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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.

First week in Africa

June 8, 2011
4am-woke up, ugh. Skyped Morley

5am-left for Minneapolis airport with mom and all my stuff.

6am-checked my bags to Philly and hugged my mom goodbye. We were both sad, but I know I'll see her soon. I can tell she's really proud of me. She probably already knows how happy I am to be her daughter.
On the plane I read some of my book, 'How to Raise the Perfect Dog' by Ceasar Millan. Hopefully fate will work in my favor and I will get a puppy in Liberia after training.

11am I got to Philly, met my fellow peace corps trainees and got to know them.
Well, you shouldn't be surprised. Or maybe you are, that I have already made a fool of myself. At the hotel in Philly I did not realize you needed your room key to access the fitness floor where the pool was. I jumped in and out of elevators and punched the button until I gave up and asked the front desk. *sigh* oh, well. We all got a good laugh out of it.
Quite a few of my fellow trainees are also in relationships or are dating someone back home. I was kinda worried I'd be the only one. But having other people doing it is great encouragement. Morley is amazing, and I certainly don't want to lose her.
We got all our paperwork turned in that day, and I went out with some trainees for a Philly Cheese steak. Tomorrow we leave for JFK.
I think time will fly by but hopefully not too fast. My fellow volunteers are kick-ass people and we'll all help each other through the rough times.

June 9, 2011
speaking of rough times...
We all received our Yellow Fever shot, bussed to JFK and sat. We sat for six hours. Fiiiinally, we boarded our plane. However, due to weather, our plane was kept at the gate....for SEVEN hours. That's right, seven. We did make small progress however. We drove out onto the tarmac, were second in line to take off, when the flight attendant accidentally smashed her finger in a door, causing her to faint, which in turn required ambulances and medical teams. Consequently, after seven hours on the JFK tarmac, our flight was cancelled due to flight restrictions for how long the crew can be on a plane.
Once we de-boarded the plane, an American Airlines flight attendant attempted to have our whole group re-booked checked the computer. However, she finally told us there were no flights for weeks. Always a good sign.
And we ended up snuggled on the JFK airport floor for the night.

June 10, 2011
We all woke up around 4:30am. Our gate was being used for a flight, so we migrated to another gate. We slept more, a few ate, some played cards. We called Peace Corps' main office and SATO Travel Company every hour. They worked on getting our dilemma fixed. Finally at 10am we went to get our bags. Unfortunately, they had already placed our bags on the next flight for Brussels. Luckily, it hadn't left, and we got our bags back after another hour and a half. Then we tried to get our tickets...so that maybe we could fly through Atlanta. That fell through, but the airlines finally booked us in a hotel for the night. We took the stressful journey to the hotel and arrived at 3pm. Everyone showered, ate and relaxed. We were ultimately placed on a flight leaving for Brussels the following morning...hopefully this one would fly.

June 11, 2011
We woke up at 11am, I got 13 hours of sleep. We left via shuttle for the airport and hung around again...at the airport. With Delta this time.
Nothing was out of order this time, and we cheered loudly when the plane took off.

June 12, 2011
In Brussels, the unfortunate exchange rate from USD to Euros, plus the cost of airport food, meant that we paid about $17 for lunch. We made our flight to Monrovia. It didn't feel like Africa until we pulled a tight turn toward the airstrip. Jungles were all around. 
The air was humid, but not bad. Finding our luggage and getting through the tiny airport terminal and through customs was a little rough. LR1s (Liberia 1:the group of Peace Corps volunteers that have been here for a year) met us and helped carry our bags. We loaded up in a small van and took the warm, tired, but happy to be out of JFK ride into Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.
We hauled all the bags up the stairs (heavy); I got to use a toilet that had a reservoir which needed to be filled by a bucket of water. The toilets do not fill on their own. However, that wasn't as interesting as my first bucket bath (more on that later). We took showers.... when I say shower I mean that there was a pipe from the ceiling and it dripped...barely fast enough to take a successful shower. But we managed fine.
Krista (my roommate) and I fell asleep to the soothing sounds of our first Liberian rainstorm. It was beyond magical.

June 13, 2011
Krista and I woke up at 8am. We slept great with the long journey behind us and the thunderstorm outside to lull us to sleep. The humidity and rolling sleep that did not treat my hair well. I have a feeling my bandanas may be coming in very handy. Breakfast included rice (which also turned up in all the rest of our meals, unsurprisingly) and some grapes and bananas. We gathered in the air-conditioned (very nice) classroom for the start to our long but informative day. Vince Groh, our country director, gave us our “Introduction to Liberia” presentation. The most memorable parts for me, was when he told us that while visiting President Bush at the White House, Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leaned over and said that Peace Corps should return to Liberia. They both approached the podium, and without anyone in Peace Corps knowing, they announced the return of the volunteers. The next year, Response Volunteers were arriving. Peace Corps has been in Liberia since 1962 (one year after Peace Corps started) and around 3,800 volunteers have served up until 1990 when the program was closed because of the civil war. There were two civil wars that left the country torn and unstructured. Peace Corps sent in Response Volunteers in 2008 (the war ended in 2005) and then the first group of two-year Peace Corps Volunteers came in June 2010. We refer to them as LR1s, and they have all been very welcoming and helpful in our first few days. They've already learnt by trial and error and are making our adjustment days into the country very easy and worry-free. Our group, being the second group of two-year volunteers is known as LR2. All of our two year volunteers are math, science, and English teachers in secondary schools all over Liberia.

I never knew until today what it meant for me to be picked for this country. Peace Corps needs strong, experienced, and that little extra something to make the difference, in order to serve as a PCV in a recent post-conflict country like Liberia. Liberia is the fourth poorest nation in the world and the poorest nation Peace Corps sends volunteers to. Liberians live off of less than $1 a day. I'm not sure what I said during my interview or did in my past volunteer work to show I was the right type of person for this challenge, but I'm not as grumpy about my long application process now. I feel incredibly honored to be a Peace Corps Trainee in Liberia. After pre-service training with a host family, we will be sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers.

One of the towns north of Monrovia, Salala, built a house to the standards of Peace Corps just so that they could have a volunteer. The fathers of the town put their own money and hard work into building the house so that their children could have a better education. This story almost made me cry.  It was so inspiring to see the kind of work that these parents and people will do for a chance at better education.
We bought our cell phones after this talk and I have made it my personal tech goal to learn T9 (predicting text). I have either texted the super slow way or had a phone with a full keyboard. Calls to the US are only $0.05 a minute which is great. Keeping in touch will be easier than I thought. So I called my mom, sister, Morley and her parents.

We had a bit of language training today as well. Learned some 'Good Morning' 'Goo Mornin' and a few other Liberian English greetings. We got a thick book...there is much more to come.
We got Typhoid and Rabies shots today and my arms are sore. They've taken a beating now. We also got an in-depth presentation from Bill (our medical officer) on malaria and I got a re-cap of college parasitology.
Lastly, Prince (our Safety and Security Officer= SSC) went over safety precautions for Monrovia. He will give us instruction for Kakata later when we arrive at our home stay.
And then we ate. And I cleaned up my luggage...now I'm sleeping.

June 14, 2011
We took our first walk around the capital today, in small groups with LR1 or staff members. We got to stop into the US Embassy because one of our group members took a picture too close to the Embassy, this is a restricted action and not tolerated usually by the US government...But we called Prince, and wiggled our way out. Afterward, we saw a baby chimp with a lollypop on the roadside, dressed in baby clothes near his owner. We all 'awww'ed and took pictures. Matt and I held him and he looked and felt like a furry baby.
Afterwards we met the US Ambassador for Liberia and she told us how happy she is that we are here and how concerned the Liberian President Sirleaf was that our training site was ready. She is planning to attend our "Swearing In" ceremony. I'm excited to meet her. The more people that come and talk, the more I'm being re-assured that we were handpicked for this group. Our country director wanted 30 volunteered, but 22 of us were all they could assure. Twenty-two volunteers who would be able to handle the extra challenges, hardships, triumphs, and stick it out to make Liberia a better country.

I made a guilty pleasure purchase today. I bought a collar, leash, brush and flea/tick shampoo. I hope to get a dog after training and this small pile of supplies was a great high for me. I've wanted two things since I was about 7. A puppy and a hammock. But my wonderful mom already bought me a hammock. I put up my hammock that night, over the bridge that connects the dorm and the teaching hall. The ropes didn't quite fit around the beams so I used duct tape. It worked, for awhile, and the hammock was verrrrry comfy. Everyone's a little jealous. The duct tape was done after an hour but Chris caught my hammock and I remained unhurt. I'll wait to find a tree next time.. :) All I can say is, if you know me, you aren't surprised by this story.

June 15, 2011
More classes today. Our group travels in small groups but took our first venture into the city without any staff or LR1. I bought oreos, pb cookies, and cool aid packets. yum. I can't wait to meet my host family and know who my roommate at site is going to be. It will happen soon, but not soon enough.
We set up our bank accounts also today. Because getting paid is important. :)