After much (much, much, much, MUCH) anticipation, the day of site announcements finally came. At last we know where we will be living and working for the next two years, and are able to form the beginning of a picture of our new life in Liberia. I know many of you have been waiting for this as well, but I’ll keep you in suspense for a few minutes more.
One afternoon a few weeks ago, a giant map of Liberia was placed outside the training hall with stickers over the sites of all current volunteers and the future sites of LR-7. This became a central gathering point for trainees each day- clustered together studying the map in great detail, speculating who would end up in each county, and discussing our perceived pros and cons of each site. Site placement is a big deal. A volunteer’s site (their school, their community, their PCV neighbors, how far away from pizza they live, etc.) will shape their lives in so many way for the next two years, though possibly much longer- and it was torturous at times with so much unknown. Nick and I tried very hard to be patient, and not to spend too much time getting our hopes up about one place or another. This was, of course, impossible; however, we did our best to leave our future in the hands of the Peace Corps gods and trust the process.
Sites are not assigned at random, and site assignment is not a decision anyone here takes lightly. Though not a perfect science, the Peace Corps staff puts a ton of work into finding, evaluating, and assigning the volunteer sites around the country (it’s no small thing). Volunteers are observed pretty much from the moment they step off the plane- staff is always watching how they interact with other volunteers and their community, how they’re managing the training content, and how teaching is going during model school. Sites are assigned based on each volunteer’s interests and preferences, their skills, strengths, and weaknesses, and where the staff ultimately thinks each volunteer can make the greatest impact.
So finally the day arrived. The trainees went to model school, came back to the training hall, and sat through a few of what seemed to be the longest training sessions in the history of PST (Pre-Service Training). At the end of the day we eagerly went outside to find a giant map of Liberia drawn on the ground in chalk. Each trainee was given a blindfold, and, eyes covered, lead to different paces around the map by current volunteers and PC staff. Eventually we would be left standing on our site location. Now when I said we were led around the map, we more accurately danced, spun, and stumbled. I’m not sure if it was a test to see if the blindfolds were really working of if the people leading us forgot that we couldn’t see, but Nick and I both ran into several people along the way. It’s probable the staff and resource volunteers has many laughs about how ridiculous we all looked, but no one was seriously injured and it was a lot of fun.
Once we were left standing over our new home, I tried to remain silent so that we wouldn’t give our position away to those around us. I failed, of course, and Nick spent a good bit of time shushing me, which I think gave us away more than my whispers. While we waited, I tried to use my senses to figure out where on the map we were- mostly by trying to figure out where we were standing in relation to the music, smells from the kitchen, the heat of the sun, really anything I could think of. Once everyone was in their place, we all took off our blindfolds to look down to see where we were standing, and around at our neighbors for the next two years.
So where are going? Drum roll please…. Grand Gedeh County!
The first thing we were told about our new home is that it has pizza and cold beer (priorities people). Grand Gedeh is in the southeast of Liberia next to the Ivory Coast. We’ll be living and working in a town that’s about a two day drive from Monrovia (depending on the road conditions), where the people speak a local language called Krahn. There are two other (amazing) LR-7 volunteers nearby, again “nearby” being relative based on road condition, and some LR-6 volunteers as well.
While there are many unknowns, one thing we do know about the southeast is that it can be incredibly difficult to get to during the rainy season (May-Nov). Even though Liberia is about the size of Virginia, driving across the country can take significant effort. Many of the roads are not paved, and flooding/erosion during the rainy season can make them impassable. I’m not sure if they’re trying to scare us as a right of initiation, but we’ve heard the stories from the current volunteers living down there of pot holes that go up to a car’s windows, trucks getting buried in the mud, and trips taking 2-3x longer than expected (getting stranded in the African jungle is obviously not ideal). We have also heard that it’s beautifully lush, quiet, and that the volunteers in the Southeast are among the happiest in the country.
Nick and I will be teaching at two different high schools. We will meet our principals next week during our supervisor’s workshop. There we will work with them to determine which subjects and grades we will be teaching, and discuss the school’s interest for secondary projects in the community. Nick and I both have areas of passion that we want to work on both inside and outside of our classrooms. We absolutely cannot wait to get home, get settled in, and officially start our service as Peace Corps Volunteers.