Sunday, September 21, 2014

Kakata Goodbyes

Saying goodbye to my home stay family in Kakata was equally as hard during those last few days.  How can I say goodbye to those who welcomed me to Liberia and taught me so much about life in this beautiful country? 

My sisters cried and cried the night that I had to leave them, and I will never forget how hard it was to walk away from Gotumo Town in Kakata for the last time that Tuesday in August.  Thank you, Mulbah family, for all you taught me.  I will see you again…soon.

And to my Peace Corps family - thank you all so much for the wonderful times we shared together during the last 14 months.  You made my time in Liberia unforgettable and I will always remember Liberia in my prayers. 

These truly were the best 14 months of my life.

Ma Cici and I - the best cook in Liberia

ZayZay, the Training Manager, and I

Bernice - she's a great cook too :)

Monica - true beauty right here.

Fatu, Security at Doe Palace, and I

MaDee and I

Sam, the Program Manager, and I

Muna and I

Goma, Doe Palace Staff, and I

Fatu and I

These girls <3

Muna and I

The ladies of Doe :)

My sisters and I

Prince, Safety and Security Manager, and I

Monica and I

Family Photo Time

Just a photo tribute to those I love in Pleebo.  How do I say goodbye to those who opened their arms, hearts, and homes to me during a confusing and (at times) stressful situation?  How do I express my gratitude and appreciation to those who treated me like one of their own, even when I was so radically different or maybe even bizarre compared to their families?  I never can say goodbye to these beautiful people – it is only ever “see you later.” 

I will see you again, Zone 2.  And until then, I will miss you plenty-oh. 

Patricia and I - I am holding her son, Rufus Jr.

Henu, Merdia, and I

Roland and I, with Henu and Ma-E

Georgia & Alexander and family

Cecilia and Hnede

May and I

David, the owner of Real Madrid Teashop, and I

Peter, Ma-E, AB, and I

Hamas and Amadou, Rufus, Jr. and I

June Boy and I

Eliyassa, Merdia, and I

Angel and I

Regina, Muhammad, and I
This woman is the best mother I know.

Muhammad  <3
The poor guy was teething and not too happy this night...

Beatrice and her family

Evelyn, Mieta, Jimmy, and I

Amadou and I

Travel back to site

When I found out I would be leaving Liberia within the week, my first thought was “how am I going to get back to Pleebo to a) get my things and b) say goodbye to all those who I love?” After talking to Becky, my boss who informed us of the decision to leave Liberia, I came to the realization that I was probably not going to be able to return back home to Maryland county.  I was devastated by this news, and I walked around not really knowing what to do with myself…

I begged my boss to allow me to return back to Pleebo, arguing my case as such:  if I left Kakata Thursday morning early, I could reach Pleebo by Friday night, turn around on Saturday, and be back in Kakata on Sunday.  She told me to wait until 7 am the next morning before I made any decisions; this terrified me.  If I couldn’t return back to Maryland County, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to have any real closure on this situation. 

Thankfully, the next morning I found out that Sam and ZayZay, two Liberian staff members who work so hard on behalf of all the Volunteers, argued my case and got me a Peace Corps car and driver to carry me to the southeast.  Brian (the volunteer in Zwedru) and I got in the car with Alieu, our driver, that morning and headed out to the southeast.  We arrived in Zwedru, got something to eat and dropped off Brian, and made it all the way to Fish Town before stopping to sleep for the night – a trip of about 15 hours.  In that time, we drove through a river that went up to the windows on the LandCruiser, we drove through mud that went up to the base of the car, and there were many times that I thought we would have gotten stuck.  Alieu, however, was an amazing driver, and we made it safely.

The next morning, we woke up, had breakfast, and headed to Pleebo, where we arrived around 1:00 pm.  There I spent my time packing up and saying my goodbyes (see the next post), and the next morning we headed back again.  We left Pleebo around 9:00 am, picked up PCVs along the way, and spent the night in Ganta, where we arrived at 10:00 pm.  The next day, Sunday, we arrived in Kakata around 11 am, where we unpacked and waited to be shipped out. 

On the trip back to Kakata, we almost got stuck quite a few times due to the heavy rain.  Once we did get stuck, though, and thanks to the truck drivers and Liberian men in one of the taxis, our car was shoveled out of the mud, and we were sent on our way.  The mud on one hill in particular is especially tricky, and I was amazed we made it through on our way back to Kakata. 

I will be forever grateful to Sam and ZayZay for their advocating for a Peace Corps car to carry us down to the southeast and back.  Had I not been in that vehicle, I would have never made it to Pleebo (or back to Kakata), and who knows when I would have left Liberia.  (Not like that would have been a bad thing, but I don’t think Peace Corps policy would have approved, haha.) 

It was a trip I will always remember, that’s for sure.  Liberian hospitality, thankfully, made it much better and easier to tolerate.  Again, just another reason why I love that country so much.

Alieu, the best driver in Peace Corps Liberia!
A little mud never hurt, right?

Mitch is standing on what was the old's a road no more

This truck got stuck; we were forced to go around it.

Our transport back to Kakata

This was where we got stuck.


Ebola Announcement

Wednesday, July 30, I was visiting with a Peace Corps friend after a day of sessions and we were busy discussing what we were thinking about doing after returning to the States next year.  I received a phone call from Devin, another PC friend, saying we had a meeting at Doe Palace and we needed to come ASAP.  I figured it was our daily PCV debrief meeting, as was normal after a day of observing things at model school.  We leisurely made our way to the meeting, and upon arriving, I noticed how full (and somber) the place was.

Devin met us at the door and asked if we had just gotten there.  I said yes, and he informed me that as of 1:00 pm that afternoon, Peace Corps decided to temporarily remove all Volunteers and trainees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea due to dangers of the Ebola virus.  Our Program and Training Manager had called this meeting to inform us of the decision and to update us on the happenings of the next few days. 

Emotions were high, and I was not sure of how to react.  My immediate reaction was sadness and tears.  To find out this information and to subsequently find out that in a week or less I would be leaving this country I called home for 14 months was impossible to comprehend.  How will I cope returning home?  How will I explain my leaving to my community when Ebola is not present there?  How will I return to Pleebo to say goodbye to all those I love?  And most importantly, when will I come back to Liberia?

The atmosphere was tense that night at Doe Palace, and emotions were all over the place.  LR 3 Volunteers were feeling much differently than LR 4 Volunteers; trainees were in a different place all together; and the staff was feeling distraught and lost, I think.  No one knew when we were specifically leaving – the only information we had was that we were leaving within a week and arrangements were currently being made with airlines through the DC office. 

That night, I informed my family back home, called Sarah to tell her the news in Pleebo, and broke the news to my host family with my LR5 homestay sister.  With tears, hugs, and confusion, we explained the situation as best we could to them and hoped for the best.  After all, what else could we do but pray?  It was in God’s hands now. 

[Since this post was written, I found out that Peace Corps will not be returning Volunteers to Liberia or Sierra Leone and all current Volunteers will go through their Close of Service.  This is due to a lack of medical resources, staff, and education surrounding Ebola in these countries; thankfully, this is something the worldwide community has been working hard to improve on in the last few days.  My future is up-in-the-air for now, but Liberia will always be in my heart and on my mind.]

Handwashing everywhere...

While I was in Kakata helping out with PST, an odd happening started to occur.  Every shop I wanted to enter to look at something, be it a cell phone, lappa, or biscuits for my homestay family, I was required to wash my hands.  Every time I wanted to visit Kem’s Guesthouse for a drink with new friends after a day of sessions, I was required to wash my hands.

Handwashing station in Monrovia
(Photo credit - UN)

Rumors of Ebola were around town, and the general thought was that if you washed your hands with a bleach water solution, you would stay a little cleaner and help protect yourself from contracting Ebola.  I never thought it would become as serious as it did so quickly…

Travel to PST

On June 15, 50 new trainees came to Liberia and they have been busy with their PST since then.  I was invited to come to PST the week of July 27 and help with the model school for the trainees.  In order to get to Kakata, I was going to have to drive for two days to reach the training.  Fortunately, Peace Corps was able to get me a UN flight to Monrovia and scheduled a pick-up for me there.  Unfortunately, the document I was to print was a PDF file and there is no place to print a PDF in Pleebo.  So…off I headed to Kakata via road!

I got to parking at 7 am on Wednesday morning.  After sitting there for five hours, I finally left for Zwedru (my stopping point for the night) around 12:30.  We were three hours in to our six hour trip, when the car stopped working correctly.  The carburetor was dirty/broken and did not allow us to drive correctly.  We stopped in every small town along the way, looking for a mechanic who would have the know-how or the parts to fix it.  Finally, we arrived in Zwedru at 9:30 pm that night, and Brian (the Volunteer living there) was able to lead me to a place to eat before I crashed for the night.

The next morning, I was at parking at 6 am, waiting for a car headed to Kakata.  It wasn’t until 11 am that our car was full and ready to go!  We got in the car, made it to Toe Town (about an hour and a half outside of Zwedru), and there the shock broke on one of the front tires.  Unfortunately, there was no parts store in Toe Town, so we were required to call back to Zwedru, find a mechanic who trusted and knew the driver, and wait for him to bring the part.  We sat in Toe Town for four hours until we got fixed and moving again, and it wasn’t until 2 am that I reached Gbarnga (where I chose to stop for the night). 

Thankfully, my PC friend Nick was still awake and welcomed me into his place so I could crash for the night.  The next morning, I got in a car and left for Kakata right away.  After just a three hour drive, as expected, we made it to Kakata and I was able to get started at PST.  It was, by far, the worst drive I’ve ever made “back to civilization.”  I am grateful, however, that the road wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  The few weeks before had been relatively dry – had it not been for that, I would have been stuck on that road for who knows how long.

Library Update

Sarah and I have been working hard on our library project now that school has finished for the year.  While she was gone, I emptied out a small storage room in the new space and moved all of the computers, printers, and miscellaneous tech equipment that were being stored in the new room into this storage room.  With the help of a few students, I was able to move everything around in just a few days.

After Sarah returned, we started getting serious about getting our room ready to become a library space.  Students had helped us move six large shelves and three smaller tables into the space from a storage area that was on campus.  We had found twenty broken chairs among the classrooms, and after borrowing a handsaw from a neighbor, we sawed off the broken part and had a chair usable for the tables in our library!

We moved most of the furniture into the new space from the old library and swept up the new room.  Once the room was ready for the contractor to start his work, we moved into the old library and began organizing books so they would be ready to move once the work was done in the new space.

The grant we applied for was for $1500 – a Small Project Assistance grant given to Peace Corps Volunteers through USAID assistance.  It was allocated toward work on the new space – “rogue-proofing” the new space, smoothing out the walls, revamping the chalkboard, repainting the space, and placing new flooring into the room.  We were very excited to get started! 

[Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, the money was delayed in reaching us and we were never able to continue this project.  Here’s to hoping the next Volunteers will continue this awesome project!  :) ]