cry too much when we return. Returning home to a puppy whose whole body wags fiercely upon your return home was new for me. I have to be honest. I really love having a dog.
          One of my students handed in his observation homework to me the next day and I read: “I observe the duck. I observe the duck puu puu in the yard. It only take a minute or a second for the duck to dirty the yard. I see it, I touch it, I smell it.” I really really hope he was touching and smelling the duck, or else I need to have a talk with my 8th graders…. :D Regardless, it was hilarious.
          I also did an experiment with my students the first week. Brought some beans, sugar, salt and water into class and had my students form a hypothesis. What will help seeds grow better? Sugar water, plain water, or salt water? Holly and I are teaching morals, discipline, respect and how to be a good student more than anything else. But for this experiment, I taught some critical thinking. :)
          We also sponsored our first student that week. Bendu is a wonderful new friend and a great 10th grader who is juggling 11 classes, housework, helping holly and I around our house, and being a mom to a 6 month old girl. This girl is tough. And we’re really proud to be helping her make high school graduation a possibility. Giving a year of education to a 10th grader is about $25. Money well spent. (I’m thinking of asking my American friends to sponsor a student for Christmas some time. *wink wink nudge nudge*)
          Charmin also passed that week. He left for the rainbow bridge to play with Parsnip on September 13th. He was three years and one week. :D I’m so proud of my parents and the wonderful vet clinic for taking the best care of him. He had a wonderful life and he and Parsnip will always be my favorite rats <3.Whenever I’m too sad and missing them, I’m happy to know that I’m always ‘carrying’ them on my ankle. I’m glad I got that tattoo last year. :)  Now my only pet is my puppy.
          We also headed to consolidation in Kakata. I put some pictures of Liberia on my facebook
          Week two of school: I called in on the local radio and gave a shout out to my students and told everyone listening how much Holly and I liked Liberia. …I really wish I had recorded it, but I’ll do that next time. Our house is now the after school tutoring center. :) We have a bench and a large number of students that show up. It started small, but now we’re going to need a table and more benches. :/ We’ve started to teach peer tutoring too. Our older students are really catching on to the idea. I have never felt more useful to humanity than I do here. My students know we care, and I love when they show up at my house and I explain an idea to them…they still don’t get it, and I re-phrase and explain again. I’ve seen so many little light bulbs go on this past month. It’s enchanting.
          Naw wei has made a new friend at site. :) His name is White Tooth. White Tooth has the markings of a Doberman and is a huge sweetheart. He cuddles with Naw wei, plays with him, and teaches him how to NOT die (which Naw wei really needs instruction on). They like to lie on the porch and try and grab each other’s ears while grunting. It’s pretty funny to watch. Another funny note about Naw wei: He gets hiccups when he’s excited. As in, after he eats, after he plays, when I return home from school, when I give him 10 minute belly rubs before bed (which he now expects and demands), when you play to much tug-o-war etc. He sits and looks at you, tail wagging and hiccupping. I can’t put into words how silly it is. He also likes to do battle with the snail shell (yes Liberians eat those too) on our porch. I DO have that on camera. :) He just tries so hard to get the snail shell to chase and play with him….
          I also got mail from my mom and dad! Thank you for the pictures! My neighbors now know what you and the cats look like. I also got to explain ‘dishwasher’ and ‘oven’ to many of my new friends. Oh, and my fellow volunteers are teasing me because my house looks ‘midwestern’. *sigh* I also got mail from Wendy! Thank you! Your reply is on the way. :) Lisa! Clemens! Thank you for the letter! :) It made me laugh and I think I may have to hang it in my room somewhere. I really like hearing all the cool stories about what you are all doing back home. And to all of you dragging your feet: just write the darn letter! :) So I can send you one in return… postmarked from Africa. P.s. If you remember, include interesting newspaper clippings. I have BBC, but I still like to read them.
          Week three in school was manners, behavior, and ‘how to be a good student’. I made my 7th graders all write me why doing your own homework was important (after a bunch of them copied homework) and then I got five copied ‘do your own work’ essays. Was NOT happy about that. Since there are two of us, our students are really catching on, and they are amazed when we actually do what we say we’re going to do. But they are quickly realizing we also really care. And they are asking for help.
          I informed administration about the wonderfulness of Ultimate Frisbee. They are asking if I will start a staff team as well as a Jr and Sr high team. :) That will kick off later next week.
          *we interrupt this blog to bring you another funny homework story* Apparently, tooting, along with taste and touch is one of the senses we use to observe the natural world. This makes so much more sense to me now. :P It was a spelling error, but I love it. Next time I don’t know what something is…I’m going to toot on it.
          Once upon a time, while sitting on the back porch listening to the little radio, it decided to whig out. The frequency wouldn’t hold. Stephanie looked at Holly. “Maybe the batteries are dying? I wouldn’t know….there’s no way to check them.” Holly said “Don’t you lick them?” There was a long pause in which Stephanie stared at Holly with a raised brow. “No…Holly, I do not /lick/ batteries.” ---This is what I have to live with for two years….ugh. :)
          On Saturday I made French toast…and I’ll say it, I think it was better than most French toast I’ve eaten in the States. I also can now fry some wicked awesome potatoes and I made homemade spaghetti sauce from scratch that weekend. I’d never made it before. But I found a bunch of fresh tomatoes in the market and …wow. It was that good. Our school’s reading room had a seafood cookbook….we took it. What use is it in the reading room?!? Holly fried prawns (cause they are all over here) and those were really good too.
          I wrote a BUNCH of letters that week. Someday you will see them showing up in your mailboxes O.o I also called my sister in Amsterdam. Costs a lot, but I love her so it’s all good. <3 I love to tell my friends here that my little sister in studying in Europe. I’m happy to know she is having fun. ^.^
          And then the Chinese visited us!!!! Yay! :) They came by on the weekend with fish for us but we were in Kakata. So they dropped by our house to let us know about poker night. O.o (YAY) and that we are always welcome at their compound. They also agreed to teach us Chinese. I’m actually pretty happy about that. Poker night all in Chinese ^.^ (don’t worry, I’ll take pictures). I also asked them if they would take us fishing with them next time (I saw them fishing off the road one day with their little rice hats). They said yes, of course. Stay tuned for a photo of me fishing in the rice beds with the Chinese wearing a rice hat. They also told us that the community branding us as ‘china women’ was a sign of our beauty. *raised brow* We’ll see what other cute lines they throw our way. :) They also commended us for living it ‘rough’ with no TV or electricity. I think they almost feel bad for us. Little do they know, this is one great adventure for us.
          Week four: our principal returns from Monrovia and we are happy to see her well again. USAID drops off more books for Holly (she’s excited). I start running early in the morning with the dog (I’m competing with Krista for title of ‘most likely to get the Bruce Lee body’), my 12th graders keep trying to get me to go drink palm wine with them (I will give in at some point…they also wrote their phone numbers on the first day’s attendance sheet…the three girls didn’t though…odd, right?), my mom had a great birthday in South Dakota and didn’t invite me to watch the bison roundup with her and dad, my sister had a great birthday in Europe and I made my tutoring students sing her happy birthday from my porch, I roasted marshmallows (purchased in Monrovia) with my neighbors and talked for hours, and I’m afraid to admit that mayonnaise is becoming a staple food for me (I suppose there are worse things…).
          I’m in Kakata right now, headed onto Monrovia tomorrow to catch up with my besties from Lofa county who I haven’t seen since PST. I did some shopping today. Bought a used t-shirt that reads ‘Wisconsin, cutting cheese for over 100 years’ Yeah. Totally awesome. :) Oh, and daffy duck boxers. I’m starting a collection. Used clothes shopping here is so fun. You never know what kinds of things you will find. I also bought a general science textbook today. Good use of $4 dollars. Now I have a great book to lesson plan with.
          Now, I’m just looking forward to some cheese and ice cream tomorrow, playing ultimate Frisbee with my students, letting them kick my butt at football, carving a gourd with my neighbors, seeing all my fellow volunteers again for IST (in service training), and thanksgiving dinner with the US Ambassador in November.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Living in the jungle...

August 28th 2011
I think the rain started around 4 or 5am…. I thundered and stormed well into 5pm. 12 hours of constant rain. I woke up at 7am but the rain put me back to sleep in a heartbeat. I finally got up at 8:30 to let the dog out.  We left the buckets out in the rain to fill our barrel in the kitchen. I organized my room and killed a few large spiders and cockroaches. Holly did some reading on the porch with Naw wei sleeping on her toes. She made lunch: penne noodles with boiled egg, seasoning and mayo. It was very good.
We took a walk around when the rain finally turned into a sprinkle. The mountains around us are gorgeous, shrouded in mist from all the rain (If I were ever to film Jurassic Park I would come here), decked out in foliage, crawling with ruins of buildings from the war. I took pictures and George acted as our personal tour guide. We counted about 6 movie picture theatres thus far in our town (which is not a complaint since I saw Town and part of Mask of Zorro last night). We stopped by the school and moseyed over to the Chinese Base. While on the road, a passing young girl looks to me and says ‘you’re lady is very fine.’ The words register a moment later after she’s gone and I look at Holly who is laughing under her breath. ‘Apparently you’re my fine lady.’ I said. Wasn’t the first time I’ve been taken for a guy since I cut my hair shorter…won’t be the last. We’re getting tired of correcting the small African children that yell ‘Chinese! China Woman!’ after us. A few times I get cheeky and yell ‘African boy!’ back at them.
We arrived home with Martalyn rushing over to us with a knotted rice sack. It was mewing… :) Holly had been looking for a kitty since before we came and one potential lead almost always leads to another but they all bit the dust. Holly bought a chicken to trade for a cat yesterday…but then the guy changed his mind on giving it to her. So we went to bed with a puppy and a chicken in the neighbor’s house…it certainly wasn’t staying in mine. But now Martayln had traded the chicken for a different cat from another house. Holly was quite ecstatic. Momo, the adorable calico kitty ate a whole fish, cowered in the bedroom corner, and finally snuggled up to Holly. Her eyes are huge and her ears are large disks. She’s a bit scrawny but that will change. She certainly is a lucky kitty to have ended up with us. Her coloring reminds me of my Maggie back in the States with my parents.

September 2, 2011
Our taxi ride….can totally top yours. The start of school is delayed, and so Holly and I made a day trip to Kakata to buy small things for our house. Erm, sorta small. We bought mattresses. And so our taxi ride back: seven adults (including holly, I and the driver), two newborn African twins (holly got to hold one…it peed on her), two mattresses atop the average sized car, and two goats, one chicken, one cat in a box and bags or rice in the back. …oh, and the suspension on the car was so bad that we could feel rocks under our feet through the floor mat if the driver hit a bump just right. That was a two-ish hour ride.
Holly and I made plantain bread too. Our landlady gave us plantains as a gift. We accepted them, thanked her very much. Once she left we looked at each other. “You like plantain?” “No.” “Me neither.” “Let’s make it into bread.” And so we modified banana bread into plantain bread and gave it to our neighbors as a ‘thanks for being our neighbor’.
We also bought a radio. THANK GOODNESS. We were planning to buy one at site but the only three places that carry it were all sold out. It was day two of Holly’s four day streak of singing the same two songs (one of them a Christmas song) that I decided we needed to get one…before we both went crazy. (although I think she already has in a way) And so now we can listen to BBC at our site. *Hallelujah bells ring*
We also got a free cat with our mattresses. His (or I think it’s a him) name is Puck aka: Puckerman, Puck Puck or Puckasoarus. He hissed, spat, swatted at, and seemed to hate us. I spent the night hearing him cry in the room next to mine. I finally got up at 5:30am and sat next to him, hissing and still spitting. Finally he cracked and walked near me. After a few hours of sweet talking him, he melted into my arms and cuddled away. He and Momo are bonding this weekend while Holly and I are in Monrovia getting a few more things for our house: random food items, toilet plunger and brush, and potato masher. Okay, okay, we came to eat some American food too :)
Holly and I take many nature walks through our site with the pup. We found the huge abandoned swimming pool built by the Germans long ago. There are many paved roads that are left behind, unused and I’m thinking they will be perfect to run along with the pup.
We’re still living in a very small fishbowl where all the kids (ie 20 or 25 of them) like to stand in our backyard and stare at us. Holly tries to scare them off, but they just laugh and migrate back to our porch. We are the hottest and newest entertainment in town. Watch white woman do wash, watch white woman cook on coal pot, watch white woman do dishes in a bucket. They still keep calling us China woman and we’re getting a little tired of reminding them we are NOT Chinese. The Chinese do like to smile and wave at us though.
School starts soon and we’ll know what we are teaching and when etc, etc. I'll get a post up next when I've met the lucky students of my school.

Moving To Site...an new adventure

August 26th, 2011
I didn’t get my phone back. Big surprise. So I bought a new one. Holly and I are at site now. We had a quiet day with our families in Kakata on Aug 23 during the referendum vote. Still not sure the results on that vote yet, but now that we’ve been on the Internet today, did we only know about the DC quake and hurricane Irene who seems to be causing some problems right now…no hurricanes here, thank goodness.
Moving Day: We all met at the training center, hugged and cried our way into multiple goodbyes and ‘I’ll come visit you at your site’. All the taxis were there. Holly and I both got our own (no we’re not pack rats, we just had a big ‘ol barrel and other…important *cough* clothes *cough* brownie mix *cough* things to bring. I cleaned out my room in Kakata which was a little sad. I like my family (especially that they made me breakfast) and house there. I took a ‘before you leave on a big journey’ picture with my family and headed off behind Holly’s car. Naw wei barfed all over the passenger floor in the first 20 minutes of the ride (and then proceeded to lay in it. Yum). We stopped to fix a flat tire on Holly’s taxi (I cleaned some dog barf) and headed on. I don’t know how long the trip took…I think about two hours. The Chinese are fixing the road here up very nice and it’s wasn’t by any means a good road, but it was better. We arrived, sweaty and tired (and one of us covered in vomit) and were then proceeded to meet everyone important who had gathered to meet us. Do I remember any of the new names? Nope. But I have been actively trying since yesterday. We dropped off our bags at our house (more details on the house to come) and ate a yummy bitterball soup Sarah made for us (She was the lady I stayed with during site visit if you remember). We hung around at the house in the afternoon while they workers finished painting and throwing deadbolts on the doors (which are kinda important). I made friends with the neighbors (connections are key) and Sarah fed us dinner again at our principal’s house. She wasn’t there as she was in Monrovia until Friday.
Our House: (and I’m not just saying this because I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve eaten ice cream) is Neapolitan ice cream…..in the form of a house. A new house. Made of fine cement, new tin roofing, solid wood doors and a huge front porch….and a decently large back porch too. Our house is mostly pink and brown with hints of white (now I really wish I had an ice cream sandwich). Our house has four bedrooms, a pantry, a kitchen, a nice tiled living room, and a workshop. All of our windows have glass vents and bars and bug mesh on them. It’s pretty much the nicest house in Liberia and some parts of the states that I’ve ever seen. Did I mention that it’s also wired for current? Yeah, like we’ll ever have money for a generator or time to make worth it turning it on…but we could, which makes us pretty darn special. Oh, we have a nice backyard too. It could use a garden and a few more trees (still have yet to hang the hammock) but it’s pretty nice on its own.
Our group of close friends here gave our new house a blessing and left us with our first two candles. Naw wei was locked in the pantry where he screamed bloody murder the entire night….and the house echoes… a lot. ***side note: I’m pretty sure the movie place across from my house is playing Lord of the Rings… or at least LOTR stolen music. I can detect it anywhere.*** So Holly and I got no sleep. I got up at 5am and sat on the porch with him. That’s went I discovered there is a mosque near our house. The call to prayer is sooooo pretty early in the morning (we’ll see if I still think it’s pretty later).
Holly and I since arriving have hunted down: The best sweet bread and donuts in town, floor mats for our rooms, hot dogs for our mac n cheese, and a table and bench for our living room. (I totally just left my house to sit in on some epic Return of the King and it’s not a pirated version. I told them they will have to play this show again.) We made mac n cheese in our coal pot yesterday. It was rather satisfying and Naw wei ate a lot of noodles. When we finished stuffing our face, Holly says ‘What should we do with the leftovers?’ **remember there is no refrigerator** I say ‘Let’s just give the extra to the kids outside.’ Holly says ‘There are too many kids; they won’t be able to share it.’ I say ‘Well we can’t just throw it out…there are starving children in Africa, Holly.’ ….and I wish you could have seen the raised brow ‘really Steph? You’re a smart ass’ look she gave me. :D and so we gave the pot to the kids. At least you don’t have to fear about any food sent being wasted. Not much here is considered waste.
We spent some time pimping our bathroom (which is also pink) with hanging shower caddies, nails on the door to hang lapas and towels, and loofas. Today I bought some toilet paper (40 Liberian dollars in town along with my two grapefruits (which cost me $5 Liberian dollars= 7 cents American. Yes, 7 cents for two grapefruit… Om nomnom). Holly washed some lapas, I charged my phone by the ‘bus stop’ aka taxi stop, and then we visited the carpenter. He welcomed us to use his shop to make shelves or other things we may need. We made a Liberian dish tonight, country rice with soup. I put seasoning, bitterball, eggplant, tomatoes (we were so happy to see them in the market), onion, small peppe aka hot pepper, and crayfish. We invited our Liberian mom’s over to say thank you for taking care of us. Sarah, Suah, Fumata, Ellen, and Martalyn all liked our soup very much. Holly made Kool-Aid too boot which was ultra-yummy.

Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer :) I made it!!

August 15, 2011
I died and went to heaven this weekend. I ate the yummiest pepperoni pizza with mushrooms and hummus with pita, pickles and tomatoes. That was just lunch. Then I had a bacon cheeseburger with more mushrooms....that came with fries and a draft beer for dinner at the Mamba Point Hotel. Dinner was after we wandered through Waterside (the market area in Monrovia) and bought a few lapas, t shirts, and dog collars* (I think five of us now have puppies). We also met the six new response volunteers and they are all very nice. They’re good information on Peace Corps and in exchange, we fill them in on Liberia tid-bits. We all had a grand night together at the hotel. Bonding time to ease the pain of knowing we’re all leaving in a few days.

August 21, 2011
Firstly, I’d like to just say that as of this writing, I have graduated from Peace Corps Trainee to Peace Corps Volunteer. :) (Details following)
We had out last week of training and it was a hard week to sit through. We’re all so ready to be done. Then there were rumors that our honorary guest for the swearing in ceremony, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, wouldn’t be able to make it due to an ECOWAS conference. Let me tell you, I was pretty upset about this. I had been looking forward on meeting this amazing woman who had gone through so much and done so much for Liberia and the people here. We finished our last week without losing too much hair. :) We had our thank yous to the staff of Peace Corps Liberia. I can’t praise them all enough. They’ve taken such good care of us the last few months. Driving us around, getting us supplies for teaching, teaching us our local languages, giving us tips on teaching, helping us understand Liberian culture, keeping our safety and security a top priority. Thank you, very much! We made them a card and sang them a song. Vince gave a speech, and Regional Director for Africa, Dick Day, was also present for our last week and the swearing in ceremony. I heard so many great speeches and words of encouragement for us that week, but all were hard pressed to top the imovie that LR1 put together for us. I laughed and cried as we watched the picture and video slideshow set to familiar Liberian music. The slideshow even included us sleeping on the floor of JKF airport.
On our big day (August 19th, 2011) I woke up at 5:30am to get ready. I took my bucket bath, dressed up in my fine lapa suit, picked out the right earrings, ate breakfast, and waited for my mom to get ready. All dressed up in our African best, we walked to the training center to get on the bus that would take us from Kakata to our ceremony. As time passed, and more of us walked through the gate into the center, it felt more and more like Project Runway- Liberia style. :) Us trainees, and our parents, were all in national dress and we looked…stellar. We picked up the response team and headed to Monrovia.
The ceremony… gave me chills, it was so charged emotionally. Vince, Dick, and the US ambassador were present, as was the Minister of Education and Madam President Ellen Sirleaf. There were cameras going off everywhere. At one point, Dick called on previously serving Peace Corps Volunteers who were present at the ceremony. They stood us and I had to blink faster so as not to cry (I was sitting in the front row). Liberians never tire of telling us how happy and glad they are that we have come to teach upcountry in the rural schools that are in need of teachers. It’s uplifting and makes me a bit nervous…I want to do the best I can. We took our oath and then had our picture taken with the President. She commented on our wonderful dress and thanked us for leaving behind our family and friends to come to a strange country and volunteer. I can’t put into words the feelings that I was having that day. It was inspiring, satisfying, a bit surreal, and a bit overwhelming. I will work on getting pictures up onto facebook once I get settled in at site. I feel like the pictures may do a bit better of a job in explaining the event. After the ceremony we headed back to Kakata in our bus. My mom bought me a fanmilk from the bus window. You’re thinking, what is fanmilk? It’s basically yogurt…/frozen/ yogurt. And it was simply…yumm.
After becoming Peace Corps Volunteers we did what any other hard working volunteer would do right after being sworn in: celebrate. There was a lot of fun, and a lot of dancing. My legs are quite sore from all the dancing. We were all up quite late too but I got a record 11 hours of sleep the next night so I’m doing much better. I told my mom I would be getting up at 9am and she actually listened. See, in Liberia, it is common and okay to wake sleeping or napping people. And if you know me, you’re right in thinking that this was hard for me to adjust to. Not to mention when my ma says we’re going to make breakfast and then pulls me out of bed at 6am, I wear my grump face for a few minutes.
Kool-Aid in a cookie monster glass?). Afterward, we joined our families at the training center for a goodbye party. There was wonderful food, popcorn, and beer. Everyone’s family presented them with gifts and my family gave me a few always-useful buckets so that Holly and I can haul water and take baths at our new house.
Things that have made me happy this week: Holly made brownies on a coal pot and shared a bite with me (pretty much, my roommate is awesome), I made Mac n Cheese for my family, and I got mail from Wendy! Thank you Wendy, for the sympathy card concerning Parsnip and the letter. Getting mail here does wonders to moral and it’s always kind of a surprise too since we never know when/if customs will let our mail though. I don’t know when I will be able to send mail from Monrovia, but until then I will prepare emails and send them when I can. I’m really waiting to getting to site and having things settle down more so that I can write.
I remember back in college when the university’s Internet would go down for a hour or two. My world was over during that hour. I felt so lost and annoyed that that technology was missing for a few hours. Now, I rarely have Internet and that doesn’t bother me much at all. All I really have is my cell phone. And tonight, it was stolen from me. Yep. One phone. Alllll my family’s and Peace Corps phone numbers. Gone. And you’re in a town that doesn’t use street names or have pay phones. I did not realize how important my phone was until it was gone and I was kind of helpless. I couldn’t call my security officer, or my fellow volunteers. This is where the importance of successful integration is key. I told my sisters and brothers that my phone had been on the banister beside the porch. It didn’t take long for them to figure out who had been by the house. They retrieved the man responsible and by this time my ma showed up. She was very mad. She took him to the police and I followed my brother, Oneal, on foot downtown in the dark at 7:30pm…without a phone. I got to sit in the police station (via candle light) and help get the whole thing written down. Apparently the guy was a friend of a friend. Took the phone, tossed the sim card and then sold the phone. We got the sim card back that night (with some exciting grass searching) and the phone thief and phone seller (who claims he didn’t buy it) are in jail. And I was rather dazed though this whole ordeal. My neighbors and family took excellent care of me and basically did all the work. Everyone has been telling me since I got here that because there is no 911, your neighbors and family are your best security. They were right. I was quite helpless and they took it upon themselves to fix the problem not because I was the clueless white girl around them (although I was) but because they cared about me. Social networking in Liberia is 20x different than the social networking you may be used to. All of your relationships are highly personal and that amount of effort and care that goes into a helpful gesture is one of the many reasons I have been able to wean myself off of facebook.

August 22, 2011
I GOT A PACKAGE!!! I lied. I GOT TWO PACKAGES!!! :) thanks mommy and daddy for the butterfingers, freeze dried ice cream, puppy training treats (he really likes them), the tennis ball (he really likes that too), the brownie mix, instant soup mixes, cheese packets from the mac n cheese boxes (Holly was very pleased as well), seasoned salt and garlic spices, and the newspapers (although a month old, were very cool and fun to read). I shared the pretzel M&M’s with my fellow volunteers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

More Model School and Rain

August 13, 2011

I enjoyed teaching roots and stems to my seventh graders this week. (My fellow volunteers love to laugh when I say root in my dorky Midwestern way. I wasn't as often reminded until now of how Midwestern I am. It's nice in a way. I'm the only representative in my group for Wisconsin and Minnesota) I had my students rip out a plant from the school yard. We all identified the parts and determined between taproots and fiberous. They loved it. I made the material relevant when I explained that staple food they all eat: cassava, is a root. And that sugarcane (which they all like to chew... I tried it, and wasn't swept off my feet but take time and I may like it more) and onions (which they put into almost every soup here) were stems that they eat. Minds. Were. Blown. I also made my 10th graders form a circle and stuck a few of them inside it to demonstrate the cell membrane and it being semi-permeable.

I know I kicked ass teaching model school because not only did my students do well (on average. My 7A class did not study for the test o.O) but they would write about science information I taught them in their English classes. The English teacher trainees would look over at me across the table while grading and raise a brow. "Steph? Are you teaching your 8th grade about habitats?" ..."Yes.." ... "Well, they're learning it." English teachers would ask for paragraphs and kids would remember what I taught them and incorporate it into their assignment.

When Model School started I decided on Miss Stephanie as my teacher name. My family already knows me as Stephanie* (or Lee-la which is my kpelle name. My family gave it to me. It means 'satisfied') and I didn't want to correct 50 students after they call me Miss Nice. Although, Holly and I toyed with the idea of making our students at site call her Captain Cook and call me Lieutenant Nice. (When I say Miss Nice, I mean it in the sense that my last name, Nys, is often mispronounced Niece or Nice.) I don't really want to be Miss Nys only because they will assume I'm nice...which is not true :P

I also got around to dying and cutting my hair again with the help of an artsy Nora Watson (thank you Nora). My hair is still blazing red which leaves me as the only redhead volunteer, natural or fake (makes picking me out easier...not that it was ever hard. *self burn*).

Speaking of art, I already have a authentic canvas painting of a Liberian beach scene painted by a very talented Liberian, Victor. Matt lives near him and helped commission me a Liberian painting. Victor asked what I'd like on it, of course there had to have some ocean in it...duh. Anyhoo, it's done now and colorful, huge (hoping that getting it to my site won't be hard), and is very Liberian. It will be framed and hung in my house and if I forget to upload a picture of it in the next few months, remind me.

***I interrupt this blog to report that I just had a bathroom break (amidst a beautiful rainstorm going on outside) and then, while trying to get my hand sanitizer from my hand, scolded a cockroach for being in my bag... yes, scolded. Either I'm soft or I'm giving up. ...oh well. We'll see if he listens and stays out.

Last week was also Charlene and Nate's birthdays. We made Mexican food again and it was just as wonderful the second time around. We finished the night with dancing, games, and drinks. Charlene's the oldest in our group at 29 and Nate the youngest at 21. It's not a bias thing, having all younger volunteers, just that passing medical requirements for a country with limited medical care, non-existent refrigeration upcountry, and little electricity isn't easy.

We also have eight new response volunteers who flew in a few nights ago. They'll be up in Kakata on Sunday and will do an accelerated training and swear in with us on August 19th. We're all excited to meet them and we will this weekend as our LR2 group is going down to Monrovia for some burgers, pizza, and to all hang out together before we're all sent away to our various sites on the 24th. I'm still in my denial stage. I want to be at site...but I don't know if I'm ready to say goodbye to my newest group of close friends.

Teaching: The First Days

August 4th, 2011

Model School. Translation: summer school set up just for us Peace Corps Volunteers to test our training in the classroom and figure out what works and what does not. Model School runs for two and a half weeks and has grades 7 through 12. I'm teaching 7, 8 and 10th grades. I'm teaching plants: root/shoot systems to my 7th graders, ecosystems to my 8th graders, and introduction to the cell to my 10th graders.

I was kind of terrified my first day of class. I've never taught in front of a class full of students (always done tutoring) none the less Liberian students. Luckily, the volunteers from last year where here to help and they helped with lesson planning and first day jitters. I introduced myself and went over rules and grading the first day. The students were excited to have us, and we were eager to get to the material and teach them. 
We have observers (tech trainers and fellow trainees and volunteers) in every class and they write amazing notes. It's like an extra pair of eyes in the back of the class helping you become a better teacher. I'm writing this blog one week into Model School and I love it. Classroom management is my biggest hurdle now and to come. I love teaching science though. I get to get excited about cell membranes and ecosystems while drawing crazy pictures of cells, plants, and monkeys all over the chalkboard. It's almost a crime to admit that it's work.

I assigned diagram homework to my 10th grade class on Tuesday and they all turned up on Thursday with big 'ol poster boards with drawings! I was expecting simple printer paper with a pen sketch but no, these kids didn't take homework lightly. I was pretty flattered and we had a mini 'show and tell' and art gallery walk to start the class off.

I also caught my fair share of cheaters (or spying, as they call it in Liberia) on quizzes and copied homework assignments. Liberians are very good at spying and you have to be very quick and smart to catch them.

But most of my classroom challenges come in the form of classroom management (I opt for giving them the 'shut up right now' face while staying silent. It works oddly well. Taking points from their grade does too. One volunteer mentioned throwing the eraser at them, but I'll save that one for site. :) The other challenge is the lack of resources. There are no computer labs, students have no textbooks (they only have copybooks and pens) There are no posters on the walls of the classroom, no lights, wooden benches that are not very comfy to sit on at all, and no printers. You have a chalkboard, chalk, paper and pens.... and you need to teach cells... go! :) Fortunately, I do well in this environment. That year and a half of being an art major is going to get a huge workout. My science classes are mini art classes and the students get a break from boring lectures to copy down my drawings. I'm looking forward to the challenges of having no lab, no microscopes, no computers or textbooks etc. It's the real teacher test. Can you teach science, with no equipment? and still make it relate to Liberians and their lives? (ie. How do you teach genetics and heredity when your whole class has brown eyes and black hair?) Yeah, you're thinking right. not easy. But I thrive in those situations and I know there will be rough times too, but that's all part of my personal self growth too. :) 

(I'm adding this part for Lisa and other friends who know how much I talk of poop) I was teaching my 7th graders about the term multicellular and drew the words 'one cell' 'some cells' and 'many cells' on the board. We identified that the many celled example was a human, and the one celled organism was a bacteria. For the some celled? I asked them how many of them had a dog... or had a neighbor who had a dog. Many raised their hands. I then asked them if they'd ever taken a good long look at dog poop.... yep. I said that. Many looked a little confused, but I rephrased and asked if they had ever seen anything in dog poop that was alive... lives in the dirt. One brave girl raised her hand. "Worm!" and I had a proud teaching mama moment. (I've already had several of these) I'm glad to know I can relate class to their life and that they try so hard. It really makes me excited to go and teach at my site.

Speaking of site, I only have two weeks left of training. Two weeks and I'll finally graduate from Peace Corps Trainee to Peace Corps Volunteer! I've spent (yes I did the math) 484 days working toward becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. That's 11,616 hours, 696,960 minutes, and 41,817,600 seconds Since April 2010. On August 19th, when I swear in, I'll only have 730 days, 17,520 hours, 1,051,200 minutes, and 63, 072,000 seconds to be the best Peace Corps Volunteer that I can be. :) 

I need to have a shout out to BWI too. BWI is the technical college in Kakata...they also make the most wonderful food in the world. By most wonderful I mean that this Wednesday they made us Macaroni and Cheese.... and salad with tomatoes, and honest to god french fries. I think we all got second helpings and we certainly all overate. If foodgasms exist, and I'm sure they do, this was one.

fam about Liberia and had some relaxing idle chit chat. We made food early and ate community style...out of a big bowl. I hung back. Hand washing isn't very common and I get sick easy so I took the pictures. I gave my family there 26-O's too. (lots of people ask you 'My 26-O?' which means simply 'Do you have a present for me?' Many small children happened to ask me for their 26 and I was sharp to respond with 'What about /my/ 26?' I wish I had physical proof to remember their faces. They were all 'whhaaaaat... I didn't buy you a 26.' Messing with the kids here every once and awhile is a hoot). But presents in the form of gifts and food are common on this day. I got my mom a bracelet and my handmade hot pads. My dad got a pack of gum from the US and a book on God and stories with the bible. My brothers got copybooks (notebooks like the composition notebooks you find in the states), and a football (they totally flipped out with happiness in seeing the football=soccer ball). My sisters got books, coloring books, crayons, a kite and copybooks. They seemed very happy and I read the coloring book to Leemu while she colored the pages in. At night we went out to the club (City View) which felt a lot like a club in America except that it was filled with Liberians. A/C, fans, strobe lights, elevated dance floor, colored lights, real toilets, giant speakers. I was really impressed.

I'm really getting into the groove here. I have five lapa suits/dresses to keep cool and have 'African dress', I love teaching science and thinking up fun interactive activities to keep my students interested, I'm really liking some African food (eddo soup is soooo yummy) and I'm eager to start cooking at site, my little mutt is growing up and learning how to sit (I've already taught him 'come' and 'sit') and he's only 7 weeks, my principal and town are preparing to host Holly and I, I eat cheese* (no it's not real cheese...but I have grown to like it) and powered milk at least twice a week, the heat isn't bothering me very much, the little Liberian children are simply adorable, my students are inspiring, I have a stash of V8 cans in my room, the rain when it pours is simply beautiful, my iPod gears me up for class in the morning, the Liberian Club Beer is really growing on me, my mefloquin (malaria medicine) dreams are worth writing down they are so crazy, I'm inventing songs about soap while taking a bucket bath and dancing around my bathroom..... sorry too much information. But you get the point: I'm still weird, optimistic, and adaptable. I do have my bad days, but my fellow volunteers really know how to pick me up and I'm always smiling by the end of the day.... not to mention they sometimes bring me M&Ms to cheer me up (that's my shout out to Matt Krause).

I also got some mail from you! No, not you. I said you. :) Thank you, mom for the cards. Thank you, Morley for the pictures. Thank you baby sister Taylor, for the letter that lifted my spirits! My host family made a point of telling me I was fat when I was younger in the pictures.... I tried not to give them the evil glare and explain that I don't want to be fat. :) Because they are trying their best to fatten me up. Here, being fat is good. Means you are well fed. However, I'm attempting to bring back my high school karate muscles and so I won't be stuffing my face at every meal. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

'My Site... Is Better Than Yours'

July 21, 2011
Speaking of creepies.... turns out, bugs and or wildlife in general tend to get bigger the farther you go out in the county...and the more rural you live. Kakata bugs are a warm welcome after my site visit last week. On site visit, I saw spiders five inches across and lizards the size of cats. I know, right? But aside from finding a lizard curled up in my dress I wanted to put on one morning and the spider who liked to hang out by the bathroom door, I didn't get too freaked out.

Before site visit we had a technical session with all the principals. All the schools Peace Corps is sending volunteers had their principals or vice principals travel to Kakata. We had sessions on what to expect from our future home, how the Peace Corps Volunteer has changed since the 80's when the program was pulled from Liberia, how and what we could need to travel. Holly and I met our Principal, Margret J. Stewart who likes us to call her M.J. or Ma M.J. (I should also note that many people call her Ol' Ma which is a name or respect given to older and respected women in the community. I have an Ol' Ma in my neighborhood and I always know when she's around because Spot, our dog, starts barking like crazy. Spot doesn't like her.) Ma M.J. told Holly and I about our school and site. It's 19 miles from Kakata but the road is in such ...what's the word to use here? terrible. It takes about 70 to 100 minutes to drive that 19 miles via bush taxi (on the way back, we had eight people and two chickens including our driver in a five seat car. The fact that there is no AC and that the car couldn't stop it's engine without being jumped, and that the tape player played the same four African songs over and over, just added to the experience.) I'm almost certain that the only thing that all cars in Liberia do have that works is the horn...which can be a positive thing. My father would cringe at the pot holes our tiny car flew over and the cracks in the dirt road. The cars here take a beating. Our taxi also waded through a few rivers that cross the road, but it's rainy season and that happens. Luckily, neither time, we did not get stuck in the mud. But I know that wonderful experience will come in time.

Our site is a community seated next to a mine. The mine was opened by the Germans before the war, and they were important in building the school, hospital and some of the town. Obviously, the war dismantled all of this and the road was destroyed. The Chinese are currently starting to re-open the mine and they're first project in to fix the road. And so the large road caterpillars are always on the road with Chinese men in them, repairing the road. I don't know how long it will take to fix the road, but Holly and I are hoping soon so we can visit other sites faster because all our fellow volunteers are all over Liberia. So as a result, our site has a Chinese base and we visited them. Only four or five of them speak English so I'm hoping to pick up some language there. :)

Because of the mine, where was a large hospital built and it's near the large lush, and jungle-filled mountains that surround our town and are the backdrop for our house. Yes, that's right, our porch looks out to heaps of jungle mountains. Be jealous. The hospital (we got a tour) is extensive and used to have more equipment than it now has. However, the equipment present is either not working properly (or at all) or that no one is skilled enough to use it. Our hospital does have a surgery room...but no surgeon. Holly and I have decided to never get sick.

The state that our site is in has a lot to do with that it was a prized location to capture during the war. There was a hospital, and large trucks and machines that operated in the mine. There were resources here that were fought over. Our town was captured over 54 times back and forth between groups during the war. So when I speak of it's poor state, it's not because I'm disappointed, just that it has a long way to go to repair. Our town has a radio station, a police station, a nice market, a few provision shops, a couple carpenters, and a bar...that sells...wait for it...... wait for it.... cold beer. You thought I was going to say cheese or ice cream? Yeah, I'll keep dreaming, but having a bar with cold drinks and a small place that shows movies, is far more than I was expecting.

Holly and I stayed with two female teachers who work at our school. They were wonderful and fed us more 'american' like food. Aside from my principal, there are six other female teachers at my school and one of them is the assistant dean. Holly and I joining the team feels like a huge surge in girl power. Our school has grades Nursery (like pre-school) all the way to 12th grade. There are 19 or 20 male teachers and Holly and I will be the only female teachers in Jr and Sr High. Holly and I will be teaching within  7th, 8th, and 10th grades. Holly is teaching English and Literature and I will be teaching General Science, Biology and maybe some Chemistry.

Our school also has a view of the mountains (I know, wonderful) and the school rooms form the school compound, closing it into a square. The center has a volleyball court and a basketball court. Our school has a reading room too. There are books, not many, but we have some. Unfortunately, there are no real bookshelves, and the windows are not yet barred or secure. Holly and I hope to start up a reading library with the help of the PTA. It's a long process, but at least I know we won't get bored at site. There is sooo much room and projects to do and build here. Our principal has lots of ideas for the two of us and we need to prioritize which ones we can handle and which ones will be sustainable and we can get the community involved. I'll keep you updated.

When Holly and I returned home to Kakata, I was tired from traveling but my host family was already setting up for my host sister's, Erica, graduation party. There was a tarp over the yard, giant speakers playing African and American party music, lots of women cooking in large pots. They put all the food inside and set up seating. There was a microphone and speeches were made, and everyone was well fed. A few of my fellow trainees showed up for the soda, beer, and dancing. I played around with Naw wai who is now walking, bouncing, and biting things. I burnt out at about 10pm though and went to bed even though the party when well on into the night.
Naw wai, I discovered (when he pooped on the porch this morning) has worms. I'll be picking up medicine this weekend when I visit Monrovia. I'm going down there overnight for the first time in over a month. I'm pretty excited for pizza, cheeseburgers, wine, and ice cream. I'm also hoping I get some mail to pick up. PST is rough sometimes and the occasional letter or candy bar do great things.

I almost forgot to mention the black mamba. Yeah, okay. Before you read further take a moment to do an Internet search on the black mamba. Done? alright-y, well there was one in my backyard this week. I was arriving home after language class at Charlene's house and was with Anjulie, Dani, and Holly. There was a group of children holding long sticks and yelling at a bush. The mamba was in the bush and they were trying to stab it with the sticks. The snake made a run for the bush to the bush under my bedroom window. (I know, right?) and while Dani, Anjulie and Holly ran backward screaming... what did Stephanie do? That's right, pulled our her camera and got closer. And yes, I knew that they are venomous, and can move 10mph. But it's me....and I needed a picture. And so, I took pictures while the guys stabbed the snake to death. Then they dragged it out of the bush and beat it's head a few more times. (for good measure) The guy who killed it, held it up (the kids are still screaming mind you) and I got a good look. It was a 5 1/2 foot snake. Yes. Five and a half feet. The guy then told me he was going to eat the snake. I raised a brow but said 'better you than me'. I'll stick to my rice, peanut butter, and bread. This whole story was surprising to everyone since we were told our chances of seeing a black mamba were slim to none. I have decided to start a tally: 1   :)

Model school starts next week. We'll be practicing teaching to Liberian students in Kakata for a few weeks. I'll be teaching Biology and some Chemistry so making lesson plans will keep me busy. I just wish I could get used to falling asleep sooner. I have to wake up around 6:30 everyday and because I never had to do that as much in the states, transitioning is rather hard. I'm a night owl, I like to be up. But once I'm at site I'll be able to stay up later at least on the weekends. Although, because the only lights here are via generator; it's very dark most nights and there isn't always stuff to do. Reading fits well here. :) (Still working on the third book).

Creepies... O.o and site announcement

July 9, 2011
Site announcement was yesterday. I was sick again for that. I swear I'm not doing it for attention. :) I'm much better after about 12 hours normally. We watched a movie about Liberia after its civil war: Iron Ladies of Liberia. It was centered on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's first year in office and other strong women of Liberia. If any African country diserves extra praise for it's powerful and history-changing women, it's Liberia. I thought the movie complimented Ellen Sirleaf's book 'This Child Will Be Great'. It's a great book on Ellen and Liberia and I recommend it. It's detailed, but the information is simply gripping. I finally feel like I have a grasp on Liberian history with five movies, two books and countless Liberian comments under my belt. The rest will come with time. Seeing all she has done for Liberia, makes me even more excited to meet President Sirleaf in August.

And speaking of meeting the President, my host family's tailor came by this morning. He took my measurements for my lapa suit and I have a nearly completed lapa suit (just missing the headdress) already. It's very lovely and he did a great job incorporating the fish on the lapa into the design. So now I just need to find some shoes to match and I'm all set to meet the president. If only meeting the president of the United States was as easy. However, Obama wear is everywhere in Liberia and I'm assuming most of Africa and so it's only a matter of time before I buy an Obama umbrella like Matt did.... or find an Obama portrait lapa to make into a skirt. It's actually really nice because I don't have any Obama items in the states.
And speaking of lapas... I bought three more today. I'm finding it hard to avoid the lapas printed with sea stars, coral, and fish.
I guess this just means I'll be teaching in ocean scene lapas for two years. And I have no complaints there. My only dream is to find a shark lapa to make into a dress. Who knows, I may find one someday. Until then, I have lapas to start off my collection of dresses and suits to teach in. It's exciting, and my host family is excited to see me 'dress like African woman'.

I also just noticed today, my host father was wearing a Linenkugel's t-shirt. I tried not to get too excited. I, of course, had to explain why I was so happy to see the shirt and explain that the brewery is from my home, Wisconsin. I only hope I can find a shirt like that here.

And not to get too sidetracked, but I should get back to site announcement. I daresay I can't remember where all my fellow trainees are going after August, but I was excited to hear about my site. My roommate will be Holly (and she was awesome enough to grab me some red wine and snickers bars from Monrovia today. You'd be surprised at what you begin to miss after awhile.) and our town will be slightly rural. About 2-3,000 and our school has a female principal which I think is pretty amazing (talk about more iron ladies of Liberia). We get more details next week and we do a site visit then, so I'll write more on that later.
I have also been watching Lord of the Rings with my host brothers and sisters. We're half way through the Two Towers and my brothers Oneal and Randy are really enjoying it. I also happen to have several Disney movies on my external hard drive so hopefully afterward, we'll be watching some Aladdin or Mulan.

I feel like I need to mention bugs at some point. Because if I don't, a certain amount of time will pass and I won't care about the creepies as much or as often. Luckily for me, I have not seen any crazy huge African bugs bigger than, say, a American 50 cent piece. One was a cockroach in my bathroom. Unfortunately, I didn't notice him until after I was in the middle of my bath and covered in soap. And so, I spent a good amount of time circling my bucket, trying to avoid him while he tried to avoid the water I was throwing to rinse off with. The other was a large spider. But I was sick at the time of meeting said spider and my level of 'care' was low enough for me to just shrug and 'eh' it off. A few times I sent my brothers into my room to kill the spiders, but often times they just get away and I give up. The only real annoying ones are the ants. They can smell a tiny hole in a chocolate wrapper eight miles away, and I'm pretty sure I've swallowed a few that were hanging out too close to my water filter when I was filling my water bottle (mmmm, protein). They're mainly just annoying little monsters that seem to get everywhere. But if you happen to be standing on or too close to their anthill, they're sure to climb onto your foot and 'let you know'. I've got some good collection of bites now, mostly spider, ant, and mosquito, but none of them are horrible. Just bothersome. Although, the ant bites are rather nasty when being received. I'm hoping this sensitivity goes away after awhile.

Goooood Food ^.^

July 7th, 2011
The day before the fourth of July was simply one of the most wonderful days of togetherness since leaving home and adjusting to life in Liberia. It was a day in which all of us trainees got together at our training site and made burritos together. We brought all the ingredients, made the tortillas, chopped the onions, cooked the beans, rice, chicken, and beef. We had taco seasoning from Monrovia and a 'pinanta' with candy to finish the night. It was wonderful. This is not to say that Liberian life is bad, because it's not at all. It was just refreshing to feel 'homey' after being thrown into a new country and new culture.

The day after, July 4th, we had a cultural session in the morning. The five local languages we've been learning: Vai, Mano, Mende, Kpelle, Gola gave presentations to the group in their language. This included us doing some acting and counting in our language. It was followed by wonderful cultural dancers. In the afternoon we set out to make an 'american' dish with our families to bring for the party later. I went out to market and got potatoes and made the best 'french fries' I could under the variables I could find. They turned out a little squishy, but they tasted wonderful salted and in ketchup I found in Kakata. We played American and Liberian music that night, brought our host families along, and ate various Liberian versions of American food including: donuts, pancakes, guacamole, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and hot dogs. Aside from the missing fireworks, it was a pretty wonderful independence day. Liberia's Independence day is July 26th. I'm looking forward to that, I've heard stories, but experiencing it for my own will be exciting.
I also found a lapa nice enough to be my 'meet the president in this' lapa. I will get pictures when it's made, but as of now, it's still a lapa and has yet to be taken to the tailor to become a lapa suit. I'm also hoping to get some skirts made....mainly because they're really great in hot weather, and I'm all for keeping cool. I also took my host mom's instruction and bought a small collar and leash for Nai wai. It's different from the one I bought in Monrovia. That one will fit him once he's bigger. This one he can grow up wearing and get used to. I've noticed his mom does not like the collar. It's far to foreign for a dog who has never/rarely been leached.
My parents also texted me solely to inform me they installed the two air conditioners and put one in my room where Charmin has been living. They're taking the best possible care of my little man and I'm so happy to hear that he is doing well. Now that I think of it; today is his birthday. He's 2 years and 10 months old today on July 7th. Only two months away from the huge and hardly-reached 3 years old.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

June 25, 2011
Where do I start. Well, it's been two weeks of solid Liberia. Well, in the sense that I've been in Liberia. Not much concerning my digestion has been solid. But that's a story that does not need as many details.
Since leaving Monrovia, I've been in Kakata for Pre Service Training. Our home-stay is in full run. I won't break down the last week in detail. I feel like it's been much much longer. So I'll just go over the highlights, the parts I liked, the weird parts, and the parts I can only describe as TIA (This Is Africa).
My host family is great. My host mom's name is Godsey, my dad is Edwin, my sisters are Erica (18), Mary (14), and Leemu (5). My brothers are Oneal (14) and Randy (8). I feel like the entire neighborhood knows my name. There are always small children running out of seemingly nowhere to yell 'Stephanie' although, when they say it, it sounds more like 'Step-anie'. With a pause between. The pause is important. :) This is very cute to me because my little sister used to say my name this way before she could pronounce the ph's in words. My little sister Leemu graduated last week and I went to watch that. This week, my sister Erica graduated high school and Max (who lived with my family last year) and I went to watch. Not only is she graduating high school by passing her West African Exams, but she's Valedictorian of her class of 25. She gave a speech at graduation all about empowering women and how education is important to the future of Liberia. I wish I could say that I was a motivator, or a part of this in some way. But no, she is truly an inspiration, all on her own. Her graduation party is July 10th. I'm pretty excited for that.
The food has been good, but not as good to my stomach. Yesterday I awoke via thunderclap (which I feel will happen more commonly) and then visited the bathroom seven times in three hours. I never thought that diarrhea could be so bad. I called Bill my medical officer and he talked me through my next moves. My general conclusion is that this will not be the last time, TIA. I will eventually get used to the food. And so, with my blazing optimism (which always seems to dig me out of any hole) pulled through, and I've made a 80% recovery.
My host family seems amused with my every task. And the neighborhood loves to laugh when they see 'white woman carry water' on her head. But the humor is not malicious. It's curious, new, and lighthearted. And because I'm very okay with being laughed at and making a fool of myself, this experience has been very good. They make me lots of Liberian food (although I have not taken to the peppers quite so well) finding American food here is not as hard as you would think.
It was announced yesterday the local dialect we will be learning the next few weeks (thus far we have had Liberian English classes). I, and six other girls (and I forget how many boys) will be learning Kpelle (the local language spoken by my host family). It's pronounced PELL-A(hard 'a' as in 'at'). This means I will be teaching in a county that speaks Kpelle. This narrows my map down a bit, but I will not know exactly where I'll be placed until later. Of the seven girls, there is an extra English teacher. This leads me to assume that one will be staying in Kakata to teach. I will most likely be off at a new site (but we'll see) exploring with my new roommate who could be either Charlene, Kristin, Holly, Dani (likely) or Anjulie, Laura or Emily (less likely as they are not English teachers). In general, they tend to place English teachers with a math or science teacher.
I have partaken in a few new things.
1. I take many bucket bathes here. You'd be amazed at how clean you can get from a small bucket of water. I take two bathes a day and probably use less water than I do in one shower back home (and I take 10-15min showers back home). Surprisingly, you get very clean from a bucket bath and my first few were even heated up for me. (I felt a bit spoiled).
2. My host mom looked a bit confused when I looked lost during laundry day. They say 'How do you do this in the states?' To which I often reply 'We have machines...' Luckily, this only applies to laundry (although I have done hand laundry before just not the way West Africans do it) and not dishes, or cooking. Although my cooking skills are quite sad (although in my defense I did make Liberian Spaghetti for my family last week. It's the same as American spaghetti just made with Liberian-found food items). My sister, Erica, can kick my butt at any of these.
3. Drawing water from the well and carrying it on my head. (I will have to get pictures) I can't hold it on my head without the use of one hand. And I certainly have a swagger. West African are much stronger and have been doing this much longer than me. They look like pros as they casually walk down the road with sometimes more than 50lbs of food/cloth/etc on their head. I could spend days watching this.
There is another thing I should mention about my family. My family has a dog. Her name is Spot. I did not know until three days after arriving that Spot was a girl. Spot also happened to have a litter of four puppies the day I moved in. At first, I thought, 'well, that's cool'. One day, while bringing Kristin and Dani by my house to see the little fuzzy lumps, my host mom said: "When you leave for your site. You take this one." I hadn't expected a puppy, I was rather speechless. The puppy she pointed out to me was mostly white. He had a brown spot on his back near his tail and a brown/black face. Well, this helped my trouble of finding a puppy. I said yes of course. Later that night, I chose to name my little African mutt Nai wai (NOW-wee) which means 'friend' in Kpelle. Cheesy, I know, but he will be my friend, and we're both a friend of the Liberian people. I thought it fitted. And so, Nai wai, being born at the perfect moment, will be about 10 weeks when I leave for my site. Nai wai still has his eyes closed and I see/cuddle him for a few moments every day. I called my mom back home and she says it's fate. I can't disagree. I wanted a cuddly puppy to snuggle since before I left. And I think my host family is very proud. They've seen my rat tattoo on my ankle and are proud to have given me a pet. I think they have figured out how much pets mean to me since I talk about them quite often.
I'm very thankful for my fellow volunteers. When my dad texted me to say that he had picked up Parsnip's ashes and that she was 'home again with Charmin' was the start to a rough day. I was also a little sad to be away from Morley. My new friends jumped in to make me feel better. I finally got to cry about losing Parsnip. We euthanized her June 3rd. I never had time to mourn her....or cry. I had to pack and fly to Africa. Now that I'm here, missing her sucks, and I get sad sometimes. But Charmin is still doing well. Not to mention I have them tattooed on my ankle. I'm so glad I got that tattoo. I never want to go anywhere without 'carrying' my ratties with me. All other rats to follow have a very high platform to reach.
Aside from all this, and science classes, classes on Liberian culture and how to live/get along here I've been doing a lot of reading. I finished .... drumroll please... my FIRST book (over 100 pages) read for personal enjoyment since graduating from college in December 2009. And that book was just the match. I've burnt though two others and I've only been here two weeks. :) I've started a list of books so I have record of the ones I've read. Maybe at a later date (once I've added ten or more) I'll post my list.
I'm on the road to solid poops, my reading has skyrocketed, my appreciation of simple things such as water in a faucet, flushing toliets, and a washing machine have gone up considerably and I think it may be hard over the next nine weeks of pre-service training but I feel I may have already started to fall in love with Liberia.

July 2, 2011
I had ....what could be classified as 'soft serve twist ice cream' this afternoon. I made sure to eat it very fast so that I got a brain freeze. After three weeks with nothing more than the occasional plugged in fan, cold items are snarffed as fast as possible. I also have invested in peanut butter, katshup (which I have eaten plain...it's amazing. You'd have to be here to understand) and found some cheese-like food items. And bread isn't hard to come by and so, I could say I'm living like a queen.
We find out our sites and site mates next week. Before that happens, we have a mexican food day planned for tomorrow, and american food sharing on July 4th. Hopefully my tummy stays in good terms with me through that. I've been adjusting fine, but getting sick twice in four days was not fun. But it's all part of the process. And I'm afraid to eat at first, but then I find something really yummy and then all caution is thrown into the wind.
My puppy, Nai wai opened his eyes today. :) and squeaked at me.