Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My New Home!!

How in the world can people who have only known you for a month place you at a site for the next two years effectively?  That was the worry on my mind all of last week leading up to the site announcements on Friday afternoon.  I had had two interviews; one with the associate country director and another with the secondary education program assistant.  I had filled out my roommate questionnaire, and I knew who I wanted to live with.  Granted, I would have been fine living with a large majority of the girls here, but Sarah was definitely my number one choice. 

After a three-hour session on Friday about sexual assault response and reporting (a heavy topic), they sent us out of the lecture hall so they could get ready.  On the floor, they laid out an outline of Liberia with rope and marked the counties with chalk.  Plates with the names of our sites were laid out on the map, and we were led to just outside the doors as a group.  There, we put on blindfolds and prepared to take part in Peace Corps Hazing 101…okay, not really, but it felt a little weird! 

Soon, I felt Dan, a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, take my hand and lead me into the lecture hall.  He gave me to Rebecca, who spun me around a few times and led me all over the map before dropping me off at a spot.  I stood there quietly, anxiously waiting to see who I would be placed with.  I could hear people talking and soon realized that Mitch and Tyler were together near where I was.  Then, I could hear Melissa and Elyssa talking relatively close, and I started to get excited.  It was turning out to be a great group!

A while later, I heard Vince, the country director, bring someone over and drop them off near me.  She said “thanks,” and I realized it was Sarah!  After we realized it was each other, we screamed, laughed, cried, and awkwardly hugged – we couldn’t see anything with the blindfolds, but I was overjoyed to be placed with her.  The people around us laughed at our reaction, and soon, they said we could all take off our blindfolds.  We looked down and saw the plate that read Pleebo, looked around, and noticed a huge gap between us – the southeast – and the rest of the country.  Looks like two years of isolation!  :)

Here we are! 
With Mitch, our neighbor! 
All of us with blindfolds - welcome to Peace Corps?  
Pleebo is the commercial capital of Maryland County, the county that sits in the very southeast corner of Liberia.  It is 30 minutes from Harper, a town that sits right on the beach!  It is also 3.5 hours from Zwedru, which is awesome, because Peace Corps just opened an office there.  A car will run between Monrovia and Zwedru on a pretty regular schedule – about once a week or so is our estimate.  This will be helpful in bringing out our mail, our medications, and anything else we may need from the city.  (So…don’t be afraid to send me mail or packages, friends!  I can still receive them out in the bush.) 

Because Pleebo is the commercial capital of Maryland County, the market is awesome!  Much bigger than Kakata, or at least according to my host father, and apparently people come from the Ivory Coast and Guinea to sell their wares at this market!  Our house is close to the market, as well, so I am excited to see what gems we can find.  Sally – be ready to wheelbarrow shop for clothes like there is no tomorrow!

Speaking of our house, it is still under construction.  The leaving Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, John, said that the house looks really awesome, though.  We have a front and a back porch, a big living room, and a nice-sized kitchen space.  Additionally, we have at least two bedrooms (one for each of us), and our home has a real bathroom.  Well, at least a real toilet that we will flush with buckets of water.  I’m getting excited :)

The house is close to the market and is also close to Pleebo High School.  We will have a short “commute” to work, and that will be handy.  We are the first Peace Corps Volunteers – EVER – to be placed in Pleebo, and I am really excited to make the most of this opportunity.  The school requested a Physics teacher and a Math teacher…guess that means I’ll be teaching Physics!  Here goes nothing, haha.  I will also be teaching Chemistry and Biology, or at least that’s what the spreadsheet they had said I would be doing. 

After speaking to a few people about this site, I’ve come to realize how lucky I am to be placed at this site.  This site placement is a reflection of how much trust the program has in Sarah and I, and I am going to do my absolute best to help this school out and make a difference in the lives of my students.  It’s also a little bit of a confidence boost, knowing that I’m doing a pretty good job at this teaching thing! 

Another cool thing about Pleebo is that it is close to Harper, which has an UNMIL base.  This means that we may be able to catch a UN helicopter into Monrovia for official PC training.  If we don’t take a helicopter in, we get to take bush taxis or a bus in…depending on the condition of the (dirt) road, that trip could take 14 hours or 3 days.  Sounds like fun, right? :)

So friends, that is where I will be living for the next two years of my life.  I am really excited to move to site, paint our house, and make it home.  Lesson planning and everything else will come in time, and soon I will be teaching in Pleebo!  Wish me luck as I embark on this endeavor. 

Much love to you all,


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Musings on Monrovia & Model School

Here we are, one week later, and I am already three days into model school.  In two days, we find out where in Liberia we will be stationed (and who our roommate will be), and in less than a month, we will all be sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers!  Woah...where has time gone?  When I first got to Liberia, the days moved so slowly, and I worried about how long this phase of my life would feel like it was lasting.  Today, I worry that it will go by altogether too quickly.  Don't worry, friends -- I have not decided yet if I am extending for a third year.  That's still a long way away :) 

Since I updated you last, we have been busy PCTs here in Kakata and Monrovia!  Here is a summary for all of you.

Saturday morning, we all arrived at Doe Palace and piled into bush taxis for our trip to Monrovia.  My group consisted of Gayla, Stacy, Tony, Devin, and I, and our leader was an upcoming PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) Dan.  He will be stationed in the southeastern part of the country, in a town called Zwedru; if I am placed in that part of the country, I will see him pretty often, as he will make site visits/observe our classes/etc.  We arrived at St. Theresa's Convent in Mamba Point, a community in Monrovia.  From there, my group headed to the Bamboo Bar, a restaurant on top of a building in downtown Monrovia.  There, I had a delicious Hawaiian pizza, full of cheese and Italian goodness.  

After that, we did a quick tour of Waterside Market - a huge market that sells probably anything you could ever need.  From there, we headed to the famed Ducor Palace, a super fancy hotel in Monrovia.  This hotel was the only five-star resort location in West Africa in its prime, and just looking at the shell was enough to understand why.  During the war, the property was abandoned and looters took everything of value.  My group walked to the top of the hotel (nine stories) to see the view of the city - but only after giving the security guard some "cold water"...also known as a bribe of $200 LD (a little less than $3 US).  

From there, we split up with another group leader, Rebecca, and she took all of us girls shopping for real this time in Waterside Market.  (Dan took the guys to the Peace Cafe for smoothies or coffee -- how segregated we were.)  From Waterside, we stopped at Monroe Chicken for milkshakes and then to a grocery store.  My goodness - this grocery store was crazy.  Anything I could ever want was there -- at a price 10x its normal cost.  A bag of shredded cheese?  $25.00 US.  A bag of Nestle chocolate chips?  $40 US.  Fresh bell peppers?  $4.95 US a pound.  Crazy!  I did get a few things, though, to take to site, and I was glad that I did.  Knowing that there are groceries from home available in Monrovia makes things a little more bearable; I don't think I will be going very often, however, simply due to how expensive the city is. 

From the grocery store, we headed for dinner at the Mamba Point Hotel.  Talk about a fancy place!  The Indian menu was extensive, and my paneer was delicious.  Yummm.  I had been craving some Indian food (of all things), and this was just what I needed a month into my service.  We hung out there as a big group, and then headed back to the convent for the night. 

The convent had nice lodging facilities -- air-conditioned rooms, current (electricity) at night, running water - though it was low pressure - and real toilets.  I was alright with the living conditions -- and apparently rooms there are only $30 or $35 a night.  It's safe, too, so that's a plus :) 

Sunday morning, we got up, had breakfast, and headed to the Royal Hotel for coffee.  I had some hot tea and pancakes - second breakfasts are always nice!  The Royal Hotel is a fancy place, and apparently the cheapest room there is $250 US.  Yikes.  We headed to the Peace Corps office, then, and caught taxis back to Kakata.  It was a lightning-fast trip, but it was a ton of fun.  Monrovia is not my favorite by any means, but it is nice to know what is available there. 

Since that trip, I have been busy teaching 10A Biology, first period of the day.  My class goes from 8-8:45 am Monday-Friday, and the number of students in my class is slowly increasing.  I started with 10, and today, I had 16!  We have 33 students on the roster, but I doubt that I will ever see everyone.  My content is the cell - we are currently discussing the structures and functions of the cell and its parts.  Today, we modeled selective permeability in the cell membrane; this is fun stuff, friends!  

I am feeling more and more confident every day that I teach, which I think is making me a better teacher.  We are observed every day and my observer says that I'm not doing a terrible job, which is good to know :)  Now to just keep it up for the next two years -- that is the big challenge!  I'm excited to get to site, though, and finally have some continuity in my classes.  Knowing that I will only see these students for three weeks makes teaching them a little more difficult, I think. 

That's my life in a nutshell!  I hope that this answers any questions you may have had and serves as proof that I am still alive and well :)  I miss you all!

Much love,

PS - Tonight is the annual PST talent show.  My act?  A dramatic reading of Taylor Swift lyrics.  This should be fun :) 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A few photos

This past weekend brought with it a bunch of pictures!  We had fun with the camera :)

Harris, a neighbor boy, and Monica, my niece. 
Harris, Roosevelt, a neighbor boy, and Amos, Roosevelt's brother 
Amos and I

Ma-Dee, my 13 year old sister, a neighbor girl, and Mona, my 18 year old sister 
Check out that NKOTB shirt/dress! 
Fatu, my 25 year old sister, and Monica, her daughter 
Manoush, Harris' sister, Monica, my niece, and Toma, Roosevelt & Amos' sister

It was a great weekend :) 

Reflections on the Crisis and Education System

I have had a lot of time to reflect on the occurrences of the Liberian crisis lately, as well as the roles that people I meet every day had during this time.  We have watched quite a few documentaries during PST, and I am glad that Peace Corps Liberia sees the importance of us knowing the back story of the country we are serving in before we get to site. 

Today, we watched the documentary “Iron Ladies of Liberia.”  This film followed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as she completed her first year in office (she was elected in 2005).  The scenes of Liberia in that film were completely than the Liberia I have experienced in the last three weeks or so; I am amazed and so incredibly proud of all this country has accomplished in the last eight years. 

Earlier this week, we watched a documentary called “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  Seriously, if you know nothing about Liberia’s history and you can only watch one documentary, I want you to watch this one.  Please, just do it for me.  The stories covered in the 90 minutes or so of the film made me laugh, cry, and again, be incredibly proud of the Women’s Peace Movement in Liberia.  A short synopsis?  A women’s peace movement was created, spanning the Christian and Muslim community in Liberia and neighboring countries hosting refugees, to encourage then-President Taylor to agree to peace talks with LURD, the opposition group hoping to oust Taylor.

These women went to the fish market every day in Monrovia, holding signs saying how much they needed peace, etc. until finally, Taylor agreed to host them.  Once in his presence, they urged him to attend the peace talks, to which he agreed.  The Accra Peace Accords were held in Accra, Ghana in August of 2003; unfortunately, these talks continued for three weeks with nothing happening and fighting/killing still happening in Monrovia and neighboring communities.  Together with the Liberian women refugees in Ghana, members of the movement traveled to the location of the peace talks and effectively barred the men inside until an agreement could be made.  Soon after, an agreement was made and Taylor stepped down as President, taking asylum in Nigeria.  (Just recently, he was found guilty under the UN court system for crimes against humanity and sentenced to prison for 50 years.  Part of this was due to his major role in the blood diamonds trade in Sierra Leone.) 

The peace talks created a short-term government that functioned minimally until the elections in 2005 (which were mostly run by the United Nations Mission in Liberia – UNMIL, for short).  The most compelling part of this story, in my opinion, is the role that the women played in the quick end to the war.  After fighting for 14 years, they were tired of burying their husbands, brothers, nephews, sons, and friends; instead, they wished for a functioning, productive country once again.  They were effective, too!  Pretty inspiring stuff, if you ask me.

As a side note to the role of women in this country’s recent development…  Today, we were visited by the Deputy Minister of Secondary Education in Liberia.  She was in Kakata to attend a workshop held at the Teacher Training Institute here, and she was gracious enough to stop by and chat with us briefly.  In her talk, I learned a lot about the current situation in Liberia, and a grim one it is.

Currently, there are around 900 Liberian teachers in the country.  Many of these teachers are high-school dropouts or other individuals who are teaching simply because there were no teachers for their children to go to school.  After the war, schools slowly opened up, but with a lack of educators, it was hard for every class to function.  The ministry is trying to get a good grasp on the current educational system, and in order to do so, they recently administered an “entrance exam” to all currently serving teachers.

Of the 900 teachers in the country, only 360 passed the exam.  When the minister asked the person who administered the test what level it was written at, the answer shocked her.  The exam given to teachers (many of which are teaching high school) was written for a sixth grade level.  Only one-third of the teachers in this country understand anything at a sixth-grade learning level.  My bachelor’s degree suddenly feels rather important and my role in the community I will be in is suddenly very intimidating.

We have a lot of work to do here, and I am excited for my chance to see Liberia grow in the next two years.  I am excited to make an impact in my school, both with the students and with the currently-serving faculty, as well as make an impact in my community.  I know we are supposed to wait until we start our secondary projects, but I am anxious to get started now.  Though teaching will be fulfilling, I am excited to really become a part of my community through other projects and interactions, as well. 

To the next two years,


Life with the Mulbah Family

After talking to someone from home recently, I realized that I have not adequately explained my homestay situation.  Let me give you a peek into everyday life for me.

My house does not have electricity or running water.  This means that at night, we use candles or flashlights to see.  (My favorite is my flashlight that is on my phone – it is convenient and I don’t have to remember anything extra to have a light to see in my room.)  I take a bucket bath every night and some mornings, depending on how I feel.  My average bedtime (due to the lack of light, etc.) is 9:00 pm, and I wake up each morning around 5:30 or 6:00. 

I am fortunate to have a brother who hauls water for the family every morning and every night.  Cooper fills up the big barrel we have near the bathroom and also ensures that there is adequate water in the kitchen area.  I will haul a bucket of water when I need to fill up my water filter, but otherwise I do not have to pump water every day. 

Liberians live a very public, communal life.  Every meal is eaten together and outside, typically.  I am the exception to this rule, however.  My sister is gracious enough to make me a separate meal for dinner that is ready when I get home.  Typically, it is different from the family’s meal in that it has significantly less oil, pepper, or mayonnaise than the rest of the food.  I am so grateful for this…and I think that my arteries are, as well.

Another aspect of life that is different here for me is the idea of not being in your room.  I have my own room, and I by far spend the most time indoors by myself as compared to the rest of my family.  The rest of my family is always outside on the porch, in the yard, or visiting friends; being alone here is seen as stand-offish or rude.  All of my siblings and my parents only enter their rooms to sleep or to retrieve something quickly; otherwise, they are always with each other.

Peace Corps staff has done a wonderful job of coordinating our homestays.  The homestay coordinator, Florence, hosted a training session of sorts for all of our families, where she described the quirks of American volunteers.  This included telling them not to be offended if we wanted to spend time alone, letting them know that we will (more than likely) get sick and only want to eat plain rice, and educating them on our dietary needs.  That information included tips like little-to-no oil, mayonnaise, or pepper in our food, proper sanitation guidelines (not letting food sit out for too long, etc.), and information on clean water sources.  Peace Corps has provided us with a very nice water filter that filters out pretty much everything that can make us sick.  When I am at home, I only drink water that has come from this; the only exception is the hot water that my sister gives me for my hot chocolate (kind-of) drink in the morning.  She boils that water, so it is plenty safe to drink.

What am I eating at home?  All sorts of fun things, really!  Almost every meal includes rice, as well, and I am slowly getting used to that.  Meals have included potato greens, pumpkin soup, ground-pea soup (peanut butter soup), kidney beans, and cassava leaf.  We have also had spaghetti and a meat sauce served over edoe (a starchy potato-like vegetable).  The other night, though, my sister surprised me and made me Irish potatoes – this was just potatoes sliced then and then fried.  It was so unhealthy, but it tasted really good.  That with a side of fried plantains made for a very “Liberian” dinner – lots of oil, everything fried, and served with ketchup.  For breakfast, it is always a fried egg and some bread – sometimes I make an egg sandwich with mayonnaise and other times, I just eat the egg and make myself a peanut butter sandwich. 

Monday night, my sister asked to plait my hair, so once again, I have hair that is braided.  It’s an interesting look this time, and I’m not sure how long I’ll keep it.  For now, however, it works, and it keeps me a lot cooler!  Also, it makes my bucket baths go a lot faster – not having to wash my hair lets me shower in record time! Haha…  I’ll probably keep it in for only another day or so – it’s pretty tight, and can be uncomfortable at times.

I have really come to enjoy my time spent with my host family, and I cannot believe how much I have learned in the past week.  I am so grateful for this family’s opening up their home and lives to me for five weeks or so.  Though I know they are being compensated by Peace Corps very well for their efforts, it is still a good feeling to have a family to go home to every night after training.

Much love,


That PST Grind

I have survived my first weekend with my host family!  It was interesting, to say the least, but I am grateful for all the lessons they have taught me in the past seven days.  My sisters are wonderful, and the neighborhood kids are great – every day with them all is an adventure!

Friday was our very official naming ceremony; all of us had one family representative come to Doe Palace and name us in front of the group.  I have been named Mama Qulleh (pronounced Quell-ay) – literally, this means “white mother.”  I told my family that I am not a mother and they informed me that this name simply means that I have a white mother.  Interesting to say the least, but I will run with it for now.  Once we get to site, it is likely I will be given another name that I will go by. (I’m still debating if I will go by Miss Moore in the classroom or if I’ll go by Miss (insert new African name here)).

Saturday brought with it a full day of work.  I woke up, ate breakfast, and did my laundry.  What a production.  My sister insisted that I wash my clothes twice – once with a washboard, and again with powder soap and hand-scrubbed.  Then they were rinsed and hung up on the line to dry.  I think these clothes are the cleanest they have ever been – I’m grateful for my sister, that’s for sure.  Then we ate some lunch, and headed to the market to pick up groceries for dinner.  An hour later, we were back at home – and I was burnt to a crisp.  My sisters and the neighborhood children were laughing at me…I still don’t think they understand the concept of a sunburn. 

Sunday brought a pretty lazy day; there was a church service on the porch of a building next door, so I was able to sit on my porch, read for class, and listen to church all at the same time.  It was interesting, to say the least, and after three hours, I was exhausted.  The music was beautiful, though – nothing like some acapella hymns to get things going on a Sunday morning.  Sunday afternoon, the kids in my neighborhood had fun posing for pictures and putting on dramas for me.  I have taped a few with my camera, and we have been watching them at night…they really seem to enjoy that, and it’s fun to laugh with them :)

This week has been busy with training and preparing for model school next week.  For the next three weeks, we will be teaching every day and then having additional sessions in the afternoon back at our training center.  I have been assigned to teach 10th grade biology; luckily, the 10th grade class is split into two sections, and I am able to co-plan with another Peace Corps Trainee for the three weeks of class.  We are covering the parts of a cell, its function, and the types of cells.  Because of our lack of resources/board space/etc, we are able to cover just one chapter in three weeks.  It’s pretty crazy to think about, but I know I’ll get used to it in time.  Class periods are 45 minutes long and I’m expecting my class to have anywhere from 30-50 students.  Wish me luck!

Tonight is our weekly night at Doe Palace.  On the schedule is an early dinner and then a movie night – we are busy choosing between Pitch Perfect, Office Space, and Snatch.  My vote is Pitch Perfect, but we will see what wins.  Also, this weekend is our trip to Monrovia – wish me luck!

I hope you are all well back home – stay cool out there.  :)  And Happy (late) Birthday, Mom!

Much love,


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I'm adopted!

Homestay family adoptions were on Sunday, and since then, I have been living with a Liberian family.  It is rather interesting to say the least, but I'm surviving :)

I live with Anthony & Cynthia Mulbah and their family.  I guess you could say they're my ma and pa, but that is still weird to me.  I have three sisters and a brother who live in the house and two more sisters who live in town.  The family situation is still a little strange to me -- who is my sister exactly?  and who is my niece?  -- but I am getting it figured out.  Also in the house is one niece (5 years old) and a nephew (19 years old).  My pa works for the Ministry of Finance as a tax collector, and my ma is a nurse; they are working to open up a clinic in Gotumo (the community within Kakata that we live), and I am excited for that to happen one day!  The house sits on a compound of sorts; the family house we live in, another house that they rent out to another family, a long building that has been converted into three one-room spaces, the original clinic building, and the new building that is in the midst of being completed.

I have been provided with my own room, which is nice.  For once, I'm finally able to unpack everything and see what I brought with me!  In the house that I live is Ma & Pa's room, my room, and a room that my three sisters and niece share; additionally, there is a nice bathroom, a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room.  The boys live in the original clinic building for now (one brother and a nephew) - I'm wondering if they had my room before I moved in.

The family has hosted two Peace Corps Volunteers before, so they are pretty good at knowing what to do with me.  Things are still a little strained, but they seem to be getting better every day.  My Pa speaks pretty good standard English, as does my middle sister; everyone else speaks broken standard English and really fast Liberian English -- if anything, it is forcing me to learn the new language at a quick rate!  Meals are alright; I told them that I love eating eggs for breakfast, and now for two days in a row, it has been eggs.  This is alright, though -- after a sardine & onion sandwich for breakfast the first day, I will take eggs for breakfast every day for the next five weeks, haha.

One luxury in this family is the fact that they have a generator that they run almost every night.  They turn it on around 7 or 8 pm and it shuts off around midnight.  Our evening entertainment translates into watching awful Nigerian films that focus on cheating wives, murder, sex, or a combination of all three.  Some of the ideas are pretty risque, but interestingly enough, the family does not see a problem in the 5 year old watching any of these things.  There is a light in the dining room and a light in Ma & Pa's room, but otherwise the electricity seems to be only for the TV and DVD player.  What a different world this is.

My sleeping habits have changed, but I love it.  I go to bed around 9:00 pm every night now, and I find myself waking up around 6:00 or 6:30 every morning.  I sleep so well here - I think my body is grateful for a chance to catch up on all the sleep I missed out on during college! :)  Living with a host family has also allowed for me to become a master at the bucket bath - that will definitely be a useful skill when I return to the States!

In other news, training has continued.  Every day is filled with sessions and lectures about best teaching practices, ideas for dealing with Liberian classrooms, and Liberian culture stuff.  It is interesting, but I can already see why every other volunteer here says that training is by far the hardest part of one's service.  Every day drains all of us, and by the time we leave for our host families, we are on edge and ready to bite each other's heads off.  Everyone deals with stress differently, and with 38 of us, we are bound to get on each other's nerves.  I should enjoy this now, though, because I know that by the time Christmas comes, I will be missing everyone plenty-o.

I hope everyone back home has a wonderful Fourth of July! We are planning a bbq here, complete with potato salad and hamburgers.  I'm interested to see how it works out, but I'm also excited!

Much love,