Sunday, May 11, 2014

Photo Update!

This is the checkers board we made for the room where we hold study hours.  Some days are slow, and Sarah chooses those days to annihilate me..

Scenery on the drive from Pleebo to Monrovia

The road we drive on for 18 hours to get to Monrovia -- this is "good" in the dry season.
A typical village on the way to town. 

Sarah cleaning the fish for our potato greens (with Loveina's guidance).

Explaining the pop the balloon game to our women's club

The winners of the game - Majula, Saybah, and Cecelia.  Notice their "color clothes" - that day, students paid the equivalent of $0.25 to wear whatever they wanted to school.

Sarah and Sinamie, bluffing in their lappa!

:  Explaining the "sharks and fish" game -- notice the eighties prom lappa suit!

We take part in the games too :)  

The "untying the knot" team-building exercise.
Musical chairs!

Dancing with the girls - that's how we play musical chairs :)   
This is Margot -- she puts up with a lot.

On the way to training in Kakata -- 18 hours in the bush taxi gives us all a nice "spray-on" tan.

Snails for sale in the market!  They're sweet-o!)

A Weekend in Monrovia

This weekend, we were able to travel to Monrovia and experience an Embassy home stay.  My goodness, I have never been so grateful for the opportunities that come with a small Peace Corps post as I have been this weekend.  Because our country is so small (we only have one project in Liberia – education – and we have 90-100 volunteers in country), we are allowed a few extra “perks,” so to speak.

One of these is the Embassy home stay program.  Embassy employees can sign up to host Peace Corps Volunteers and we as volunteers can sign up for two home stays during our time in country.  This allows us two weekends in Monrovia, staying with an Embassy family and enjoying the luxuries of a city. 

Our family is travelling back to Iowa this month for their son’s high school graduation, so unfortunately we were not able to really form a personal connection.  We were, however, able to enjoy life in a very nice apartment, complete with wi-fi, hot running water, a real stove, and delivery pizza.  This weekend has been a great recharge weekend, and I can’t wait to plan my next visit.  (We were also doubly lucky in that we were able to catch a UN flight from Harper to Monrovia, turning four days of travel into three hours on the plane/chopper.  Thanks, UNMIL!) 

Our main reason for coming to Monrovia this weekend was to attend the Embassy Arts & Crafts Fair, an event they host twice a year (in December and May/June).  There is a Peace Corps Volunteer who started a secondary project, which then turned NGO, called Bosh Bosh and she was selling there.  There were a few things I wanted to purchase from her, and I was also curious to see what other goodies I could find.  I was blown away.  This craft fair was like any other outdoor event I could have attended in the States, and it was a drain on my wallet for sure! :)

Everything I could have wanted I found, including lappa, bags, jewelry, carvings, paintings, clothes, and shoes.  I managed to get some gifts and some goodies for myself, and I’m so excited to bring everything home and show people.  Until then, I will be content with enjoying a few of my buys back in Pleebo and basking in the feeling of rejuvenation that has come from this home stay experience :) 

Sarah and I with Bosh Bosh stars.
These stars are made from recycled materials by the girls and are absolutely beautiful.
60% of the price goes towards a community service project (currently raising funds for trash cans for the health center) and 40% of the price goes back to the NGO.
Check out their website here! :

The Saga of Mami

We live in a great neighborhood, and we are very fortunate to love all of our neighbors.  There is one woman, however, who was living at Regina’s house who was a little less than friendly to us.  We never really understood what had happened to make her dislike us so, but nevertheless, we were not on good terms.

In March, I was sitting on our porch reading and noticed Mami walk by the house a few times, carrying full loads on her head.  When Regina returned from work that day, I asked her what happened to Mami.  She laughed and shrugged, saying, “I don’t know why, but she left.”  Apparently, Mami accused Regina’s daughter Madea of stealing six of the hard-boiled eggs she was selling.  Madea claimed that she only went into the room to get her school uniform.  (We know Madea would not have stolen anything, so Mami’s claim was invalid.) 

Regina did not take Mami’s side, and she was vexed about that.  Rather than work out the situation, Mami decided to move out and go live with her brother on the other side of town.  Things were calm after that incident, and we figured we would never see her again.  A few weeks later, she showed up with a big bucket and started picking potato greens from behind our house.  Regina had planted those and we didn’t think Mami had asked for permission before taking the greens.  Sure enough, she had just started picking them without asking Regina about it, and she was vexed.  She came over and asked Mami why she was stealing her food; Mami had no answer, and instead, just kept picking the greens.  Regina told her the only reason she was letting her take them was so that her son had food to eat. 

The funniest thing about this whole exchange was that Regina is the most kind-hearted woman I know.  She would not want Mami or her son to go hungry, and if Mami had asked to pick some greens, Regina would have said yes right away.  Instead, Mami thought she had to sneak around and steal them and Regina was upset she tried to sneak the way she did.

A few weeks later, I was woken up around 5:15 to the sounds of someone in Regina’s house wailing.  I went outside and kept hearing the noises coming from the house; I had no idea what was happening, but everyone was going about their business acting as if nothing unusual was going on.  Later that morning, two men came and carried a woman into a room built off of their outdoor kitchen.  We asked Regina what was going on, and she said that it was Mami and that she had gone crazy. 

Apparently Regina had gotten a call the night before that Mami had run away from her brother’s house and left her son with him.  Regina went and got Mami’s son and brought him home.  That morning, Regina went out looking for Mami and found her wandering on the streets.  She had gone “mad,” and was not acting in her usual way.  For the next week or so, she lived with Regina, and became something fun for the kids to mess with.  She and I had a rather interesting exchange, where she tried to beg me for some Irish potatoes I was cooking after claiming that Regina never fed her.  Her laugh was eerie and I never did know how to react around her.

A few days later, we noticed a motor bike pulled up outside Regina’s house and the driver was loading all of Mami’s stuff onto it.  I asked Robertson what was happening and he said that they were carrying Mami into the bush to stay with her parents and get treatment for her sickness.  While we all thought this was an important idea, she apparently felt differently about it.  This afternoon culminated into a show for the entire neighborhood to watch.  Robertson and Peter, a boy living in that house, chased her down, put her on the ground, and proceeded to tie her up. They tied her ankles and wrists, wrapped a lappa around her waist, and carried her to a wheelbarrow, which they tied her to as well.  Then Robertson pushed her to parking with Regina following so that they could visit the bush. 

Needless to say, Mami did not want to go and ended up returning to her brother’s house.  A few days later, however, she did travel to the interior and has been there ever since, receiving treatment for her sickness.  We have no idea what happened to set her off, but I hope that when she returns, she will be a little friendlier and a little more willing to take care of her son.  Until then, we are grateful for our neighbors and their caring hearts when it comes to strangers.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Brushing the Yard

We live in a very nice house that, consequently, has a rather large yard.  We are not responsible for brushing the yard, as our neighbors have told us repeatedly, but to this day, we are still not sure who is supposed to be in charge of those duties.  Cutting the grass here means taking a large machete and walking back and forth across the grass, cutting it as short as you can by hand.  It is labor and time-intensive, and we are always so grateful for those who take their turn helping us out.

One day, Sarah was approached by the President of our 11A class, saying that the class would be at our house the next morning around 7:00 am to brush the yard for us.  She noted it and that night informed me of what was happening; neither one of us expected anything to happen, however.  To our great surprise, the next morning around 8:15/8:30 am (in true Liberian time), over half of our students from 11A showed up to brush our yard!

They did a wonderful job, and we are so grateful for their hard work.  The day they came to work was a holiday, and therefore, there were no lessons being held that day.  Rather than take the day to bluff around, work in the market, or study, they chose to spend two hours of their time making our house look presentable.  While Sarah and I appreciated this gesture plenty, we think our neighbors appreciated it even more.  :) 

Package Update

Just a quick update – I have received in the past few months packages and letters from Mom, Dad, Sally, LaDonna, Sue, Jessica, and Aunt Gail.  Thank you all so much for your love and support – it is so great to hear from all of you and to have some great new snacks to try :)  Thank you!

Beans, beans, beans.

Sarah and I have started eating lunch daily on our campus.  It is convenient for us to have a more relaxing morning and we get to eat delicious Liberian food, so I would say it’s a double bonus :)  The Ole Ma who is cooking for us lives near our house; every time we are walking to the road, we pass by and always receive a chorus of hellos from everyone living there. 

The Ma knows that our favorite meal is her country beans – they are so simple, but by far our favorite option there.  She puts fish in every meal she serves…sometimes it is bony, or dried fish, and other times it is fresh fish.  Both are tasty, and I never worry about which it will be.

She cooks other soups, as well, and one of the most interesting ones to me is cassava leaf.  During our training and while I was living at home stay, cassava leaf soup was my least favorite.  Something about the flavor and the scent of the soup made it “not too sweet” to me…  Now, however, I don’t mind it so much and it is another one of my favorite soups by her.  To be honest, though, I would say that any soup of hers is my favorite these days.

Cassava leaf...yum!

This meal was sent from heaven to the Ole Ma.  Country beans are the best.)

She is a sight for sore eyes when we arrive to campus, and I can’t believe it took us this long to figure out she cooks on campus.  She knows us better than many in Pleebo, and I am grateful for her sustenance during those long days at school. 

April Fool's!

Waking up on the morning of April 1, I thought it was going to just be another day of school, with no one thinking anything of April Fool’s Day.  I asked the librarian, however, if they understood the concept here in Liberia, and she told me that it is in fact recognized and understood here. 

If you have been following the news in the last month or so, the Ebola virus is hitting Guinea hard right now and there have now been six confirmed deaths in Liberia due to Ebola.  (They are all in Lofa County, which is a three day drive from Maryland County, for sure.)  My students are worried about contracting this virus, which is only gotten from direct contact with contaminated body fluids, and they are always trying to warn me about how I can protect myself. 

I walked into 10D, by far my favorite class.  The students were not plenty that day, but they were enough to make my joke worth it.  I walked into class and informed them that due to Ebola, Peace Corps was evacuating me back to America and that I was never going to return to Liberia.  My students were vexed!  They immediately started trying to explain to me how Ebola was not that bad and that I couldn’t be leaving because of it.  Instead, I even had one student offer to let me stay with her for the rest of my time here in Liberia!  I told them the truth after about ten minutes or so, and it was the funniest part of my day.

At fifth period, Sarah and I did the same thing to our 11A class, a section that we both teach.  They were so upset, too, and it was so funny to see their reactions to the idea that we were going to be leaving them, especially considering we are the most regular teachers they have most of the time.  After telling them the truth, they were not happy with us, but they did finally laugh a little at our idea of a joke for April Fool’s.  :) 

HIV Awareness & the Women of Pleebo High School

Sarah and I had done a survey at the beginning of the semester when our women’s club was just taking off as to what the girls were interested in learning about in workshop forms.  One of the big responses was women’s health and HIV/AIDS information.  We thus decided to host our first two workshops on HIV – both how it’s transferred and how we can prevent it.

These workshops were by far the most fulfilling things I have done with the club yet.  The first meeting was very straightforward – we explained the science behind how HIV works, the ways that HIV can be transferred, and addressed misconceptions and facts/myths surrounding HIV.  The second meeting dealt with preventing HIV infection and how we can educate our communities about HIV and safe sex. 

I am teaching the women about the immune system and the role HIV plays in attacking our body. 
Sarah explaining the Elephants & Lions Game.  This is an opportunity for the girls to act out HIV attacking the T4 cells of the immune system, all while giving them a better opportunity to understand how HIV is contracted.

The girls were extremely responsive to the sessions and I was so happy to have introduced this information and these resources to our club.  My favorite part of the meeting was the condom demonstration that we did on the second meeting.  We went to the market, bought a big plantain, and proceeded to demonstrate how to put on a condom properly and how to dispose of it when things are through.  We even had a few girls volunteer to try in front of the group!

Ready to start the condom demo!

Discussing ways to prevent HIV transmission before our demonstration

When that demonstration was through, we had an open conversation dealing with the questions or concerns that the students had.  At first, the tension was so thick you could have cut the air with a knife; once I asked them a question, however, they opened up and we had all kinds of questions.  I mentioned how sometimes it can be awkward or uncomfortable talking openly about sex and anatomy, but that this is the only way we can learn and fix the misconceptions in our community.  We had question after question, and they were all very good.  One student informed us that a man in our community told her that only women can have syphilis, therefore he did not need to use a condom.  Another student shared her thoughts that HIV can be cured in a man if he sleeps with a virgin girl – this is perpetuated by bush doctors and traditional medicine that is common here.

Needless to say, our students were excited to learn about something new, and especially to do so in an environment that they were comfortable in.  Our next workshop is going to be about malaria, seeing as April is World Malaria Month.  I find these to be good opportunities to share correct facts and information with our students who, in turn, can share it with their friends and family.  The misconceptions in our community are many, and I can only hope that through the open conversations and fun learning opportunities we provide for our students, we can clear up some of these and have a more educated and healthier community!

Lappa, lappa, and more lappa!

Sarah and I have an extreme addiction at site.  We buy waaaaaay too much lappa than is good for us.  On average, I would say that between the two of us, we buy three lappas every week – some of it is planned, while other experiences are rather spontaneous. 

Easter weekend we were living in Kakata at Doe Palace, and on Good Friday, we went lappa shopping in the market here, which has a much wider selection than that we can find in Pleebo.  Needless to say, I bought fifteen different lappa patterns, and Sarah bought nineteen. 

Jesus!  And all of the other lappas I bought this weekend.

Sarah found one that she has been searching for since before January, and I can’t wait to see the dress she gets made with it!  I bought a few cool ones, but my favorite by far is a dark blue one with a big picture of Jesus’ face on it – it will be the best thing I bring back to America, for sure!


We live in an area of Pleebo that is “cool and calm,” as everyone seems to say.  While that is true, that things are cool and calm, they are also noisy at times due to all the livestock that tend to congregate around our house.

Regina was brought a goat a few months ago by a family whose son she sponsored for school last year, and she had it around the house for a while.  We asked Robertson if this goat had a name, and he thought that was the most absurd idea in the world.  He did let us name it, however, and we chose to name it Julia.  Julia was around for a few weeks, and then they carried her to the village.

We heard nothing more of her and then two months or so later, another goat showed up at the house.  This was a boy goat, and we never did end up naming it.  This poor goat, however, was stuck in the neighborhood for three months with nothing to do but eat all the cassava leaves and chase the community children.  The children came to realize that they could terrorize him and he would then chase them around while they screamed like banshees. 

Robertson finally took this male goat to the bush a few weeks ago and he could not be happier to be out of town and back upcountry.  When he returned from his trip, he came and told us all about the experience.  After tying the goat to the back of a motor bike, he arrived in the village and the goat ran away as fast as he could.  Robertson did say that he saw Julia, however, and that she is pregnant!  A new baby goat on the way – it’s always good to know that something is surviving in the bush.  :) 


Now that we have Margot, our rat problem has gotten much better.  She has also taken care of almost all of the cockroaches taking up space around the house and the lizards that like to hang out in the bathroom.  If only she could attack the termites, we’d be set!

At the very start of our time in Pleebo, we took down quite a few termite hills, but I thought that once we were eight months in, we’d be done with it.  Yeah right.  Every week, or so it seems, we have been taking down termite mounds around the house.  Some are small and easy to pick up; others are much bigger and take a bit of time.

This was found on the corner of the door to our bathroom.  It showed up over the course of eight hours!

It’s always fun to wake up in the morning and go into the kitchen, only to find lizards feasting on the giant termite hill that has been built into the corner of the walls.  Granted, now that Margot is here, the lizards don’t snack on these termites anymore.  :)  They still build all over the house, though, and it’s one of the small things that I absolutely despise waking up to. 

Oil + Water

Sarah and I have been eating a lot of popcorn as of late for dinner.  The Ole Ma cooks plenty for lunch, and we just don’t feel too hungry at the end of the day.  The downfall of this plan is that it often takes longer for the coal pot to heat up than for the popcorn to pop… That being said, often times, Sarah will light the coal pot, go take a bath, then come back and read a book until the oil is hot enough.

This is what she did on a Monday night a few weeks ago; nevertheless, the coal pot that night was exceptionally quick and hot.  She was reading (Nights of Rodanthe, actually – we were going to watch the movie that night) and wasn’t paying much attention to the comments of our neighbors.  Soon, however, she began to notice that they were congregating near the house and frequently mentioning “white woman”. 

She looked up from her book and noticed the coal pot was smoking – she took the lid off the pot, which was containing the oil she was heating, and flames were jumping out at her.  She put the lid down, took down the pot, and set it on the porch.  Then, she went inside to get water to throw on this fire…

Now, it has been mentioned that oil fires and water do not mix well, but in a moment of clarity, she forgot this.  Granted, I think I would have forgotten as well – how often do we deal with grease fires back home?  She came back outside, threw the scoop of water on the fire, and the flames jumped up at least six feet (they were higher than the door).  Luckily, our neighbor, Robertson, had run over to see what was happening, and he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to the far side of the porch before covering the fire.

While all of this was happening, I was inside, having just finished my bucket bath.  I heard the water hit the fire, but I had no idea what was happening.  I came outside to find our entire neighborhood crowded onto and around our porch and Sarah uncomfortably laughing to herself.  While telling me the story, I started laughing as well – I just didn’t know how else to respond to this situation.

Robertson told me that my sister was lucky, and I responded to him in the only way I know how – “Thank God she is alright.  Thank God nothing happened.”  If something had happened, I think I would have been as shaken up about it as Sarah was.  The children scrubbed the pot clean for us and that night (and ever since), I have taken over the popcorn duties. 

This is only lesson number five thousand and seven in why our neighbors are the best neighbors of any of the Peace Corps sites.  They protect us from oil and water fires and they do not judge us after the fact.  I’m grateful for them every day of my life.

Side note – Sarah was okay after this incident.  Besides being shaken up abou t it, she suffered singed hair (I trimmed off the ends for her) and a sunburn-type burn on her right arm.  There was a small blister, as well, but it was not too bad.  Thank God for her life and for Robertson’s quick thinking.