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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.

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