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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.

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