Here in my community in Liberia, the houses can be close together in a way that to my American eye seemed disorderly at first — not all the houses are on an actual road and they can be built just feet away from another house. Unlike in neighborhoods in the US, you can’t distinguish which yard is for which house; rather it’s more fluid communal yard that people from all the houses use.
And it’s in the yard where a lot of daily life happens: people wash their clothes, cook their meals, draw water from the well and bathe in bathrooms shared by those living around the yard. And the children are generally free to roam wherever they want within the yard. And because these young neighbors often find their way to the Peace Corps volunteers’ porches in their yards, we affectionately refer to them our porch kids!
I’ve written a little about my porch kids before but they’ve become such a big part of my daily life here in Liberia that I want to share more about them! Within the last few months, I’ve started having a regular “study class” with my porch kids at 4:00 every afternoon.
The daily class started by accident one day when one of the girls, 7-year-old Grandma, came to the house when I was in the middle of something so I told her she could come back at 4:00.
Yes, you read that correctly, a 7-year-old named Grandma! Here in Liberia, a person can have what is called their yard name, the name everyone calls them around the yard, as well as their school name, which is their official name. For children who aren’t in school or have only just started, they usually go by their yard name, especially at home. Some of them sound to me like they could also be a school name, while others will definitely go by a different name at school! Even teenagers and adults go by their yard names at home– I was very confused to realize that my friend Patience is still called by her yard name Darling Girl at home, and she refers to her teenage sister Marthaline by her yard name Nujo sometimes.
Anyways, that day I told Grandma that she could come back at 4:00, not really thinking about how time is not viewed the same here (it’s more of a loose guideline in Liberian culture compared to the exact measurement in the US). She had no way to know when it was 4:00, or “after 4” as they say here. So the only way to know was to ask me and ask me and ask me until it was finally time.
Somehow the 4:00 time stuck and now every day I have half a dozen kids asking me all afternoon, “Miss S, it after how many now?” or “Miss S, it 4?” or even now just using hand signals, holding up their fingers so I can respond by showing the hour on my own.
The first day I was at home in the morning (I’m usually at school in the mornings), I thoroughly confused Grandma and six-year-old Felecia, when I told them it wasn’t after 4 yet, it was only 10. Being in ABC class (pre-kindergarten), they know how to count but had never learned about time…. 4 comes before 10 so how could it be 10 if it’s not after 4?? I totally blew their minds when I first explained that time goes 10-11-12 then 1-2-3-4!
When it’s finally “after 4”, we have what the kids like to call “study class.” First I’ll read a book or two with them and then we write. I have 4 girls who come regularly: Grandma and Felecia who will practice writing their ABCs or spelling, and T-girl (another yard name) and Pauline who are around a kindergarten to first grade level so we usually do spelling or math with addition or subtraction flashcards. Sometimes their siblings (like T-girl’s twin brother whose yard name is T-boy…can you guess what the “T” stands for?) or other kids come too and I try to fit them into one of these two groups–it can be tough sometimes to cater to the different ability levels!
Some days we’ll do another activity for after we read, like a literacy game or a puzzle. Last week, we colored Easter coloring pages!
One day after our study session, the kids surprised me with some fresh corn from their family’s garden and taught me how to roast it on the coal pot.
Spending time with my porch kids and seeing them learn and grow has become one of my favorite parts of the day here!