Less than a week into our training came site exposure – this consists of travelling across Liberia to visit the home of a currently serving Peace Corps Volunteer, and staying with them for three days. We split into groups of three or four, and spent Sunday travelling, some close and some far, to the various sites across this country. It was interesting to get to see more of the country – the lush vegetation is stunning to look at.
The purpose of site exposure is to show us some of the work that volunteers do, but more to show what it is like to live as a volunteer in Liberia. We departed the training compound around 7am on Sunday, and drove in a taxi for about 2 hours. We’d been warned that there would be stops – the car stalled going up a hill about 10 minutes into our trip, and we stopped to fill up (the driver bought a jar of gasoline and poured it into the tank with a funnel). Around 10am we arrived at the nearest station to the post we were visiting. Chris, our host, met us there. We walked with him for about 20 minutes back to his house.
One of the fascinating things about this country is that everyone greets each other when they are out and about. Everyone. People sitting inside buildings near windows will yell hello to someone walking down the street. This can be confusing, as it is not always easy to tell where the greeting came from! This made the walk to Chris’ house very interesting, as everyone not only said hello, but they also seemed to know him. Though my comprehension of Liberian English (Libera Englay) is still a work in progress, I understood many of them to be saying “who your friends?” One gentleman actually mentioned to us “In Africa we speak to each other.”
When we arrived, we were informed that we would be getting lunch soon. Lunch meant going over to a neighbor’s house and cooking on a co-pah (coal pot). All of this was done outside, with minimal cookware. There was one large pot, one small one, and one spoon. Once it was done, it was fantastic. This particular dish consisted of potato greens and pepeh (which is super spicy by the way) with chicken and fish over rice. That was day one – on day two we made a similar dish, but we helped this time. I managed to avoid cutting myself with the very dull knives, but I did burn myself with the scalding hot oil while pulling the fish out of the pot.
Another interesting thing about Liberia is that children will just wander their neighborhoods talking to whoever they run into. Chris had close to a dozen kids between age 1 to age 15 that would happen by in the afternoons, just to see what was going on.
The next day it was time to go to the market. Upon our arrival there, Chris informed us that we would be splitting up to get the required items, then meeting back in the center of the market. This was a scary prospect – the market is big, hot, crowded, loud, and filled with people speaking much too quickly. It was sensory overload. However, we managed to get what we needed (in my case cabbage and peppers). My fellow volunteers and I met back up in a different area from where we’d been instructed, but Chris was still able to find us by asking someone “Where de why peepa?” (Where are the white people). Evidently we were very conspicuous.
Overall, site exposure gave us a great idea of what life is like for an on-site Peace Corps Volunteer. We will spend many hours learning how to teach our classes, but this was more about how to function outside of the classroom. I must say, I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to getting out on our own.