We left the protective borders of Doe Palace to venture into many sites this week. For the past three days we have all been separated out into smaller groups and sent to many sites. First off I want you all to be aware that I will not die of Malaria, or pestilence or disease, I will surely die from Taxi rides. To get to our sites required multiple taxi rides. Our first taxi was overcrowded, but the car seemed safe and the driver was experienced. In Liberia, a taxi will fill up as many people in the vehicle as humanly possible. This includes livestock. Most cabs, except those driving through Monrovia will have two people in the front seat. They stuff anywhere from 4 to 6 people in the back seat and if there is no luggage or goods to carry three can typically ride in the trunk area. Sometimes people will ride on the roof or stand on the bumper holding onto a rope in the back. This is insanity, and thankfully Peace Corps does not allow us in the trunk, roof or anywhere there is no seat. To ease comfort you can rent the whole vehicle if you require it. I may rent the entire front seat from now on!
We got out of that cab and met Rachel, she commissioned our next cab, this situation was sketchy at best. First the driver tried to jack the price up, she refused. He then said he would bring the car to us. In Liberia there seem to be no actual road standards. People drive willy nilly and it is quite scary. The taxi arrives, we get loaded and we climb in. We pay our fare, and one guy counts and says yes ok. The other guy starts saying we are $40 LD (Liberian Dollars) short. For a clarification the exchange rate is around $1 USD to $88 LD. Rachel counted the money again and sure enough, instead of owing us back $50 LD he was short $40. I think the first guy took money for gas, but who knows. I also think I put in a $20 USD on accident. Damn what a shitty mistake.
So we get loaded and the car is on its last leg. Seriously, rusted out at the back door, no shocks, overheating and the backseat felt as though it would fall out the bottom. As we drive along every single pothole feels like a jack hammer. Every deep mud hole we cross water seeps into the car. I thought we might die. We finally arrive to the village of Gbarma, pronounced, Bahma. The girls we are staying with are very generous and fun. They have many stories from the last two years. We were fed curry over rice, a real treat. We were issued bug huts by the Peace Corps. I must say this is the least comfortable or practical thing ever. Sleeping in these is not a joy, it was very hot and no real breeze even though there weather was a bit cooler in the evening.
We went on a walkabout, which is what they call a walk. No kidding this term is not just Australian. The village has a market, but only on Wednesday, which we arrived too late to enjoy. Many people have little shop fronts in their homes, but they all sell the same stuff. They had a video club, which is a place to watch movies and a dance club where you can either buy beer and stay or buy beer to go. Liberia has a decent lager called club beer, but I have not had it ice-cold yet, and this makes me sad. I do miss iced anything at this point. In our homes we will either cook over a coal pot or buy a gas stove to cook on.
There was a wake our last night in the village. The hosts were obligated to go, so we joined. It was awkward and strange to be set in the front of the bereaved family as honored guests, not knowing anyone. After we left the wake we had brownies, and if you have never made brownies over a fire, it is amazing. We also had Gana Gana, a fermented sugar cane “whiskey”. Most of the others from our groups hated it, said it tasted like dirty water. Ours was mixed in with an orange drink similar to Tang and lime was added. It was not bad other than the gritty texture of the drink.
Bucket baths are a great experience and I highly recommend everyone try one. Learn to flush using buckets of old bath and dish water. My appreciation for modern conveniences has upped a bit in just a week. Cooking over a coal pot is a unique experience, and we even had a travesty on the second night. The pot of beans tipped over and water and beans spilled out. We did not lose enough to matter but I am now fully aware of the dangers of this style of cooking. The second night we had burritos, and cooking beans takes just as long if not longer on a coal pot as on a regular stove.
To start a coal pot people use plastic, rubber of if they can find it paper to light it. As an enviro girl I am absolutely horrified by these things. I wish I had a solution for this problem. If anyone out there has a suggestion just let me know. It is amazing how much trash is made in a country with so little. The sign of true capitalism, I suppose is trash. It also amazes me that for a country with no power supply, save gas generators the ability to own a cell phone is prevalent. Everyone has one. It just seems so strange to me. I really hope to start a project on trash and refuse disposal. It would be an amazing project to get off the ground. I hear that one site has sidewalks and trash clean up. I really look forward to visiting this site.
Our site was packed with kids. First thing I took note of, the boys do not wear bottoms until they are around 9. They just run around pant less. At first I was disturbed by this fact, even worse is that they pee and poop anywhere, but the reality is, pant on these children would cause the mothers so much extra work. No laundry from pooped pants is a blessing. We were all given Ghola names at the site. Mine was Jartu, pronounced Jahtu, the r is silent. Anna was named Mousu, not certain on the spelling of that one. Dani was given the name Kona. When you give your village name in an introduction, most people will say oh, you are my sister, or my mother or auntie. This means that they have someone named that in their family. I ended up putting my metal piercings back in my lips due to losing every last acrylic I had. Everytime I took a bath, brushed my teeth or ate I lost one. I finally gave up.
We got back today and learned how to do laundry in a bucket. It actually is not that hard. The worst part is waiting for it to dry. I keep worrying about the rain. Amazingly my jeans are almost dry, my t-shirts are a long way from being dry. All in all I think this is the best decision of my life. I may feel yucky and I may miss home, but I am already seeing things in a new way. And that my friends was the entire point!