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Monday, January 23, 2012

Surfing Liberia for Christmas? Yes, please.

Just before Christmas break, Holly and I finally made the trip to Handii (Hen-dee). Handii is a small town north of our site. The other direction goes on to Kakata. Everyone at my site talks about Handii’s market and we finally had time off to see it. Market day is Tuesday which is why it was hard to visit, normally that’s a school day for us. We did some good shopping there and I bought many Christmas presents. I saw an antbear (anteater) and crocodile for sale. The St. Paul River I crossed up in Lofa County passes by Handii. There are long canoes carved out of thick tree logs that carry passengers across the river. No bridge here. :) Next time, I plan to pack a lunch and go across and explore.

December 22nd started my holiday vacation. Holly joined along as did little Naw wei. Naw wei didn’t much like the taxi ride into Monrovia nor when we had to walk through Red Light. Red Light is the area just outside of Monrovia where the taxis leave for all locations past there. There is also a large market and basically, it’s complete chaos. I took Naw wei to the only animal vet in the country. He had some mange on his ears so that got treated. He got his DHPP shot and a rope bone from me to make up for the shots.

On the 23rd, Holly, Dani, Anjulie, Ryan, Naw wei and I chartered a taxi from Monrovia to Robertsport (the iconic surfing location preferred by local surfers). We encountered a small hiccup getting past Klay. The government had hired people living along the roads to clean them. And well, those people had not gotten their Christmas pay yet. They rioted. Road blocks went up all over. Suddenly our taxi was forced to stop; the rioters were throwing rocks, sheet metal, and ladders into the road to make them impassible. There were two blocks in front of us, many many more behind us. The situation was charged with emotions and angry Liberians. They would not let any cars pass. I have to be honest; there were a couple moments where I feared it was going to turn from aggressive to violent. But the LNP (Liberian National Police) showed up and got the protestors calmed down. The road blocks were stripped away and after 50 intense minutes of waiting and worrying, we were allowed to pass. These situations are not common but not uncommon. The country is still working its way out a bad civil war and situations can be risky. But we were traveling in a group and the Police took good care of us.

Once on the road again, we picked up Nora and her dog, Milo, at the junction on the way into Robertsport. We got a good look at Lake Piso and a face full of dirt from the dusty road along the way. Robertsport is quite large in size, not population. Some of the roads are in good condition and it’s not hard to picture how nice of a place it was before the war tore it apart. There were sidewalks! The town stretched out for some time and we finally reached the Robertsport Community Campsite. (***shout out to Prince who runs the campsite: He’s amazing, trustworthy, knowledgeable, and knows good customer service. I recommend staying with him.) We pitched our tents and jumped into the surf. 0.05 seconds later I realized I’d lost my glasses in the ocean. Go me. That first night, I let Naw wei sleep with me in my tent. He was a little nervous about all these new places and tired from traveling. He made a good pillow and the extra warmth was nice considering it gets rather chilly on the water at night. Something we had not really thought about before leaving.

I went surfing with Ken and Sam (a little Liberian boy who is a waaay better surfer than me) on Christmas day. The waves were small, good for getting back into the groove of the sport. I took a mid-day break to take a nap in the sand and we all ate fish and rice later that night. Naw wei loves chasing the little crabs in the sand on the surf. This made for fun night walks. My arms were sore, but I found myself of the surf the next day as well. I found Liberian waves (at least during the dry season) are tamer than the 7 or 10 footers I had been trying to learn on in Australia. I know I’ll be back, the area is just ‘too fine’. :) We wrapped up the week with a game of Ultimate Frisbee and more marshmallow roasting.

We left Robertsport and headed to Tenii in Grand Cape Mount. We went swimming and ate some fabulous burritos at Nora’s house. That’s where we got Peep, the little land tortoise. He’s got a bum leg, but he’s a mad banana eater and is pretty darn cute. Nora has chickens….made me want chickens. Possibly just because I want to name one ‘McNugget’. :) After dinner Nora’s adorable neighbor girl told us Liberian stories and after that we drank palm wine out of an old motor oil jar. The palm wine drinking was accompanied by loud singing to Disney songs such as ‘I’ll Make a Man out of You’ from Mulan.

Dani and Anjulie followed Holly, Naw wei and I back to our site after stopping in Monrovia. More palm wine was to be had with Liberians and Dani and I did some stargazing.

After the holiday break and classes resumed, we got the news that the renovated half of the school was ready to be used. Now if you were not reading earlier posts you should know that we have been operating on half the school because the Chinese working at the Mine are also repainting and fixing up our school. We got all the students to help and moved seats into the new rooms. I will happily be assigning seating charts for the next period so that learning all my students’ names will be possible….and classroom management will improve.
I added a bonus question to my seventh grade exam: What happens if you spy on a test? Correcting them was great. :) I got lots of ‘I will get a zero’ and ‘I will fail’ or the misspelt version ‘I will fall’. Holly Cook (Miss Cook) asked them the bonus question: ‘What is your English teachers’ name?’ and got some good ones such as: ‘Hollywood Cook’ and ‘Mas Colk’ .

Then our Country Director dropped by for a visit of site and a special delivery. My mom and dad mailed two kindles to him when he went to the states for the holidays. We are quite in love with our new shiny kindles and have put more than 1,100 books on them. Time spent reading has risen muchly. :) I also thank you for the chocolate oranges, frontline plus for puppy, and mp3 cord allowing me to play my iPod on my smashingly awesome speakers. Thank you thank you parents!

Just found a safe place to charge my laptop last week. Liberia surprises me all the time. I can now charge my laptop at the cell phone tower across from my school building. I know sometimes I complain about not having running water and electricity, and many returned volunteers like to tell me about how back when they were in Peace Corps it was that way. My only bit of perspective on that is that back then, most people didn’t have access to lots of technology and no one had cell phones. Peace Corps volunteers working in countries like mine grew up on computers and internet. It’s really interesting learning to work and live without them sometimes.

This week the new American Embassy opened with a ribbon cutting by the Secretary of State. I have not yet been there to see it, but I hear good things. Madam President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn into another term of office on December 16th, 2012.

And I finally built my garden! My tenth grader helped out and I have now planted pineapple, watermelon, carrots, peas, and cherry tomatoes. The essentials, ya know ;) Beans are projected to hit the dirt next week and I’ll need to add new goals onto my list. 


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  3. Good morning how are you?
    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys travelling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.
    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.
    For all this I would ask you one small favour:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Liberia? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Liberia in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Calle Valencia, 39
    28903 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog www.cartasenmibuzon.blogspot.com where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.
    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours faithfully

    Emilio Fernandez