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Monday, October 22, 2012

August/September 2012

August was supposed to be a happy month filled with fruity drinks, sandy beaches, sea turtles, old slave trade forts, and national parks....and then Air Nigeria had to go and **** everything up. They grounded flights and I lost my ticket. Solution? Visit America instead.
I had a 22 hour layover in Accra though and got to hang out with some PCVs there and they took me around and I tried some local food and shopped around for fabric. Accra is far more developed than Monrovia is. They have a Holiday Inn, a shell gas station, and a mall....with a movie theater. I'm rather jealous. The taxis are nice and not falling apart, you get the whole seat to yourself and the people are much more used to seeing a lot of foreigners. We also saw a funeral procession that was taking place down the middle of the road. Ghanians spend a lot of money on funerals, they are quite a big deal there. When I told my friend Becca RPCV from Ghana and Liberia about how impressed I was with Accra (I do realize that upcountry Ghana is not that well developed) she said, “I know. When I was leaving Liberia and driving from the capitol to the airport, the taxi car was smoking a lot and caught fire once.” Crazy how close these two countries are but how far behind Liberia is due to the war.
Airplane food tasted like heaven...whatever that tastes like. I giggled in the JFK airport while using the vending machine, and rode the escalator twice. I ate so much cheese and other fatty American foods that my GI tract was very mad at me. I saw my parents, sister, friends, and old co-workers and bosses. I threw rocks into Lake Superior, enjoyed the Minnesota state fair, bar hopped nearly every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and ultimately had a blast. But I missed my dog …. a lot. I did buy him lots of yummy treats and toys for when I got back though. I also bought a dog crate to carry him back home in. That made it back to Liberia. I'm still surprised by that. I got stuck in JFK airport on my flight back. Deja vu? And sleeping in the JFK airport the second time around is ten times less fun since I didn't have my fellow PCVs from LR-2 to keep me company. By the time I landed, I hadn't showered in three days and was still wearing my original clothes (because they checked my spare clothes bag). Also in that bag was my toothbrush and deodorant. I was very happy to get it back finally in Liberia. After a hot shower (my last for awhile) I got a ride back to Bong Mines from the amazing and incredibly kind Craig. My new roommate, LR-3's Rachel Riti, had been watching over and taking amazing care of my dog, cat, and turtles. I can't thank her enough...but I think the bags of Cheetos and chocolate helped.
Naw wei was beyond happy to see me and never left me from his sight for at least the first five days I was back. He had been stressed by my unexplained departure and was very skinny (his ribs were clearly showing) and he had been acting out of character and picking lots of fights with other dogs. Monkey got big! Rachel fed her well. And because I'd left for the states just as Rachel was moving in with her own puppy, Otis, we never all settled in together. That was week one and two of my return. Me, Rachel, Naw wei, Otis, Monkey, and turtles.

School started (late) like I predicted it would again this year. I'm teaching 9th grade General Science, 10th grade Biology, 11th grade Biology, and 10th, 11th, and 12th Computer Class this year. In addition, I also asked to be 11th grade class sponsor. Basically this means I represent them, fill their report cards, and carry their complaints to administration. I'm very close with my 11th grade. They were my 10th grade last year and we all survived summer chemistry together. I know them all quite well and want to help them reach 12th grade. I also don't want them to have to deal with another dysfunctional classroom situation as was the case with Chemistry last year. Although, the chemistry issue has been fixed. Rachel is teaching chemistry to the 10th and 11th sometimes to 12th and General Science to 8th. We are the science power PCVs or as one Liberian man said to Rachel “Chemistry! You must be a medical doctor.” So pretty much everyone thinks we're the smarties.

My 11th grade class and I are excited to to the World Map Project this year on one of the outside walls of the school. We'll be painting a map of the world that is about 3m by 6m and this way, students will be more likely to learn geography and remember it. I can't tell you how many seventh graders could not point to Africa on a map. Also, the 11th graders and I need something to do for my last year. This is a fun and educational experience. After a few months, we will finally get to the painting process and before then I'll have to go buy paint. I estimate the project to cost less than $70 USD including brushes and paint. If you're interested in helping out with this cost small, let me know. I'll keep you updated on the map's progress.

And DONE! Blog is updated and current!....for like maybe the first time ever. ENJOY, and don't forget to read Early June where I remind you to send goodies :)

June, July and August 2012

June, July and August 2012
June, July and August was a blur of activities. Mainly graduations (which involves all night dance parties with super loud music right next to my house...and all the free rice you could eat) and fun with LR-3, the newest group of two year PCVs to arrive since my group a year ago.

LR-3 arrived on June 8th, 2012 with not to much of a hitch. The welcome party (including me) at the airport shuffled their many bags and selves onto our buses and Peace Corps cars. 35 new Peace Corps Trainees. We took them straight to Doe Palace in Kakata and they got settled in after a short initiation of the Kola nut and the mandatory and fun 'group photo'. They spent eight days on the compound before going off to live with home-stay families. Before they did that they went off for site exposure to visit PCVs already settled at site. I adopted Rachel and Lauren for the weekend and it was quite the fun weekend. I had them haul water, do their own wash by hand, cook Liberian food, help me grade test papers (it went super fast with two extra people helping), took them swimming in my famed swimming hole, fed them boiled peanuts and fried plantains from the road, took them to the final football match of the year: 6th grade vs. 7th grade, and introduced them to the wonderfulness of palm wine. It was action packed, but they took it like champs. Afterward, they headed back to Kakata for more training, and I prepared for the what was to become the party of the year...maybe the whole decade....Naw wei's Birthday Party.

June 16, 2012 was the biggest day ever for Bong Mines and the small Americo-Liberian Mutt named Naw  wei. It was his first birthday, and as I promised...(even though it started as a joke) I kept my word...and the party was on. My neighbors all got together (including my landlady) and started cooking. We cooked 50kg of rice. That's a lot of rice. We fried chicken and made Joll of rice. They also made popcorn for the kids. My good friend Kona who works the bar on the road brought cold water and juice (like enough for 200 people at least) and insisted it was free. I then forced her to accept an 'I went to Naw wei's Birthday Party' t-shirt. Yes... I made t-shirts. It was the only way to get my neighbors to agree to do all that cooking for me. So all nine of them got a shirt too. My Vice Principal, Lansana came with his sound system and we were up and blaring loud Liberian music from my porch. I have lots of pictures... I think a little over 300 people came. We gave out all the rice. My principal came and joined my dancing neighbors on the porch. Holly showed up and Naw wei was so happy to see her. He jumped all over her and she laughed at his handsome red 'health club' tie. (Everyone said he needed to dress up, but all I had were ties from my health club) Emmanuel ran the raffle to raise money for the school, I asked Naw wei for one dance during the evening, the children formed a mosh pit in front of my house, and the owner of the radio station came to do an interview with me about my dog's birthday party. I really didn’t imagine it getting that big. The music ran until 3am and I slept a lot the next day. I told my Country Director about the party and interview and he replied “You are such a goof! Bong Mines will be talking about you for decades!” The interview hit the airwaves two days later and word of mouth also aided in another side effect I hadn’t thought off...everyone found out about the crazy white lady who had a party for her dog. And when I say everyone...I mean it. Alex, a PCV who teaches in Gbarnga, told me his neighbor told him and also asked if he knew me. It was all the talk in Kakata. Then when I went to the Peace Corps Office in Monrovia three weeks later the guards outside asked if I knew the PCV who had the party for a dog. I gave a confused face and walked in. The Capital. My dog's birthday may have been national news.... And I can hear the future dialogue in Bong Mines ten years from now: “Do you remember Leela?” “Was she the Peace Corps Teacher who taught to the school and started that health club?” “I have no idea, but do you remember that dog's birthday party?!” No, I would not be very surprised if that ends up being the one thing they remember about me. :)

Later in June, my Health Club did dramas at the Bus Stop (named so after a small covered area where motorbikes and taxis stop). It was a great public program and the students had the people gathered around all laughing as they did dramas on hygiene, HIV/AIDS, bullying, rape, and prostitution. I estimate we attracted about 100 people over three hours. Amazing kids, I just organize them.

I made a small trip to Monrovia to apply for my Ghanian Visa and had my phone stolen. Yay Monrovia *sarcasm* At that time I still thought I was getting my summer vacation to Ghana....stay tuned for the update on that.

Graduation was very bittersweet at Bong Mine Central High School this past June. 14 seniors tried for graduation, only seven passed their classes and the WAEC exam.  The WAEC is the standardized test given to 12th graders before completion of high school. It's similar in a way to American ACT or SAT exams. Except that these exams are far above the majority of student's knowledge and even the wording, and questions are not spelled right or organized well. It's a death trap if I've ever seen one...one that I have not too much control over. But those seven did pass, they did very well and on top of the seven was Valedictorian, Christina Jamison. Younger sister to George Jamison (currently pursuing civil engineering at the University of Liberia) and daughter of Sarah Jamison (second grade teacher at Cental High and Assistant Dean). I'm always blown away when such humble people can come from such a poor background like the Jamisons and yet strive to make their children do better and go farther. I really don't think children in the States know what a great chance they have...in fact I know most of them have no idea. Picture a world where your family may have to choose between eating and paying for school, shorter school days, unqualified teachers, corrupt administrations, no textbooks, no labs or libraries, and not very many alternatives to grasp. Take that into consideration and finding students excelling and heading off to university is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

I spent the first week of July in Gbarnga' Cuttington University for a summer EHELD training through RTI. The goal behind the summer programs were to get students interested in engineering and agriculture to have a step up of preparing for further education through a involved summer program with PCVs and Univeristy of Michigan Graduate Students. The training and the teaching was beyond fun. Hands on projects like bio-gas digestors, solar cookers, and bridge building and classes like English and computer helped them in ways they could never have imagined or hoped. I helped Ryan teach the computer class which was great because I'm anticipated to be teaching computer this coming academic year in Bong Mines. I was also able to get George Jamison into the summer program and he was so happy to be there. Not to mention there was always fun activities and free food :) Incredible program...I hope it only expands from now on.

I sneaked my way onto the big ass bus for LR-3's village adventure ...yeah, no. I didn't sneak. But I felt sneaky. :) It was a fun weekend adventure away from the 'city' life in Kakata to a remote village in Marigibi County. I think they planned it after the 50th celebration was such a big hit with the rest of us. Anywho, I loves me a remote village so I was on that bus. We had a welcoming program at the village, plenty rice and dancing (I got down and did some cultural dancing with the kids), I drank a considerable...because all I know is it was a lot... of palm wine, and the PCVs played the villagers in an epic game of football. We had to leave the game a draw 2:2 but team Peace Corps did score the first two goals with the help of Country Director Vince Groh of course. :) Settling in for the night included an outdoor shower (nice and warm) and a walk to the schoolhouse with the kids. No generators out here, and so after a few hours of singing gospel and Disney songs (guess which ones we were singing) I had a long good sleep cuddled under a mosquito net.

I also taught a two week crash summer chemistry class in July. The school's chem teacher thought it was acceptable to be flaky about attending class, give confusing notes, administer difficult exams and then fail 17 of my 25 tenth graders. And administration was letting him get away with this ….crime. And if you fail one major subject such as Chemistry, you must take summer school. If you fail two subjects at all, you must repeat the grade. So that would mean those 17 students should enroll for summer class. Problem: Mr. evil chemistry teacher refuses to teach the class. Possible result: All those students fail when really, they'd never really received good instruction all year on the subject. Solution: Miss Stephanie volunteers to teach the class and requests the administration lower the cost of the class from $14 USD to free. Administration says: but they failed, they can not take the class for free. Students end up paying $7 USD (nearly the cost of an entire year of government schooling). Miss Stephanie is not seeing any of this money for her summer efforts. Guess who has to growl under her breath and deal with  all the injustices? Good news: all 12 students enrolled pass the summer class and can move on to 11th grade. They end up learning more than the passing students knew about chemistry.

Once upon a time. TIME. I was waiting for my taxi to fill (or for all the seats to be bought) and I sat on a bench behind the car. The trunk was open to load bags, and my chicken was laying in the back, it's little chicken feet tied together so it'd stay put. Miss Nugget was going to Kakata with me to be delivered to Holly. Holly did not want a chicken, but she didn't have a choice. In Liberia, it's custom to trade a chicken for a cat. And I had my cat, Monkey, but had not given her a chicken. I'm not really a superstitious person, but from experience, I've seen it to be true. Cats must be traded for chickens or they will surely have bad luck. Case en point: Our second kitten (gifted to us): died from unknown disease or blockage, our third kitten (gifted to me): stolen from the porch by evil doing children and never seen again. Katelyn’s cat (found/gifted): attacked by dogs. And the list goes on with other PCVs. The point being...trade a chicken. And so, here I sit waiting to go and this young boy (maybe 11 years) saunters by the trunk and sees my chicken. He turns, and grabs the chicken and I'm thinking: Hey, that's my chicken! He grabs it's wing and pulls it out from the chicken's body and leans in.....and I'm too surprised and speechless to say much as he bites...yes, bites my chicken. In a second I realize he has bitten a feather off, but in the quick second I thought it was the wing. I finally say “Hey!” and he just holds the feather up to me saying he was just getting the feather. (insert confused expression on Stephanie's face here) I then watch as he strips the lower follicles of the feather off the stock until only the tip has feathers on it. He then spits on the end and sticks it into his ear, walking casually away. My mouth is hanging open as I finally realize my chicken was just bitten by a young boy who is using it's dirty feather and some good ol fashion spit to clean his ear like a Q-tip. I'd been in Liberia for over a year...and I was still being blindsided by the things that people do here.

Early June 2012

Early June 2012

I made PICKLES!!!!! And yes! I’m /that/ excited over them. You come live in the Liberian bush with no ground beef or cheese for as long as I have and you’d get excited over pickles too. I love pickles but I wasn’t a huge fan of them, but when I can’t get the burger, sesame seed bun, or cheese, I’ll take the pickle. Nora was the first to fix pickles last November. I picked her brain. Turns out all you need are: jar, vinegar, salt, and cucumbers. Extras can include: mustard, dill, garlic, and peppers. And so I have made garlic pepper pickles (hot but so yummy), garlic pickled radishes, pepper dill, garlic mustard pickles, and the triple combo garlic pepper dill pickles. I may have too much free time but it’s a delicious way to spend time. The waiting three or four weeks for them to complete the pickling process is probably the hardest part…other than the other hard part: trying not to eat them all in one day.

Who ever eats freeze dried food other than astronauts? Answer: me, the peace corps volunteer without a refrigerator. I remember saying how gross freeze dried food is. Statement retracted. I L.O.V.E. The freeze dried ice cream mom mails me, and I'm currently munching on some freeze dried peas while typing and trying to figure out how best to catch you all up on life since my last post was eons ago. (I see an opportunity to drop my mailing address so you can mail me goodies! )

Stephanie Nys
Peace Corps Volunteer
P.O. Box 707
Monrovia, Liberia
West Africa

followed by a short list of things I love: veggies, mushrooms, ice cream (all dried), chocolate, beef jerky, chocolate, sunflower seeds, hot chocolate, chips (omg Doritos), cheesy things (ie goldfish crackers), chocolate and the dog says he likes pig ears and chicken treats. I mentioned chocolate right? :)

I think it would be fun to do some kind of montage of my summer, but without uploading capabilities, that really puts a damper on that. I'll do my best to remember...at least the best parts and the very humorous parts.

We (PCVs) held a BBQ at the Doe Palace training center in May. We never actually ended up cooking (cause our fabulous cooking staff was working, and we were busy having fun) but I did make brownies! I don't recommend eating too many too fast, but I will never say that I regret it. Never. Holly also brought her favorite kitten from MoMo's first litter down from Nimba with her. A beautiful white and steal gray kitten with yellow eyes and a orange star design etched around the pupils. After a 'fun' taxi ride back with pretty kitty (who tried savagely to attack me by clawing, biting, and crying) and the little yellow Nissan that kept breaking down, I got her back to my house and swore under my breath for a long time. Forget dainty names I realized soon enough, as I watched her fly all over the house and get her grubby paws into everything, I'm calling this cat Monkey.

There was a rumor that the old market space in my town of Bong Mines would be used to build a Total Gas Station! This made me unbelievably happy. I don't really care much about the gasoline, it's the store's shop that I'm talking about. Snicker bars, M&Ms, Butterfingers, wine, cereal, beer, soy milk, oatmeal glazed cookies as far as the eye can see....so to speak. But all of these luxuries do come at a higher price. There are Totals all over Liberia now: Kakata, Ganta, Tubmanburg, ZorZor, Zwedru and of course there are many in Monrovia. Holly tells me the Kakata Total now stocks cake mix.....CAKE MIX! Ahem, anyways ...I found out the Bong Mines Total was not meant to be (at least nothing has been built in five months) but I did get all fired up about having snickers bars be less than 10 minutes from my house. :) I can still get them in Kakata and bother all my friends who read my blog and love me dearly to mail goodies too. *pokes*

The Health Club headed to the radio station to do our usual segment for Radio Bong Mine 95.5 on Tuesday night. It was a big day for us because we had two girls doing the program and it was a well written skit on Teenage Pregnancy. Precious and Anna were with Health Club Vice Pres, Sunday Matthew. It was Anna's first time ever going on the radio, so she was nervous, but I helped her practice her part and she knew it very well by Tuesday. We started the program with a introduction from Sunday and then he turned the microphone over to the girls to introduce themselves. Precious started first. “Hello radio listeners, my name is Precious Toloe, Treasurer of the Health Club. And this is--” Anna takes a big breath and yells....I mean yells...into the microphone: “MY NAME IS ANNA N. CARMUE.” Takes another deep breath. “AN ACTIVE MEMBER OF THE HEALTH CLUB.” Another breath. “WE ARE HERE TO BRING YOU THE DRAMA: TEENAGE PREGNANCY.” It didn't matter what we all told her during the short breaks in the program....she yelled her way through the whole thing. Sunday and Precious were very mature about the whole thing until we parted ways on the walk home and Anna left our walking party. I have never laughed so much then with those two students in a loong long time. Sunday kept impersonating Anna and I kept trying (not hard at all) to remind them it's better to be too loud than too quiet on the radio. We dropped Precious off to her house and Sunday and I continued on to mine. When we got home, Emmanuel was on my porch with the radio. He had been listening to our program. I said “How was the program?” He said, “It was good.” Sunday said, “Did you hear Anna?” Emmanuel smiled and said, “I think everyone in Bong Mines heard Anna.”