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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Madness from the month of May

May 2012
I feel that I can finally call myself a true Peace Corps Volunteer now that I’ve been accused of being part of the FBI from a group of Chinese here at my site. I think it’s hilarious…they are very cautious around me. On one hand, I can’t imagine who would ever think that I could pass for FBI…but on the other hand, someone silly, dorky, and bubbly would be sneaky and unexpected. My friend Nora who was visiting (I was informed is working for the CIA). Personally, I think I got the cooler job and have given up trying to convince them otherwise. Maybe one day I’ll mess with them and sneak around with a camera….nah. I don’t want to ruffle and legal feathers. But I still get the small pleasure of them whispering about my top secret job. Heehee.

My family bought me an old model BlackBerry curve for my birthday and with the help of Karen (who carried it in her bag to Liberia) I got it in early May. It’s quite nice really and I took it down to Monrovia and they installed a browser…that’s right. I can get prehistorically slow internet on my phone…when the cell tower is working…and my phone is charged…and I have credit loaded on it. BUT the point is that I can do it sometimes. However, I’ll still have to write you all on my laptop and upload it via USB stick or in Kakata/Monrovia. I also (for the first time since I left home) have a camera phone! I also can load a micro SD card in it…Heeelllooo African music! :) Now I can jam out to this stellar hits on my laptop AND my phone. My students are happy about it. They love their African tunes as do I.

My Health Club decided to do community dramas in Handii. Handii is the small town north-ish of Bong Mines. Handii (like many small towns in Liberia does not have a daily market, they have a weekly market) has market day on Tuesdays. People there must buy all their provisions for the entire week on one day. So, in conclusion, the market is packed and crazy, but tons of fun! You’ll never know if you’ll find a crocodile, ant bear, water dog (otter), monkey, or other bizarre wilderness animal for sale. Unfortunately they are not sold as pets…everything gets put into soup here.

Storms in May were by far the most beautiful of them all. The rain is not too much, and the high winds knock the remainder of the plums (aka mangoes) from the trees. I took more than 30 photos of my neighbor kids racing each other in the rain to be the first to catch the fallen plums. Not to mention eating plums while waiting out a tropical rainstorm is by far the most fun you could have during a thunderstorm. I ate soooo many plums during April and May. The banana mango pancakes were by far my favorite food to make with the plums. I’m already sad when I think about going back to the States and knowing that the mangoes there will never be as sweet as the ones here.

I also got another mental health package from home. Thanks mom and dad! Favorites from this box included more hair dye, body wash (totally a fan of this stuff), the shiny red puppy collar for Naw wei (I’m waiting small for him to destroy is current one first), the book on the plants of West Africa!, and my adorable sister, Taylor, was responsible for the organically made surfboard wax. I love her for that. :) Speaking small about the surfboard, Toothless is doing fine, but we haven’t had time to get away lately. I’ve planned a getaway for just us later this summer.

I also bought a bicycle! It’s a little small for me and I’m dealing with it until I can hopefully find one to switch it with that has a larger frame. Regardless, I never thought I’d sign up to be a Peace Corps Volunteer and take time trying to make sense of cycles and how they work and how to fix one. It’s kind of a lot of trial and error, but I love to learn and who knows when this self-taught skill may come in handy. Getting the cycle back to Bong Mines was quite the experience….watching the taxi drivers argue over who was going to carry the white woman and how they were going to strap it to the top of the little yellow Nissan with the large jerry cans filled with red oil while not upsetting the white woman who wanted her bike to arrive in one piece. But like all the other crazy and chaotic experiences I’ve had here, I survived and so did the bike. I think at some point I should make an entire post alllll about travel in Liberia and its….what’s the word I’m looking for?.....joys. :)

I also now own a generator. Now before you jump to any harsh reactions or conclusions, know that I’ve run the machine three times since I got it and the time of this post. Generators don’t cost too much here. Mine was $80 USD. My house is wired for current (aka electricity) and I have things I occasionally need to charge (ie laptop) especially since the Comium cell tower next to my school (where I normally charge all my stuffs) has been broken for a long time. I don’t trust the charge stations on the road. Things disappear from them way too much. My neighbors were all excited at first when I got it…now they’re less enchanted. “Leela can’t turn on the machine much at all. She can’t watch show inside….no TV?! She only get light inside der.” And I laugh… a lot. In Liberia, you’re kinda crazy if you turn on the generator and don’t watch a movie…but they’ve come to accept that I’m already crazy (I mean, I bathe my dog). I don’t do it much because: it’s noisy as hell, it stinks like gas, gas is expensive ($6 USD for a gallon), and I think it’s cute and campy to live by candlelight every night. I can now add generator tech to my list of random amateur skills.

I also now have purchased plane tickets to Ghana for August 16-26th, 2012. As much as I *insert mild sarcasm here* /love/ Liberia. Not to mention, I think I’ve hit my frustrating but inevitable ‘one year block’. It’s not an easy post to serve in. The United Nations report from 2011 showed Liberia as the second poorest country in the world. Liberia is /the/ poorest Peace Corps country of all the countries we serve, and you can ask any of my colleagues here, it’s challenging, rewarding, draining, and an emotional roller coaster. For all of those reasons, it’s essential to cool it small, and take a much needed vacation. I chose Ghana since the tickets are pretty cheap, and Ghana is arguably the most developed country in all West Africa. They have paved roads, electricity (for the most part), functioning public transport, a big tourism industry, and a well-established Peace Corps presence. Some of my friends who I’ve told that I’m going are worried since I am going alone (all my other PCV friends are busy with visiting friends/family or they’re special and have money to visit America unlike me). But if I can handle Liberia…I think I have enough common sense to handle Ghana. I’ll re-cap that trip when it finishes, but so far, I’m looking into visiting Ankasa National Park, Akwidaa Beach, Cape Coast Castle, Budumburam Refugee Camp (held 40,000 war refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia) , and Accra (of course). My plan is thus: relax, swim, look for turtles on the beach, hike the national park, visit the refugee camp, go bar hopping in Accra,  and sleep over night in an old slave trade castle. Then go back to Liberia for my last lap :)

McNugget, my white rooster, is no more. “He coming die now.” He was sick for a day and since I’m not a poultry illness expert, I asked my neighbor Helena. She said that we can eat him…but only if we kill him. If he dies on his own, no way. We cannot eat him. That’s what they believe in Liberia. And so, I gave McNugget to Varney the neighbor boy (women aren’t banned from killing chickens; they just do not do it. The men to it.).  Varney killed the chicken, and my neighbors cleaned and cooked him. We all enjoyed a very chicken-filled meal that day. He was “sweet-o!”. It was the first pet I’ve ever had that I’ve eaten. I don’t know what my animal-loving, vegetarian sister would say, but I tell people “It was a cultural experience”. And that’s very true. However, I have limits too. I would /never/ share the cultural experience of eating dog or cat. But your integration level and local language proficiency can really help you do anything here. I swear by it :)

More gossip came my way in May when some of my tenth graders told me that one of the girls in the class slept with another girl student’s husband. Funny twist is that these two girls are really good friends…and surprisingly still are. I don’t think I’ll ever understand but it was hilarious to listen in feel included rather than their strange white teacher who in need of constant respect. Pfffftt, I enjoy some funny gossip too. Although I did come into the talk and voice that I hoped they all used condoms. :)

Children in Bong Mines are always confused by me and it warrants for great debates and arguments. Here are the top favorites of mine to overhear.
1. “Dat woman!” “Dat man!” “No, dat woman. You stupid.”
2. “Chinee!” “American!” “No, Chinee woman.” And the random “Peace Corps Lady” which I like
3. “Dat weave cap!” “No, dat her real hair.” “No, dat weave.” “Dat lie!”
4. “Quieta!” “No, dat Leela, no Quieta.” (Quieta= Holly’s kpelle name)
And even though she was shorter than me, had long blonde hair….Our names still get mixed up.

Monday, June 18, 2012

April 2012

Late March 2012
Forgot to tell you about the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) Reading Competition at the end of March. It was my school against all the other schools in Fuamah District. Contenders included Pentecostal, Golauunma, Dobli Island, Botoe Barclay, Nancy B. Doe, Gbandi Community, Lawana Public School, and Bong Mine Central High School. Of course we dominated and won by a landslide. :) Our elementary teachers attended a reading enhancement workshop in December to help the teachers teach the students to read and that letters have their own sounds. Along with bragging rights, we also took the top prize: a big ol’ clock for the school (which plays random Beethoven songs on the hour) and a chance to compete in Gbarnga the county capital in May! Go BMCHS! Honestly, I just hope we beat Salala. The PCVs there have been too awesome and need some friendly competition from Bong Mines to show them up a little. :P Look out, Salala! We coming-o!

April 2012
April needs to begin with a few laughs, after all the first day in April is April Fools. I monopolized on that day by texting my Country Director and telling him the Sande (traditional bush school for women) allowed me to join them and I asked him if he thought our PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) would mind that I had some scarification done. I told him it didn’t really hurt much. He actually believed me and I was pretty impressed. The Poro (traditional school for men) and Sande don’t allow outsiders in. I’m not knowledgeable on this topic in the least.

Also on the funny note, some of you may have noticed my photo albums on facebook include a few funny clips of my student’s writing. Some of my favorite misspelling and other mistakes include these: “ Malaria is cause by men”, “Menstruation is an infection”, and Anjulie Shea’s student wrote “Weed in acid” for types of simple machines….I’m sure she meant wheel and axle. All of these make grading papers so much more fun. My friend Dani also sent me a funny text saying that she was near some small children in her town and she knew they were taking about toilet paper because they said ‘The white people use it to wipe poo poo of their butts’. I found this hysterical and told my mom who instead of laughing, paused and then asked “What do Liberians use it for?” To which I calmly replied “To wipe the rust from the lip of our soda bottles of course”. Aaaaand that summarizes up life here pretty well.

I took a trip up into Lofa to visit Dani and Anjulie (because I miss them and love them…they’re read this someday). Their site is called Salayea (Sa-la-yay) as opposed to Charlene and Kristin’s site Salala (which we make fun and call it Sa-la-lame! They tolerate this abuse). While in Lofa I was FORCED to eat toupurgee (the only Liberian soup I do not like because it’s bitter and has too much soda) and wasn’t feeling too hot before that and ended up with runny stomach (aka diarrhea). When I get home I will have a gastro intestinal tract of STEEL. :) We visited the school and checked out the trees and mountains. You know your site saw heavy war damage if there are bullet hole remains in the trees at your site. We made a day trip to Zorzor to shop as well. Zorzor has a Total gas station!!!!! Let me explain. Total is a gas company here in Liberia and has, until recently, only been in Monrovia. Total is like….mini America. They sell quality powdered milk (still not quite as good as back home), REAL chocolate, soy milk, crackers, all kinds of Pringles, American brand shampoo, international beers, and Lebanese bread. I need one in Bong Mines. So there are now mini america’s popping up all over Liberia so I can buy butterfingers without going to Monrovia (they’re still expensive though). They have Total in Zorzor, Ganta, Kakata and I think Zwedru may have one. Also in Zorzor we bought some lapas and local paintings (which I need more of so I can decorate African style when I go home).

Finished reading House On Sugar Beach! And I highly recommend it. It’s best to read after you’ve been in country for three or four months so you know the locations and understand the lingo better. I also HIGHLY recommend Blue Clay People as well. Loved that book about Liberia. The Darling was okay, great story, but I didn’t like the main character very much.

For my 25th Birthday: I slept, read, sat on the beach with my dog, and ate chocolate cake. It was stressful. :) I also got to enjoy ice cubes, carpet, hot showers, and air conditioning for two nights! I was planning to reach Robertsport to surf, but I wanted my board and dog to come along and my ride fell through. It worked out though because I got some care packages and care letters from my friends and family. HUGE thank you to my Auntie Barb and Uncle Tiny for the chex mix snack box and goldfish crackers. You knew exactly what I needed. It was also a happy birthday to my dad who shares the same birthday with me. He can tell me I’m old all he wants…but he’s older!

A week later I packed up my four best twelfth graders to take them down to a Career Expo in Monrovia. I thought editing and writing MY resume was a pain….imagine teaching it to four Liberians who’ve never done one before. BUT we finished, printed them, found our professional dress, and practiced our interview skills and headed to City Hall. At city hall they got really great workshops on Entrepreneurship, Interview Tips, and How to act on the job and keep your resume (they all say CV here) updated. Then there was an event hall packed with employers looking for new workers. They got to drop their resumes and find out about different opportunities for jobs that they never would have otherwise.  One of them actually got hired from this event. I was really proud of them and I have a better idea what companies are hiring. Because you tell your students ‘go to school for a better future’ but we never tell them what they should focus on because we don’t know what Liberia’s looking for. What jobs are vacant? What subjects are key to Liberia’s growth? How can I prepare my student for that type of job/career path?

I also stopped by to see the NEW Doe Palace Training Center in Kakata. Man…. It’s nice. There is an all new dorm building complete with electricity, air conditioning, refrigerator, hot showers, couches and wifi. LR-3 (the next group of PCVs) are SPOILED. Doe Palace also has an auditorium hall for lectures/movies (I vote the ladder), a main building for offices and cafeteria (with amazing cooks and food!). Palaver huts coming soon. So I enjoyed the A/C and made some COLD powdered milk and ate it with M&M’s from the Kakata Total gas station, yum! The resident dog of Doe Palace (named Peace Corps) had puppies not too long before (maybe April 16th) and so I got to see the cute 6 balls of fluff that are currently (on June 16th) running all over the grounds and making friends with the new LR-3 trainees.

I returned to site to give period exams to find out that one of the teachers charged $20 (Liberian dollars) for an exam that he didn’t even print…he wrote it on the board. Test fees are $15 Liberian dollars and that cost goes to cover the expense of printing (printing in Kakata because all the photocopy machines in my site have been broken for over 8 months now) TIA. The test fee applies to each subject and was agreed upon by the PTA. Anyway, my best friend and student Emmanuel refused to pay the 20 dollars and gave him 15. The rest of the class paid the 20 dollars and didn’t argue at all. Liberian students are scared. Scared the teacher my do something to affect their grade if they refuse. They believe they do not have any rights in the school. This….made me very vexed. And so I whipped up a stellar motivational speech with lots of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr quotes and stomped back into their class and empowered them to make a stand against these injustices! I asked them if they were going to allow their children to be used by the school system when they became parents. They were all quite shocked. I think they were surprised to find a teacher who cared so much. I also took the information to the Vice Principal and he was happy I did. I know the teachers have a hard time with pay business, but that doesn’t mean they can make the students (who are already very poor) suffer even more.

Chichipoole means gossip here. And lots of that was happening the night the chicken stealing business went down. Here’s what happened. I have two roosters. McNugget and Tater Tot (or Mr. White and Mr. Brown to my neighbors). Every night they come home at dusk and walk into the shop from the front porch which I leave open for them. They settle atop their respectable chicken baskets or sometimes share one and cuddle. I then lock the door for the night. Day 1: McNugget comes home on time. Tater Tot doesn’t show up. I lock McNugget inside and tell myself Tater Tot will come tomorrow. Day 2: McNugget comes home at night. Tater Tot finally shows up dragging a thick rope tied to his foot. He goes inside the shop and I think someone has just tried to rouge my chicken. I cut the rope off him. Day 3: McNugget comes home at night. Tater Tot is late. My neighbor tells me that she thought she saw him a few houses down in a different chicken basket. I investigate. It’s true! I find Tater Tot and take him. The woman there says it’s the man in the house’s chicken. I tell her she’s wrong. I put Tater Tot in the shop. The man shows up asking for his chicken. His story: They woman in the house there *point* sold it to me two nights ago. Translation: That woman stole my chicken and then sold it to this fool who believed her when she said it was hers. Result: I kept my chicken, he got his money back, the woman was rather ashamed, and my neighbors laughed over much Chichipoole.