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Thursday, July 7, 2011

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. :)

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