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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).

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