Teaching in Liberia 

As an education volunteer, my main assignment in the Peace Corps is teaching at the local high school. I’m teaching math to the 10th and 11th graders. It’s hard to believe but I’m already more than 2 months into the school year!

The school where I teach

It’s my first year teaching and my first observation: teaching is hard work! And teaching at my school here in Liberia presents its own challenges. Like most places in my community, the school doesn’t have electricity, so there’s no smart board, no overhead projector, no computers or photocopiers, none of the things that you’d expect to find in an American school. Everyday we teach with chalk on a blackboard!

Even with the limited teaching resources, one of the more pressing needs at my school is something you wouldn’t encounter in schools in the US: there are not enough chairs for all the students. Every school day begins with devotion, where the students line up in the courtyard by class, to say the pledge of allegiance, sing the national anthem and hear any announcements from the principal. As soon as the students are released from devotion, it is like a stampede of students running to their classrooms to claim a chair before they’re all taken. Some students bring their own chairs from home, but even so, every class has at least a few students sharing chairs or a couple of students standing in the back. The school is working on the chair situation, already they’ve been able to bring some more chairs and are working with the community to fundraise to buy more.

Students line up for Devotion every morning before school

Another challenge at the school is getting textbooks in the hands of the students. We have a library with textbooks for most all of the different subjects and grade levels but when I first arrived a couple months ago they were all in boxes! The principal (who is also new to the school) had them all unpacked and put on shelves before the school year began. Now they are at least more physically accessible but there’s not an effective process for students to check them out. So besides a handful of students that come in to read or study during recess, the books are sitting unused. That poses a challenge for me as a teacher because it means the students only have the notes and practice problems that I provide to them on the blackboard; I can’t reference a reading from the book or assign homework from it. But when it comes to the library, the school is making progress “small small” as they say here in Liberia, a little bit at a time.

 

 

 

Something that’s been hard for me has been the size of my classes. I have about 60 11th graders in only one section, in a classroom that fits 30 comfortably. And in 10th grade, I have nearly 100 students – luckily the school was able to split them into 2 sections, but still around 50 students per section. To me these feel like very large classes, but I’m actually middle of the range – some of my fellow volunteers have classes of 80 or even 100 in one section! But I’m learning how to manage so many students at once and figuring out what I can and can’t do with classes of this size.

An additional challenge that comes with big classes is a wide variety of ability levels among my students. In my 10th and 11th grade classes, I have some very bright students who are right on track with their grade level, while others struggle with some of the basics, unable to do multiplication without a calculator or add negative numbers. This can make it tough to keep up with the curriculum and plan my lessons. I’ve found that the best way to accommodate majority of students is to incorporate quick reviews into my lessons as I’m teaching the curriculum – for instance, a short review on exponents before learning pythagorean theorem.

One of the most frustrating things I’ve run into here is the “spying” or cheating! While there’s a “no spying” policy, it’s not really enforced so students have gotten used to being able to cheat – everything from turning around to look at each other’s papers, copying homework, talking or passing notes during tests, anything you can think of! They tell me that in Liberia, it’s good to “share ideas” during a test (though the principal will definitely tell you otherwise!). So I’ve been working to make it harder to spy – creating multiple versions of tests and quizzes and walking around during the test and marking their tests if I see any fishy activity. They like to joke about it – “Miss S can minus!” – but I’m hoping when they see how it impacts their grade they’ll stop doing it so much.

And one last challenge teaching at my school here is that there are often things that come up that impact the school day – whether it’s arriving at school to find out there’s no classes because the students are spending the day cleaning up the campus or there’s an impromptu teacher meeting during recess that runs over so I lose half of my teaching time during the next period. I’m learning to expect the unexpected and to be flexible with my plans!

Even though there are many challenges,  I’m figuring out how to deal with them and learning a lot. I’m enjoying working with the students who are eager to learn and love to see students catch on to a concept that they struggled with at first. At two months in, I’m getting into the swing of things and continuing to learn and adapt as the school year goes on!

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A Day Trip to Cinque Terre, Italy by Car

For our last full day in Italy we needed to get from Montecatini to Milan to be ready to fly out the next morning. Adding a slight detour, we decided to stop in Cinque Terre along the way!

Cinque Terre in Italian translates to “Five Lands”, aptly named because it is comprised of five coastal villages. Driving ourselves posed a bit of a challenge since cars are not allowed in most areas of the villages but luckily we found free parking outside of Cinque Terre in the town of Groppo (white parking spaces are free, blue are paid and yellow are for residents only) a short hike from the village of Manarola. After a 20 minute hike we made it to Manarola, the second village from the south. Just inside the village, we stumbled upon San Lorenzo Church and a clock tower with views of the ocean.

After a little exploring we decided to take the trail towards Corniglia, the next village over, to get some views of Manarola from above. We didn’t have time to hike go all the way to Corniglia but we got some great views of the city and beautiful ocean views. We stopped next to a vineyard for a break and a snack.

After making our way back down the path, we window shopped in Manarola making our way to the waters edge. We had wanted to take the ferry between the villages but the waters were too rough that day so the boats were only running between the first and the last cities. Defeated we headed to the train station and ended up buying a Cinque Terre Card. This card allowed us to ride the train and the local buses all day. At 16 euros it would be paid for with how often we rode the train plus it gave us free access to the bathrooms and wifi at the train stations!

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Boarding the train we headed two villages over to Vernazza. Walking down the street we saw a rocky tunnel off to the side (surrounded by safety warnings) with people on the other side. Naturally our curiosity got the better of us and we went through the rock tunnel to find a “secret beach” on the other side. There were many people swimming in the water and basking in the sun!

After some window shopping we headed further down the street to the waters edge. After a few photos and taking in the gorgeous scenery we decided to splurge and have a seafood lunch with a view!

Our next stop was one city over in Monterosso, the northern most village in Cinque Terre. Monterosso is most known for its beaches and the free beaches by the train station were flooded with people. We walked along the shore until we came across the statue of the Giant. The Giant was built in 1910 and now is missing both his arms and a leg as a result of artillery fire in World War II. Turning back the other direction we walked along the shore until we passed through a tunnel to find a gelateria (and other shops) waiting for us on the other side. We settled in with a view of the sea while we enjoyed our final gelato of the trip.

After gelato we hopped back on the train back to Vernazza. We wanted to hike the trail between Vernazza and Monterosso for a view of Vernazza from above but didn’t do it earlier in the day as the sun was high in the sky. After about 10 minutes of walking we reached the postcard view of the city!

After our hike we decided to head back to Manarola for a quick dinner before leaving for the long drive to Milan. Before dinner I took a quick trip to the waterfront to for some last minute pictures. I found a path up the hill and decided to follow it. It led me to my favorite view on Manarola.

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For our last meal in Italy knew we had to have pizza, we ordered a few different kinds and shared them family style! After dinner we found a bus to take us back to our car in Groppo (included in our day train pass!). That saved us from a 30 minute hike up hill to our car before the long drive back to Milan for the night. While we only had time to visit three of the five villages on our day trip to Cinque Terre, we are so glad we went out of our way to get a glimpse of these gorgeous villages!

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Tivoli Revisted: Halloween Edition

In honor of Halloween today, it is only fitting that we post about my recent trip to Tivoli! A few years ago on a family vacation we took a cruise around the Baltics with a stop in Copenhagen, Denmark. Even though we only had one day, we knew a stop at Tivoli, the most visited amusement park in the world, was a must! We loved the rides and the atmospheres of all the different parts of the world. This year I got the amazing opportunity to visit Tivoli again, but this time it was completely decked out for Halloween!

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Tivoli closes down to redecorate twice during the year, once for Halloween and then again for Christmas. Walking down the street, the transformation was obvious. The entrance had a giant pumpkin dangling in it and the walkway inside was lined with jack-o-lanterns high in the air. Walking around, you couldn’t miss the essence of Halloween in the air. There were pumpkins everywhere!

We walked around for a while enjoying the sites and trying to decide what area of the world we wanted food from. Missing the food from my recent Italy trip, we opted for pizza and wine. The food was absolutely delicious!

After dinner we decided to ride a couple rides. First the Flying Trunk, an ode to fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson. We had visited the Hans Christian Anderson Museum earlier that day, so it seemed fitting to ride around in a flying trunk seeing scenes from many of his fairy tales! Next we wanted to get a view from above so we decided to ride the ferris wheel. We got night time views of Tivoli and parts of downtown Copenhagen as well!

Although I’ve visited Tivoli before, it felt like an entirely different magical place in October. Tivoli went all out with their decorations, truly transforming Tivoli into a new world. I just hope someday I can visit for Christmas!

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An Afternoon in Siena, Italy

After our first leisurely morning of the trip in Montecatini, we only had half the day to spend visiting Siena. After an hour and a half drive we arrived in Siena and found a parking garage just out side the city. The entire city is on a hill with the main tourist attractions at the top. Luckily the city graciously installed a series of escalators to get weary travelers like ourselves to the top of the city!

There is one main ticket office just outside of the Duomo selling various options of ticket passes for the main attractions Siena has to offer. With our pass in hand we headed first to the Museum dell Opera. The first thing you will notice is the large stained glass window in the hall. It originally hung in the cathedral made between 1287 and 1290. On the first floor you’ll find the altarpiece known as Maestra of Duccilli di Buoninsegna, considered a masterpiece of early 14th century Italian art. Other parts of the museum include a Tresury with over two hundred sacred objects, statues of the apostles and blueprints of the patterns on the Cathedral’s pristine marble floors.

On one of the upper floors of the Museum there is a chance to go out onto the rooftop for a panoramic view of the city. After a short line we climbed up to a small space on the roof for breathtaking views of the city. You don’t have unlimited time to take it all in so be sure to get any pictures you want before being ushered back down to make room for the next group.

Our next stop was at the Baptistry of San Giovanni, an ornate building built in the 1310s with art all along the walls and bronze plaques all around the baptismal font. Just around the corner we visited the Crypt which lies underneath the Duomo. Although it is called a Crypt, it was never used for burials. It is known for its 13th century frescoes that line the walls showing the Passion of the Christ.

Our next stop was the Duomo, while the entirety of the Duomo is beautiful, what makes it unique from the others we’ve seen is its marble mosaic floor. It was crafted by about 40 artists and the project took six centuries to complete! The floors are only uncovered around 2 months a year from June 29 to July 31 and from August 18 to October 26 because although it is beautiful it is also fragile. To prevent wear and tear of tourists shoes, the rest of the year it is covered with sheets.

One add on with our ticket was the Porta de Cielo or the Gate of Heaven. On this tour we climbed into the rafters and were able to see the Cathedral floors from above through some open stained glass windows. We went outside around the dome at the top of the Duomo for views of the city before crossing a bridge over through the sanctuary. This tour gave us views of the church interior and the surrounding landscapes that made it well worth the extra cost!

To round out our time in Siena we stopped for a late lunch of pizza and calzones. With a view of the Baptistry, we ate outside on the plaza. After some last minute souvenir shopping, we headed back down the escalators towards our car to begin our journey to San Gimignano.

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A Day Tour Around the Tuscan Countryside

Instead of trying to drive around the Tuscan countryside on our own, we opted to join an all day tour through Discover Tuscany. The tour picked us up in Montecatini, where we were staying, and we joined up with other picked up in Florence and Siena before making our way to our first stop the vineyard Abbadia Ardenga just outside Montalcino. While there we toured their storerooms and learned about the wine making process before having a tasting of four different categories of wine. We learned so much there that it deserved its own post!

Buzzed on wine, we made out way to the city of Montalcino. Montalcino is the highest city in Tuscany, with the Fortress of Montalcino being the highest point in the city. We walked through the cobblestone streets towards the fortress for a quick look around then spent the rest of our time enjoying the fantastic views!

Our next stop was the small town of Pienza. Known as the “ideal city of the Renaissance”, Pienza was the birthplace of Pope Prius II. The Pope had the money and influence to transform his hometown to exemplify the principles and philosophy of the Italian Renaissance. Today, Pienza is known for its production of pecorino, a tasty cheese made from sheep’s milk. We wandered through the shops trying cheeses and buying sandwiches, visiting the Cathedral and taking in more gorgeous views of Tuscany.

The last city we stopped in was Montepulciano to visit Citta Sotteranea or the Underground City. The Underground City is a series of underground cellars and storerooms dating back to the 14th and 15th century. Their temperature naturally ranges from 13-16 degrees Celsius, or 55-60 degrees Fahranheit, year round making it the perfect place to age wine. Currently the cellars are used to age Vino Nobile di Montelpulciano, a locally produced wine, and various cheese products. In the taller chambers they made taller oak barrels to age the wines in each able to hold 4,000 liters of wine! After the tour we had a free tasting of so many local wines and foods that I couldn’t keep them all straight!

After the tour of Citta Sotterranea, we didn’t have time to climb to the top of the city to see the Duomo and other historic sites. Instead we explored the shops nearby and got our daily gelato before getting back on the bus to head home to Montecatini.

Overall the tour was a great way to explore Tuscany so none of us had to drive. After a rough start in our ride being 30 minutes late to pick us up, everything else on the tour went smoothly and our tour guide, Liza, was wonderful. Doing this all day tour allowed us to see parts of Tuscany that we may not have gotten the chance to, plus drink some delicious wine along the way!

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Visiting a Tuscan Vineyard

Instead of trying to drive around the Tuscan countryside on our own, we opted to join an all day tour through Discover Tuscany. The tour picked us up in Montecatini, where we were staying, and we joined up with others picked up in Florence and Siena before making our way to our first stop, the vineyard Abbadia Ardenga just outside Montalcino.

We first met Fabio, a member the Ciacci family which has managed the property since the 60s, whose father Mario waa a founder of the company. While we all sipped on rosé, Fabio explained some general wine making knowledge while we explored a few storerooms holding the Brunello di Montalcino, a locally grown red wine.  Most of their wines spend 2-3 months fermenting before they are transferred to airtight oak barrels for another four years! As if that weren’t already a crazy long time, the wine is bottled and stored for another year before it is sold.

The quality of the wine is is largely based on the weather during each growing season. In years of especially good weather, producing the highest quality grapes, “Reserva” bottles are made. With the rarity and quality of these bottles, the reserva bottles come at a higher price. The last reserva bottle of Brunello di Montalcino was produced in 2010, it was the best year on record for this type of wine.

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Next came the fun part, the tasting! We had 3 more wines to taste all from different categories. As we tasted and snacked on cheese, bread and salami, Fabio taught us the different categories of wine in Italy. The lowest catagory is Vino da Tavola (VdT) or table wine, the wine we had while exploring the storerooms. The next level up is I.G.T. or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, they are typical of a particular geography or local region. From this catagory we tried (and purchased bottles as souvenirs!) Ardengo, a dry, bright red wine.

The next category is D.O.C. These wines are produced in a specific, well-defined Italian region. They are produced using specific techniques designed to preserve local traditions. From this catagory we tried the Rosso di Montalcino, a dry, full-bodied, dark red wine. The last and highest category is D.O.C.G. These wines have to meet all the qualifications of the D.O.C. levels plus more stringent policies. These include a smaller window of the quality of grapes allowed to be used, longer aging periods, and a tasting by a government licensed personnel before being bottled. We tried the locally grown Brunello di Montalcino from this catagory!

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Lucky for us, we met a Spanish couple on our tour who didn’t really like wine. That meant we got to practice our Spanish (which we were not expecting while in Italy!) and extra tastings for us! Overall it was a fun, boozy and educational experience and it was only the first stop on our tour around Tuscany. The rest of our day will be in the next post!

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10 Fun Facts about the Florence Cathedral

Our week-long trip around Tuscany would not be complete without a visit to Florence, the capital of the region. The Florence Cathedral, or the Duomo, is hard to miss as its dome towers over the city’s skyline. We learned a lot as we explored the city, but most of what I learned about Florence came from the non-fiction book Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King. Here are the 10 things I found most interesting about the Florence Cathedral:

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1) Each year, the architects and wardens working on the cathedral had to visit the original model by architect Neri di Fioravanti and swear an oath, with their hand on the Bible, that they would make it make it exactly like the model.

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2) The foundation stone for the cathedral was laid in 1296, but only the foundation was completed before the Black Death plague killed almost 4/5ths of the population of Florence and construction came to a halt for a few years.

3) Neri’s model contained a dome with a span of 45 meters (148 ft)  larger than had been constructed since the Pantheon in Rome but with no visible supports. 50 years after construction began on the Cathedral builders still didn’t have a plan for how to build the dome. The city of Florence held a contest in 1418 with a prize of 200 gold florins (more than a skilled craftsman could earn in 2 years) for designs for the main dome and a method for vaulting it.

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4) 12 people entered the contest with ideas on how to build the dome, and while Filippo Brunelleschi’s innovative design would eventually be used, he was never actually announced as the winner of the contest or given the prize money.

5) With the help of Filippo Brunelleschi’s innovative tools including a revolutionary ox hoist, the dome only took 16 years to complete, while the cathedral itself took 140 years to complete.

6) Every inch of the exterior of the Duomo is covered in marble, the only exception being the tiled bricks in the dome.

7) Besides his architectural feats, Filippo Brunelleshi is also considered the inventor of perspective painting or representing objects in 3D rather than 2D. The ancient Greeks and Romans used the technique but the mathematical laws associated with them were lost.

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Painting of Filippo Brunelleschi hanging in the Palazzo Vecchio

8) A wider vault was not constructed until the 20th century and only with the use of modern materials. For perspective, the dome of the United States Capital Building is only 95ft wide, less than 2/3rds the size of Brunelleschi’s dome.

9) Cars are not permitted near the Florence Cathedral as traffic was not taken into account in the cathedral’s construction. Today only garbage trucks are permitted through the Piazza del Duomo.

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10) Michelangelo’s David, displayed in the Galleria dell’Accademia, is carved from a leftover block of marble that was abandoned in the Cathedral’s courtyard. In 1501, Michelangelo obtained permission from the Opera del Duomo to use the marble to create the sculpture.

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As you can see, if you’ve read this far, there is so much history surrounding the Florence Cathedral, read more about what we learned on our one day in Florence here!

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One Day in Florence, Italy

On our week long trip in Tuscany, we could only devote one day to the city of Florence. I wish we could have spent more time in Florence, but with only one day here’s what we were able to fit in.

We boarded the 8:00 train from our home base in Montecatini to arrive in Florence around 9am. We headed straight to the Duomo (cathedral) ticket office in the hopes that we could get tickets to climb to the cupola in the Santa Maria dei Fiore or the Florence Cathedral. Sadly these tickets can’t be booked in advance and the earliest time slot we could get was for two days later!

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The thing that made our one day trip worthwhile was buying the Firenze card. The card costs 72 euros, gets you into 72 different Florence attractions and is good for 72 hours. While we were only in the city for 12 hours, the card allows you to skip the long lines waiting to buy tickets. Even just at our first stop, the Galleria dell’ Academia, the Firenze pass saved us 2.5 hours of standing in line to buy tickets!

As mentioned, our first destination was the Galleria dell’ Academia. If you chose to forgo the Firenze pass, you can avoid the lines at the Galleria dell’ Academia and buy the tickets online ahead of time here. Most associate the Galleria dell’Academia as the home of Michelangelo’s David. Originally placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, which we visit later, the sculpture was brought to the Galleria in 1873 after this hall, the Tribune of the Galleria, was built specifically for it. Other exhibits include: the Gipsoteca Bartolini, where you can see 19th century plaster models of larger works by Lorenzo Bartolini to see the artisitic process; the Museum of Musical Instruments, housing an instruments highlighting music’s role in Florence’s history; and the hall of Florentine Gothic paintings dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. You could easily spent most of your day here!

Our next stop was the Basilica de San Lorenzo, the parish church of the powerful Medici family. The church was rebuilt in 1419 by Filippo Brunelleschi (the same architect who built the dome on the Duomo) under the patronage of Giovanni de Medici. Beneath the church lies the Medici family crypt and treasure room. One surprising addition to the Medici family crypt is the tomb of Renaissance artist Donatello. Donatello was a close family friend of the Medici family, close enough to join the family in the afterlife.

After the Basilica de San Lorenzo we made our way to the Palazzo Vecchio, or “Old Palace”. The Palazzo Vecchio was the meeting place of the governing council of Florence known as the Signoria. The Palazzo Vecchio also eventually become the home of the Medici family and is so vast it wouldn’t be difficult to spend hours wandering the various living areas. Visitors are also allowed to climb its tower for views of the city. There was a line when we were there, you can spend as much time up there exploring as you want but only a limited number of people can go up at a time.

After that whirlwind morning we headed in the general direction of the Arno river. Along the way we stumbled upon the Mercato del Porcellino, a 16th century covered market. While it was originally a luxury goods market, today it was filled with street vendors selling apparel. After a quick browse we headed to Fratellini’s, a sandwich shop recommended by a friend who had studied abroad in Florence. The sandwiches were delicious, a quick and easy stop to rejuvenate for the rest of our day!

Next we walked along the banks of the Arno river to Ponte Vecchio, or “Old Bridge”. The current bridge was built in 1345 after flooding swept the older version away but a bridge in this location can be documented back to 966! While the bridge has had shops on its edges since the 13th century, today the bridge is lined specifically with jewelry shops. This stems from a 1593 decree by Ferdinand I, Duke of Tuscany, that only goldsmiths and jewelers could sell on the bridge.

We headed back towards the Piazza del Duomo with the intention of visiting the Duomo first. Unfortunately, we thought that the closing time for the duomo was the same as the Baptistery, 7pm. However the Duomo closes earlier than everything else on the square at 5pm. Learn from our mistakes and check closing times carefully!

While we couldn’t visit the Duomo interior, we were able to go inside the Baptistery next door where every child in Florence was baptised between the 13th and 14th century. The famous Baptistery doors were commissioned following an outbreak of disease in 1401 as a thank you to God for sparring the city of another Black Death plague which had killed 4/5th of the Florence population about 50 years prior. The bronze doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti are considered by some the first great Renaissance work of art.

To round out our day in Florence we decided to climb the bell tower connected to the Duomo. With 414 steps up narrow staircases, the climb is not for the faint of heart, but don’t worry, there are different levels where you can stop and catch your breath, or stretch like we did! At the top there are great views of the city and a great alternative if you can’t climb up into the Cathedral’s dome.

After the climb it was time to head to the train station to catch our train back to Montecatini. Unfortunately, we missed the train by about 20 seconds… but that meant we had time to get gelato before the next train left 30 minutes later! While we were able to fit most of what we wanted into our one day in Florence, we planned out our routes and the priorities of places we wanted to visit the night before. If you have a limited amount of time be sure to map out your day ahead of time too, there aren’t buses that go through the historic areas so be prepared to walk!

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Peace Corps Swearing In Ceremony & First Days at Site

It’s been over a month since I last posted from Liberia! Here’s what’s been going on…

Early in the morning on August 18th, we boarded a bus to head into Monrovia to go to our swearing in ceremony, held at the city hall. After 11 weeks of training, we were finally becoming official Peace Corps volunteers! All of the Peace Corps Liberia staff, representatives from Peace Corps headquarters in Washington D.C. , representatives from the US embassy and our host families came to support us at the ceremony. Plus the most honorable guest was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia!

During the program, we all raised our hands and officially swore in as volunteers. There were also several speakers: the country director, a fellow volunteer and the President herself! After the ceremony, we had lunch on the pavilion behind the hall, including both Liberian and American foods.

After lunch, we had just a couple hours to go to the supermarket and pick up some last things to take to our sites. I focused on things that are harder to find outside of the city, some cleaning supplies and snacks (Pringles, nutella, etc)! Luckily we had just enough time to get an iced coffee and American donut (treats only found in the city) before heading back to the bus!

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The next day, we all left for our sites! While some of my fellow volunteers were heading off on hours-long or even days-long journeys, mine wasn’t very far as I was going only one county over and the drive was along the paved road (not something found in many parts of the country).

The first day at my site was a whirlwind! I met my principal at my house and after dropping off my things, I was surprised with a trip to the school I’d be teaching at to go to the graduation ceremony for the previous school year’s graduates. I didn’t even know I’d be attending the ceremony and ended up seated front and center on the stage!

The school where I am teaching

Besides the unexpected graduation, I spent the rest of my first day meeting my neighbors and starting to get settled in my house.

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View from my back porch!

The first couple weeks were all about learning my way around and where to find the things I need! My landlord and his family live right next door and they have been very helpful, from helping me with washing clothes to drawing water from the well.

The well next to my house where all my water comes from

Another big thing the first days was finding food! My landlord’s family has a small shop in front of their house where they sell dry foods so right away I was able to buy spaghetti, onions, and tomato paste to make a simple meal. In my first weeks, my neighbors also gave me plenty of fruit too – bananas, oranges, and monkey apples, the small red prickly fruits in the photo.

Bananas, oranges (they’re green on the outside here) and monkey apples!

When I arrived at my house, it was empty, I only had 2 chairs and a mattress. So for furniture, I have been working with the local carpenter to get a bed frame, book shelf, table and wardrobe. I still have more to do to settle in but I hope to share some photos of my house soon!

In my town, we have a weekly market every Tuesday where I can buy many things that I can’t find in town on other days. So far it’s been mostly small things for my house that I’ve shopped for at the market, like curtains and dishes, along with any other foods that I might see.

Entering the market on market day

In addition to my landlord’s family, I’ve also gotten help from a few neighborhood kids to help me find things in the market and show me around town. The teachers and administrators at school have also been really helpful as I get to know the town and the school.

Exploring my community

Another priority for me was finding a charging booth! I do not have electricity here so needed to figure out how to keep my phone charged. I have a small solar charger that I’ve been using but it’s rainy season right now so sometimes it’s not quite enough because there’s not always direct sunlight. So I’m able to drop my extra battery off at a charging station, a house down the road where they have a generator and pay a small price to charge it and then I can pick it up later in the day.

In the first weeks, I also spent some time on my school’s campus as they prepared for school to begin. We’ve now been in session for a couple of weeks, more to come soon about school!

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A Bike Ride around Lucca, Italy

After our morning in Pisa, we headed to the walled city of Lucca for lunch and to explore. Located between Pisa and Montecatini, Lucca was a perfect stop to break up the hour drive. We easily found paid parking just outside the walled city. We first stopped for lunch and wine at a restaurant we found wandering the town called Bar Lippi.

After lunch, we wandered the interior of the city for a little until we found on the 12th century Roman Catholic Church the San Michele de Foro. The marble exterior made it one of the prettiest churches of our trip! Still on the piazza San Michele we  stumbled upon extra-virgin olive oil tastings. We tried various olive oils from around the region and realized we have no clue how to judge olive oils!

Next we went to a bike shop to rent bikes for a few hours. We passed multiple shops on our explorations and they all had the same cost (2.50 euros/hour) so we chose the one closest to our car. From there we rode through the city towards the wall, then up the least steep ramp we could find until we were on top of the wall.

Walls were built around the city three times before the Renaissance walls we see today, with the first wall built in Roman times when Lucca was a Roman Colony in 180 BC.  The Renaissance walls were under construction from 1545-1650, taking over a century to complete. The Republic of Lucca wanted to create a better defense, fearing the expansion of the powerful Medici family in Florence.

Along the circumference of the wall there is a wide path for bikers, walkers and pedicabs alike! Luckily we brought water bottles to stay hydrated and there were water spouts to get refreshing refills. The distance around the walls is only 2.6 miles (or 4.2km), with all our meandering and photo breaks we returned the bikes after a little more than an hour. With our limited time it was a great way to see as much of Lucca as possible.

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