As I settle into my new interim life, I have found myself fighting depression and boredom. The problem is, I do not have many friends here. The ones I do have are all working during the day. The highlight of my day is when Richard comes home, which is not a bad thing, but puts a big burden on him.
I have found my days sucked into the television, which is not the healthiest of habits. My last post I discussed starting a yoga class and taking charge of my life, today I want to expand on that. On Friday I met a nice man to “play” tennis. I am not ver good, but he seemed ok with just getting some exercise. I have to say, I hurt so bad after an hour of volleying the ball and chasing it. I hope to catch up with him a few more times. Next month I will be taking actual lessons, which is a bit exciting for me. Maybe I will be better after a couple of lessons, and will be able to actually play a game. On Sunday I met a nice man to ride my bike with. We were both looking for a casual pace with more distance than speed. I enjoyed biking with him and hope he had fun as well.
I had lunch in Fair Oaks on my way home Sunday. I got home and Richard was still in bed. I was happy to have spent my morning out and about, it is always better to spend it with someone who has a similar goal. This Wednesday I am planning on meeting a guy to ride with during the week. Hopefully he is a good match as well. It takes stepping out of your comfort zone to make life a bit more bearable.
Later Sunday night I found I had a flat. Thankfully I made it home, but I had to wait until Monday night to put the bike on the car and take it to the bike shop. My wrench was stolen and I have no idea what sizes I need so I had to take it in to figure that out. Sadly I am certain the mechanic had no clue how to work on my bike, he actually said so. I fear I have to take it back into a certified Electra shop.
I put in an application for a few part-time jobs. One was for a bike shop that flatly stated you must bike to work. They decided that I lived too far away to bike to work. I found that strange, because as an advocate no distance is too far. This mental model just pushes the anti-bike agenda. I do have an interview on Friday with a tutoring organization. I barely put the application in and they contacted me, so either they are desperate or my resume was that good. I am hoping it is my resume.
It will feel good to have a reason to get out of bed every day. I have always hated not working, it makes my life feel empty. Just having a reason to get up and get out of the house daily is a great change.
Being sent home feels like a failure. It feels like being stuck in this never-ending loop of unknowing. What do I do now? The news is terrible. It looks as if the soonest we will return is in 6 months. I can ask for reassignment but the earliest those will be filling is in January. Do I just wait it out? Do I get a job? Do I find new friends? Do I just lock myself up alone and hope for the best? I mean really getting a job is the worst option, who wants to hire someone for a few months? Who wants to make a new friendship just to have the person up and leave again.
I am grateful that I have Richard. I just wish I had some better grounding for this stuck phase. I am gaining weight and slipping into a depressed state. I can only wallow in self-pity for so long. Eventually I need to get up off my butt and change things. I took the first step last week. I bought a couple of Groupons for Yoga sessions and Tennis lessons. I also purchased a manicure and pedicure, but that was for my self-esteem. Self esteem, yeah that little ugly thing that can bury itself to never be found again.
My first yoga class I had Richard’s car to attend. It was hard, I thought I would die in the heat, oh yeah I didn’t just buy yoga classes, I bought hot yoga classes. I felt so worn out after the fact. Then on the next session I had to ride my bike. I was stressed and exhausted when I arrived because I got lost and was running so late. I made it through the class and after lunch I biked back home. I felt so great. I now look forward more to the ride than the classes. It was what I needed a reason to get on my bike.
I start tennis lessons next month. I look forward to those as well. I decided that I should look on Craigslist for someone to play with. I found one. I also found a bike riding buddy. I now have a couple of “dates” to bike and play tennis. That makes me feel a bit better. I also looked into a job and think I found one tutoring science. I think just finding a project and balance is what I needed. I know that this sticking point is not forever. I hope to work enough and play enough to keep my mind active and my depression at bay. Sometimes that first step is the hardest, once you take it, it changes everything. It has been a long time since I looked forward to something more than Richard getting home from work.
On a upnote, my choices in activities may boost my health some. I hope to lose a bit of weight but more importantly to push me away from depression and back into life. The mind is a very powerful thing, and if I were still living in Seattle, I would have so many things to go and do and so many people to do them with. Here I have to start over, so today I took those first steps. Hopefully they will be the right decisions.
One of the first things you are told when you get to staging in the Peace Corps, is that you will be consumed by conversations of poop, puke and parasites. These are your enemies, no matter where in the World you end up. When you go to a completely different continent the food and water are a shock to your digestive system. Add to that unknown parasites and bacteria and you have a wonderful concoction of stories for years to come. If you have a weak stomach you may want to shut this post down. If you find talking about bodily functions disturbing walk away. Otherwise I am going to share with you my experiences in changing biological ecosystems.
Last summer I biked across the continent, and that was a shock to my system as well. I can tell you NUUN tablets will give you diarrhea if you take it often enough. I can tell you that being a vegetarian in the south is not easy. I can tell you that some people do not understand leaving meat out, it gets worse when you change continents. I have found that my food preferences are not that easy to accommodate. I really find this to be odd.
As a vegetarian, I am not often constipated, unless I have consumed far too much dairy. So the idea of being backed up is quite foreign to me. When we arrived in Liberia our diets were no longer in our control. The first couple of weeks we ate only at Doe Palace. Traditional foods with chicken at every meal. I conceded that I had to eat chicken to get my protein until I was moved to my own home, where I looked forward to cooking my own meals. A main staple is rice, which when consumed in mass quantity can cause constipation. Many of my fellow volunteers suffered this and had to get Metamucil sent to them from the Peace Corps Medical Officer. Basic things are unavailable in most villages and must be sent in. Add to this water that has to be treated with chlorine and you have, well painful bellies.
When a volunteer finally had a movement everyone would know. They would be smiling and so much happier. It was very obvious who was having issues and who was not. On the other side of the spectrum is the “runny belly”. I fell into this category. It was not explosive and did not interfere with my day, except that when I had to go, I literally needed to go immediately. In Liberia, there are toilets that are hooked up to septic systems and there are latrines. The ones hooked to septic systems typically require a bucket of water to flush. Latrines are typically a hole in the ground that you just squat to go. For men unless you have a movement it is not so bad, for a woman it is all sorts of messed up. Thankfully I was not forced to such extremes. The beer there adds to the runny belly syndrome, I have found that cider is a nice compromise.
It takes a few weeks to get your body acclimated to the food and the new climate. Once you get used to it, you need to be vigilant against parasites. In Liberia food is not refrigerated and I wondered how dangerous it was, but I did not get any type of food borne illness, but the peppeh may have killed all known bacteria. Peppeh, is a small spicy pepper that is in almost every food cooked. They use it as “spice”. I actually liked it and only a couple of times found it to be too hot.
So this brings a new dimension to the gastro-issues. Now you have runny belly with spice running out of you. It burns going in but not as bad as going out. I fortunately had not experienced any parasites, but I was also not in control of my food. My host family had strict instructions on what to feed me. I originally stated I would eat a small bit of fish but no meat, chicken or bushmeat. In Liberian chicken is not considered meat. It is separated, just like seafood is here. The problem with allowing fish in my food was that I had fish in every meal for two weeks. The fish here is cooked whole, I do not typically like my fish looking or waving at me, let alone both at the same time. I finally got them to stop cooking fish for me, they then just cooked it regular and pulled the meat out of my food. Unfortunately one time I somehow got a piece of chicken foot in my mouth, I very nearly puked in my plate, and although I had reused the beans to make my own meal I was done when that happened.
My gastric adventure was cut short, way too short. Upon arrival back to the states, I have taken to eating almost everything I can put in my mouth. Sadly I am overeating, and I do not care. The problem is now I am backed up. This causes discomfort and distress on my body. After two days I decided to take a laxative. I have seen the enemy and I know its name. It is called laxative and it calls you to the toilet over and over and over again. It causes cramping and discomfort and I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would take these unless necessary. I have been eating salad almost twice a day for a week. I have had decent wine, decent beer and so much dairy in this short week. I have not exercised, in my defence I have been trying to wash all my clothes and unpack my bags. I live with a tidy person, and tidy I am not. I am looking forward to the next week when I will start riding my bike again and search for new adventures. At the moment though, I am dealing with the enemy and it will just take time.
In America we have the benefit of taking a pill for almost all problems, and maybe that is not such a great idea.
Just as I was getting into the whole Africa thing. My armpits have some strange fungal infection in them, but otherwise I am in great health. The food is a bit spicy but once my host ma stopped putting fish in everything all was well. I was beginning to enjoy bucket baths by sketchy flashlights. I was beginning to get used to riding in the Taxis as a side of beef. I was also getting used to the intense weather.
All that came to an abrupt halt on last Wednesday. We had been teaching in model school for a week and a half. I was actually getting the hang of it, and although I take compliments with a grain of salt, I was told I did very well. I think I could have been a decent teacher if I had been allowed to continue, correction when I am allowed to continue. Being a teacher has never been something I wanted to do, but working in public education on projects for environmental rehabilitation has been in my sites for most of my life. I guess that is teaching on a different level.
Anyway, after model school last Wednesday we came back to Doe Palace and the training center, which we renamed the “M L and B B Beehive of Excellence.” (Names are not listed due to privacy.) As we ate lunch, we could tell something was drastically wrong. The tension on the compound was intense. Around 5 we were called into an unscheduled session and the entire staff joined us, we knew when the kitchen and grounds staff were in the training hall we were in for some horrible news.
I know that many families and friends were happy to hear we were coming home, but we were not. Our mission was to be there for 27 months, to live within a community and learn the culture, to teach the next generation about science and math. Leaving before we were even assigned our communities feels like a failure. It feels wrong, and it feels heartbreaking. What our families at home do not understand is we made a commitment. We were prepared to leave those we love behind to be part of something outside of ourselves. We were committed to making a difference in the lives that we touched, not only in Liberia but back home. I live with the horrible fact that my parents are slightly racist. Bigotry is ugly, but by doing this, I was going to truly and finally overcome this ugly blur in my mind.
What most do not understand beyond those facts, is that we left people we love behind to face a crisis that they as a country are not equipped to face. If they were equipped, this epidemic would not have gotten so out of control. Imagine if we were to face an epidemic after the Civil War. Imagine most of your doctors, and hospitals destroyed. Those that are left are young, and barely trained. Imagine hospitals lacking basic supplies like gloves and sterile needles, would you trust them? Would you go to a hospital if you actually believed that they were contaminating you? No you would not. You would depend on your friends and family and stay in your community. You would stay and hope for the best.
This is a time to mourn and to cry and to try desperately to understand how this could happen. To top it off the news outlets in the Western World is making it so much scarier than it was. I never considered myself in danger. I am not touching sick or dead people, and I am not getting near anyone that appears to be sick. It makes me sad and angry that I was forced to leave such a wondrous place so soon. To be torn from a mission is devastating. I am back in the states in this state of limbo. What does that mean? It means that getting a job is not really an option. It means that wasting my days eating and drinking is totally in the books. It means that I have far too much time to waste and far too little to actually do.
What many are not seeing here, is that I moved my partner to Sacramento last May. I left for Liberian in June. I have no friends here other than my partner and two people who moved here last year, but all have jobs and I am left alone all day. I need a new support system. I am happy to know that some of my group from Liberia live nearby. I just need to make the connections and spend time with others. It is so hard to make new friends when you have experienced so much in such a short amount of time. I am leery that people are going to panic when they realize I just got back and was evacuated under these circumstances they will fear me and avoid me.
My biggest fear is actually that the Peace in West Africa, which is very fragile, will disintegrate. Distrust for the government and the memories of war are still very fresh and still very real for many. Under the current epidemic, with the government showing vulnerability, an uprising is not at all unrealistic. I know that many of the people I met were happy with the peace, with the current administration, but there were issues. There are things like abuse of positions and the fact that poverty runs deep in this region are not helping the situation.
There are people in country who do not believe Ebola is real. There are many who are taking it seriously and demanding hand washing before you can entry their stands or establishments. My hands are raw from washing them. I hope that these steps continue on, but even more I hope Liberia and the rest of West Africa see this as not just a failure of the government but a wake up call to rebuild the countries. If the infrastructure was in place, the epidemic may have been contained early on and the fear that is choking the region and the rest of the world would not be diminished.
I do not pray, I am not religious, but I have sent silent thoughts to this region and I hope to return very soon to finish my commitment. Until then I will try keeping my hopes alive and my faith in humanity, it really is all I can do.
This week we got to go into Monrovia for the first time to explore. In reality Monrovia is a giant city with much danger and small crime. I absolutely dread the idea of going into Red Light, the Taxi hub for most places into and out of the city. The other Taxi hub is called something that starts with a D, but I cannot remember it. I dread it as well. I actually dread the idea of being crammed into a cab. Two in the front bucket seat, four across the back seat. And for emergencies VIP which can be on the roof or in the trunk. But enough about Taxis! Lets just say they are not my favorite.
We arrived in Monrovia on Friday around 10 am. I should backtrack for a great road story. We piled into the Taxi at Doe Palace. We were assigned cars and we also had assigned groups. My group was Mariah, Kim and myself. Our group leader was Maureen, who has been living in Kakata for the last year. She has been around our group much of our training. As we were leaving Doe Palace, I had this piece of banana cake that I was given for the road, but got tired of carrying and was not going to eat soon. I offered it to the others, none wanted it. The guy in the front seat was going to throw it out the window of the car. As I handed it to him we saw a kid with an older man, maybe his dad. Alex B. yelled “hey kid you want cake, catch” then launched this cake wrapped in napkins at this kid. The kid actually caught it, the taxi driver said “of course they catch it, it was food, if not food no catch.” Alex then said, “for the next two years, you see me in a taxi you best duck, cause I am throwing cake!” So that was our exciting fun taxi story for this adventure.
We arrived at the Peace Corps Headquarters around 10 am. A few people needed shots, I did not, but I had this rash under both my arms that was not healing. I thought it was rug burn from my backpack straps. Turns out is is a fungal infection, I was treating it with anti-bacterial cream and that was feeding it. So I knew it was getting bigger and worse. I must say it is very painful and nothing really helps, but knowing it will go away in a week makes me feel a bit better.
After seeing the PCMO, which is a fancy acronym for the doctor, we headed out. Maureen chartered a car for our adventure. It is much easier and better to charter a car and not have a taxi stopping to pick up and drop off people. Our first stop was to the Ducor Hotel. It was once the most prestigious hotel in all of West Africa, but during the war it was destroyed. Being able to wander through an old abandoned building is a dream of mine. One like this, that I would never have been able to every afford to spend time at is even better. It sits atop the highest point in Monrovia. It had 8 glorious stories, a large pool and what looks like an incredible bar and restaurant under a green roof.
Most of the inside of the hotel has been stripped out. The walls and floors on the right side were mostly gone on many floors. After the war the Libyan Government took a 30 year lease on the building. They initially hired security to run the squatters out of it. They began some demolition so they could restore it. The Libyan Government is no longer actively pursuing this project due to civil unrest and financial instability, but the lease is legal and cannot be broken, so for the next 24 years it looks like this grand site will sit rotting.
We were able to access the rooftop and had a picnic up there. It was beautiful and grand. There is a 360 degree view of Monrovia and the Atlantic coast. I really wish I had brought my camera for this. We also got a long history lesson of Liberia and why the war happened and what the problems were prior to the war. It is very sad that an evil entity like Charles Taylor, who in case you did not know was trained by Gaddafi, exists. Such a proud city and country completely devastated by war. It makes my heart hurt for them.
After we descended the Ducor we headed into the heart of Monrovia. We went to the old Ministry of Education building, where many textbooks are sold. I am not so good at these bartering things and I paid $15 for the same book two other girls bought for $10. I did refuse to pay $35 for the first book, which another trainee got for $15. I have to get better at this.
I bought a T-shirt at the Waterside Market, which is this crazy huge swap market on the streets. Wheelbarrows full of T-shirts. I paid $50 LD for this nice soft T-shirt. I refused to pay $150 LD for another one. By the way $50 LD is the equivalent to 60 cents in American currency. I spent most of my money on food. No really I did. The lunch atop the Ducor was a sub sandwich with melted cheese, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. It was most fabulous $3.50 USD I have ever spent.
The next stop was the grocery store with cheese, yes cheese. I bought Pringles, on the request of my host ma, I shared some cheddar cheese Pringles with her once and told her it tastes like America. Now she thinks America tastes good. I also bought two small baguettes and a hunk of Brie. I bought a soda, because it was ice cold. We finally chartered a car to the restaurant with dancing later that night. This was the one thing I wanted so badly to do. I ordered a side of spring rolls, which were basically veggie egg rolls, and a bowl of cream of asparagus soup. The soup was so good. We started at 6 pm and went until after midnight. We have had a 7 pm curfew for the last month and a half. Most of the trainees eventually showed up to dance. It was a ton of fun and I am so glad we did that. The place we went was a specific spot for NGO’s and Ex-pats. So not many Liberians were there, but plenty of other nationalities.
The hotel was decent for $35 USD a night. It might even have been less, Peace Corps paid for them. I turned on the TV and the first station that came in clear enough was showing the night before’s Sounders game. I was a bit teary eyed over that one. The next morning we checked out and chartered a car to the Royal Hotel, which had a coffee shop, like Starbucks type coffee shop. Real pastries, soy milk expresso, lattes. It was glorious. We basically camped there all day. We held everyone’s bags until they had to leave. Our last stop was to Red Light and we were one of the last groups there. I ran to the grocery store before we left and bought cabbage, tomato, small cucumbers, olives and a can of chick peas. I am so stoked I will be making a mock version of a greek salad. I even bought some of that laughing cow type cheese to throw in it.
We paid for the whole taxi home. It is spendy to do this, but we all agreed we just wanted to leave and not wait for car to fill up. As the taxi pulled down the road, he stopped and put his brother in the trunk, this was not acceptable and we argued, but he owed him a favor so we all pulled our bags up front. This is how I left my umbrella in the trunk, sad face, I never even used it yet.
We got stopped at a checkpoint and the guy in the back was causing the police anger. The taxi driver had no license to boot. We were panicked that we would be stuck there, but it all worked out, the brother got on another truck and the taxi driver, I have no idea what he did to get to leave again. We were about 5 miles from Kakata when I looked at Mariah and asked what’s that noise? About 5 minutes later we had to pull over for a flat tire. Ahhh that noise was a flat, good to know. Lucky he put a spare back in the car when he pulled out the other load when we paid for whole car.
Other fun and exciting things, we will be teaching on Monday for the next three weeks. I have my first two lessons planned out. We all celebrated some birthdays last weekend. That is all I can think of.
As I settle into my new country I have so many feelings to unpack. First off one should understand life here in Liberia. For much of the country power is limited and runs off of generators. Gasoline prices are a deciding factor on running power. There is no running water in most of the country. Parts of Monrovia have both power and water, but not much. Monrovia is a huge city, not in land mass but in population. The city had an influx of displaced people during the war.
Before the civil war, Liberia was close to Ghana in development. There were paved roads, power to most big cities, running water and sewer systems. War is an ugly beast. It destroys not only infrastructure but it can destroy the spirit of the people. The rebels destroyed everything during the war. You can still see the evidence of the water tower from my host home. I asked about it, very sad. Talking about the war still opens old wounds.
The paved roads were dug up in sections by the rebels. This prevented motorized travel either direction. If you have not done so watch “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. It is a powerful documentary of the scars of war and the power of the human spirit.
On top of watching a documentary, listening to real people’s stories is heart breaking. It brings the reality of war to life. Knowing the struggles puts into perspective why this country seems so undeveloped.
The education system seems to be the focal point at this time. It makes sense. You have a huge gap in the education of the next generation. You have no one to teach future generations. I am inspired by the stories and the sheer determination of Liberia. Instead of losing hope they maintained their spirit.
Last week we had our naming ceremony. My host “ma” was in Monrovia, so her cousin named me. Actually “ma” picked my name, the cousin just gave it to me. My name is Munah, which is Kru for my own. Somehow my “ma” seems to like me very much.
Next week we have a weekend in Monrovia, which sounds like fun. The week after we start model school. Model school is where we are assigned a grade and subject to teach real students for three weeks. I have 12th grade and I will be teaching Biology. I got excited about the subject of Human Ecology, which is basically an intro to Environmental Science. I had planned my curriculum out and built my first lesson very quickly yesterday.
I am also thrilled to be given the highest class, but it may be more about my age than my abilities. I am the oldest volunteer. I did hear that the stronger your personal education and experience the higher the grade level they have you teach, but this is only a rumor. It may be because I have more education and experience or it could be because I most likely will be seen as a leader due to my age. Either way I hope to succeed.
This weekend, I plan on cooking and shopping for the first time. I am hoping for cabbage with onions and garlic sauteed lightly in olive oil. Maybe I will find potatoes as well. I am very excited about this. I hope Madeline likes it, since “Ma” will be in Monrovia, I think. I still have a hard time following what she says. I suspect she is speaking in Kru instead of Liberain English, because it sounds nothing like anything I have heard in classes.
The weather is wicked humid. I take a bucket bath and dry off. Before I can get dressed I am drenched again. It is not from sweat but from the humidity. I am always dripping. I feel so miserable being wet. The sheets on my bed mat does not stay in place and I cannot sleep. Having a sinus infection has not helped the sleep matter much. I am so totally sick of fish I want to gag. Luckily the last two days I have been sick and I leave it behind saying that it upsets my tummy.
In the market I actually saw garlic, which I intend on using intensely to rid myself of mosquitos. I am not as eaten up as some of the trainees, but I have my fair share of bites. I avoided my bug net the last two nights. It is like sleeping in a hotbox. With my sinus issues, I felt that giving myself time to just sleep was needed. I did put this nasty spray on, and I still cannot figure out why I am being bitten with the spray, it is 40% DEET! I really just want to rub myself down with garlic.
Friday I was taken to Monrovia to see the doctor. It seems I have a sinus infection, which I suspected. I was given horsepills to take for the next 14 days twice a day. I feel better today, but I am still coughing up nastiness.
Two years is a very long time to live away from family and friends. I am just starting to feel a little homesick. Mostly because I really want to have a nice steaming bowl of Pho and take some Nyquil and sleep. I am starting to understand some of the language and the cultural norms. Frankly what I really want is a nice pot of fried cabbage and onions. Tonight I have collard greens, but I am certain there will be fish involved. Seriously the fish is staring at me, I cannot eat that!
I am also saddened by Richard’s loneliness and his problems with the neighbor. You cannot expect someone to be totally silent living upstairs from you. They guy complains 3-5 times so far and apparently he is not supposed to be living there! Richard took his rent check in on Saturday and informed the management that this guy was complaining almost weekly. They said he is not on the register to live there, so I am thinking this guy is going to be in some trouble. When he complained to me he kept saying he has this 3 year old kid, I have never seen said child, nor do they have a car seat in the car. Oh and they smoke pot heavily, so you know!
I don’t think about home or family too much. I have been in school and trying to get homework done and sick for the most part. Family life is not so difficult for me, minus the fact that Madelin is basically a house servant. I thought she was a granddaughter, but that is not correct. Her mother left here with Ma Pauline to help put her in school. In return she is basically a servant. The language barrier makes it feel as though Madelin is always being yelled at. Other than this, homelife is fine. My language instructor has taken a special interest in me, I guess. He has been to my home 4 times since Wednesday. I do not know if it is because I have been sick or if it is because I am not getting on in the language. I hope to speak well enough to get by. This language is very unlike English. It is more like Jamaican English. The accent is strong and the words are butchered and are not used appropriately. Religion seems to be a high priority with Liberians as well. I was warned not to say I was an Atheist at all. By claiming Buddhism, I was accepted. Buddhism is a general practice that I do try to incorporate in my life.
The worst part of this ordeal for me is the weather. It is getting better, but man if I had a fan over my bed at night, life would be sweet! I did finally meet my “Pa” last night. His name is Kingsly. Nice enough gentleman. It seems that although Liberians put men higher than women, the women are in charge. They run the households, they have all the say.
Today I got home while Madelin was fetching water. When she saw me she smiled and said “ChaCha! Hello!” This is progress! I left her some orange soda last night on the table. I think she liked it, I know she liked the chocolate from last week. Maybe later this week I will give her some Pringles and more soda!
It is starting to feel more like home now. I asked for no fish. I told “ma” rice and beans are my favorite. I got rice and beans tonight and they were delicious. I also got bananas and mangoes (plums) and some monkey berries (Lychee). I was asked today what my favorite part was in Africa and hands down I have to say the fruit.
I put a buzz in Sam’s ear today about wanting a site on the ocean. Sam is in charge of placement and he takes our personal desires into account. I have heard that both Buchanan and Robertsport are coming open. Either of those would be fantastic. To be able to swim in the ocean before bed each night would be heaven.