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Friday, September 2, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, it sounds like you are having such a great adventure. :)