Trying our Hand at Tejo, Colombia’s National Sport

On our first morning in Colombia, we did a walking tour of Bogota’s Candelaria district seeing the Plaza de Bolivar, the Botero Museum and the Gold Museum. After a busy morning exploring the streets of Bogota, we took a much-needed break at a local bar. We relaxed, drank some local beer and played a traditional Colombian sport called Tejo.

tejo-bogota-colombia-2

Tejo reminded us of cornhole, a game we play at home in the in the midwest except with more of a bang! The object of the game is to throw a 1.5lb metal weight at a muddy inclined target with a metal ring in the center. Players take turns trying to hit the center of the target. What makes the game exciting is the small packets of gunpowder lining the metal ring. The gunpowder ignites on impact creating a loud explosion!

tejo-bogota-colombia-1

Scoring is easy. The person who’s disc lands closest to the center gets one point, if you explode gunpowder you get 3 points and if your disc lands within the gunpowder ring you get 6 points. If you miraculously do all three of the above, you get 9 points!

tejo-bogota-colombia

The game dates back over 450 years ago, when indigenous warriors would compete to marry a woman from the opposing tribe! We didn’t have quite the same stakes on our game, simply bragging rights. By the time we finished playing our hands were covered in mud. The game was fun, full of excitement and gave us a taste of traditional Colombia.

Posted in Colombia, South America | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Visiting the World of Chocolate Museum and Café

Situated in a tiny strip in Orlando, Florida, the World of Chocolate Museum and Café is much bigger than it appears from the outside. Walking through the door you immediately spot a display filled with delicious looking chocolates and candies! While you could just hang out in the café, we decided to tour the chocolate museum as well. The regular price for the tour is $17 a person, but we found a groupon that made it $10 a person!

The tour began with a brief history of chocolate starting from when it was first used by the ancient Aztecs as currency. Through the decades, chocolate uses evolved from a spiced drink for the natives to the sweet chocolate we know today. The tour takes you through the history and even lets you try samples of what the Aztecs drinks were probably like. Spoiler alert, not sweet at all! Don’t try to drink your sample in one swig, try a small sip first!

Our tour guide led us through a temperature controlled room with solid chocolate sculptures of monuments around the world. Two men in Austria made all of the sculptures, each of them taking about four months! Monuments included the Taj Mahal (made of all white chocolate), the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and 22 more. The heaviest sculpture is the Great Wall of China, weighing in at over 400lbs!

img_8542img_8538

The last part of the museum tour was a chocolate tasting where we got to try chocolates from around the world. The chocolate ranged from sweet to bitter with a bacon flavored mixed in the middle!

img_8545

After our tour we also did a wine and chocolate pairing. We got 3 different wines with three chocolate truffles. We learned to take a sip of wine first to get the taste in our mouths, take a bite of the truffle then immediately sip some wine to mix the flavors. They were delicious!

While we didn’t know about the World of Chocolate Museum and Cafe before heading to Orlando, the unique experience is one we’re glad we didn’t miss!

Posted in Florida, USA | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Model School & Site Announcement 

After a few weeks of lessons at the training center about teaching strategies and classroom management, we had our first chance to try them out in the classroom! For 3 weeks, we taught in the Peace Corps Model School, where middle and high schoolers from around the community voluntarily come to take extra classes, held at a local high school.

I was in the 12th grade cluster, along with 3 other trainees. Our classes were focused around math and science; I taught geometry. Though we could use the national curriculum as a guide, coming up with a unit plan was a challenge because we heard that the ability levels of our students would vary. I decided to cover finding the perimeters and areas of several different polygons and found that I had a wide range of ability – some of my students did very well in my class; for many, the lessons were appropriate; but some struggled with the content. I could tell that they had been exposed to it before because they remembered many of the formulas though not always for the correct shape.

 

 

In addition to our math and science classes, we also had a few days for special topics. The first was Youth Sexual Reproductive Health Day, where we discussed anatomy, sex & pregnancy, menstruation and family planning – topics that are not covered in the Liberian curriculum so many of the students had never been exposed to them. We also had a day devoted to Malaria, which is a big issue in Liberia. We taught about the biology of malaria and how it is transmitted (a parasite that enters the blood via mosquito bites) and how it is spread (by mosquitos biting someone who has malaria and then biting someone else and passing it on). We also talked about prevention methods, the higher risk that pregnant women face and the economics of malaria (it’s much more cost effective to sleep under a mosquito net at night than have to pay for treatment when you get malaria!).

We ended model school with a big closing ceremony, including grades 7 through 12. Students from all different grades spoke during the program and the top students from each class were recognized, as well as the top students for all of model school. And then all of the students that participated received certificates and lunch.

Model school was my first time teaching in a high school classroom and it was not without its challenges! A couple that I never even thought of were having overcrowded classrooms (which was not as significant in 12th grade as some of the other classes) and the glare from the sun on the chalkboard (no electricity so all the light is from sunlight coming in through the window). Another challenge was communicating clearly – though the students speak English, they are not used to my accent and speak Liberian English which is very very different from American English! Plus there were others that I know would happen anywhere – cheating on assignments (they call it “spying” here) and dealing with disruptive students.

Despite the challenges, model school was rewarding too – it was great to get to know my students and see them learning new concepts and succeeding in my class, especially the top students being recognized at the closing ceremony. I also got to help prepare the students who were speaking at the ceremony, including one of my 12th graders!

With the end of model school, came our site announcements! I will be headed to Montserrado County, to a community not far from Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia. We are wrapping up PST now and all of us trainees will be headed off to our new homes this Saturday!

Posted in Africa, Liberia, Peace Corps | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Step Right Up to the Ringling Museum

A week before the Ringling Bros Circus performed their last show, we made a visit to the Ringling in Sarasota, Florida! The Ringling estate is made up of three main sections, the Circus Museum, Ca d’Zan and the Museum of Art. The last living Ringling brother, John Ringling and his wife Mable owned the entire 66-acre estate and bequeathed it to the state of Florida upon his death. The five Ringling brothers created the circus empire comprised of a 100 rail-car caravan, which crossed the country each season.

Ringling_Circus_Musuem_Tibbals_Learning Center

Admission to the estate is $25 for adults but $5 for students so be sure to bring your student id if you have one! The first building you will come to is the Tibbals Learning Center. The center is home to a 44,000-piece re-creation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus combined shows. Howard Tibbals created all the miniatures starting in his Tennessee basement in 1963. The 3,800 square foot display showcases all aspects of the circus, from unloading the trains to the kitchen tents to the main event in the Big Top! Here we learned the three main sections of the circus that the public sees: the sideshow tent featuring acts like the bearded lady and conjoined twins, the menagerie filled with exotic animals, and the Big Top where the top performers and acts could be viewed!


Next to the expansive model was an interactive room. We tried our hand at tightrope walking to press a button for applause on the other side. I attempted to balance on a very still horse’s back, and fit my 6 ft frame into a tiny clown car! Along with the interactive areas there was also a small theater with circus acts through the ages playing.


Next door to the Tibbals Learning Center is the original Circus Museum, where we arrived just in time to take a guided tour. The museum houses the railroad car fit for the “King of the Circus” aka John Ringling. The railroad car, known as the Wisconsin, has various compartments solely for John and Mable Ringling, including a small kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and large sitting area. Also in this area, volunteer wood carvers restore beautifully carved parade wagons and large handcrafted animals. The volunteers only work one morning a week, so the camel we saw in progress has been under construction for the past seven years!


After seeing the thrills of the circus, we wandered the estate to see more of John and Mable’s home, the Ca d’Zan. Ca d’Zan translates as “House of John” in the old Venetian language. Situated on the edge of Sarasota Bay, the mansion is designed in the Venetian Gothic style, it looks very similar to the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy! At an extra cost, tours are offered of the interior of the Ca d’Zan, but we were satisfied exploring the exterior, including Mable’s Ringling Rose Garden, the oldest rose garden in Florida!


The last area on the estate that we visited was the Museum of Art. In 1925, John and Mable hired an architect to build a museum on the property to house their ever-expanding collection of art. The museum offers docent tours throughout the day included in the price of admission. Far from being art connoisseurs ourselves, we tagged along on a docent tour to learn the history behind a few of the paintings before exploring on our own.

Ringling_Circus_Musuem_Art_Museum_3

Until we realized how much the Ringling had to offer, we never imagined we would spend so much time there – we were there most of the day and we didn’t even see everything!

Posted in Florida, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekend Trip to Monrovia, Liberia

A few weeks ago, our training group took our first trip to Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia! Here our some highlights from our three days there…

The Ducor Hotel – on our first day in Monrovia, we visited the Ducor Hotel. Once one of West Africa’s finest luxury hotels, it had been abandoned during Liberia’s civil war. We had the opportunity to explore it and climb to the top. Wandering around the hotel was eerie and dark (no electricity). And we had to make sure to watch our step – there were many holes in the floors and unstable spots, none of which were marked. We also saw plenty of graffiti in the rooms.

At the top, we climbed out of a small window right near the edge of the building (no railing!) to get to the roof. From there we could see the whole city and a view of the Atlantic Ocean!

 

Waterside Market – since arriving in Liberia, we’ve asked many many questions about if we are able to get this or that here, and the most common answer is “you could probably find it in Monrovia.” We finally got to see the market that we’d been hearing about! Unfortunately, it was raining the second day so we didn’t end up exploring as much as we would have liked, but I did buy some lappa (colorful African fabric) and we got to check out the supermarket where we’ll have the best chance of finding things from home.

Lappa store at Waterside

So many lappa to choose from!

The American Food – one of the highlights on the trip was all of the food we could get in Monrovia! I had pizza (twice!), a cheeseburger, chicken fingers, pad thai, donuts and fancy coffee drinks to name a few – all things that I hadn’t had in the 5 weeks since arriving in Liberia! While it was definitely nice to have some comfort foods from home, it’s something that will be hard to do often because it was pretty expensive compared to the Liberian foods we’ve been eating in Kakata.

Dipping my toes in the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – Monrovia is on the coast, the ocean was just a few blocks from the Peace Corps office! We also went to a bar on the beach one of the nights we were in town.

View from the Peace Corps office

Navigating the taxi system – one of the most important parts of the trip was learning about the local taxi system. We learned the difference between chartering a car (calling a driver and paying for the whole car) and flagging a car down on the street (where you will likely pile in with 5 other strangers). We also learned the many different hand signals to use when flagging a car, as it will vary depending on where you are going.

And finally, we had to find our way around Red Light parking in order to get home to Kakata. Red Light is one of a few “parkings” on the outskirts of town, where you are able to get a taxi to travel to another city (the parking you want depends on where you are trying to go – for the site visit a few weeks ago, we left from a different parking). Four of us traveled together, chartering our own car to get to Red Light (which is much more expensive than flagging down a car, but we didn’t want to get separated!) and then finding a taxi once we got there. The traffic was crazy – what was maybe a 10 mile drive took more than an hour! But our driver had sent someone ahead (he could walk faster than we could drive) to get a car to Kakata for us. But we had to be clear that we did not want to charter the car, so the 4 of us piled in the back and a Liberian man sat in the front passenger seat. The car is not full until there are 4 passengers in the back and 2 in the front. So throughout the drive home, whenever we’d pass a town our driver would slow down, honk his horn and hold 1 finger out the window, signaling that there was one seat available and eventually we picked up another passenger. We made it back to Kakata safe and sound!

Posted in Africa, Liberia, Peace Corps | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Weekend with my Liberian Host Family

The first couple days with my host family, I had training during the day, so I was only home for breakfast and in the evening. In the mornings, my ma would fix my breakfast – one day it was scrambled eggs with onions on bread and another was spaghetti (in Liberia, spaghetti is a breakfast food!).

Then my little brothers would show me the way to the training center (as they say here, they “carry me” there). They like to show me the “fastest ways” but all of their shortcuts and weaving in between houses and through yards instead of on the roads (not roads like we think of in the US, more like dirt paths and some larger dirt roads, that don’t have names), so it has been very hard for me to figure out my way around!

Then my brothers would meet me after training to carry me home to another dinner at the table by myself. After dinner, one of the first nights, I taught my siblings and some of the neighbor kids how to play the Egyptian Rat Screw card game – now they ask me as soon as I get home if we can play the game! I’ve since taught them War as well, and they love to try to cheat if I’m not paying attention.

Host siblings and neighbors learning new card games

At my host family’s house, we have current (what Liberians call electricity) that comes on in the evenings. At first it was only in the living room/dining room, but after a couple of nights, they set it up in my room too – that evening after it was already dark out, there were about 8 people in my room as I shined a flashlight so they could see to set it up. It’s only one bare lightbulb in the middle of the room (that works about 2 out of 3 nights), but it’s definitely nice to have!

That next Saturday was the first day that I didn’t have training so I woke up early to start the day with my family. After breakfast, my host sister taught me how to wash my clothes – no washing machines, here we use buckets and a washboard. It took about an hour to wash a week’s worth of clothes, but that was with Blessing helping me (and definitely doing more than her share!).

Liberian washing machine – washboard, tub and bucket!

Next Blessing and I made dinner – my first cooking lesson! We made a currie soup (soups here are thicker, more like sauces) and rice on the coal pot. I had my first experience slicing an onion the Liberian way – they don’t use cutting boards, instead they hold the onion and slice it in their hands. The first time she handed it to me to try, I almost nicked my finger! I also had my first experience cooking on the coal pot!

Cooking on the coal pot

Washing the rice before we cook it

After we finished cooking, I went to meet up with a few Peace Corps friends. One of our projects during PST is to have a boys or girls club with kids in our neighborhood – hoping to write more about our boys club in a later post!

Then I came home and had some time to rest in my room and figure out how to call home to America! Here in Liberia, it’s very much a community oriented society, compared to the more individual focused society at home. Peace Corps told us that if we spend too much time alone in our rooms, our families may think that is weird and worry that we are sick or unhappy. Our families were also told that we like to have time to rest, but even so, after about 2 hours, my host family was knocking on my door to check on me!

Sunday morning, I woke up for another cooking lesson, this one with my ma. This time I learned how to make bitterball soup with chicken (another soup that is more like a sauce or gravy served over rice). Bitter ball is a small eggplant-like vegetable found here in Liberia and other countries in West Africa.

Cooking lesson with my host ma

Stirring the soup on the coal pot while my host ma supervises

Making bowls of soup and rice for the whole family

After we finished cooking, it was time for church. Visiting a Liberian church was definitely a new experience for me! The service was full of music from the choir (which my ma is a part of) and lots of singing and dancing. Because it was my first time at that church, during the announcements I had to stand up and introduce myself and share that I am from America and am with the Peace Corps. Luckily my ma gave me a heads up so I didn’t feel totally put on the spot! The entire service lasted a little over 2 hours, which was relatively short compared to some of the other churches my fellow trainees went to.

After church, we headed home and wrapped up the weekend with some time to rest in the afternoon and more card games in the evening!

Posted in Africa, Liberia, Peace Corps | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adoption Ceremony – Meeting my Liberian Family

When we returned from the site visit in Cape Mount County, we just barely had time to eat a quick lunch, re-pack our bags (of our two suitcases, one will go in storage for the rest of PST) and change into something presentable for the Adoption Ceremony! This was when we would meet the families that we’d be staying with for the next 10 weeks during the rest of PST.

Most of us trainees were anxious about meeting our families, but once the event started, it was such a joyous atmosphere that it put us more at ease. After a quick introduction from the staff, the adoptions began! They called the parents up to the front and then called out the name of the trainee that the mother has given birth to… yes, they really talked about it in terms of giving birth, along with not knowing whether they would have a boy or a girl, or for the few couples in the group, their families were surprised with twins. Some of the mothers even played along, pretending their backs were aching from carrying a child for 9 months as they walked up to the front!

You could see on their faces how excited the families were. It was fun watching the rest of my group meet their families. I ended up being called second to last – I was getting anxious as I waited and waited to be called!

When my name was finally called, my host ma gave me a huge hug and we walked to our seats to sit together for the rest of the ceremony. Then we had some cold soft drinks (something not to be taken for granted here!) and a snack before heading to my new home.

We gathered my stuff from the dorm and even with one suitcase going to storage, I still had a lot of stuff to carry and it was only me and my ma. Some of my fellow trainees had to walk their stuff to their homes, but luckily my family had arranged with a friend and another host parent to drive us to the house. My fellow trainee, Mena, and I loaded up our stuff and her new pa drove us stopping at their house first because “it is closer to the road.” I did not quite know what I was in for until after dropping her off, when we headed towards my new home. In the about 5-minute drive, Mena’s pa asked my ma 5 different times “cars go here?” as she directed him – it was so tucked back into the neighborhood that even he was unsure if cars were able to drive down the small paths and over the brush to get to my house. But we made it!

When we got there, I met some of my host siblings: two little brothers, Seth and Prince, who are 10 and 12 years old; my sister, Blessing, who is 18; and my “older” brother, Samuel, who is 27 (I don’t think my ma realizes how old I am!).

And they showed me my room, here are some pictures!

After putting my stuff in my room, I sat down to what would be the first of many uncomfortable dinners – in Liberia, they don’t sit down to eat together around a table, but rather have almost a hierarchy at meal times. As a guest, I sat at the small dining room table by myself to eat, while my ma talked to me and my little siblings watched me eat (something that we were warned would probably happen and has continued in the couple of weeks that I have been here). But my first dinner, fried plantains, was really good – something I will have to have my ma teach me how to make!

In my next post, I’ll write more about my first few days with my new family!

Posted in Africa, Liberia, Peace Corps | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Site Visit in Cape Mount County

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 Cape Mount County, the western most county bordering Sierra Leone.

The first leg of our trip to Cape Mount County!

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 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.

The parking in Monrovia where we got our taxi to Cape Mount

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!).

The Video Club

Learning Liberian Checkers

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!

Games in Steve’s kitchen in the evening

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!

Jeopardy review game at school

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!

The taxi we took on our way back to Kakata

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!

Posted in Africa, Liberia, Peace Corps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

First Days in Liberia – the Start of PST 

After landing in Liberia, our group, LR-7, piled into a couple of buses and headed to the training center in Margibi county. The Peace Corps training center is 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. It 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!

The road to the training center 

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.

Dining Hall Porch- flags for each of the 15 counties of Liberia

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 the training center along the main road.

The Dorm Building 

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!

Palava huts where we have some of our small group lessons

On our third and fourth days, we continued with training, 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!

Our group, LR-7 and all of the staff and volunteers that were there to greet us on our first day

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!

Posted in Africa, Liberia, Peace Corps | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Staging in Washington D.C. & Off to Liberia!

I made it to Liberia!  I’ve been here almost two weeks, I’m working on catching up on blog posts about everything here, but first I want to start from the beginning! 

Armed with two checked bags each 50 pounds or less (after some last minute shuffling at the airport) and my back pack and day pack, I began my Peace Corps journey by reporting to “staging” in Washington D.C. The 56 of us in my group, LR-7 (the 7th group of 2-year volunteers to go to Liberia), were in D.C. for just two days.

Peace Corps Liberia
I arrived in the afternoon and the first session wasn’t until that evening, so I went out to lunch with some fellow volunteers (when we all had crazy amounts of luggage and were on the shuttle headed to the same hotel, it was pretty obvious that we were in the same group!). Then we had a quick registration and intro session and were free for the rest of the evening. So a group of us went to a nearby restaurant intending to get burgers (possibly our last for a while!) only to realize that the burgers were only on their lunch menu! But no matter, the food was still good and it was fun to get to know some of the other volunteers – which I was quickly realizing would be a big part of staging!

The next day kicked off what would not be the last of long days of training! We were in sessions all morning and afternoon, our first overall introduction to the Peace Corps (not just Peace Corps Liberia). We did a couple ice breakers, talked about the Peace Corps core expectations and broke into groups to do skits around some of the different scenarios that we may face. Another thing that I really appreciated was that we talked about what everyone is excited about and anxious about – it was nice to hear that a lot of people were feeling the same things!

Peace Corps Liberia Group Photo

We finished up around 5:00 and then were free for the evening. A group of us decided to rent bikes and ride to the National Mall! Our hotel in Virginia was only about 5 miles away. At first I wasn’t sure we were headed in the right direction but we eventually found the right bridge and just across the river was the Lincoln Memorial!

Seeing the Mall by bike was so much faster than walking it like we did on our family vacation last summer! We stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, rode by the Washington Monument, stopped for ice cream and rode past the White House before returning our bikes. And we stumbled upon a free concert in front of the Capitol building!

After watching some of the concert we ordered an uber to head back towards the hotel and we ended up having a very inspiring conversation with our uber driver! When our driver found out we were leaving for Peace Corps, he told us that he had so much respect for Peace Corps volunteers because the first Americans he had ever met were his Peace Corps teachers when he was growing up in Swaziland. They were the reason he wanted to come to America! It was so fitting for our last night in the U.S.!

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the airport. The only hiccup was right at the beginning when we were checking our bags. We had thought that the weight of our carry-on bags didn’t matter so, of course, that’s where we packed our heaviest stuff, but then some people were getting their carry-on’s weight checked too! It turned out fine for me, but I was definitely nervous! The rest of the 28-hour trip went smoothly, flying from D.C. to Brussels to Monrovia. Arriving in Liberia, after going through customs and picking up our bags at a very chaotic baggage claim (with no missing bags for the group!), we were greeted outside by Peace Corps staff and volunteers!

img_6141

Then we headed to the city of Kakatta for the start of our pre-service training, more about the first week of PST in my next post!

Posted in Africa, Liberia, Peace Corps, USA, Washington, DC | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments