Monday, November 25, 2013

Reflections

If you had told me one year ago that…

1.      …I would return to West Africa…
2.      …I would feel wasteful using more than six scoops of water in a bucket bath…
3.      …I would be teaching high school physics and chemistry…
4.      …I would celebrate over the day we found a (sub-par) $10 bottle of wine…
5.      …I would argue with a shopkeeper over buying a big bag of coal for more than $4
      US…
6.      …I would light a coal pot with a piece of plastic and one match in ten minutes…
7.      …I would eat half of a 25-kilogram bag of rice in three months…
8.      …I would be so excited to see real tomatoes or potatoes…
9.      …I would lead an almost exclusively vegetarian diet…
10.  …on the days we did find chicken in the market, we’d take it home and cook it, never 
          minding the fact it was once frozen and is now warm from the heat…
11.  …I would be “cold” on nights when it hits 75 F or so…
12.  …one of my best friends would be a girl from Ohio with a completely different 
         upbringing, musical taste, and interests than me…
13.  …we would laugh over the time we literally scooped the poop out of our toilet…
14.  …I could brag I helped someone kill a mouse with a shoe…
15.  …I would kill a cockroach I found in my room without screaming or freaking out…
16.  …I would survive without Diet Coke…
17.  …I would look forward to days we ate burnt garlic bread and spaghetti with okra…
18.  …I would get so excited over tuna salad sandwiches for lunch…
19.  …I would walk to school in the pouring rain to ensure my students had some classes
         on a rainy day…
20.  …I would learn to embrace my crazy mefloquine dreams…
21.  …I would regularly wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 am without an alarm clock…
22.  …I would grow to love my site so much that I dreaded coming to training…
23. ...I wouldn't be able to handle thinking about leaving the students I have already
          grown so close to...


…I would have called you crazy.  Instead, here I am.  It’s still hard for me to believe that I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer in one of the most beautiful countries on this planet.  Mama Liberia has embraced me with open arms, and I am so grateful for the opportunity that this has provided me.  

Wheelbarrows – Versatile & Convenient

Sally, Liberia would be a haven for you.  Every time I remember digging through the bins at the Goodwill outlet in Hernando, I then flash-forward to myself digging through a wheelbarrow for whatever it is I am buying that day. 

For those of you who are not my sister, here’s an update.  Anything that you want to buy in the market that is not tomato paste, onions, sugar, rice, or beans is found in a wheelbarrow.  In fact, I’m guessing there are more wheelbarrows per capita here than in the United States.  Everyone uses one, whether it is for hauling their goods to the market to sell, pushing one around selling pepper/peanuts/palm oil/footballs and mirrors around town, hauling jugs of water from the well to their house, or filling it full of dirt and hauling it to a construction site, wheelbarrows are a normal site in Liberia.

While in Monrovia, we made sure to check out Waterside Market, the biggest market in the capital city.  There, we were crazy people, digging through wheelbarrows as fast as we could – buying t-shirts, tank tops, skirts, pants, whatever we could find, really.  The sellers are excited to sell their goods, obviously, and they will do all they can to help you out.  If they see you digging through, they will start showing you items that are your size or close to it.  If you tell them you need long skirts for teaching, they will dig through the pile of skirts, showing you all the long ones they have. At the end of the day, these guys and gals know what they have to do to close a deal. 

Emmanuel, a student in 10B, with his wheelbarrow.


I’m grateful for all the wheelbarrow sellers in town.  Some of our favorites in Pleebo include the guy we buy our clothes-washing soap from (all we do is walk up to his barrow and he gets two bars of soap, in a bag for us, ready to go), the boys who sell oranges for cheap out of a wheelbarrow, and the guys who sell hangers (which I need more of, now that I’m going to be getting more things made of lappa).  All in all, it makes shopping fun.  It’s portable, convenient, and easily covered when it rains – what else could be better in the world of markets?

Thank goodness for hard drives…

While Sarah and I love Pleebo, we also love to escape a little by watching something terribly mindless.  This has translated into a lot of things as of late, some of which I’d like to share with you below.  During our time at site, we have watched the following:

1.      Seasons 1-3 of Sex and the City
2.      All of the Friends series
3.      Seasons 1-3 of Workaholics
4.      The Human Planet series, produced by BBC
5.      The Planet Earth series, produced by BBC
6.      Pretty Woman
7.      Erin Brokovich
8.      The Wedding Singer
9.      50 First Dates
10.  Fight Club
11.  Reservoir Dogs
12.  The Butterfly Effect
13.  Mr. & Mrs. Smith
14.  The Jungle Book
15.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame
16.  Tarzan
17.  He’s Just Not That Into You
18.  Definitely Maybe
19.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
20.  Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring [extended edition]
21.  Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers [extended edition]
22.  Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King [extended edition] (to be watched very soon)
23.  Date Night
24.  Baby Mama
25.  Flubber
26.  Space Jam
27.  The Family Stone
28.  The Break Up
29.  Sleepless in Seattle
30.  An Affair to Remember
31.  When Harry Met Sally
32.  One Day
33.  P.S. I Love You
34.  The Big Lebowski
35.  Religulous

This list is non-exhaustive, of course, as we’ve had many nights when I know we watched something ridiculous and I just can’t think of it.  Needless to say, I still have 3 TB of movies to watch, so if anyone has any ideas of good movies for us to watch, please let me know!  The hard drive is full of older stuff, so don’t be afraid to go back a ways :) 


As always, thanks for your advice!

Musings on the first marking period

With the first marking period come and gone, and the second one almost completed, I find myself marveling at the fact that I have successfully taught over 250 students for over two months.  If you had told me one year ago that I would be a high school science teacher in Liberia, I would have laughed at you.  And instead, here I am!

Though we have finished the first marking period, my work is far from over.  Many of my students failed that first marking period, and many of them are looking to be on their way to failing the second.  In my 11A Physics class, I passed only 7 out of 64 students.  This was discouraging, but I know it’s because they do not try.  Many of them have stepped up their game this marking period, after realizing the level of work that I expect, and they are on track to pass my class.  Between all of the examples, homework problems, quizzes, and review for the final exam, there is no reason anyone should be failing my class. 

Part of the problem, I think, comes from the fact that their other classes are very different from the way that we run our classes.  Sarah and I don’t put up with any crap from our students; if you make a fool of yourself, we will call you out on it.  If you are being rude or disrespectful, we are not afraid to move you to the front of the classroom or to send you out of the classroom altogether.  Another favorite of ours has been to lecture our students after class – either in the classroom or in the hallway, where everyone can watch and get the hint that we are serious about providing them with a quality education. 


My tenth graders are showing the most progress this marking period, and I could not be happier about that.  My 10C and 10D classes are my favorite two classes, and they are picking up our new Physics material very very well.  Teaching them every day is enjoyable to me, and on the days that I don’t want to go to school, thinking about missing their class makes me want to go.  My brightest students are in those two classes, and I am excited to see what we can accomplish by next summer.  Who knows – maybe I am teaching a future president of Liberia?  One can never know…  All I know is that it is my duty to provide them with the best educational experience I can find within myself.  Here’s to the next two years. 

11A  
The ladies of 10C 
The ladies of 10D 
Some of the guys from 10D 
The trouble makers of 10D.

We are still bizarre…three months in.

Sarah and I are the only two white women living in Pleebo, and though we have been there for three months, we are still shiny new toys to many of the children here.  That being said, walking by our house every day on the way to school is a must for any child in the near and not-so-near area.  While this is fine, it is also obnoxious.  They will walk by our neighbor’s homes, and then once they reach near ours, they start screaming hello at us.  You may think I am exaggerating, but that could be further from the truth – they are quite literally screaming at us.

We have become very good at ignoring them, and this seems to work most of the time.  Some still do not get the point, though, so we have to go through our spiel with them.  “Move from here” or “We are not your picture show” have become sayings that our neighbors hear from us plenty.  Some children, or pekings as they are called locally, do not get the hint, and we have to resort to “I will flog you-o!” or something equally as threatening for them to move.  Sometimes, we’ll even act as if we’re going to come after them off the porch before they move. 

Some children think that they can just walk circles around our house and we will not notice it.  That is the most amusing, simply because it is as if they think we are absolute idiots who do not notice them walk by, screaming hello, fifteen times in fifteen minutes!  For these times, our neighbors come to our rescue.

First of all, there is Regina’s husband.  He spends a lot of time on their front porch, which is very near our back porch.  I can only imagine his inner dialogue when these kids are around; before our arrival, his life was quiet and calm…now, it is noisy and full of kids screaming at the white women who live next door to him.  When he is finally tired of the situation, he will come off his porch and yell at them, asking them if they’re stupid or if they cannot hear.  Sarah and I just laugh when this happens, because, really, what else can we do?

One of my favorite memories, though, has to do with Robertson.  One day, these girls would not leave the corner of our house, continually spying around the corner and laughing at us.  Robertson was doing some carpentry work in his shop in front of their house, and I yelled over to him, “Robertson, the children are being foolish!”  Immediately, he dropped his tools and started running over to where they were.  “Move from here!” he shouted.  “I will tell your mother and she will beat you.  Leave the women alone!”  Shocked, Sarah and I again laughed about the situation.  I told him thank you, and he just shrugged it off.  It’s obvious he thinks the same thing – we have been here so long…  Why are they not used to us by now?


The entire situation just reminds me again and again of how we have the best neighbors in all of Liberia.  PCVs here, you can argue that sure, but we will win time and time again :) 

Sarah’s adventures with the tailor, Youssouf

One of the only ways that anyone gets clothing in Liberia is by buying lappa, or African fabric, and heading to your local tailor to get a wide variety of items made.  Though the used clothing market is booming here, plenty of people still wear traditional African clothes (or use the fabric to get something very contemporary made).  Sarah has jumped right into this trend in Pleebo and found herself a pretty awesome tailor.

Youssouf has a shop right on the main road near our house, and we pass by it every day, whether we are going to school or reaching to the market.  She has a good eye for lappa that works well with her style, and she is also really good at finding designs or styles that look great on her.  Since our arrival in Pleebo, she has had three dresses made, and all of them have been phenomenal. 

One dress was an exact replica of a dress that she brought with her from America (which her friend, Tressa, actually gave her from South Africa) and it seems to be the comfiest dress she owns.  Another was this great dress made with a very unique lappa that, again, looks great.  And finally, there is the shining gem of any dress ever made.  She found this beautiful blue lappa, which she intended to get made into a really full, long skirt.  Instead, after picking it up, she found it turned into a 80s prom dress.  Youssouf made the skirt, sure, but he also made a bright blue satin top to go with it.  On that, he added a very prim collar and a big black button.  Overall, the dress was just obnoxious, but like the trooper she is, she wore it confidently for a month or so.  Just recently, she took it back to him, however, and had him take off the top, leaving her with just a really great skirt :)


When I get back to site, it is my goal to get more things made.  Youssouf and I are going to become best friends, and I can’t wait to bring back some awesome things to wear in America.  Before, I was very conscious of what types of patterns or styles I wore.  Now, however, I could care less.  I’m going to rock my Liberian-wear in America, doing whatever it is I decide to do when I return.  It’s gonna be great. 

I didn’t realize the government could shut down.

In October, the American government shut down.  I had no idea, seeing as I am oblivious to much of the news around the world.  One day, out of the blue, we received a text from our new country director, informing us of the fact that the US government may be shutting down.  If this were to be the case, Peace Corps was ready to continue essential operations to ensure our safety, security, and relative comfort at site.  Sarah and I did not think too much about this, seeing as we feel very very safe at our site in the first place.

In October, as well, I began to wonder when I would receive all of the packages that I knew were waiting for me in Monrovia.  My birthday had just happened, and I also knew that my mom had sent a box or two before September that I still had not received.  Curious, and under the continuous pressure from people back home (*cough* Mom *cough* Dad), I called someone in the office to find out the status on these packages.  Due to the government shutdown, all site visits were postponed or cancelled until further notice; therefore, the car that was supposed to visit us in the southeast was put on hold.  Great. 

The government shutdown soon ended, and I was calling once again, trying to find out when I would receive my things from Monrovia.  A car finally came out to see us, with Dr. Shelly in tow, the second week of November.  Upon her arrival, she started unloading the car.  I had five packages (thanks Mom, Dad, Sally, and Aunt Gail!) and a letter (thanks Linda!), Sarah had one (thanks Aunt Mo!), and Shelly had also brought us mefloquine (our malaria medication) and multi-vitamins.  Hooray! 

Opening these boxes was fun and a nightmare, all in one.  Six boxes in total meant that we had a lot of items that needed to be mouse-proofed before we called it a night.  Thankfully, the tub we put our rice in was almost empty, so we had a lot of well-sealed space.  There, we put as much as we could fit, with the rest sitting on the table, in hopes that it would survive the night.  The next day, everything had survived, and we purchased another tub to stash our goodies in. 

Unfortunately, the room where the packages are held in Monrovia at the post office is not mouse-proofed, and my packages were proof of that.  In total, a mouse ate an entire package of chocolate chocolate chip muffin mix, a bag of goldfish, a package of crackers, a tub of cocoa (the plastic lid included!), a box of crayons, and the packaging to a pack of pens.  The funny thing was (or not so funny – sorry Mom) that only Mom’s boxes were eaten into.  Dad, Sal, and Aunt Gail – yours made it safely!  (A word to the wise for anyone else wanting to send something – please double Ziploc all food items.)  This isn’t fool-proof, but it does help deter them. 

Though some things were eaten, the large majority of things arrived safely, and Sarah and I couldn’t be happier.  Items like canned tuna, sauce mixes, candy, and stickers are all fun to receive and put to good use here.  Really anything that is a “add-[insert item here]-and-cook” item is perfect for us.  We have milk (or milk powder), water, eggs, oil, etc., here, so ready-to-go mixes are a perfect treat for us on a weekend now and then :)

When I arrived in Kakata for training, I received a text message from Becky with the surprise that I had a package to pick up.  Mom, I received your box, and Dad, I received a box from you!  Unfortunately both were eaten into – Mom, the cranberry-orange muffin mix (dang it!), and Dad, a box of Nerds.  All is well, though, because the mac & cheese and the southwestern bean soup mix made it safely! 

Though it sounds like I’m complaining about the mice, I’m really not.  It happens here, and it’s just something I’ve learned to deal with.  If a mouse eats one $1 item, and I still receive 10, I’m not upset about it at all (and you shouldn’t be, either!).  Family and friends, please don’t be discouraged by this post – I just want to share with you the trials and tribulations of receiving mail in a developing country.  And if you are deterred, I hope you take the time to at least write me a letter and update me on life. 

The worst of my boxes 
A tasty treat!
Thanks for the Oreos, Aunt Mo, and for the Nutella, Phil!


Now that the shutdown has ended, hopefully the Peace Corps vehicles will be making more regular runs to the southeast.  I know we would all appreciate it, and it is really one of the only ways they can keep tabs on us way out there in the bush!  Until then, we will wait patiently for our Christmas which occurs when we receive a package…or six. 

And we thought there were two houses there.

Our neighbor, Regina, and all of the women who live in her house are always walking by our porch in the morning to the market with baskets of dried fish, or what is locally called “bony.”  We always just thought that Regina bought the bony in bulk and then sold it in the market in order to make a small profit.  Little did we know what was really happening next door to us.

One day, we see this truck pull up to their house and start throwing large, gray things on the ground.  We could see blood, too, and we weren’t really sure of what was going on.  Being classic Liberian neighbors, we headed over there to see what was happening.  There, we came across large manta-ray-looking creatures.  Robertson was dragging each one across the yard towards the house next to Regina’s house.  We were so confused as to what was going on, and I think the entire neighborhood was amused at our confusion, for soon, there was a crowd of about 30 standing around these creatures.

Sarah asked Robertson what these creatures were called, and he informed us they are “sea bats.”  That was really helpful, Robertson, so thanks.  Seven or eight of these had been thrown off the truck before Robertson started dragging them to the house, and soon, they were all inside.  We asked him what Regina was going to do with them, and he informed us they were going to chop them up, smoke them, and sell them in the market.  He then invited us into (what we thought was) the house, and it turns out that Regina has four large smoking ovens inside where she smokes her bony. 

The selling of fish by this family made so much more sense to us at that moment.  Sometimes, if the wind is right, we will smell a very strong fish smell, and we were always wondering where that was coming from.  Additionally, Regina is always going to Harper, and we soon figured out she goes to buy lots of fresh fish to make bony.  The sea bat was an additional oddity, I think, and I’m guessing she gets a good price for that at the market.

Robertson and Sarah
...her face is the best. 
Yep, those are "sea bats." 


Sarah and I went inside for the night, marveling over what we had discovered about Regina and her job.  The next morning, I asked Robertson if they had gotten all of the sea bats into the ovens.  They had, and, in fact, they had been up until 11:00 pm doing it.  The dedication of that entire household to selling fish is amazing to me.  Regina works hard every day around her house, never mind all of the work she does into smoking the fish to sell in the market.  We sure are lucky to live next to such an industrious woman. 

In Liberia, we spy. We don’t cheat.

In Liberia, cheating on homework, a quiz, or an exam is not known as cheating.  Instead, I am constantly reminding my students not to be spying.  It sounds funny, I know, but now, I am so used to it, and I had to think for a while what we call this idea in America!  The idea of what constitutes spying is vastly different from anything else I had heard in my life, and my students and I quickly came to the same understanding about what I consider spying in my classroom.

When I give my students a quiz (of which they have two per marking period), I have to write the problems on the chalkboard and they then copy them down.  As I said earlier, I have the luxury of printing my final exams, which makes my life much easier, but not every volunteer has it that way.  While I’m giving them the quiz, I am reminding them of my rules.  For me, spying is indicated by the following happenings:  talking, looking at their friend’s paper, looking around the room, looking down into their lap (many have tried to hide cheat sheets in the pleats of their skirts, etc.), or opening up their copy book.  It sounds straightforward, right?  Wrong.  They still want to argue with me when I catch them spying. 

My penalty for spying?  I take your quiz and you get a zero.  On a final exam, I will put an X on your paper and take off 10% of the grade you have earned.  You get two X’s, I take off 20%, and so on.  Some students still don’t learn.  One of my favorite spying stories has to do with the twelfth grade physics final I was proctoring for our principal.  I had marked one student’s paper with an X for spying, and at the end of the final, he came up to me, wanting to discuss why I had marked his paper.  I told him I had seen him talking with his friend, so I marked both of their papers; talking was not acceptable during the exam.  “But Miss Moore,” he said, “if I don’t know the answer to the question, can’t I ask my friend for a small idea on it?”  No, anonymous student, you can’t.  That is spying. 


One of my favorite students in 10th Grade D, Comfort, has my policy on spying down to an art.  As I am reminding them of my rules before a quiz or a final, she is always saying it with me.  Though I hate it when students mock me, Comfort saying “Keep your eyes on your own paper” in what she thinks is my voice is still hilarious.  Whatever helps her remember my rules, I guess.  

Final Exams (or the day I printed 12 different exams)

The school year in Liberia is divided into six, six-week marking periods, each of which ends with a final exam.  While I like how the students are having a comprehensive, structured final, at the end of every six weeks, I also dislike how the system is set up.  These students are taking nine subjects, each of which have a final exam in the same week. 

Near the end of the first marking period, we were reminded that our exam questions were due for review to the Vice Principal of Instruction.  Sarah and I wrote our exams, got them approved, and commenced typing them up.  (We are fortunate at our high school in that we can print all of our exams, rather than limiting the number of questions and having to write them on the chalkboard – it takes more time than you think!) 

To discourage my students from spying (see the following blog post), I created four versions of each exam.  That means I made twelve exams – four for each course I am teaching.  While this sounds like a lot of work, it’s really just more of me changing some numbers or changing the order of my exams.  It takes time, but I think it’s very worth it. 

While passing out my exams, I went down each row, giving test A/B/A/B, and in the next row, test C/D/C/D and so on.  Effectively, this means no student is sitting next to or diagonally from a student with the same exam as they have.  They hated this, let me tell you, but it worked out really well for me!  (Insert evil teacher laugh here.)

While my exams were easy to administer, Sarah’s were another story.  I teach two sections of 10th Chemistry, two sections of 10th Physics, and one section of 11th Physics.  That meant that Sarah could proctor one room while I proctored the other – no problem.  When it came time to give her exams, however, we ran into an issue.  She teaches math to all three sections of the eleventh grade.  Liberian teachers proctor exams very different than we do, and she didn’t want one class to have an unfair advantage over the other two.  When it came time for her exam, we did the only practical thing – we crammed 160 + students into two classrooms.  I learned very quickly exactly how much room I needed to walk between rows that day, haha.  These students had had their literature exam right before her math exam, and for that exam, they were spread out between three classrooms and all along the hallway.  We, as quickly as possible, moved them all into two rooms, and administered her examination like champions.


It’s not an ideal situation, but we make due.  Final exams are not fun for anyone, and for us teachers, that’s no exception.  Grading finals for twelve hours is not something I was looking forward to, and it’s something I know I’m going to have to do eleven more times before I head back to America.  It’s fine, though – my students appreciate my feedback and I am glad to know that most of my students have paid attention to at least something I have taught them! :) 

Welcome to EcoBank

In order to receive a paycheck in Liberia, we were required to open an account at EcoBank.  Here, every month, we receive an automatic deposit into our accounts to cover living expenses, travel costs, and any other reimbursed spending we are due.  At our Pre-Service Training, we completed the opening of the account and received debit cards to use with our accounts. 

Upon moving to Pleebo, we located the EcoBank, and to our disappointment, found that there is no ATM there.  Instead, there is a small, hot, poorly-ventilated building with a very long line.  The first time we went to the bank was with Mitch and Tyler, two volunteers from Kanweaken, and Katie and Sarah, two volunteers from Barclayville.  We got there around 10:00 am on a Saturday morning, and upon our arrival, we found out that the system at the Harper branch was down, resulting in Pleebo’s branch to be very very busy.  Right away, I decided not to get money that day, hoping that another Saturday would yield better results.

We went a few weeks later, again on a Saturday, and experienced the same line and the same issue.  Luckily, our DEO (District Education Officer) saw us going there and got us moved to the front of the line to complete our withdrawal.  While this was convenient, I also hated  it.   We are trying to establish a name for ourselves as typical Liberians – cooking like Liberians, washing our clothes in the same manner, eating the same food, and waiting in the same line at the bank – but she felt that we should not have to put up with the line. 

The next month, Sarah and I decided to try the bank out on a weekday morning, especially since we do not have to be at school until 1:15 pm.  On a Wednesday morning, we left our house at 8:00 and made the 25 minute walk to the bank.  We got there, only to find that the bank does not open until 8:45!  Once the doors opened, we were the first ones in the manager’s office, and he was very helpful to us.  Unfortunately, we did not have our account numbers, so he had to look those up.  An hour later, he had them, and we could continue with our transaction.  Forty-five minutes later, we had our money and were headed out the door. 

The next month, we decided to try again the same day, seeing as it had worked pretty well the last time.  We got there early on a Wednesday morning, were the first ones in his office, and in 45 minutes, we had our money!  This time, we had our account numbers, so the process was not as long.  Though it’s not an ideal banking situation (Cornerstone, thanks for letting me get used to actual customer service and a quick banking experience!), we could have things worse.  We are lucky to have a branch of this bank in our town, instead of having to travel in order to bank.  We are also fortunate to teach in the afternoon, so that we can bank in the morning. 


As for that debit card we were issued this past August, it still sits in my room in Pleebo, waiting for the day it can see an ATM.  I doubt that day will come, but one never knows.  Until then, I’ll look forward to visiting the branch manager of Pleebo to withdraw some funds and make awkward small talk.  It’s all in a day’s work. 

Thor, the WonderCat

For those of you who know my preferences in animals, I have made it pretty clear over the years that I really do not care for cats.  I find them moody and annoying, to be honest.  That being said, upon moving into our house, we quickly realized our rat problem and decided that getting a cat would be the easiest way to solve it. 

Asking around, our neighbor Annie explained that her cat was pregnant and should be having babies soon.  It sounded like it should happen around the end of September, and Sarah and I were really excited to have a “cat baby,” as everyone in Pleebo calls a kitten.  One morning, we went to see Annie to buy bananas, and she explained to us that the momma had had her babies.  They were so cute, but we immediately agreed that we wanted the yellow and white striped one.  She said that we could take him home in six weeks or so, and we left, feeling excited about our life with a cat.

After thinking long and hard about possible names for this child of ours, we decided upon Thor.  We wanted him to have an epic name, for we knew he was going to be doing a lot of epic killing.  Fast forward six weeks later, and the children came over with our cat.  We did not realize it was time to take him, and we asked if we could pick him up the next morning.  They said that was fine, and we went on with our night. 

The next morning, after buying a litter pan and some small bowls for his food and water, we went over to Annie’s to pick him up.  We walked up and asked Annie if it was alright if we picked up our cat baby.  She looked at us and then looked at June Boy, who quickly ran behind the house and returned with a paint can.  Inside, we saw all of the kittens, dead.  We were mortified…  We asked June Boy what happened, and he quickly responded, “The ma got hungry in the night.” And that was that.  Business as usual was continuing around their house, but we were stopped in our tracks. 

Apparently, this is a common occurrence, which we figured out after talking to Annie some more.  If they do not feed the mother enough and she gets hungry, she will eat her kittens.  That morning, Annie said she had woken up to four dead kittens, a bloody floor, and the ma sitting on the other side of the room.  When we were at their house hearing the story, the ma was sitting underneath the sugar cane near their house staring at us.  Sarah and I have decided that she just did not want her baby being adopted by the white women and fixed that problem herself.  Whatever it was, it was rather tragic.


Sarah and I are still waiting for a kitten.  We have told Annie that when her cat gets pregnant again, we will take a cat baby.  And believe me, when they bring one over for us, we will be ready.  No more of this taking a chance business…  Montez, we cannot wait to meet you :) 

The Circle of Life is a real thing.

Sitting on our back porch, we see a lot of crazy things happen.  Children are getting beat, wheelbarrows full of things to buy are walking by the house, and animals of all kind are running around in the yard.  One day, however, was especially traumatic for us.  That was the day the mother hen lost one of her chicks.

Sarah and I were sitting on the back porch, per usual, just shooting the breeze and enjoying our lives.  All of a sudden, I hear this awful squaking coming from the hen in our neighbor’s yard and I look up to see her flying as best she can.  (The chickens here really do fly…I’ve seen them up in the trees, four or five feet off the ground.  I guess that’s what happens when you don’t pump a hen full of steroids…) 

I looked up and saw this hawk flying away rather quickly with a baby chick in its mouth.  As it flew out of our sight, we could still here it chirping for its mom.  Sarah was traumatized, and after sitting there for a minute, I spoke (with all the wisdom I could muster), “And that’s how the cookie crumbles.”  We laughed about that, but overall, the experience was pretty sad.

A few weeks later, sitting on our back porch again, we hear this awful noise coming from the same neighbor’s yard.  Looking over, we noticed a dog was chasing a duck; after a few feet, it succeeded in catching said duck and running away with his dinner.  Our neighbor chased after the dog, throwing whatever he could pick up from the ground, but it was of no use.   Dogs run free around the neighborhood, and after seeing that dog eat one like it was no big deal, I can understand why Liberians are not fond of pet puppies. 

Living with livestock all around us has made me realize a few things about life here and about life in Nebraska.  First of all, there is no birthing season here.  Animals are having babies year-round; in fact, the same mama duck just had her second set of ducklings since we have been in Pleebo.  Additionally, animals here are left to their own devices.  While they are small, the owners will feed them, but once they are big enough to roam around, dinner is left on their shoulders to find.  This is find, with the way all of our garbage is just thrown in a big pile behind our house, but it also goes against the entire idea of feeding my dogs twice a day, every day. 

Mama with her ducklings...before the dog incident.


Liberian animals are doing just fine, though, don’t get me wrong.  The animals roaming our neighborhood seem rather happy, and they never cause us problems.  My only request is that the roosters understand they should only be crowing in the morning – not whenever they feel like it throughout the day.  They wake me up at 5:00 am, and they’re still annoying at 2:00 pm.  I don’t understand their schedule…in fact, I’m beginning to think they don’t have one.  

Adventures with the coal pot – sangria, too!

Arriving in Liberia, I knew I wasn’t going to have running water or electricity.  What I did not bargain for, however, is not having a stove to cook with.  Living with our home stay family in Kakata, I soon realized what life with a coal pot would be like.  Though Mona, my sister, was rather adept at lighting the coal pot, I realized that upon moving out to Maryland County, I was going to have a pretty steep learning curve.

Needless to say, I underestimated how long it would take me to truly master the coal pot.  While we were able to light it and cook some decent meals, our first month at site was rough.  Sarah and I went through so many boxes of matches, pieces of rubber, and last bits of patience, I never thought we would make it through.  Today, however, we have it down to an art, and I’m pretty proud of our coal-potting skills! :)

Once we mastered lighting the coal pot, it became time to experiment with what types of meals we could make for ourselves.  Some have been crash and burn experiences, while others have been all-star recipes we have repeated too many times to remember.  Our lunch is typically kidney bean soup and rice, which is a cheap and filling meal to make.  Dinner during the week is something equally as quick and easy to make.

Some favorites of ours include spaghetti (we put okra in the sauce for a little something extra) with garlic bread, fried rice, and eggs and tortillas (yes, we make our own tortillas!).  Other meals we have tried with varied success include sweet potato perogies, peanut butter soup, Spanish rice, refried beans, and chicken – our take on a Mexican night, pasta with a four-cheese sauce (thanks, Mom!) and chicken, jollof rice, Indian masala with chickpeas, eggplant parmesan, bean burgers, macaroni and cheese, onion rings, popcorn, and many more. 

Like I said, some have been huge successes (eggplant parmesan!), while others have been huge failures (like the time we made jollof rice so spicy we couldn’t finish it).  They all make great stories, though, and it is fun to laugh about it now.  We have an entire cookbook to work through while we’re here, and I’m excited to discover what else we can make.

Spaghetti with okra and garlic bread

Bean burgers!

Spaghetti with real tomato sauce
Baking with the coal pot

In the baking world, we have been adventurous, as well.  Some of our favorites in that department include banana bread, brownies, and muffins.  We have so many fruits available to us here, though, so after training at the end of November, our goal is to experiment a little more with what goodies we can bake :)

One of the reasons I wake up in the morning…

For anyone who knew me in the States, I think it’s fair to say that I absolutely despised donuts.  Just the smell of a fresh Krispy Kreme, and I was ready to run out of the room.  I’m sure all of my friends thought I was crazy, but something about the thought of donuts was enough to make me queasy. 

Enter Peace Corps Liberia and Zone Two of Pleebo.  In our first few days at site, we noticed how many people would walk by the house every morning selling donuts.  You can hear them coming from a mile away, and it’s so tempting to just let them pass by the house.  Finally, we caved and bought two…just to see what all the hype was about.  Little did we know our lives were about to be changed.

We quickly learned that some donuts were better than others and that it is better to buy a donut from someone with a full bucket than to buy the ones at the bottom.  A fresh donut is a better donut, obviously!  In time, we came to the realization that one boy’s donuts were the best we had tried, and we decided to make a concentrated effort only to buy from him. 

Since that day three months ago, Sarah and I have formed quite the relationship with Jim.  He knows that if he walks by our house, we will more than likely buy a donut…or five.  Ideally, we would like to think that we are supporting an education fund; the chances of that are slim, but we can hope :)  In all reality, I think Jim sells donuts for his ma every day.  I’d estimate his age to be anywhere from 12-13 years old, and he is one of the sweetest kids we have met here. It’s unfortunate that he does not attend school (at least that we know of), but that’s how it is here for a lot of children.

Jim!




Jim is a welcome site when he passes by our house, and I think he knows this as much as we do.  Jim doesn’t judge us.  He simply understands what we need a few mornings a week – the best donuts in Pleebo.  

“Somebody listen please: it used to be so hard bein’ me.”

Sitting on our porch, in our house, or on the school campus, Pleebo is never quiet.  Instead, you can always hear something going on, whether that is a rooster crowing, a child crying, or the neighbors blasting the local radio station.  Music here in Liberia is a mixed bag – every day, you will hear something different.

A few local favorites my readers will recognize include Lil’ Wayne, Chris Brown, Rihanna (“Diamonds” is played much too often here), Akon, and Brandy.  Additionally, we hear plenty of local music…most of which we cannot understand.  Songs with titles like “My Pot Can’t Boil,” “Enter My Center,” “Chop My Money,” and “Shake Your Bum” are everyday occurrences for us.  Don’t get me wrong, we can sing them with the best of them, but a little variety is nice every now and then.

To combat this infiltration, Sarah and I are making full use of the vast music selection we each brought with us.  We’ve been making the rounds, too.  Lately, I’ve been discovering a lot of random stuff I put on my iPod this summer; iTunes’ Genius option is, well, genius!  Sarah has rediscovered a lot of the bands she put on her iPod, as well, and I’m grateful for her introducing me to some great stuff.

One of our best decisions, musically, however, came from my iTunes library.  Many, many years ago, I was a big fan of Ashlee Simpson.  Yes, I went through that dark phase, but so did every other girl my age in the United States, I’m sure.  For some reason, I thought it imperative to rip her album “Autobiography” onto my computer…and Sarah and I have now listened to it altogether too many times. 

Our next goal is to introduce it to our Liberian neighbors; I’m expecting mixed reviews, but that’s alright.  The speakers I brought with me are loud enough to compete with Robertson’s radio, and that is all that matters.  We can sing along to “Autobiography” for the next two years, and who knows, maybe we’ll get them hooked :)


Oh, and if you’re wondering, the title of this post is from the artist herself.  Ashlee Simpson, thank you for your support during the past three months.  You’ve never doubted us, you’ve been your angsty self just when we’ve needed it, and I can’t wait to see how you’ll be a part of our lives for the next two years.  Oh, and Mom, thanks for buying that CD ten years ago – it’s by far the best purchase you’ve ever made. 

The Sisterhood of the Poopy Bathroom

Disclaimer: The story you are about to read is a tale of events which took place in the second week of September.  You may find yourselves queasy or just plain disgusted upon reading this, but I wish to remind you, the reader, that you are not required to read every post found on this blog.  If you do wish to enjoy this saga, I ask that you are able to laugh about it after, as Sarah and I can.  If you think about it, the story is quite funny.

 One of the things I knew I was signing up for by accepting my position with Peace Corps Liberia was a life without running water and electricity for two years.  With this came a life of pit latrines, or “squattie-potties,” as they are sometimes called.  Fortunately, every house that Peace Corps volunteers are living in here in Liberia is required to have an indoor bathroom with an actual commode; needless to say, we are pretty lucky. 

Moving into our house, we were blown away by how nice our bathroom was.  Everything was nicely tiled, it was rather spacious, and we had a toilet – we were set for the next two years!  By the next day, however, we soon realized that everything was not peaches and cream as we had imagined it being.  To flush our toilet, we have to pour a bucket of water down it; not a bad deal, really, but the problem came with the fact that not everything was flushing.  Instead, toilet paper would hang out for a while before it finally disappeared down the drain. 

An easy fix, we thought – we’ll burn all of our toilet paper every few days, and life will be great.  We continued with this tradition for a few weeks and noticed no improvement.  Instead, we noticed small amounts of water starting to leak on the floor every time we poured a bucket of water down the commode to flush it.  Great.  With this water came the smell that comes with a dirty bathroom – I’m sure you can all imagine what that is like.

In September, we had visitors to Pleebo and after they left, we noticed our toilet was very broken.  This time, instead of a small amount of water leaking when it was flushed, a deluge was appearing from underneath the commode any time we poured even half a bucket of water into the toilet.  During this time, we were calling our landlord, our DEO, our PTA chairlady, and the principal, asking for them to find us a plumber ASAP. 

We continued using our toilet for the next week, hoping that a plumber would arrive soon, and nothing happened.  Running out of ideas, we headed over to our neighbor, Patrick, and asked him for some advice.  Thankfully, he knew a plumber who was able to come within two days.  Patrick’s house has two bathrooms, and this plumber had done all of his work there.  Mr. Freeman was to come over after school on Friday, so on Thursday morning, Sarah and I made a decision. 

I travelled to the market and picked up lots of plastic bags, four towels, and two long handled cook spoons.  (You know what’s coming…)  After school, we did what was necessary.  Our toilet had sat for a week of use without a single bucket of water down it, due to the major leakage going on all over our bathroom floor.  With Mr. Freeman coming the next day, we knew we had to make the situation a little more bearable for him.  With Sarah serving as the claws of the operation, and I as the garbage collector, we emptied the toilet as quickly as possible into the multitude of plastic bags I bought in the market.  We threw this away outside, washed our hands with lots of soap, and settled back into a pseudo-normal life.

Mr. Freeman’s visit the next day brought with it interesting news…  The place they put the septic tank is very swampy and the water level is high.  The reason that our toilet does not flush well is due to this high water level and high pressure inside the tank.  To combat this, he broke into the side of the tank and added a pipe which drains into a ditch near the house.  Any time the tank reaches that point, it drains out the pipe and allows for our toilet to flush.

He was also gracious enough to completely clean out our commode and re-cement it to the floor with enough cement to hold it through any storm.  That toilet is not coming off the floor any time soon, and for that we are grateful.  Within two days of talking to Patrick, we got our predicament sorted out and our normal life back. 

I never would have thought that I would one day scoop the poop out of a toilet, but I guess now I can say I’ve done everything.  I’m hesitant to share this story here on my blog, but it’s so funny now, that I had to.  Life here surprises me constantly, and this is just another shining example of the mystery behind the door of every new day.  I wouldn’t change it for the world, though; I mean, how many people do you know who can tell a story like that and laugh about it?  :) 

The rainy season: It gives us hard time!

The rainy season here in Liberia runs from April to October, or so, just depending on the weather that year.  Everyone here says that global warming has played a big part in it, but who is to know for sure?  No matter what, we have been living in the rainy season for almost all of our time here in Maryland so far, and it is an adventure every day.

At our site, there are no “coal tar” roads.  In other words, all of the roads, paths, and public spaces are dirt covered and perpetually muddy.  Walking to the market, it is common for us to catch ourselves from falling at least once, and coming home from the market is another story entirely.  Thank goodness for good sandals; without her Chacos and without my Tevas, Sarah and I would be an even bigger muddy mess when we got home!

With this excess rain comes excess mud puddles and ample opportunities for us to point out to our community that we are not adept in navigating the rain-filled streets of Pleebo.  One of my favorite memories from our time here so far comes from the day that Sarah and I went on a short walkabout with Evelyn and May, two girls who are our neighbors.  Walking onto this path, we had to step over a pretty large puddle.  Evelyn looked at it, cautioned us to “take time,” and made it across safely with three-year old May in tow.  Sarah was next, and all looked like it was going to be fine.

The next thing I know, however, Sarah is lying in the puddle, covered in mud from the waist down.  She slipped in the puddle, and all we could do was laugh about it.  May looked at us like we were crazy, and Evelyn was kind enough to help her up.  Thankfully, there was a well right next to the entrance of this path, where, luck would have it, a group of women were drawing water.  They were gracious enough to draw a bucket for us, and we all took time to wash as much mud off of Sarah as possible.  With the little dignity she had left, we made it home slowly and for a while, our continuous joke to each other was to “take time.”

A few weeks later, walking home from the market, I tried to step over a big puddle on the path near our house and completely missed the mark, getting mud all down the front of my dress.  Karma caught up with me, too, for laughing when Sarah fell, as there was a large group of guys sitting on the porch of the house near this path.  They all were quick to laugh and say the obligatory “sorry, yeah?” before watching me stand up and struggle home.  Sarah and I laughed for a while about that one, too :)

The final time that deserves mentioning was one day while I was walking home with my few-days old umbrella (Umbrella #2, if you must know).  I slipped down a small hill, and instead of catching myself with my hands, I attempted to catch myself with my umbrella.  I’m not sure what I was thinking exactly, considering I am much bigger than my umbrella, but I did it nonetheless.  That umbrella was rather short-lived after that incident…

The view off of our back porch - look at the rain!

A view of Regina's house - look at the rain!


Thankfully, as we are entering November, we are beginning what is supposed to be the dry season here in Liberia.  We have not seen evidence of that yet here in Maryland County, as it has rained almost every day since the start of the month.  Elsewhere, however, it seems to be starting, and we are anxious for its arrival.  Though that means we are entering the start of an even hotter season, it also means that we can plant our garden, which is something we are really looking forward to getting started.  It also means we won’t have to tote our umbrellas with us everywhere we go, which will be a nice change!  All in all, we will miss the rainy season, though.  I’m sure by the time April rolls around, we will be praying for the sky to open up and rain just one more time.