What are we up to now that we are just 1 month away from leaving??

Hey friends,

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I cannot believe that we are only 4 weeks out from leaving our home here in Maryland and heading out on our next big adventure! How does one prepare for such a HUGE life change? That seems to be the gist of all the questions we’ve been receiving recently…What shots/medicines do you need to get? How much does it cost? What things do you need to buy?  What are you doing with all your stuff? How does one just pick up their life and move across the world? My short answer…it is a lot of work and it is keeping us very busy!

For those who are interested, I thought I would share a few lists of all the things we’ve been up to recently and all the things we still need to get done before we go (just in case any of you are planning a big move over to a developing country anytime soon too :P)

1. Healthcare….What do we need to get done do before we go?

Healthcare isn’t super great in Liberia (I know..shocker) so we need to do a lot to prepare ahead of time to keep us safe and healthy 🙂 This includes:

  • Phone calls with the travel nurses so that they can talk to us about precautions we might need to take and put prescriptions in for all our shots and pills.
  • Completing medical paperwork for AgriCorps. I think all the paperwork we had to complete was like 25 pages long for each of us. Pages and pages of “have you ever been diagnosed with this or that?” Learned a lot and thanked God a few times for my good health during the process because there were so many things listed on there I had never heard of…
  • Getting shots…ALL the shots! Now, I (Anna) have already gotten a lot of these shots from previous trips (the travel nurse even complimented me on my long comprehensive list of immunizations) but Nathan had to go get a few in one day in one arm. The full list of shots that we needed include: measles mumps and rubella, Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine, polio, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, typhoid, and Yellow Fever. On top of that we needed to make sure that we got prescriptions for malaria pills (to be taken daily) and cipro (an antibiotic to be taken in cases of travel diarrhea….can’t wait).
  • Buying glasses for each of us…and a pair of back up glasses just in case. That is 4 pairs of glasses! We usually wear contacts (and I LOVE my contacts) but AgriCorps like many other volunteer groups, recommends that we don’t wear contacts because the potential for infection is just too high. I spent lots of time online and visiting stores comparing prices but the truth is that glasses for people with strong prescriptions (like myself), with transition lenses (to protect us from that African sun), and scratch resistant coating (to protect us from ourselves) are just plain old expensive.
  • Stocking up on our prescription medications- for me that means getting a year supply of of Flonase and Allegra to help with allergies. Who knows though how my allergies will try to torture me once I get to Liberia, we shall see! Maybe my nose will like it better there?!?
  • Stocking up on medications and hygiene products like Tylenol, vitamins, pepto, anti-itch cream, fungal cream, laxatives (yep…), probiotics, cold medicine, feminine products, lotion, etc.
  • Trying out new products: For example, shampoos/conditioners. It is quite possible that the water from my bucket bath/shower (whatever we get) will be going directly into the natural water areas and so they recommend trying out shampoos/conditioners that have more natural biodegradable ingredients. I’ve also read on Peace Corps blogs that it is easy to bring bars of shampoo/conditioner and it takes up less space in your luggage. Right now I’m trying out a lavender shampoo bar (made at a lavender farm right here in Maryland  and loving it) and coconut oil for my hair as conditioner (may have overdone that the other day…feeling like a grease ball today :P)
  • Taking care of other yearly appointments with doctors we won’t see in a while: dentist, OBGYN, eye doctor, allergist, pediatrist, cardiologist, physician, etc. Soooo many appointments!
  • Signing up for Obamacare so that we can maintain US health insurance while we are gone. AgriCorps provides us with international health insurance that would cover our hospital visits if there was ever any serious issue. But what if something happened and we had to return home to the US for months of therapy or extended treatments? That’s where our US health insurance would come in.

2.  Packing up the Apartment. What to do with all this stuff??

Each of us can take 2 checked bags (50lbs/bag), a carry on, and a personal item (which seems like a lot to me but we will see how I feel once I actually start packing it all into bags). We of course can’t take all of our things with us so we need to find somewhere to put the rest of it! Thankfully, both our parents have graciously agreed to store things in their attics, basements, and childhood bedrooms until we return so that is a life-saver, it means no need to pay for a storage unit! Even so, we are still trying to get rid of things by donating or selling them so right now everything is just going into piles:

  • Things to donate
  • Things to sell (anyone need a couch? a fouton? a bed? Making a craiglist link this week and will post here in case you are interested)
  • Things to pass on to my sisters
  • Things to return to my sisters (oops)
  • Things to return to the parents (oops again..)
  • Things to return to store
  • Things that I need to purchase more of or new versions of (yes, I made piles of old shoes and empty bottles to remind me to buy more of them)
  • Things to store at nathan’s parents (clothes, furniture, decorations, tools)
  • Things to store at anna’s parents (clothes, kitchen supplies, books, games)
  • Things to take with us to Liberia (and of course that pile is divided up into many other small piles because that’s what type A people like me do)
  • So many thingggsss!!!!

3. Making sure all finances and other “adulting” things are taken care of:

  • Getting power of attorney so our parents can handle any issues that arise while we are gone.
  • Contact bank and move money around to different accounts for while we are gone.
  • Transferring my car’s title to my parents for safe keeping while I am gone.
  • Cancel auto insurance, phone service, utilities, sewer/water, internet/cable, planet fitness membership, reoccurring donations, our lease, and the list goes on.
  • Update various people with our change of address (insurance, bank, postal service, friends, family, etc).
  • Write wills before we go (not that we really have a lot to pass on anyways).
  • Finishing up work with our jobs (cleaning out files from computers, organizing office, collecting information to share with volunteers, closing accounts)

4. AgriCorps requirements:

5. Other:

  • Trying to see all our family and friends before we go!
  • Finishing up our jobs and all that entails.
  • Planning a vacation before we go (road-tripping it up to Niagara Falls and camping out when we get there…eeeep!)
  • Writing thank you cards to our donors.

Life is busy! Thanks for being a part of this crazy ride with us 🙂

Geography and Climate Nerd-Out Session!!!—All About Liberian Agriculture—Part 2

Liberia is located on the west coast of Africa just less than 500 miles north of the equator. It is bordered on the west by Sierra Leone, on the north by Guinea, on the east

Liberia sits on the west coast of Africa with the Saharan desert to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.

Liberia sits on the west coast of Africa with the Saharan desert to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.

by Côte d’Ivoire, and on the south by the Atlantic Ocean. The Saharan desert is well north of Liberia, but it still has an effect on the country’s weather and climate.

The total land area is about 24.2 million acres, half of which is tropical forest (Table 1). Tillable land, comprising of uplands (41%) and lowlands (6%) cover about 47% of the total land area. Liberia is almost cut in half with the uplands being considered the land area farthest away from the

Land use in Liberia

Land use in Liberia

coastline and the lowlands being the half of the country that starts at the coast and meets the uplands in the middle. Pasture land is about 450,000 acres.

The soils range from weakly developed muds and flooded, anaerobic clays along the coast and the inland swamps, to shallow soils on the plateaus and mountains.Liberia topo map

The topography comprises mainly flat rolling coastal plains running into some interior
plateaus, and then mountains in the north-eastern part of the country as can be seen in the map below. There are four distinct relief zones or belts parallel to the coast – the coastal plains (up to 100 m above sea level), rolling hills (100-300 m), plateaux (300-600 m), and northern highlands (in excess of 600 m).

Liberia has a tropical and humid climate. Throughout the year, temperatures stay hot, with high temperatures averaging between 78 degrees F and 88 degrees F. Monrovia TempsThere are two distinct seasons—a rainy season and a dry season. The rainy season starts in May and ends in October, whereas the dry season starts in November and ends in April. In Kakata, the city where we will be living, we expect to get about 120-140 inches of rainfall in a year’s time. Interestingly, Monrovia, lying on the coast about 1.5 hours away from Kakata, is well known as the wettest capital city in the world!Monrovia Rainfall

Here is where it really gets interesting to my fellow science nerds (don’t be afraid to admit it!). The rainy season (and dry season for that matter) is the result of the African monsoon—yeah you heard me right. We will be living through a monsoon! For further explanation of the Liberian weather I’ll give you two options: (1) monsoons and weather patterns for dummies; (2) Monsoon Nerd-out (you’ve been warned)!!

Option #1: Monsoons and Weather Patterns for the Laymen

Basically Liberia’s is in the middle of two bullies—the Saharan desert to the North, and the equatorial Atlantic Ocean to the south—which take turns winning their fight during the year. When the Saharan desert wins the fight (Dry season: November-April) Liberia has dry air moving through its land which produces very little rainfall, but brings with it a lot of dust and high winds. When the Atlantic Ocean wins (Rainy season: May-October), moisture-filled air comes up from the ocean and quite literally rains over the country…and it rains a lot. Right before the rainy season begins (March and April) are the hottest times of the year, sometimes exceeding 105 degrees F. It’s at this time that I will be hoping that my humid and sticky Maryland summers have prepared me for a dry 105!African monsoon map

Option #2: Monsoon Nerd-out!

Now bear with me as I nerd out in trying to explain how the monsoon comes about. All around the circumference of the earth, near the equator, prevailing and dominant winds converge head-on—a place that I will call the convergence zone (see map) from now on. The prevailing winds on the northern side of the convergence zone go from north east to south east, and on the southern side of the convergence zone, the prevailing winds go from south east to north east (the opposite). The convergence zone moves north of the equator when it is the northern hemisphere’s summer, and the convergence zone of these prevailing winds moves south when it is the southern hemisphere’s summer (Side note: if you wondering why it moves, it’s because the change in temperature throughout the year on land makes low pressure and high pressure zones between land and water, which causes movement because, as you already know, high pressure always wants to move to a lower pressure area). In the month of May, the convergence zone has moved north of Liberia, causing the prevailing wind to come from the southeast rather than the normal northeasterly wind. This wind coming from the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean, brings moisture-filled air that gets heated up once it reaches land. Hot air will then do what we know it always to do—it rises. When it rises it gets cooled because of higher altitudes, and cool air has a much lower water holding capacity. Thus, it rains…and it rains….and it rains some more…until October. There is a lull in the rain in August because for a short time the rainy front moves north with the convergence zone, but it quickly makes its way back down through Liberia in September and October.

Conversely, when the convergence zone has moved south of Liberia (into the Atlantic Ocean), we will be experiencing the “normal” prevailing winds which are very dry and dusty because they are coming from the Saharan desert. From December to February, these Saharan desert prevailing winds turn it up a notch, and can be very strong. The temperatures in Liberia are at their highest in March and April, right before the convergence zone passes over and the rainy season begins. Temperature during this time can exceed 105 degrees F. It’s at this time that I will be hoping that my humid and sticky Maryland summers have prepared me for a dry 105!

Agro-ecological zones

Table 4 summarizes the land coverage, location and vegetation of the major agro-ecological zones (AEZ), and Figure 6 shows the main vegetation zones. Broadly, three main AEZ can be identified: 1) coastal plain or swamp, 2) forest, and 3) savannah. Each AEZ has its own unique vegetation determined by rainfall pattern, altitude, topography, temperature and human interference. Kakata, the city where we will be, fits into the upper high land agro-ecological zone from the table below, but is definitely not in a forest area. It is more like the “farm bush” zone which is the transition from coastal plains to closed forest.

 

AEZ Land coverage Counties Agro-Climate Vegetation and Farming Systems
Coastal Plains Commences from sea level and extends to a height of 30 masl inland as well as savannah up to 25 km into the interior of the country. Bomi, Cape Mount, Grand Bassa, Margibi and River Cess Very high levels of rainfall (4,450- 4,550mm), high humidity (85-95%), longer sunshine hours with high and wider temperature ranges Vegetation: swampy along rivers and creeks, mangroves, scattered patches of both low and high bushes and savannah woodland belt up to 25km inland.
Farming system: rice on upland and lowland, cassava intercropped with vegetables and sugarcane. Rubber, coffee and cocoa are cultivated. Grassland a potential pasture resource.
Upper Highland Tropical Forest (Agric. Belt) Composed of the plateau (tablelands) about 30m above sea level and mountain ranges (600m) behind rolling hills. Upper Cape Mount, Lofa, Bomi, Margibi, Bong, Grand Bassa, River Cess and most of Nimba Bi-modal rainfall (sub-divided by short dry spell of 2 weeks) more evenly spread of 2,900mm from Lofa to Nimba, 1,265mm in Bong and 3,200 maximum (overall). Temperature variation is 5 degrees Vegetation: closed semi-deciduous forest and transition zone or secondary forest (‘farmbush’).

Farming system: excellent for cocoa and coffee typical of Lofa, Bong and Nimba, as well as rubber, citrus and oil palm are the main cash crops. Upland and lowland rice in the forest (upper and lower region), plus yams, cocoyam, plantains, potatoes and vegetables.

Lower Tropical Forest Mid-altitude rolling hills composed of valleys, hills and numerous water courses. Sinoe, Maryland, Grand Kru, Grand Gedeh and parts of Nimba County Average rainfall from 3,000mm in Maryland to 4,100 mm in Sinoe. Long and dry spell and two distinct peaks of rainy seasons. Vegetation: mostly evergreen rainforest in south-eastern part of the affected counties.

Farming systems: upland and lowland rice cultivation in the forest (upper and lower regions), plus yams, cocoyam, plantains, potatoes and vegetables. Rubber, cocoa, coffee and sugarcane are the major cash crops.

Northern Savannah Northern Lofa and Northern Nimba High elevation with average rainfall between 700 mm -1,750 mm Vegetation: dense elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) of up to 1.5m, scattered trees and patches of forests. It consists of the derived and guinea savannahs which in addition to the coastal savannah are the main pastoral resources

Thanks for bearing with me as I nerded-out about Liberia’s climate and geography. Every part of this post goes into making agricultural decisions and teaching about an agricultural world that is very different than our own. Every part of this post will help us to understand the environment in which we will be living. Hope you learned a lot, just as I did. Stay tuned for part 3 of this 3-part post on Liberian agriculture where we take a more in-depth look at Liberia’s major crops. So long!