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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.