Wow! Where to start?? It has been 27 days since we left our home sweet home in Maryland and began our travels. Our first 11 days were spent in Ardmore, Oklahoma doing lots of initial training with AgriCorps. During those 11 days we met the nine other AgriCorps Fellows who we are serving with this year. Eight of them are going to work in Ghana (sad face) and one (Melissa) is coming to Liberia with us and serving as our Chief of Party. During training we were going going going from 6am to about 6pm each day. We had sessions about lesson planning, development work, classroom management, experiential learning, agricultural science curriculum, internal development, and effective communication strategies. It was A LOT to take in all at once but it was all definitely needed. We also got the chance to talk with a few of the alumni AgriCorps Fellows about their experiences and it was super reassuring and helpful to have many of my questions answered and worries addressed.
On Aug 11 we flew out of Dallas airport and began our 20 some hour journey here to Liberia. We landed in Liberia around 7pm and it took at least an hour to get all our bags and paperwork. As we drove through the dark to the city of Monrovia, we got the chance to talk with Umuru Sherrif who is the Executive Director for 4-H Liberia (more on how cool he is later). He pointed out military barracks from the civil war, former Ebola treatment clinics, and mass graveyards for Ebola victims. He talked about children soldiers being used for such terrible evils and how he was able to escape to Sierra Leone during the civil war. And although he didn’t go terribly deep into any of his stories, it was still quite the introduction to Liberia. Yes, I read about the war and I had read endlessly about the Ebola endemic but now here it all was right before me. It was no longer words on a page or pictures on a screen, it was real and I was right in the middle of where it had all happened sitting next to a man who had experienced it himself. I’m sure the longer I stay the more stories I will hear and the more real it will become.
The first few days in Monrovia were spent getting to know the city, learning about the history of Liberia, and running errands. No matter what city I go to in whatever country I travel to it always takes me a little while to get used to all the hubbub, noises, smells, and mass amounts of people surrounding me. I like the rural life….what can I say?? Luckily on day five of being in Liberia we had the chance to travel out to a village for a home-stay experience. The village that we traveled to was called Kamada Town and it was located about 2 hours outside of Monrovia. The drive out there was smooth sailing for the first hour and a half…a paved road had recently been repaired! Finally we were able to get outside of the city and see the countryside and boy was it beautiful. Everywhere you looked there was a new shade of green…palm trees, rice fields, rubber trees, timber trees, tropical grasses, citrus trees, vegetable plants, cassava fields, and swamps with lily pads. Contrasting the bright array of greens was black from the bags and bags of charcoal moving down the road in trucks and the burnt palm trunks still in the fields, deep red soil lining the roadways and filling the puddles on the side of the road, and grayish blue skies for miles and miles ahead. It was breathtaking.
Once we reached the village, we settled in with Chief John and his family and took a small tour of the village. The village had about 20-30 houses (built from mud and concrete with palm and tin roofs) and it had two wells and two latrines for the entire village to share. On the edge of town there was an elementary school with three classrooms and there was a church with a propane tank hanging from a wooden stand to serve as a bell to welcome worshippers on Sunday. While in the village we had a chance to socialize with the nearby families, interview farmers and visit their fields, try the local foods, attempt to learn the local language, and run a one day 4-H camp for the kids. It was a great place for us to also practice listening to “Liberian English” which is not quite as easy to understand as I had anticipated. Liberian English started out as a pidgin language but has since become more of a creole language as it now has characteristics similar to the tribal languages here in West Africa. The first few days as people are speaking to me I don’t even know if they are speaking a tribal language or Liberian English…it sounds that different. Here is a youtube video of people speaking Liberian English:
It is getting a little easier to understand the more time I spend listening to it, but it is still a long way to go. Thankfully, many of the people in cities (like the one Nathan and I will be living in) also speak “standard English” which is much easier for my Western ears to understand.
After the home-stay, we traveled back into Monrovia for one day and then it was back on the road again to an area called Suakoko, about three hours outside of the city. The Central Agricultural Research Institution (CARI) is located in this town and while there we had the opportunity to visit with researchers from the various departments (animal science, aquaculture, vegetables, roots and tubers, rice, tree crops, and agronomy). We visited test plots, talked with researchers about their studies and the problems that face farmers face, and we learned so much about the processes of planting, maintaining, and harvesting tropical crops. Nathan and I hope to establish a partnership between CARI and the school we will be teaching at (BWI) so that our students can learn from the amazing researchers and get real hands-on experience in the field of agriculture that they are studying. Luckily our school is only 1 hour away from CARI…can you say field trip?!?!
Pheww…sorry for the month worth of updates all in one post! I feel like a vagabond living out of a suitcase and traveling to a different city each week. Next week though we will finally be moving into our home and settling in. I can’t wait!
Here are a few pictures from our home-stay in Kamada Town.