I thought I would take a quick detour from the path of our typical “check out what we’ve been up to” posts to offer a glimpse into some of the raw thoughts and emotions from our first months at site. While it’s important for us to share the culture of Liberia as we discover this beautiful country (#thirdgoal) and update you all on the work we’re starting, our Peace Corps story would be incomplete if we stopped there. My goal through this blog is to share our journey by being as honest about our experience as possible (as Peace Corps blog guidelines will allow me to), and struggle has become a very big part of ours. It would be very easy to aggrandize our lives here, sell them as a great adventure, and exaggerate the small impact we’re trying to make. But that wouldn’t be accurate, and it’s not my style. Today, I want to share a bit of the bad we’re going through, so we can all appreciate the good a little bit more.
Yes, every day here is new and fascinating, but every day is also hard. Unimaginably hard, for the two of us and everyone living in this country. Though I believe now more than ever that we have the opportunity to do some incredible work in the Peace Corps, there is a lot of messiness to sort through before we can get there. The Peace Corps is no joke, yinz. We did our best to prepare ourselves, and the people in our lives, for the challenges we expected to face… but it’s just not possible to be fully “prepared” for the 180 we’ve made since June. If anyone expected us to walk off the plane and start changing the world, your expectations could not have been further from reality. This has been the most challenging and humbling experience of my life- and we’re only 5 months in. Every day pushes us in ways that often aren’t positive, and we certainly are not changing the world. But I am also finding hope in every day, and am newly inspired to find a way to make my very small impact with every sunrise.
Emotions anyone else in the Peace Corps knows all too well- extreme embarrassment, discomfort, exhaustion, loneliness and isolation, general grossness, futility, doubt, and helplessness, sneak up on us all the time. There are days when I don’t want to leave the house. Days when innocent passersby get the brunt of my frustration. And days when I just give up for a little while. One day this week (sick, aggravated with the way my first period of teaching ended, out of water, out of food, out of charge on any electronics, and hungry) I had one of the meltdowns that have become a normal part of life here. On this particular day, the tipping point was that, for the third day in a row, the egg and bread I bought for breakfast (not from our amazing tea shop, but from one closer to the house) was moldy and tasted like gasoline. Normally, I just eat around it, grateful for some quick nutrition I didn’t have to cook myself, but today it was simply too much.
Like any rational person (wink), I tearfully decided that it would be easier to never eat again than deal with moldy bread, cold rice, mystery meat, or sour unripe fruit. Hungry, but stubborn and emotionally drained, I sat on the floor for what seemed like a very long time. And then I heard a quiet knock on the door. Knowing better than to ignore it (people will patiently wait on your porch for hours), I opened it to see the smiling face of one of my 10th grade students.
I soon discovered that every morning before school she gets up very early to bake and sell cornbread around town. And on this day, she happened by my house and thought I should have some. She insisted that I take three delicious looking pieces, even though I was reluctantly still on carbohydrate strike. Liberia is funny like that- so often my moments of frustration and weakness turn into moments of surprise, admiration, and some of my favorite memories. Mama Liberia is nurturing, and loving, and looking out for us every day. Always in ways I can’t even understand at the time.
Serving in the Peace Corps in any country can be fraught with hardship, and (as we are currently working at one of the most difficult posts PC serves) we expected to experience more than our fair share. As the challenges, and struggle, and intense emotions, aren’t going to go away over the next two years, I am so consistently grateful that we have our Liberian family to pick us back up as we struggle. All the negative thoughts (and there are plenty) when I think I can’t cut it, that my community deserves a better/smarter/braver volunteer, that life can’t get any more difficult, or that the next spider bite is going to be the one the does me in, pass in surprising ways because of the Liberians around me. So many times, every single day, I think “How am I possibly going to make it two years here?”. Each thought is later met by its counter, “How am I ever going to leave Liberia, where are the forms to extend my stay to a third year?”.
I know that my struggles pale in comparison to the hardships many in this country (and around the world) face every day, and yet some days we can barely manage. It’s simply embarassing. I know that we are only getting by through the grace and support of everyone around us. And I never expected to have to rely on it so deeply to get through the passing months. Being offered so much unconditional help/support/love and accepting it, has been one of the most humbling experiences I have ever encountered.
For every time someone in this town has mocked us (for being white, American, rich, for not wearing African clothes, for wearing African clothes, for being lazy, for doing work, etc.), we have been warmly and patiently welcomed. We have been pulled into stranger’s familes and lives and given the opportunity to share in moments many Americans would keep to their closest and oldest friends.
For every time I’ve been discouraged at school, I have seen a student rise. For every time I felt the system was hopeless, I met a teacher or administrator driven to change things.
Every time I have been hungry, someone has shared their food. Every time I have been exhausted, someone has picked me up (literally picked me up once). Every time I have been lonely, someone has reached out and knocked on our door. Every time I think we can’t make it, we are given a reason to stay. And every time we have asked for help, it has been given unquestioningly.
It may sound a bit dramatic, but life as a PCV is just dramatic sometimes, OK? And if you ever come to this country you will see it as the truth almost immediately. Every day here is an exercise in strength, growth, and patience, but above all else humility. I expected to come to Liberia and help, I did not expect to need so much along the way. And now, every day I am working to pay it all back. I promise, Mama Liberia, I will pay it all back.
Expect your usual feel good posts to resume soon. Hugs and kisses ♡