Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yesterday we went to a clinic about 60kms outside of Zwedru for our monthly monitoring visit. You may remember a few posts back when we first tried to do September monitoring and it was a... well, not a success. When we finally arrived (after pulling a bus through mud, going around several stuck trucks via a by-pass in the bush, and waiting for the Chinese road workers to poor some dirt onto the road that will turn into a huge mud hole in the next rains), I was SO happy to see how much their records had improved since our last visit. Signatures were obtained, MUAC measurements were recorded, and food was being distributed properly. Wha-freakin-hoo! They listened. And took initiative. And that makes me happy.

What doesn't make me happy is mud. LOTS OF MUD. I am off to Monrovia next week and don't want to see anymore mud. I'm hearing horror stories of it taking vehicles between 16 hours and 3 days to make the trek. Its 550kms away. Thats about 310 miles. It doesn't have to be like this.

Anyway, you would think that after so many months I would get sick of taking pictures of trucks stuck in mud. But you would be wrong. I even won the best transportation photo in the Peace Corps Liberia newsletter contest. Nevermind no one else entered.
Here are some pics from yesterday's trip:
The UN roadworkers were trying to help in their spaceship-like machine, while all of the Liberians were standing around pissed off that they were making it worse, or as they say "Dey spoilin it-O!" I'm on the Liberian's side.
Sometimes, when the road is blocked, the only option you have is to take the bush route.
Here, we couldn't go on the left of the white truck....
So we went to the right of the green truck.
And now, one of my favorites. Yes, that is a leg sticking out from under the truck. But he wasn't run over. He's trying to shovel out the mud from underneath the tires. That job must suck.

The best way to end a day like this is watching the UN Civilians play the Indian batallion in football as a way to start the UN Day Celebrations that will be going on all week.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bon Appetit!

About two weeks ago, my house mate and I decided to go into town for an early Sunday morning egg sandwich. On the way there we found a restaurant serving rice and potato greens- a classic Liberian dish and one of my favs. You probably think we are crazy but we decided to have our breakfast here rather than go for the egg sandwich.
Later that day, I started not feeling alright. I don't blame the rice and greens solely, but a culmination of everything I put in my body that weekend- cheese, fried chicken, beer, pringles, oreos, pasta, etc. I was still sort of getting over a small bout of possible giardia from the previous weekend, but that didn't stop me from the usual weekend binge. Come on, you know me better than that. Yet, this time it wasn't so much the cramping and diarrhea but the burning in my upper abdomen and diarrhea. This of course led to the hemorrhoids that I am still dealing with. Yeah I said it. No shame. Don't act like its never happened to you. Especially if you've ever been a Peace Corps volunteer.
So, fast forward to yesterday. Ruthia and I met for lunch at King's Lodge Restaurant. I had the pepper soup and fufu. She got the rice and potato greens (I haven't been able to eat them for 2 weeks, due to the beginning of the tragic aversion to my once favorite food). As we were sitting there eating our lunch I look over and see Ruthia examining her fish very intently. In slow motion, she looks over at me, hands me her plate and says, very calmly, "My fish is moving." "What? Your fish is moving?!" Sure enough I look down and see tons of tiny white maggots crawling around in her fish. You can go vomit now. I almost did.
After getting rid of the piece of fish (and having the waitress say she will happily bring us a new piece.... um, no thanks.), Ruthia again looks over at me, and as if she was deep in thought asks "Well, whats the worst that can happen if you eat maggots? Explosive diarrhea?" " Yeah, probably." "Ok, I can handle that. Just as long as I can't get tape worm."
Now, I've had tape worm. And I've seen maggots crawling around in fish. I prefer tape worm.
Today I go for lunch at my usual place (Munah Planet bar and restaurant) where I always get the jollof rice. Of course today, for the first time ever, they didn't have it (when I asked why they said because it is cool out and people can't eat jollof rice when it is cool out. Duh.) Well, OF COURSE they have rice and potato greens. Ok, I'm starving, I'll give it a whirl. But when it came to the table, I couldn't eat it. I could not eat it. Nope. No way. My abdomen started burning. My hemorrhoids started acting up. I immediately felt like going to the bathroom. Pictures of maggots were floating around in my head.
It was a horrible day. I had to admit to myself that my meals of rice and potato greens may have come to an end.
Bon Appetit.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Cell phones were just beginning to hit the market when I left Zambia. It drove me crazy to see people in my village buying cell phones when they couldn't even afford to feed their families. I get that it was a status symbol (and the argument can be made that we do the same in the States), but COME ON!!! You have children to feed and clothe and send to school. And you beg me for things everyday. Buy some maize meal. Not 'talk time.'
When I got to Liberia, the first thing Peace Corps told me was that I needed to get a cell phone. I had one in my hands less than 5 hours after my plane touched down in Monrovia and I only had to walk 1 block from the hotel to get it. It didn't take me long to realize that EVERYONE here, Peace Corps or not, has a cell phone. Granted, there are no land lines because they were destroyed during the war and it was decided it wasn't worth the money to restore them when they could just go cellular, but I was still surprised. We even have a phone number column on our attendance sheets for all the meetings we attend.
Name Position Phone # Signature

I must admit that the popularity of cell phones has made my life much easier. Rather than walk 30 minutes to the hospital to ask someone a question or set up a meeting, I can just call them (or email them, but thats another story that I will eventually get to). But, on second thought, I like the walk. I like the person to person contact. I like showing my face at the hospital because it makes me a real person and people get to know me. And on a slow day, there is nothing else to do but walk. Unless its raining. Like it is now.
Being the white person, I get "flashed"/"beeped" (calling someones phone, letting it ring once and hanging up, hoping they will call you back so you don't have to use any of your minutes) constantly because everyone feels that I will be willing to spend MY talk time (and my hard earned HUGE Peace Corps salary), when they don't want to spend theirs. News flash- if you 'beep' me, I will NOT call you back. If the conversation is important enough to you, you will spend the 10 cents a minute to talk to me. If not, send me a text message. Or even better, walk to my office. Walking is nice. Unless its raining. Like it is now.
Surprisingly, even though EVERYONE has a phone here, it still seems to be a status symbol. Ring tone volumes are always set to maximum levels (so everyone can hear it ring within a 5 mile radius and then look your way) and phones are never picked up on the first, or second, or third, or fourth, or even sometimes fifth ring (you want to make sure everyone has heard and acknowledged that someone is calling you and the max volume may not be enough by itself. But surely if you let it go for 10 or 15 seconds no one will miss the opportunity to pay you the attention you deserve). Don't get my started on hands free calls.
I have actually gotten used to all of these things (while still finding them annoyingly humorous), but something new happened today.
I received two emails from a guy I work with at the hospital. These are not the first emails I have ever received from him, but they were the first ones that I had to read a few times to really convince myself that I was reading things correctly. Here the emails:
1. I have d 1st assessment copies from d OICs of 11 clinics. I'm following up with my bosses for d real request for dat program (DOTs centers). B4 d day ends, I'll give u a call & d copies from d clinics. I'm not pay death ear 2 d progress of d program.

2. Andrea,
Dis is why I'm in d office since 7:am dis morning. Pls wait on me 2morrow morning. ASAP when we meet in d morning I'm going 2 make sure that Netus do these letters b4 anything.

Now, after ignoring some of the crazy English (I'm not pay death ear?! I think he meant hes not turning a deaf ear, but who am I to say? ), do you see what I see??
He has completely pushed professionalism aside in favor of text messaging lingo.

Moto GP

I have seen enough motorbike accidents in the past 3 months to last me a lifetime. So you can probably imagine my excitement when I learned that the YMCA was holding "Motorbike Safety classes" here in town. Of the approximately 1 million motorbikes (a small exaggeration, but close enough) in Zwedru, I would say about 20% attended. I know this because all of the "graduates" received a safety vest and a helmet to wear while driving their bikes. Of every 10 motorbikes that pass me, about 2 are wearing the "graduate" gear.
Saturday was the last day of the training. The classes closed with a motorbike parade around town. A few drivers took this as a prime opportunity to impress the ladies and show off tricks (that they learned in class?) such as standing up, sitting wayyyy back, lifting feet up off pedals etc.
I've decided that what used to be a chaotic swarm of motorbike drivers racing around town is now a chaotic swarm of motorbike drivers in bright orange YMCA safety vests with bright red helmets racing around town.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Creepy, Crawly, Slippery, Slimy

The biggest spider I have ever seen.

The weirdest thing Ive ever come home to.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I got approval today to come home before Christmas! My official Close of Service date was set for January 9th. We are allowed to move that date up by 2 weeks with approval just from the Monrovia office. If we want to move the date up more than 2 weeks, we need approval from the head office in DC. Two weeks before January 9th is December 26th. Great timing PC! As long as we can prove that we will be done with our work before Christmas, they can't really keep us here. So, See you all in December. But don't expect any gifts. Unless you want some Liberian hot peppers, a pile of mud, a cup of village rice, or dead monkey meat.

Cause this makes me laugh

I asked what kind of worker. The answer was not clear.

The end of an era (season)....

Tomorrow is October 15th. Word on the Zwedru street is that October 15th marks the official end of the rainy season. And as I write this I am drying off from getting stuck in a lunch time downpour, more big black clouds are rolling in, and my shoes are still muddy from last evenings downpour (that I also got stuck in on my way home from work. Ive thought about buying an umbrella, but I've made it this far without one...).
If you ask enough people, you can find a few who make the point that rainy season started late so it may not end on time (on time meaning exactly October 15th). It could be more like end of October, or mid November, or heck, why not go into December?
Don't get me wrong, I love the smell of rain here, I love the sound of thunder, I love how it cools the air down. BUT, I have to be in Monrovia (via bush taxi) in 2 weeks. If it doesn't stop TOMORROW, it may take me 2 days to get to Monrovia. It took my friend 7 hours to go 140 Kms yesterday (on the road leading to Monrovia). UN 4x4 vehicles are getting stuck. The Chinese road workers can only do so much when the rain keeps coming.
My pictures above do not do it justice. You have to look closley to see the rivers forming on the ground. You should really come see it for yourself.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This week has been nothing to write home about. So I'll write to my blog instead. Two of our vehicles are in River Gee County until Friday. They are working on the school feeding program. Our 3rd vehicle is broken down. Our pick-up needs to be at the office at all times in case of emergency. I know this means nothing to you, but to me it means I can't go anywhere that is outside of walking distance. And basically at this point all of my work is outside of walking distance. As we say in Liberia, "What to do." And, yes, its more of a statement than a question.
Luckily for me, I have had plenty of time to prepare for my INTERVIEW on Thursday! Finally all of those applications paid off. Its not my first choice but I think it will be good practice for me if nothing else.
Wish me luck.


The stench coming from the basement was just too much to ignore. When the guy who turns our generator on came tonight we bribed him inside to check it out. Low and behold, there was a dead mouse down there... who knows how long it had been there. I haven't seen him since early in the weekend. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he is no longer with us, but why couldn't he have gone outside to spend his last living moments?

Friday, October 8, 2010

The cliche mouse in the house

I hate mice.
I don't mind cockroaches (unless the are crawling on me). I don't mind lizards (only the poo poo they leave behind everywhere). I don't mind frogs (unless I step on them). I don't mind mosquitoes (only how itchy their bites are). I don't mind ants (unless they ransack my sugar bowl). I don't even mind termites (although the many tears I've shed in Zambia because of them would make you think otherwise). But, I hate mice. Hate them. Hate, hate, hate. I especially hate the one that has made its way into my house.
It first showed up on the scene about a month and a half ago when 5 bags of "evidence beans" were locked up in the spare bedroom, next to the sitting room. (Someone tried to steal beans from the WFP warehouses. After recovering the beans, they decided to keep them, a.k.a. the 'evidence beans', in our guesthouse until the investigation is complete. That could be a while. TIA.)
I kept seeing little flashes of black moving at high speeds across the floor in my bedroom, in the sitting room, in the kitchen. I blamed my mefloquine hallucinations for a while, but then, one day, there it was under my desk staring back at me. Probably laughing. And probably with a belly full of dried beans. I chased it, not like I could a) catch it or b) have the stomach to smash it with my shoe. But I had no choice. After a few days I got to know its routine. It would start the evening running from the kitchen, behind the TV stand and into the 'evidence bean' room. After a delicious meal it would run back across the living room, down the hall and into my room, the bathroom and sometimes the spare rooms. The thing about this new house guest is that he is too damn fast to catch, too damn small to smash, and, as I am learning now, too damn smart to eat poison. I went to a few shops looking for rat poison, but turns out the most popular way to catch them around here is with rat glue. When I picture catching mice with glue, I picture the things feet stuck to a piece of paper as its body wobbles around trying to free itself. Then I picture myself trying to take the mouse stuck on paper outside for disposal. I've done a lot of gross things, but I don't want to do that. I don't want to be near it. I don't want to see it. And I really don't want to touch it. Maybe Ive become a "softee." Im ok with that.
So after deciding against the glue, I went to the pharmacy. They handed me 2 packs of yellow capsules and told me "this stuff is for humans, but it also works on mice." Luckily it works differently on us than on mice. It's actually for a cold. Or so they tell me- it didn't come with any inserts.
That night I created a wonderful concoction of rice, beans, and poison. I felt like an evil scientist and it was great. I laid out 3 piles of temptation in different areas of the house.
Turns out the lizards love it. The mouse just laughs at it. The next morning we found out that instead of eating the concoction, the mouse ate through my housemates book bag to get to some peanut butter.
Ok, so it prefers peanut butter to rice and beans. NO PROBLEM. The next nights concoction consisted of, you guessed it, PB and P.
Peanut Butter and Poison.
Turns out cockroaches love it. The mouse just laughed at it.
I won't give up. I will kill this thing. I just have to figure out how.
I'm taking suggestions.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The drinking deacon

Today Ruthia and I were having an after work drink with 2 of our WFP drivers and another UN worker, who I will call the drinking deacon.
As we were enjoying our beverages we saw the drinking deacon pulling off the labels from his bottles and throwing them on the floor. We asked him why he didn't like his labels. I'll repeat the conversation as best as I can.
Me: Why don't you like to have the labels on your bottle?
DD: Well, you see, I am a big man in my church. I am a deacon [his italics, not mine]. And I don't want my congregation to see me drinking.
Me (thinking): You're really tricking them by throwing the labels on the floor
Me (saying): So you don't want the people at your church to see you drinking while you're sitting inside the bar with a bottle in front of you?
DD: Right, but, don't worry, I know that God will be the only one to judge me in the end and I know I can't fool him by taking the labels off.
Me (looking worried): Ok. ummm...
WFP driver: You should not try to be a people pleaser.
Me: So, when you are preaching at church, do you tell the congregation not to drink?
DD: Of course! I say 'dont drink it is not good for you.'
Me: Soooo, youre a hypocrite?
DD: hahahhaha.I guess so. hahahaha.
Me: And you're ok with that?
DD: hahahha. Sure. and what religion are you?
Me (reluctantly): Catholic
DD: Well catholics drink too!
ME: I never said you shouldn't drink. I was just wondering why its ok for you to drink but not your fellow church goers.
DD: hahahah Well I told the pastor that I drink but that he shouldn't tell anyone so its our secret.
Me (confused): so....... that makes it ok?
DD: hahahaha. And when it is my time to meet God I will explain my reasons to him. He will accept them.
Me: Ok, explain them to me and let's see what happens.
DD: Hahhahah. No! You won't accept them.

Yet another memorable conversation that makes the white girl look crazy for not understanding the obvious-ness (as in "Duh Andrea. If I take the labels off no one will know and God will understand") of Liberian ways.
Its been a week of many ups and downs and its only Wednesday! Most of our travel plans (finishing up the monitoring of the clinics, going back to do one-on-one trainings on the ledgers and reports) have been put on hold. Two of our vehicles are broken down and the 3rd vehicle is being used for the school feeding program activities. I could get upset, but there's no point. I certainly can't fix a Lnad Cruiser and I certainly can't walk 60kms. Well, I could, but I'm not going to.
Yesterday, we were supposed to have a meeting at the hospital here in Zwedru to write a proposal for the referral pathways training. I walked over there in the peak heat of the day and found one other person, our WHO representative. Failure, you say? Nah. I'm over thinking that cancelled meetings are failures! It's a set back and we just try again (a.k.a. I have no other choice!). The county health district director is at a workshop for 2 weeks and our Merlin rep is busy in the field collecting September reports from all the clinics. It's out of my hands for now and as a Peace Corps Volunteer it is not by job to keep pushing and do all the dirty work. I see my role in this project as the guide, the networker, and the supporter, and as such I have been in close contact with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health regarding how these trainings can come to fruition (and it is possible!). One of the hardest things about being a volunteer is knowing when to step back and when to push forward. I see the trainings as the logical next step in health care activties here in Grand Gedeh, but if no one else does, then I am fighting a losing (unsustainable) battle. This is not a Peace Corps project. This is a County Health Team Project (with a little Peace Corps initiation). If it is something that they prioritize and accomplish on their own, it is something they will be able to carry on after I am gone (sustainable).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Septic tanks in a country without a sewer system

I hate our basement. Everything about it either freaks me out or grosses me out. Or both. The termites have eaten through the ceiling (I try to forget that the ceiling down there is also the floor up in my room), cockroaches throw parties down there everynight, water from the upstairs bathroom leaks through the ceiling and drips onto the floor and, well, you get the point. Last week there was this weird smell coming from the basement. My housemate was brave enough to go check it out... I was happy to just close the door and settle on "out of sight/smell, out of mind." I knew we should've stuck to my plan as soon as I heard her screaming in disgust from downstairs. The toilet was full of sewage. We are unsure as to how long it had been there, but I would venture to say a long time. After some investigation by our staff, it was determined that whatever we flushed down the upstairs toilet, came out in the downstairs toilet, and eventually, the bathtub, which then eventually overflowed onto the floor and out into the hallway. There was something blocking the pipe into the septic tank. We were immediately told we could not use the toilet for our "big poo poo business" and "if you could just use the toilet at work, that would be great. " Now, I dont know about you, but my "big poo poo business" system does not just work from 8am -5 pm Monday through Friday. Thankfully we were able to get the key to an outdoor toilet, located across the compound, that has not been used in a loooong time. The first time we ventured out there to check things out, we went together. It made me miss my latrine in Zambia.

Luckily, the UN septic tank came and cleaned out the tank. Then the plumber came and dug up the pipe that was blocked. Turns out tree roots had grown into the pipe. Within 48 hours we were back in business. It's the fastest I have ever seen anything get fixed in Africa.

Yesterday, Giardia returned for the first time since Zambia and I have no doubts that it is related to the story above. I am now living in fear that our house is a hazmat danger zone. I am certain that the sewage was not cleaned up properly, especially after seeing the mops that were used outside drying in the sun, rather than waiting to be burned.

Even better, everyone who comes by the house now asks if the bathroom has been fixed yet. Im sure the whole WFP staff thinks that the 2 white girls have some sort of "big poo poo business" problem. They are probably wondering how we could manage to create such a mess. Embarrassing.