After landing in Liberia, our group, LR-7, piled into a couple of buses and headed to Doe Palace in Kakata. Doe Palace is the Peace Corps training center, a compound with dorms, a dining hall, classrooms, a small medical building, a volleyball net and several palava huts. This is where we spent our first few days in Liberia. After a long day of travelling, we were happy to arrive, meet the staff, have dinner, shower and get settled in. Doe Palace is much nicer than expected – real showers, WiFi and even air conditioning made it seem like they wanted to ease us into life in Liberia!
After our first night, we kicked off PST (pre-service training) with a jampacked schedule! The first two days we went from 8am until 9pm in sessions throughout the day with short breaks sprinkled in and a couple longer ones for lunch and dinner. We had all kinds of things going on, from initial medical meetings and getting additional vaccines and our malaria meds, to an overview about money in Liberia (in Liberia they use USD and Liberian dollars, LD, which right now are about 112 LD to $1 USD). We learned about everyday tasks such as taking bucket baths, bucket flushing the toilet and washing our clothes on a wash board. We each also had one-on-one touch-bases with our country director and the program and training managers.
Outside of our training sessions, we had our first chance to explore Kakata, the city we are staying in. We had a current PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) take us around the town. Right off the bat, I was surprised as we set off just walking through yards right next to houses and winding around through the community rather than walking on roads like I’m used to – but it is totally normal to cut through yards, in fact you have to to get to some places. After walking through some more residential areas, we walked to the market, which was a bit overwhelming! The market was made up of winding stalls and while some areas seemed to have specific things (like the fruits and vegetables area with very narrow walkways), other areas seemed to be a mix of everything with a stall for lappa right next to a bucket vendor next to someone selling peppeh (peppers)! To add to the confusion, there were people everywhere and motorbikes zipping by. Then we headed back to Doe Palace along the main road.
Another big part of our training is learning Liberian English. Besides a few American staff members and a couple of current volunteers, most of the staff at Peace Corps are Liberian, so our language lessons are being taught by several of the Liberian staff. I didn’t expect it to be so hard to understand, but it really is almost a whole new language! It’s challenging because you know the words, but some of them are said differently, letters and entire syllables might be dropped and others might be added like instead of saying hello, it’s “hello-o!” It will take a lot of practice to get it down!
On our third and fourth days, we continued with training at Doe, but didn’t feel quite as busy because we had our evenings free. So I was able to work on my washboard technique to clean some of my dirty clothes (besides taking a long time, it’s a lot like you’d expect!). And we had another chance to go into town. When we arrived, we each received a piece of lappa (colorful African fabric), so a group of us headed to a tailor to drop off our lappa and get measured so we could order something, I ordered a skirt!
At the end of the 4th day, we were assigned to our groups for site visits – for our next three days we headed out to visit currently serving volunteers, more on that in my next post!