The first few days at the training center felt almost like being at summer camp because we had days full of activities and slept in bunk beds in the dorms. We got our first taste of what life will really be like in Liberia when we left to visit currently serving volunteers. I was in a group of 4 going to visit a volunteer named Steve who lives in Grand Cape Mount County, the western most county bordering Sierra Leone.
Just getting to his site was an adventure! The Peace Corps drove us in vans to Monrovia (the capital city) where we met Steve and some of the other current volunteers who would travel with us the rest of the way. In Monrovia, we got a taxi to head to Grand Cape Mount. In Liberia, a taxi isn’t full until it has 4 people riding in the back and two in the front passenger seat so we were pretty packed in there for the about 3-hour drive to Steve’s site! In all it took around 5 hours to get there – and we were one of the earlier stops, a couple other groups continued on to sites that were even further.
We arrived in town and as we walked from the main road to Steve’s house, we ran into a few of his friends from the community. Since Steve had been gone for a few days, he didn’t have any food at his place so one of his friends offered to pick up eggs and bring them to his house. He asked for one carton, thinking it’d be a tray of about 30 eggs… but there was some miscommunication – he showed up with a huge box of about 300 eggs! Steve took it in stride and needless to say we ate eggs every day we were there! (Another note on eggs, in America, they have to be refrigerated because the cleaning process that producers are required to do removes a protective layer around the shell. But in many countries around the world, they are not cleaned in the same way so eggs still have that protective coating and don’t need to be refrigerated.)
After we dropped our stuff at Steve’s house, we went into town. His community was much smaller than Kakata and seemed very welcoming as everyone in town seemed to know Steve and many people wanted to meet the rest of us too. The market was much less overwhelming than the one Kakata (though maybe I won’t feel as overwhelmed after spending 3 months in Kakata!). We also stopped at the town’s video club to watch some of the Liberia-Zimbabwe game in the League of Nations tournament. The video club had a projector and a small tv showing the game (I tried to take a photo but it’s pretty dark!).
Then we headed back to Steve’s house where we hung out on the front porch and met many of Steve’s neighbors who dropped by and the neighborhood kids who taught us how to play Liberian Checkers. That night we learned that Steve is able to get current (electricity) during the evening by paying his neighbor to tap into his generator, which was nice so that we weren’t sitting in the dark once the sun went down!
We spent two full days in Cape Mount County. Steve didn’t teach until the afternoon, so we were able to sleep in in the mornings and catch up on some much needed sleep after the busy days at Doe Palace. The we’d eat breakfast (eggs of course or bread with jelly and bananas for me because I don’t like peanut butter!) and get ready for school (my first bucket bath!).
The first day at school, we just introduced ourselves and sat in on Steve’s high school chemistry classes. On the second day we wanted to observe one of his Liberian colleagues teaching. But instead of observing, the teacher brought us into a classroom, had us introduce ourselves and then told one of my fellow trainees to stay and teach. He then brought the other 3 of us into the next classroom and left one and so on until we were all standing unprepared in front of a middle school classroom.
So my first Liberian teaching experience was completely on the fly! I let them ask me questions about myself and America and then asked them about what they were learning. They told me angles so I reviewed the different kinds of angles with them and then they asked me for equations. After some clarifying questions I realized they wanted to practice addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and asked how many digits (they told me 4) so I made up some practice problems. Every now and then the teacher would pop his head in and I’d try to let him take over but he kept telling me to just keep going! After we did the practice equations, I ran out of ideas and they kept asking me to teach science (not exactly my area of expertise!) so we ended up doing more Q&A about America until another teacher finally relieved me!
After school, we would head to the market to pick up something to make for dinner. One of the days, we stopped at the entertainment center (basically like a bar) to get a drink. Then we’d head back to Steve’s where often the neighborhood kids were already hanging out on the porch. One night we paid the neighbor to make us a traditional Liberian dinner (a totally normal thing to do here – it sounds like some volunteers do this every day) so we tried Gbassajama, a cassava leaf & chicken soup with rice (soups here are very thick and always served over rice, more like what we think of as a sauce at home).
Other highlights of the site visit were meeting Bassa, Steve’s dog (yes, some volunteers get pets while they’re here!); learning about the water pump and the well and how to filter our water (and check out the photo of Andy and Austin trying to carry the water back from the well on their heads – the kids thought this was absolutely hilarious!); and hearing the inside scoop on what Peace Corps life is really like in Liberia!
After our third night, we got up early to head back to Kakata, another full taxi ride back to Monrovia and then a Peace Corps van back. And we had just an hour or so to pack up our stuff and make ourselves look presentable for the Adoption Ceremony, where we met the host families we’d be living with for the rest of PST – more on that in my next post!