For the past few days, the LR-7 PC trainees have been visiting current volunteer’s communities around the country. We have been pushed from the comfortable nest of our training compound and sent out into the real world of no wi-fi/power, bucket showers, Liberian English, and spiders the size of my hand.
Sunday morning, a small group of us left the training compound to head to Grand Cape Mount (on the far west side of the country) to spend a few days with a PCV who teaches 10th and 11th grade Biology and Chemistry and has been in Liberia for a year. She was a wonderful host; she shared her home, food, and wisdom by patiently answering all our stupid questions.
Traveling from Margibi to Grand Cape Mount took about seven hours, and three cars. Many of the roads here are not coal tar (paved). The dirt roads can become very difficult to travel due to large pot holes, rocks, mud, and some questionable “bridges”. That part was both fun and frightening at the same time. Along the way, I learned the best way to fit seven (and 12) people into a compact car, that palm wine does in fact taste like feet, and a bit about the tribes in each County we traveled through. A trainee reflected during the last leg of the trip that the six of us were now among the tiny (TINY!) percentage of Americans to have ever traveled on that dirt road. We collectively took a few seconds to let that sink in.
Remnants of the Ebola outbreak are still visible. We passed a treatment camp on the top of a hill, a town that lost 80 people during the outbreak, and specifically a house where the entire family died. Listening to our driver tell their stories was heartbreaking. I suspect we will continue to hear similar ones throughout service. There are some interesting factors in Liberia’s culture and history that contributed to the rapid spread, and treatment difficulty, of Ebola that I can share if you’re ever interested… but I digress.
The site I visited in Grand Cape Mount is one of the smaller sites Peace Corps serves in Liberia, with a population of ~1,000 people. Most of the town flanks a main dirt road that sees few cars, but many motorbikes. There is no market, and cell service is hard to come by. It’s scenic, peaceful, and incredibly welcoming.
A single school compound houses elementary, junior, and senior high classes. While visiting, we had the opportunity to observe the PCV teach a few classes, and to work with her students on reading and comprehension. We learned firsthand about many of the challenges students and schools face in this country.
In our free time, we sat small and got to know the community. We met Ma Fatu and her family and neighbors. They taught us some Mende (a dialect spoken in this region) and shared their dinner- fufu and some kind of pepper fish soup. Whatever it was, it was spicy and delicious.
She cooked lunch with us the next day on a coal pot (because “in Africa, we eat African food!”), and did her best to teach me the recipe. Fried potato greens and country chicken over rice is my new favorite thing. Again, spicy and delicious. The chicken was so fresh it was running away from the children a few moments before we ate. Ma was kind enough not to kill it in front of us. ♡
After, she walked us home, and we talked on the porch for a bit. One of my fellow trainees said something about how he was getting eaten alive by bugs. Ma Fatu sat up in her hammock with a look on her face that said d’uh and yelled “Yeah, this is Africa!”. I found this hilarious.
Liberia has the cutest and most beautiful children I have ever seen (sorry friends in America, but it’s true) and this town is no exception. I made many new friends, but young Fatu seemed to like me best. Well, I’m sure if Nick were here she would have preferred him. I showed her his picture, and told her he was my husband. She took the phone out of my hands and kissed his face. “Is he fine-o?” I asked (Is he handsome?). She gave me a huge grin and nodded.
These past few days have been enlightening, re-energizing, and incredibly humbling. I have so much to learn from the country.
Next up, we’re getting adopted!