Thursday, September 30, 2010


This week we commenced monitoring of the 3 clinics we trained in Grand Gedeh County last month. Oh (as in *sigh*), I wish I had good news to report. For your sake and mine. And that of WFP.

We eagerly headed out yesterday morning to the first clinic which is about an hour away. Thankfully, the roads were easily passable (it hasn't rained heavily since Saturday... is the raining season coming to a close?!). As soon as we opened up the ledgers that are used to keep track of all the benficiaries I knew we were going to be there for a while. Starting with the positive, I can say that the ledgers were set up properly and there were columns for each piece of information they were to be recording. Now, that doesn't mean each column had been filled out and it doesnt mean that what was filled out was done properly. They were not getting some information that is essential to the program (e.g. the MUAC tape measurements that are used to determine suitability for the program), coinicidentally everyone fell into the exact weight-for-height category (not possible), and no beneficiary had signed confirming that they had received their August food commodities. After a few deep breaths and about 20 minutes of chaos trying to figure out how to fill out our monitoring reports, I decided to I would just go back next week and sit with them for several hours to starighten everything out. Im a huge fan of working one-on-one with clinic staff- a lesson well learned in Zambia.
Surprisingly though, this clinic has one of the best food warehouses of all the clinics we have visited. Food is kept clean, separated properly and stored properly. Compare this to the hospital in Sinoe where bugs were crawling out of bags, the vegetable oil was leaking, and the sugar sacks had gotten wet and moldy. I'd rather be malnourished than put some of that food in my mouth. And I've put some pretty crazy food in my mouth.

When we got back to Zwedru, we visited the district hospital. I can't even begin here. So I won't. Let it suffuce to say, I will be going back here 2 times next week to help get things organized and make sure the appropriate beneficiaries are getting the appropriate food commodities. We never made it to the 3rd clinic. I won't say thats a bad thing at this point.
I have been unable to come to any final conclusions as I evaluate how the monitoring (I use "monitoring" loosely here) went. I have, however, had some thoughts about it.
Basically they go like this:
- Our trainings really sucked.
- The participants didn't listen to what we were saying at the trainings.
- The participants didn't understand my American English at the trainings and didn't ask for a"translation"
- The clinic staff are too busy to worry about this and take on yet another task.
- Our trainings sucked, no one listened or could understand, AND they are too busy to care.
Hopefully when I go back next week, Ill get a better idea of what went wrong where. I hope I can add some sort of organization and understanding. I refuse to believe its a problem that cant be fixed. Motivation, people. Motivation. A little goes a long way.
With the little time I have left, I am frantically trying to push through a "referral pathways" training for the the community health volunteers (CHVs) and the officers in charge (OICs) for all clinics in Grand Gedeh. I know what you are thinking: They barely grasped what we did at the first training and you want to do more? Yup. I'm crazy. But this one will be different. Just nod your head and agree with me.
The training will focus on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of malnutrition and what to do when you identify someone who is malnourished. The CHVs are the first line of contact for the communities so it is important for them to be able to identify the malnourished and appropriately refer them to the local health facility. Because WFP only provides food commodities to 3 health facilities in Grand Gedeh, the OICs at the local health facility then need to refer the person to one of the 3 facilities WFP provides food to. Maybe I should just insert the chart I created to demonstrate this process? Email me if you want a copy.
I won't go into it, but there are several categories of malnourishment which determines where you should ultimately be referred to and what type of food you will receive. This is where the UNICEF/WFP coordination comes in. UNICEF provides food for the severely malnourished and WFP provides for the moderately malnourished (we hope that once those in the severe category begin to get better they will be transferred to the moderate category, but this doesnt always happen- hence the training!).
Damn, I barely understood what I just wrote and I want to teach it to people?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pasta Saturdays

It's become a tradition. Saturdays are pasta days. This past week we had some people join our tradition.
Everyone lent a hand in preparation...

Everyone fully enjoyed eating...

And then everyone needed a good 4 hours to recuperate....

Oh, Pasta Saturdays.
It's Monday again! I haven't had even a second to really sit down and think since I last wrote. Here's why:
Thankfully, I ended up getting a nice ride to Monrovia last week! A friend called at about 5pm (just as a HUGE thunderstorm rolled in) on Monday night and said there was an NGO vehicle going down on Tuesday (they were supposed to be heading to Greenville, but the roads were so bad they had to turn around and come back to Zwedru). I really did NOT want to have to take a taxi and swim across this:

Have I mentioned before my undying love for Land Cruisers?
I made it safely to Monrovia around 6pm (it only took 11 hours!) and met the other volunteers for a nice meal... which didn't stay in me for too long.... Oh, cheese, how I love you and hate you all at the same time.

After dinner we settled in at the Convent guesthouse. This convent is the cheapest place in the city AND it sells beer and ice cream. Yes. I said the convent sells beer and ice cream. It also has some great sheets for the bed... which one of you sent these Hulk sheets to the Salvation Army? Rest assured they are being used here in Liberia.

Our meeting on Wednesday ended up being a day full of surprises. To quickly sum it up, we met with the UNICEF staff (who provided mid-morning snacks and coffee!!!!!!!!!!) and got a run down of what UNICEF does so we can start thinking about how we can incorporate their goals into our work plan. Then we met with WFP to discuss how things were going and let them know our plans for the next few months. The afternoon was the "logistical" session. It turns out Peace Corps, WFP and UNICEF really don't know how they want us to work together (and had to schedule a second meeting without us to figure it all out). What is clear is that 1) WFP wants UNICEF to take care of some of the costs (transport for our work activties etc.), 2) WFP wants us to start looking for a new house (which we will conveniently delay on finding) and 3) Peace Corps just sort of sits there and says take care of out vols so we don't have to. At least thats what it felt like.
We left deciding that work will carry on as usual, but we have to turn in our UN IDs and start looking for housing. My final thought to the 3 organizations was that they should really figure out what they want from Peace Corps Response Volunteers so that when the next group comes in January, they have a clearly defined job description, a place to live that is conducive to their work situation and the support of all involved partners to provide the necessary resources to carry out their work plan.
That evening I found heaven. Heaven is actually located in Monrovia on UN Drive in Mamba Point. It's just behind the walls of the American Embassy. Last time I was in Monrovia I met a guy, Filiberto, working for USAID. I decided to see if he had time to meet with me to talk about job hunting etc. on this trip. He invited me for coffee. In Heaven.
I met him at the gate of the Embassy. When we entered the gate, we actually left Monrovia. Immediately, a golf cart pulled up asking us if we needed a ride. Wait, what? a ride? Filiberto said sure, but we are just going down to the tennis courts. Wait, tennis courts? To get to the tennis courts you have to take this WELL PAVED trail, lined with green manicured bushes and flowers. Butterflies were actually flying around and I am sure if I looked hard enough I would've seen the end of a rainbow here. At the tennis courts, we hopped out and he took me to see the USAID office.... aircon, flat screen TVs, coffee machine (what used to be my office nightmare). After a quick tour, we walked over to the pool, where they spend their Saturday afternoons. Then we passed the sand volleyball court where they play on Sundays. Wait, swimming pools and sand volleyball? From here we made our way to the cafeteria, which actually has a bar OVER LOOKING THE SUNSET OVER THE OCEAN. I'm sorry about the caps, but thats HOW AMAZING IT WAS. That's where Filiberto eats his lunch (my lunch spot overlooks the taxi parking station) . You can see the gym from here, but he said he would show me that next time. When we left the cafeteria we ran into some people taking their dogs (from America) for a walk along the trail that runs parallel to the ocean. We eventually (reluctantly) made our way out of the Embassy and went across the street to his apartment. The place is bigger than the WFP guest house. He asked what I wanted to drink but I couldn't decide because there were too many choices (red wine, white wine, sparkling water, regular water, beer, 4 different types of sodas, juice). I settled on a Diet Coke. As an Embassy worker he gets to send over 2,500 lbs of consumable goods from America. The place was stocked with Kroger brands, and Kelloggs, and everything else delicious. We got a bowl of mixed nuts and spent the next hour discussing development aid work. I had to leave heaven around 7:30 to meet friends for dinner, but I am already looking forward to my next trip in October. Ruthia and I will pass on the convent and stay at his place.
On Thursday, 5 of us got taxi and headed back to site. We made it to Ganta (where the paved road stops) and found a WFP vehicle to take us to Saclapea. We had to spend the night there because it was late and the nearby river had flooded the road. The river had not receded by Friday, but we went for it anyways. If I had been in a taxi, I would've had to stop here, get out and swim:

While this guy would put my bags on his "boat" and float them across.
We actually passed this vehicle when going down on Tuesday. Everyone was busy digging it out, but on Friday, it was still there. All the goods have been emptied out and the "diggers" have given up.
WFP was gracious enough to carry us all the way back to Zwedru. Or I may still be in Saclapea.
The weekend was a restful one. Sort of. 4 volunteers from neighboring towns came in for a visit. They stayed at Ruthia's, but we made dinner at the compound on Saturday.
It's been soooo hot these last few days. My laundry is actually dry.
They started the renovations of the guesthouse and then decided to stop mid-way through. I shouldn't act surprised, cause I'm not. I moved my stuff back into my old room. Its just a plywood floor that is already being eaten by termites. The screws that hold the bed frame together went "missing", so I've decided to put the matress on the floor and set up my AMAZING rei bug net, which turned out to be a great idea because I mistook a cockroach for a mouse last night... thats how big it was. The mouseroach was running from the nest of babyroaches it left in my wall. What do they say? It's all part of the experience? Yes, that sounds right. My house mate is back from the states and as we were watching this all unfold: a bed that can't be put back together no matter how hard we tried, termites, mouseroaches and even a frog in the dining room, we couldn't help but laugh and drink a cold beer.
I love this continent.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A New Week

The weekend has come to an end and Monday is in full force... A force that is always bearable after a relaxing weekend. I started the weekend early with the other PC vols. Starting the weekend early includes cold beer, pizza and fried chicken and chips at Florida restaurant on Friday evening. We had a dinner party on Saturday and enjoyed some roasted chicken, a carrot, sweet potato and ginger mash, basil and tomato salad and a cabbage and papaya salad with lime. All washed down with Ruthia's homemade oatmeal cookies. Delicious. I'm still amazed at how much food plays a part in making or breaking my days, weeks, and months. Yesterday, I was able to catch up on some reading, continue my job search and even get to PakBat (the Pakisatni battilion base) for a lunch of chickpeas and chipati with the head of my office. No complaints.
Today I am working on typing up some directions for the WFP reporting forms all of the clinics need to fill out on a monthly basis. While doing the trainings in Grand Gedeh and Sinoe, I realized that this was the most confusing and, yet, the most important part of the program. If they don't send correct reports to the main WFP office, the donors won't have any way of knowing if we are using the food properly (Read: they will stop sending food). I'd like to say the forms are pretty starightforward, but I can see how they get confusing. The hardest part is writing up clear and easy to read directions... I don't want to make things even more confusing! It's something I look forward to leaving behind for future volunteers and other WFP offices to use and distribute.
This afternoon I have a meeting at the hospital. Our goal is to define clear referral pathways for the community health volunteers and clinic staff to use when they see a malnourished person in their community. It's important to get the right people to the right place at the right time for the right treatment. Easier said than done. But, we'll give it a shot.
Tomorrow I am off to Monrovia...against my will. I am desperately trying to find a ride with a UN agency, but to no avail. Most UN people are smart and take the flight on Mondays! Should be interesting.

Friday, September 17, 2010

After Rain, Sun.

Tuesday, September 14
I think its about time for me to say something about Peace Corps Liberia's inability to do... well, much of anything. Ok, maybe I'm being a little harsh, but its how I feel right now. It's a new program and I understand they are still learning about what works and what doesn't, but if they aren't ready for a country full of volunteers then they shoudnt have us here yet. There I said it. And I feel much better now.
I got a call today "reminding" me of meeting in Monrovia next week. Meeting in Monrovia next week? Missed that memo. "Oh, well someone was supposed to call you and tell you about this really important meeting with UNICEF, WFP and Peace Corps to discuss how we are working together and how things can change." Hmmm. Yup. Pretty sure I missed that memo. Or maybe... the memo was never sent?
Either way, I just got back from Sinoe and have a week full of monitoring visits scheduled for next week and now Im told I have to be in Monrovia. Oh, and what was that? You want me to take a bush taxi in the heaviest part of the rainy season? Let me tell you how the bush taxis get to Monrovia during the rainy season. They slide in the mud as far as they can and when they reach the overflowing river, they make everyone get out and swim across. Then they stuff something into their muffler and drive through it... water up to the steering wheel, praying they don't get washed away. This is a first hand account from a trusted source who was in a Land Cruiser, also with water up to the steering wheel, watching it all happen. Sure, see you in Monrovia on Tuesday.
So, this meeting. Whats it all about? When I arrived in country I was told that I would be working with UNICEF and WFP, but as time went by it seemed to be more WFP than anything else: I live in their guesthouse, work in their office, sport their official UN ID card and ride in their vehicles. It turns out UNICEF was in the middle of some management changes when we got here and PC was waiting for things to settle down with them. Meanwhile, as things have been settling down in Monrovia, things have been getting busy in Zwedru. I have been learning about WFP, participating in activities, meeting with other NGOs in the area, and developing learning tools to use in our trainings. Now, with the little information I have received, it sounds like this may all change. I could go on here about what changes I have heard will be taking place (moving out of guesthouse, taking taxis rather than WFP vehicles to the clinics I need to work at, etc.) but rather than let my mind get the best of me, I will wait until I get to the meeting to find out for sure. For all I know the meeting could be about how things will change for the next group of volunteers, and they will let me carry on here as I have been, live as I have been and work as I have been. Why fix what ain't broke? My work with WFP has been so beneficial to me and from what I can tell, to them as well.
And when it rains, it pours. After this phone call I was told that renovations are being done at the guest house and I need to move out of my room and into the basement. Ha. Is this a joke? Have you even SEEN the basement? Fine, Ill move today.
I spent about 20 minutes catastrophizing, and then decided to go to lunch. And of all days they decided to change the price of lunch from LD$50 to LD$100. WHAT? Is it because I am white and you think that because I make a whopping USD$350 a month you can just double the price of lunch on me at anytime? Come on, its rice and some potato greens cooked in oil and you want to double the price TODAY?! Of all days?! Fine take your $100LD (I am ashamed to say that $100LD works out to be about USD$1.45 and I was upset about it). I wasn't full after the rice so I decided to stop and get some fried plantains to bring back to the office. WHAT? LD$5 for 3 pieces? It used to be LD$5 for 4 pieces! Today of all days?! Fine take your LD$5.

But, after rain, sun. When I got back to the office to eat my 3 pieces of plantain, my new Bhutansese friend was waiting for me. Ever since he fixed my internet, he has been coming everyday to sit and chat about visiting Bhutan, the idiosynchrasies of Liberia and the driving (dis)abilities of Liberians. After we finished chatting, my new friends from the UNMIL Indian battalion came by and invited me for chicken curry and chipati at their compound this weekend. And most importantly, I was able to convince Ruthia to meet me for "Happy Hour" after work right before CellCom (my phone service provider) went down. We met after work and what started as 3 PC vols sitting around commiserating, ended up being 12 ex-pats sitting around drinking cold beer and eating hot cheesy pizza. After rain, sun.
Yes, here in Zwedru, we drown our sorrows in cold beer and hot food. I find nothing wrong with that, don't think I have any sort of problem, or even think there could possibly be a better way. I needed a freakin beer and a pizza. And of course a group of great friends to laugh with.
When I got home I found my ever so wonderful secruity gaurd, Way Lee Deh, waiting for me by the gate. He gave me the fist bump, chest pump and assured me that he has been keeping my place "very safe." Thank you Way Lee Deh. After rain, sun.
So, yeah, I still have to get to Monrovia on Tuesday (although I am determined to find another way), but I've got pizza in my belly, a generator pumping out current, and a security guard keeping me safe. That's more than a lot of people can say.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lessons Learned in Greenville

Instead of boring you with a play-by-play of my trip to Sinoe County last week, I will instead take this opportunity to tell you what I learned.

1. First and foremost, the war destroyed this city. The houses, the port (which is now closed but is to re-open soon), the churches... they are all amazing remnants of what used to be.

2. It is important to always carry to machete, shovel, axe, and rope when travelling anywhere....
... you never know what you will need to chop down, pass through or get pulled out of.
3. Getting out to help push is not always in your best interest.

4. When sliding through mud, accidents do happen. Wear your seat belt and hang onto the "Oh Shit" handles.

5. Walking across bridges is much safer than driving across them.

6. Sometimes getting to work is a lot harder than the work itself.

7. Don't always believe what you hear. Located right between Sinoe River and the ocean, Greenville is supposedly known for its good fresh fish. Before I left I heard you could buy lobster for $1USD. When I arrived I found the fishing dock and fishing nets empty. All my food was served with dried fish. No fresh fish, let alone, lobster, for me. Bad timing on my part.

8. Money does grow on trees. Well, sort of. This is a Firestone rubber buying station. Those white sacks are filled with unprocessed rubber. I was told this pile is worth about $5000 USD.

9. When you see a fan plugged into a light bulb (with no light switch so to turn it off and on you have to turn the bulb left and right), stay away- use your headlamp and suffer in the heat.

10. If you are given a room lock that looks like the one you used when you were 9 to lock your Hello Kitty diary, don't leave valuables inside (even if it says "Safe").

11. Shower floors are just as good sitting up against the wall as they are down on the floor.

12. REI makes the best bug nets in the world. Bring it everywhere you go. It fits perfectly on top of the mattress if you forgot your thermarest and dont want to sleep on the hard floor.

13. Charles Taylors ship didn't stand a chance. During the war, this ship was carrying arms for Taylors rebel forces. As soon as it reached close to the Greenville port, ECOMOG bombed it.

14. Neither did this ship. This was the only passenger boat that travelled from Greenville to Monrovia. Last year, they overloaded it with goods (bags of rice, motorbikes, people) and it sank. I was told they are removing it this weeeknd. What a coincidence.

15. My counterpart does an awesome Michael Jackson impression. Awesome as in horrible. Its more like a really black man marching in place while playing the air guitar. Damn I wish I had a photo.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tomorrow I am heading off to Sinoe County to complete the clinic trainings. It has been raining for 2 weeks now so my fingers are crossed that the road is passable. I'm excited to see a new part of the country, especially the beach in Greenville. We will pass near Sapo National Park but won't be close enough to get a look around :( I will be away from internet while I am away, but will post an update when I return. Until then I need to get rid of the mouse that has taken up residence in my bedroom and hope he doesn't eat my Chex Mix/Combos stash while I am gone.
Well as the text message I received yesterday said: "Save johnny to Greenville, Andrea."

I will do my best to have a "safe journey."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The ride home

Considering how things could have gone, I lucked out with WFP transport back to Zwedru yesterday. The first half of the trip was great. Our driver even gave us little history lessons as we drove along. We learned that there are some compounds just outside of Monrovia named Baghdad, Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently if you live here you must be on alert at all times- if you leave something outside (a pot cooking on the fire, clothes to dry, a bathing bucket), it will go missing. You even have to look before you leave the house in the morning because "people will leave biiiig piles of shit right on your doorstep." We saw the place where Chalres Taylor trained his "troops" and the small town nearby that they terrorized, we saw a bridge that was bombed during the war, a hospital where a massacre occured (but is back up and running today), and several roads leading to Guniea and the Ivory Coast were pointed out. But the most interesting thing I learned has to do with Grand Gedeh County and Zwedru. The topic of food was brought up, mainly the lack of food in Zwedru and Grand Gedeh County as a whole. I keep hearing about people just being "lazy" to farm, but they still seem to be living comfortably (nice clothes, shoes, full bellies, etc.). So a little bit of war history- the Krahn tribe makes up the majority of the people in Grand Gedeh County. Samuel Doe is from the Krahn tribe. When Charles Taylor ousted Doe and took power, he also wanted to oust all of the Krahn. This brought devestating effects to Zwedru. In order to escape the war that was in full force here many people feld to the Ivory Coast and even more so to the States. Many of those people never returned to Liberia and instead continue work in the States and send money back to remaining family members in Grand Gedeh County (Zwedru). This answers the question of why there is a huge bank here with a Western Union office that is always busy with a line out the door. If people were sending you money every month you wouldn't want to farm either! Its much easier to wait in line than it is to go to the fields every day. I can't blame them. I can only continue wishing for a fresh red tomato.
When we got to Ganta we stopped for a quick lunch (rice and potato greens!!) and prepared ourselves for what lay ahead. Ganta is where the road turns from paved to not paved. And by not paved I mean mud, potholes, water, and more mud. It had been raining constantly since I left Zwedru on Thursday. I thought it was only in Monrovia, but as we started driving along, I realized it had been raining up country as well. As we were barreling along, listening to an Akon cassette tape on repeat, we suddenly came across a line of trucks stuck in the mud. Not the kind of mud you make mud pies out of... this mud was a thick clay, many feet deep. Oh, did I mention we had to go uphill in the mud? Without hesitation our fearless driver put it in 4 wheel and stepped on it while Ruthia and I closed our eyes and prayed! We made it half way and ended up sliding to the side of the road into a small ditch. At this point the tires were spinning and the whole village was around us yelling and laughing and cheering us on. It was even more exciting that 2 white girls were in the car! Soon we were surrounded by people looking for some money to help get us out. After agreeing on a price (200LD of which we only paid 100LD because we ended up using the winch more than them) they started pushing, pulling and rocking us back and forth while the driver stepped on it.
Yes, these pictures were taken from the inside of the car. No, I did not get out and help push.

After a little while of getting no where we took out the winch, but of course we were stuck in the one area that had no solid trees on the side of the road (we just passed a rubber plantation with hundrerds of strong rubber trees lining the road). Eventually we found a "strong" plantain tree on the side and connected ourselves to it. Here we are, connected to the tree...

The plantain tree stood strong and out we slid! Meanwhile, traffic was bulding up behind us. An NGO vehicle was also stuck and they didnt have a winch, so everyone thought it was a great idea for us to turn around, drive back down to where we just freed ourselves and hook our winch to them. We would then put it in reverse and pull them out.
It actually worked.

I have a video, but it doesnt seem to want to upload. I hope to get it up soon.

Ruthia was sad we got stuck but I was happy we made it out.