Friday, June 28, 2019

A poem about Ha Makoae!

A writer recently reached out to me, saying that he found my blog while researching his father's home village of Ha Makoae (where I lived in Lesotho). He sent me the poem, which I think is so beautiful and captures the essence of the area wonderfully.

Home, a poem by Rethabile masilo

We drive along Senqu to join
our reunion. I had never seen mountains cry,
skulls in rock form weeping for what
was absent. Tears paced at an edge
to gush the gully. Perhaps wells
poured themselves onto craniums,
till earth could not take so much water,
red soil dark with moisture, graves
of ancestors who lived in caves
and ate people at the water table
of their daily bread. Mountains from
the top of Ha-Makoae call where a sun
blesses us in night-beckoned light.
We return to the cars, vacate trinkets
brought from the city to gift those who kept
this place alive, our absence in memory;
we empty our city all over the yard;
tomorrow men will stab a bull. Women
will steam bread in three-legged pots.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

July 2017: Reintegration / new job!

Note: This will probably be my last narrative post about my Peace Corps (and post-Peace Corps) journey. My next adventures can be found at my new website, It’s still a work in progress, especially the photography section, but it’s mostly a portfolio of some of my past writing combined with a new blog. Subscribe at the bottom and you’ll get email updates! And add me on my newly-revamped Instagram page ( for your daily dose of street art, pretty food, and whatever shenanigans I can manage to get myself into.

I left Lesotho nine months ago and left Africa five months ago. When I first got home, I enjoyed lollygagging around, just getting used to having all the truly luxurious luxuries that a developed country had to offer. Once that wore off (but sometimes I still have sparks of amazement at normal things), the not-so-happy aspects of America revealed themselves. These were namely the current White House and its confusing, maddening, backwards-moving policies; figuratively ripping my hair out trying to find a full-time job that didn’t render me a corporate slave; and having a daily existential crisis, once again, trying to figure out what the heck I’m trying to do with my life. Contrary to what most of my Basotho acquaintances seemed to think, America is not all sunshine and unicorns. Shocker, I know.

Awesome as they are, literally the day after I landed back in the US, the amazing staff at my gym re-hired me to do some substitute gymnastics coaching, and then they gave me full classes for the summer session. This part-time job, as well as helping run a farmer’s market on the weekend and doing some travel writing, gave me enough to do so that I wasn’t going absolutely bonkers, but the whole time I was still looking for something full-time. I really don’t operate well when I’m idle, and this empty time was leaving me with bouts of full-on, Peace Corps-level boredom some days. Most of the time it wasn’t like this, though, because I was in the middle of Dallas. In Lesotho, I would be lying in my bed, eyes wide, brain empty, staring up at the skewed strands of my thatched roof, unable to move. In Dallas, I could go exploring downtown to find street art, go to the hardware store and find supplies to make my own slackline, or even just chill and watch many mindless episodes of That 70s Show on TV. So sure, some things never change, but you deal with them in different ways in different places.

Lots of people, mostly other people who had lived abroad as well, asked me how I was handling being back in the US. I told them that I had a nice four-month buffer period while traveling, where most places I went (especially in South Africa) I could find things like fully-stocked grocery stores and had my pick of lots of activities. So, after being in that in-between zone for a few months, getting back to the US wasn’t such a full shock to the system. When I got back, I started a list which I’d add to periodically, consisting of things I felt or noticed about the US and tidbits of conversation that left me confused at the amount of ignorance floating around here. And now, for your consideration, I give you:

“The Reintegration List.”

  •        There is such a large selection of gum at the grocery store
  •        A conversation with someone I worked with, talking about me doing gymnastics with the kids occasionally. Him: “Were the kids all black? I lived near an apartment complex once where all the little black kids were doing back handsprings and jumping off hills.”
  •       Watching some home repair show, being disgusted at the wastefulness and unnecessity of it all. Casually throwing around $130,000 to renovate this already-useable house? What an insane amount of money to just throw around like that.
  •       There are so many diverse (and unnecessary, and probably expensive) products in my Mom’s kitchen/pantry/fridge. I forgot these things even existed.
  •       The traffic in Dallas has at least doubled since I left. I hate traffic.
  •       “Did you see a hippo in Africa?”
  •        Trying to explain to people how cold it truly gets in some parts of Africa. Yes, I was in the mountains! It snowed!
  •       “So what was your favorite thing?” How am I even remotely supposed to attempt an answer to that, the vaguest of questions?
  •       Eating lunch with Mom’s cousins, it was the first time I could have a real conversation about specifics (as opposed to questions like the unanswerable one above) and have an informed discussion. They had been following my blog, so they were constantly informed about what I was doing there. What a relief to have people ask me pertinent questions.
  •       It is SO AWESOME to be able to work out in a real gym and do gymnastics again. My body and soul are happy.
  •       While driving, I had to be very careful not to drift out over the right side of the lane. I had been used to driving on the right side of the car where the driver is more in the right side of the lane, so I had to actively concentrate on placing myself in the left half of the lane. Also, my left foot wanted to step on a clutch that wasn’t there.
  •       A conversation with one of my little gymnasts. Her: “Was it fun living in Africa?...Or was it strange?” Me: “Both. Definitely both.”
  •       I got forwarded an email about a neighborhood party at one of the fancy houses. The email included affected words like “lagniappe,” and included myriad examples of the frivolities that would be involved. I was just thinking, “What the heck? What is wrong with these crazy rich white people? What a stupid, unimportant waste.”
  •       I had some good, semi-informed questions, like what the literacy rate was, and if it was hard for my students to learn English when the teachers teach in the mother tongue (Yes. Extremely.). I was also asked why all the kids shave their heads (because of cleanliness and it’s part of the dress code), and as a dumb follow-up question, if that was the reason I shaved mine (no…).
  •       While teaching in Lesotho, I had to choose my words very carefully because my students didn’t speak fluent English. While coaching, it was so nice to be able to explain in full English using precise words, even sarcasm, and not having to think so hard when speaking.
  •       Washing machine! I never did reach a point where I was hand-washing my clothes without any resentment at the giant time- and energy-suck it was. The washer was the one time-saving device I missed the most in Lesotho. Though I don't use it nearly as much as I did before I left for Lesotho, because even being back in the US, I am re-wearing my clothes many times like I got so used to doing.
  •       People asked me how Africa reacted to Trump’s election. Same as you: utter disbelief.
  •       I bought a car! Freeeedommmm! No more waiting hours for public transportation or for a hitch!
  •       A relative asked me what was next after I finished my blog, and that it’ll be sad when it’s over. I just replied that I would take that as an excuse to go do another new, awesome thing so I could start another one!
  •       I took a “check my privilege” quiz online, which consisted of checking boxes if you had experienced a certain situation where you were disadvantaged because of your appearance/background/situation/identity. There were ones like, “check if you have never been the only one of your race in a room” or “check if no one has ever asked (or not asked and just went for it) to feel your hair.” Check! Although these clearly were questions targeted toward minorities in America, they backfired with me, who ironically, partly because of my privilege, was able to go to live in Lesotho in the first place. Now that I’m back in the US, I am HYPER aware of my privilege. Living in a rural village in a developing country will give you all kinds of comparative perspective on life.
  •       Out of habit, still trying to conserve phone battery by putting it into Airplane mode, even though there is electricity everywhere I go.
  •       When paying for something, asking people if they take cards and being met with a look that says, “…Yeah…duh.” Most places I have most recently lived operate with only cash, OK? Gah.
  •        About to turn 26, looking for affordable individual health insurance, so fed up at the whole system, being convinced that it’s all a conspiracy and a scam. This is one of the things (other than the aforementioned presidential situation) that is convincing me that getting out of the US may be one of my better options at this point.

So there it is, nearly half a year of trying to readjust to this country’s best and worst aspects, one full of both tacos and bigots, organized exercise and traffic. Overall, though I experienced hard decisions, two-faced people, uncompromising systems, and somewhat extreme personal crises, I would totally do Peace Corps again. The things I learned from my students and host family, the extremely high-quality friendships I made, the adventures and travels I went on, and the personal growth I experienced made it all worth it. Two and a half years of living in Lesotho and traveling through Southern Africa (and West Africa- shout out to my Liberia buds!) was a relatively short period of my life that I will never forget. I know that the inspiration it gave me to continue traveling will also stick with me. I have recently had some hard decisions regarding employment, and because of my experiences, I have had the courage to choose the path that provides more adventure, though it may not be the most stable or profitable. For the next three months, I’m going through a training program to be an outdoor education instructor in Virginia, just outside of DC. Then after that, I might work for them full-time, or I’ll figure something else out. I always do. Most people shy away from things that are new or can be scary, but now I embrace them, because I know that the most rewarding times can come out of stepping away from the familiar. Peace out, blog family! See y’all on the next ride.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Article: "Yes, Macron’s 'civilizational' Africa statement is problematic but it’s also very French"

When studying at Sciences Po in Paris, I took a class, with a French professor among mostly French students, about France's colonial history in Africa. It always made me uncomfortable that the French were slightly self-congratulatory about their "civilizing mission" given everything they managed to screw up there. Having lived in France as well as living/traveling through different parts of Africa, I found this an interesting read. Africa is not a homogenous pit of savages. Yes, many countries on the continent have their share of problems, but doesn't every country have their own issues (Hello, Trump's America)? It's not France's place to determine what needs "saving." 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Small Thoughts 27: Côte d'Ivoire

Apologies for forgetting about posting this, the last Africa edition of the most essential Small Thoughts series, after writing about Côte d'Ivoire. Liberia Small Thoughts have been scattered through the posts as cultural notes. Enjoy!

Taxis: Inch'allah, Le Bonheur, Beau Merci, Le Pardon, Dieu Merci, Tout Est Possible, Dieu Est Dieu, La Patience, Bonne Chance, Un Peu Un Peu, General, I Remember, Prend Courage, Chacun Sa Chance, Tous Ensemble, Lass Vegass, J'aime Ma Mère,

Man, I am getting exceptionally talented at sitting on my butt for hours and hours and hours on various forms of transportation.

People drive on the right side here. Whaaattt? I didn't notice until my airport shuttle went counterclockwise around a roundabout then I was probably as confused as I was when I got to Southern Africa to see traffic going on the left. The things you get used to...

Lizards doing push-ups is probably my new favorite thing that animals do.

I just got greeted with a hearty "Bonsoir!" (Good evening!). It's 3 pm. I mean, there is a heavy cloud of pollution partially blocking the sunlight, but come on.

The West African French accent sounds strangely like the Canadian French accent for vowel sounds, but with a Spanish R.

I love the different sounds people use to call attention all over the world. Here, there's a little of the hissing like in Mozambique, but mostly people make a kissing noise.

There are women here in Abidjan carrying trays of bread on their heads, but the coolest thing is that they're all in this huge bag that they fluff up with air and then tie off, creating a tall bubble above the loaves.

Seen on a tshirt copying the Red Bull logo, but with upside down bulls: Dead Bull. Gives you mince.

Bus time play by play:
On this bus across Côte d'Ivoire, I have the good fortune to have been assigned a middle seat. I have the even better fortune to have been reduced to half a middle seat, as the window seat lady's butt is taking up half of mine. Yayyyy...
It has taken us at least an hour to actually get out of the city.
Now they're playing music videos on the tv up front. Man, Ivoiriens really like big butts shaking all they've got. Pretty much every video is butt-centric.
A guy handed out shrimp candies to everyone, and is now doing a combination preaching and trying to sell some kind of medication in the aisle. Is he a passenger, or has he just hopped on to try to sell stuff?
An hour and a half later, Mr. Snake Oil is still preaching and selling. Ughhh. Sit down.
Now we've stopped for a pee break and are waiting for a long time, then people are saying that one of the passengers is still outside and is sick. He just stumbled up into the bus and collapsed into a chair. What is happening?
Squishing up against Ms. Booty is actually not that bad, considering her side butt is giving me a bit of an armrest.
We're in the home stretch and had to stop for like half an hour because a truck carrying enormous logs has perhaps crashed but definitely blocked the whole road with spilled trees.

It seems to be quite the fashion trend here for men to wear those plastic jelly sandals I wore in elementary school.

Overheard at the taxi rank while waiting for my taxi to fill, 2 guys looking at me: "Elle est chinoise." "She's Chinese." Umm not quite, but good try.

Ok this makes the second guy to come up and tell me I'm Chinese. What's the deal?

Friday, June 23, 2017

12 February 2017: Monrovia, and leaving Africa :(

                Here’s a funny Liberian quirk before I get started: In the weekly markets held in town, and sometimes just on the street, I would hear an overblown, crackly noise coming from some kind of bullhorn or speaker. It said, “Money tear tear, tear tear money, money money tear teeeearrrrr!” Now what in the world is tear tear money? Turns out that Liberians are very picky about their bills. It doesn’t matter how old, floppy, and brown a bill is, but If it’s torn more than just a tiny bit, no one will accept it. This torn bill is now known as tear tear money. Sometimes, my friends would try to hide tear tear money in between stacks of nice bills when paying for something, but people would more than likely find it as they inspected the cash. Since the tear tear money isn’t usable, there are people who collect it and bring it to a bank to exchange it for nice new money. When you bring, say, a 100 LD bill to a tear tear money guy, he’ll give you 50 LD for it. So you get half your money, but at least it’s actually useable. If you were so inclined, you could also bring your tear tear money to a bank to exchange it (for free, I think). The problem is that lots of people live very far away from these banks, so it would cost them much more in transport fees than they would get back for exchanging their tear tear money. So one guy collects the tear tear money, brings it to a bank, and ultimately earns half the value in profit. Not bad!
                Back to the story at hand. When we last left our hero, she was learning all about gardening in Liberia at the PC training facility, Doe Palace. After days of gardening, hanging out at Kem’s bar, and wheelbarrow shopping (digging through used clothes that people push around town in wheelbarrows), it was time to go to the capital, Monrovia, for my impending flight home (!). I got a car with Michael, another PCV, for the short drive into Monrovia, and I got dropped off at the PC office. As a former PCV myself, albeit in a different country, they were nice enough to let me hang out in the volunteer lounge until my host Cori was finished with work. I mentioned Cori in the Toweh Town post when I first met her. She’s the OBGYN doctor working as a Global Health volunteer. She normally lives just outside of Monrovia and works in the hospital there, but for that month she would be in Monrovia. So at the PC office, I entertained myself with the wifi and took half a nap while I waited for her to get back from the hospital. She called me and I met her at the apartment where she would be staying for the month, which was her counterpart’s apartment a few blocks from the PC office. The three of us, that being Cori, her counterpart, and I, went to this great restaurant and expat hangout Lila Brown’s, owned by some really cool Lebanese guys, for a delicious dinner.
Walking back, I was able to have a great conversation with Cori’s counterpart about the whole Ebola situation. She is an American who was lived in Liberia for a long time now working as an OBGYN. She was telling me just how awful the epidemic was, that so many healthcare workers were dying trying to help those infected with Ebola, including one of her own residents. It has really left the country short of qualified healthcare workers. Lots of international NGOs came in to try to help, others evacuated, and she said it was amazing to see the way some of the dedicated doctors and other staff members did all they could to help those affected.
                The next day, while the doctors were out working, I entertained myself by walking across town to the Waterside market. It was a mass of rows and rows of stalls and stands. There was everything you could ever want or need: lappa (cloths) galore, shoes, clothes, meat, vegetables, chocolate and pink solid milk popsicle things (flavored solid milks are a luxury only found in the capital), wheelbarrows full of old clothes and accessories, bootleg DVDs, and on and on and on. I was sent on a mission to find butter pears (avocados), but after asking around, I learned that they weren’t in season. They grow in the wet season, and it was decidedly still dry season at the moment. Oh well. Then I walked back to the apartment, remarking the insane number of UN and different NGO SUVs everywhere. Lesotho never had nearly this many organizations! Monrovia is on the coast, so it was even more humid than normal. To stave off dehydration, I downed several bagged waters, and I got some ice cream and enjoyed the AC at an ice cream shop. Back at the apartment, Cori had a few people over for a dinner she prepared of chicken, rice, beans, guacamole, and plantain chips (which are delicious and are sold everywhere on the street in little bags). Dinner party #1 was a success.

Waterside wheelbarrow shopping


                I was due to fly out the following day. I prepared my stuff, packed up, and spent the rest of my Liberian Dollars on some snacks. I got a private car (and probably paid way too much for it) to the airport. Turns out that the current (electricity) was out at the airport. This would normally not be an issue, but my flight was at night, so they needed the runway lights in order to take off. So the flight was cancelled. Normally, I’d be halfway panicking, but I was surprisingly relaxed. TIA, I thought. When has anything ever gone perfectly according to plan around here? You’ve just got to go with the flow sometimes. I was trying to leave, but Mother Africa was holding on to me as long as she possibly could. I must have very nicely asked for help from the seemingly idle Brussels Airlines employees five times before someone actually sat down to help rebook me. At first, I was just told that the flight was cancelled. Nothing more. I had to push to ask for other options like rebooking me on a later flight. The Brussels Airlines lady said that the Friday flight was already full (this was Wednesday), but she could put me on the wait list. She could either do that or book me for an open spot on the Sunday flight. She gave me a number to call the next day so I could check up on the waitlist status. Back to Monrovia for me for at least two more, but probably four more days. I called Cori and explained that I was coming back, and she was really nice about letting me stay a few more days at her place. Thanks, girl!
                Then back at the apartment, I called my Mom on Whatsapp and that saint of a woman called United for me to help me get booked on the Sunday flight. So I wouldn’t have to trek across town to speak to another incompetent or indifferent airline employee. Thanks, Mom. You’re actually the best. So I had a new plan for a (daylight time) flight in a few days. My excitement for seeing America again would have to wait just a liiiitle bit longer.
                The next few days, I mainly hung around the neighborhood containing the PC office and the apartment. Just outside of the apartment complex was the beach, so one day I walked wayyy up and down the beach, enjoying being able to touch the ocean again. That’s always so great. There was also an unexpected goodbye party for another Liberia PCV Eric who would be leaving, so a bunch of people came into Monrovia for that. Turns out that Eric would be flying out the same day I was. We all had dinner at a fancy restaurant, the Royal, where we ate outside on the rooftop. It was so fun to eat awesome food and hang out with all my new PC Liberia friends. The day before Eric and I left, Saturday night, a bunch of PCVs and other expats met up at Lila Brown’s for a fun night of Mexican food, music, and saying goodbye.

Michael and me

Thumbs up for going to the airport...?

Me, Trey, and Cori

A whole bunch of people who came to see Eric off

                Since the PC Liberia country director and another high-up staff member both served in Lesotho during their PC services, and both immediately took a liking to me for that very reason, they let me ride in the PC car that was taking Eric to the airport. Sweet, I wouldn’t have to fight with another taxi driver and get robbed of all my money. Eric said that he planned to immediately come back to Liberia to work with an NGO (and he has since done that! Congrats, man.). The PC driver dropped us both off at the airport where we went in our respective lines. I was still expecting something to go wrong the whole time I was waiting in the airport, but lo and behold, I boarded the plane and we took off. It was three loooong flights later and I finally made it back to Dallas! Yayyy!

                Well, dear readers, I guess that marks the end of my two and a half year adventure in Africa. I’ll make another post reflecting on the whole thing, and I’ll update y’all on how I’m doing adjusting back to the whole America thing. Until then!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

5 February 2017: Liberia- Kakata

Garden Angels

It was my last day in Milea’s home sweet home of Duoplay. It also happened to be a day that Milea’s school’s teachers decided to have a party. Milea and I sat on the front porch of the principal’s house talking with the other teachers, and I made a small speech thanking them for their hospitality and remarking upon my enjoyment of spending a good amount of time in their little town. There was a small black goat tied up out front that we were admiring for its potential in the very near future to feed us all. Soon it was time for the cooking. The goat was led around back to fulfill its potential, and back there some women were already boiling cassava and pounding it into GB (the play dough starchy mass we all know and love). After Milea and I got our turns to pound the GB, we went around front to where people were already enjoying some fresh palm wine. Shortly, the goat soup was ready, and we all heartily ate it. Balls of GB were scooped up and dipped in the soup, and entire hands went slurpily into mouths to savor each last delectable drop. After only the weird tripe bits were left in the pot and Milea and I were sufficiently overstuffed, we thanked the hosts and excused ourselves from the feast, leaving the rest of the guests, full of goat and palm wine, to chat amongst themselves into the night.

Getting the double-pump on

                Since the PC Liberia #1 and #2 staff members had both served their own Peace Corps services in Lesotho as I had, they were very happy to invite me to participate in a gardening training happening in Kakata, a city near the capital. PC Liberia has a permanent training facility there in Kakata which used to be the vacation home of former president Samuel Doe. Doe Palace, as it is known, was donated to the Peace Corps, and they now use it for both pre-service training and other trainings through the year. I had heard lots about Doe Palace from the other volunteers. Somehow I assumed it was spelled “Dough Palace,” and pictured a fabulous castle made of fluffy bread and other baked goods. Sadly, it was just a few normal buildings, but it was a really nice place in any case
                Since I was invited to the gardening training but not formally allowed to sleep at Doe Palace (it has dorms as well), the first night I stayed with Caitlin, who is a PCV whose permanent site is in Kakata. It was almost past dark, which is when the PCVs who were sleeping at Doe were supposed to be in for the night. Milea and Trey, two such PCVs, were kind enough to walk me to Caitlin’s house so I didn’t get lost. We were hustling down the street, trying not to be late for curfew, with Milea leading the pack and Trey behind her. At one point, Trey lost his flip flop (“slipper” in Liberian English), and since I was behind him, I thought I’d just scoop it up as I walked past it so we wouldn’t lose any time. Now, dear reader: remember when you were but a wee lass or laddie and you were taking baseball or softball practice for the first time, and your coach told you to yell “mine” or some similar exclamation upon the launching of a fly ball headed in your direction?  Well, apparently, the same should be taught with fallen flip flops, because as soon as I bent down to scoop up the shoe, so did Trey. WHAM! My skull made clean contact with his glasses, which in turn made clean contact with his eye. The adrenaline must have started pumping, because we were both fine in the moment, but soon enough I noticed a trickle of blood coming from his eyebrow. He didn’t believe me until he put his hand up to his eye and discovered the bloody mess that had appeared on his face. For the rest of training, his eye was pretty much swollen shut, and the bruise didn’t go away for another week or so. I’m still really sorry, brother. He still won’t forgive me for breaking his glasses or for the black eye, but I think in the end we evened the score.
                The rest of training, I sat in on sessions about gardening. Wow, I never knew what I never knew about gardening in a place that is basically dry half the year and monsooning the other half. It was fascinating. We had some sessions indoors to teach us the basic theories, then we worked outside to actually make a garden. I learned such techniques as the double dig, making berms, and the “pop pop” technique of chipping dirt away with a hoe. It was also really cool to get to talk to more Liberia PCVs who were attending the training. What a swell bunch of people, I tell ya.

Next post: I go to Monrovia in the hopes of leaving for America, but Africa has other plans.

The garden layout

African garden expert Peter telling us what's what


Pop pop!

Sweaty, yet determined: a summary of Milea's PC experience

Who needs Rosie the Riveter when you've got Milea the Gardener?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Lesotho's third election in three years...

I remember just before I got to Lesotho, there was an attempted military coup. Then, a vote of no confidence was called and we went through the madness of an election. Now, the fragile coalition government has failed yet again and they're having another one. Ahchh...

Monday, May 29, 2017

29 January 2017: Liberia- Toweh Town

In this episode, I leave Saclepea and head back to Bahn, where I’d be briefly stopping again before taking the short ride to Toweh Town for a Nimba party at Ike’s house.
                I was sad to leave Saclepea and the lovely people I’d met there, namely Julie from the cookshop, who was legitimately one of the loveliest and welcoming people I’d ever met. Thomas said that a good chunk of all Liberians are genuinely this friendly and nice. What a world. From Saclepea, I hopped on a motorbike to Bahn, where I found Trey in his kitchen making spaghetti. We ended up watching, what else, seemingly endless episodes of How It’s Made. I don’t know why this has become so popular, but when hard drive selections are limited, sometimes you just feel the need to watch factory machines do things like turn wires into little springs at high speed, or cover snack cakes in fountains of icing over and over…and over. Or sometimes you just like to laugh at the host overact his reactions to the creation of things like bread and plastic bags. Yep, this is PC life, people.
                Anyway, the next day at Trey’s school, classes were cancelled after only one period. They were cancelled for the rest of the week for voter registration training, the same thing Thomas’s school was cancelled for. With no school to occupy us for the day, we decided to go to the cell tower to charge our phones (the generator was still broken), then wander down the road to a neighboring town. Because what else do you do when you’re bored? When we got back a couple hours later, we went to a big shop in town to get enormous (like 50 pound) bags of onions and flour to bring to Ike’s house.
                We took two bumpy and slow motorbikes to Toweh Town with the onions strapped to Trey’s bike and with the flour strapped to mine. I took the opportunity to recline back on the flour sack like a pillow. Ah, luxury. Ike was placed in a very unique house. It was the house of the former VP and then President Moses Bla. The house itself is really big, and what makes it kind of weird is that in the front yard there’s a huge mausoleum housing the former president, and to make it even weirder, there’s a big gold-colored statue of the man himself inside the house. Upon entering the house, it has become a Nimba PCV tradition to kiss the statue for good luck.

The Holy Ike-dol

                Ike had just built this awesome outdoor oven, and he went outside to start warming it up by building a fire inside it. As it heated up, the rest of us started preparing bread dough, and we later tested the oven by baking some awesome garlic bread. It was so delicious. We then popped over to one of the shops to buy some more baking ingredients and found a shelf of different flavored “gin.” There was ginger, lemon, and many other mystery flavors. The kicker is that all the bottles say that they are 40% alcohol, but they could actually range from around 10% to what was likely almost pure ethanol. Now that’s what I like to call Liberian Roulette.

Ike's oven

Cutting bamboo to use as "tongs"

                The next day, the other people started to arrive throughout the day. I was reunited with Milea, who was happy to see that the other PCVs had taken such good care of me during my independent jaunt around Nimba. At this point, we ceaselessly made different bread products throughout the weekend including pizzas, cinnamon rolls, pretzels, you name it. One night, we went out to get some things, and we ended up getting sat down at this new bar in town at a table with the supreme town chief, which is a pretty big deal. As we sat there, there were at least four rows deep of kids staring at us, just watching us sit there. This seems to be a common theme in PC life, but especially here. A small group of foreigners? Wow, let’s just stare at them like they’re zoo animals. In their defense, any time I saw a white/foreign person during my service, I would also stare uncontrollably, wondering the same things everyone else was probably wondering: what the heck are you doing here?

Throwing pizza dough

                Other activities at Ike’s house included making so much food, including carmelized onions (almost the whole enormous bag of them) on the coal pot. Side note: Most people in Liberia don’t have gas or electric stoves. They use a metal coal pot outside. There’s a small square space at the bottom that acts as a stand, then the top flares out like an upside down pyramid shape. You pour some coal into the top and get some embers going, then put your pot of food on top. It takes much longer than on a stove, but it’s way cheaper and gets the job done. Anyway, other than cooking and making fruit wine, we fetched many buckets of water from the nearby pump, played on a slackline, hung out in hammocks, found a secret society (no one really knows what these are- they’re kind of like the traditional religion, or maybe it’s something like initiation school) and were told to scram, had a dance-off in the yard with the neighbor kids, threw water at the other kids who wouldn’t stop crowding around Ike’s windows to see what us zoo animals were doing in there, etc.

Cooking on the coal pot with, you guessed it, all the neighbor kids

One really cool thing was talking with Cori, who is a Global Health OBGYN volunteer working near the capital. I liked hearing about so many of her stories of weird surgeries. Then I asked her what was up with a disproportionate number of Liberians, especially kids, having these huge, distended belly buttons. She said that they are belly button hernias where the lining of the abdominal wall is open, and so fluids and intestines and things collect in the belly button, pushing it outward. Some of these belly buttons are like little baseballs sticking out of people’s stomachs. It does happen in the US, but is easily fixed with minor surgery. It could also be genetic, which may be why this happens to a disproportionate number of people here.
The last day in Toweh Town, after a breakfast of lots of leftover pizza, Milea and I got a motorbike back toward Bahn. On the way, it had a flat tire, so the driver, the little kid on the front of the bike, Milea, and I walked to the nearest town to get it fixed. We sat in this village while it was being repaired, and soon enough there was a crowd of little kids silently staring at us, as per usual. We were directed to another motorbike guy who was able to take us all the way to Bahn, and then to the immigration checkpoint where I FINALLY got a 30-day stamp for my passport. Phew. After that, we reached Kahnplay, then ended at Duoplay. There was more water pump drama in town, which was probably just going to make people resent Milea because she had a key to the pump. Back at her house, we talked about my week of adventuring through Nimba without her, and how easy it is to make friends among other PCVs, even in different countries. We also laughed about how I was almost acting as a quasi therapist for her group, the traveling American to keep other Americans company and to have someone to have a fluent (American) English conversations with.

Covered in flour, as friends should be

Tune in next time when I get invited to attend a PC gardening workshop in Kakata!

AND, thanks to my dedicated Duoplay news wrangler, I have collected more delicious praise for the blog:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Guest post! Liberian English, by Milea

Milea has been awesome enough to write a post about Liberian English. She describes it far better than I could, since she's been living it. Enjoy!
“Shrimma Shrekrimma Sherma Surma Sheerma.”
This is the sound made by the more resolve-testing Liberian children as they imitate the way American English speakers imitate the sounds of Liberian English. No you read that right. Native American English speakers walk around Liberia intentionally talking in “accented” English in order to be understood by Liberians. Some of these Westerners even took language lessons and passed an oral examination in order to be ordained ready to communicate in Liberia. Hooray for the diverse ways in which tax dollars are squandered.
If you are sensing sarcasm here, you are right again. If you walk about with a native Liberian English speaker, point at things, and ask, “What tha thing?” [What is that thing?] you will find out, first, that the Liberian English language teacher who gave you this assignment as homework has a demeaning and vindictive sense of humor and, second, that the Liberian English vocabulary is nearly identical to the American English vocabulary. Some fun differences do exist – Liberians say “current” instead of “electricity” or “power”; “skin tight” instead of “leggings”; and “trunk” instead of “throw” – but 90% of the time a spade is a . . . shoot they call that one a hook. 80% of the time a pot is a pot.
Vocabulary aside, however, Liberian English is so heavily accented and has such a confused word-ordering that it can be almost unintelligible to an inexperienced ear. And vice- versa. I live in a very rural village in Liberia and, upon returning from a Peace Corps training where I spoke American English every day, was scolded by my market ladies. “Wha happe-na? I na hearin you. You tak slippry.” [What is going on? I cannot understand you. You are speaking too fast.]
Experts say this is because Liberian English is truly its own unique language - not a pidgin language. This is due to the fact that it has evolved internally long after outside influence from freed slaves, traders, and soldiers came to an end. In fact, Liberian English has become so official that it is used in TV shows and on the radio. What with the Liberian election coming up, the National Election Council has been running radio advertisements that say, “Elehtion is erybody's busness. Go na-na to de elehtion centa neah you. You muss be 18 year or olda to ge de vota cart.” [Elections are everyone's responsibility. Go to a voter registration office as soon as possible. You must be 18 years or older to get a voter card.] Additionally, linguists have recognized pronunciation patterns in Liberian English that are unique to African tribal languages 1.
I'm no expert, but that has not stopped me from coming to a few linguistic conclusions of my own. The first is that Liberian English has some characteristics usually associated with someone learning American English as a second language – such as adding too many or forgetting plurals and being completely unoccupied with the idea of tenses. Also, Southern American English sounds extremely foreign to many native Liberian English speakers. My closest Peace Corps Volunteer neighbor is from North Carolina and has that rich, honey tipped, North Carolinian rhythm to his speech: “Now I know ya'll aren't tryin'a roast a pig without me.” The vowels have just the hint of a twang and Y's are stretched and melded with succeeding vowel sounds. Liberians who meet him have come running back to me in astonishment saying, “Da Peace Corps mah derh, aye na understand da mah!” [I can not understand that other Peace Corps Volunteer!]
Liberian English, like Southern American English, lets ending consonants slide. But Liberian English, unlike Southern American English, confuses hard “L”, “D”, and “R” sounds, meaning “There” might sound breathy like “Deh” or “Der” or “Dehl” depending on the person or the phase of the moon. This oddity gives Liberian English a slight Asian flavor to my ear. Liberian English is also unique in word repetition - “na-na” meaning “now”, and “two-two” meaning “a pair”. Word emphasis choice is equally distinct. Instead of emphasizing a certain word to make it more important in a sentence a whole phrase might be emphasized by adding -o! or “bad way!” to the end of it. For example, a Liberian English speaker might say, “I like that shirt baaaad way!” or “The soup tastes sweet-o!”.

Some days, I do have trouble convincing myself Liberian English is it's own unique language. I would much prefer to reach into everyone's mouth and pull out the wad of gauze that seems to be hindering and muffling clear speech. This, of course, is not a fair assessment, but honestly my name is Milea not Mahreeyeha. When I am trying to imitate Liberian English I use the back of my tongue near my molars instead of the front which seems to tense up my neck muscles, while simultaneously trying to will my tongue into jello. The verbal result, no doubt, would cause me to poke fun at the speaker if I were also a small child running butt naked through a field of goats.
Nevertheless, I have a higher success rate being understood when I try to speak Liberian English than when I don't. Though I have started to suspect this is due more to the intonation, rhythmic pauses, and sheer emotion Liberians put into speaking then the actual sound or vocabulary of the language. Liberian English is full of sighs, oaths, exclamations, and wrist movements that aren't verbal, but are necessary for clear communication. Some things are not said without thanking God: “How da day?” “I tank Gah-o!”. Other things are not said without adding a breathy marker of disapproval: “You see this test paper here? Chee! That boy na been studying-o!” While other things simply aren't said at all, such as “No, sorry. I do not want to take a handful of that huge mass of oily rice the six of you are currently eating.” The only answer available in Liberian English to the invitation, “Come let's eat,” is to squat down among the eaters, take a heaping handful of hot rice with your right hand, shove it into your mouth – palm first, and smile.
1    Read Cracking the Code: The Confused Traveler's Guide to Liberian English for more historical and phonological details.