Welcome to Ms. R's Blog!

A big shout out to my old students from Savannah and from Duluth! I miss you guys, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to travel and see a very different part of the world.

The teacher in me can never resist a teachable moment. So, as you read my blog about living and teaching in Liberia, I hope you absorb some new knowledge. Please comment on my posts; feel free to ask me questions and to answer the ones I’ve posed. I want this blog to be a place of dialogue!

I’ve got a list already started of things to write about, but I would love your input. What do you want to hear about?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Do not try this at home!
Part of the Unity Party parade

Over the past month, Liberia has been in a political frenzy.  The country is hosting its first back-to-back presidential elections in 50 years.  This presidential election marks the 2nd election since the country’s bloody civil war that lasted 12 years (the length of the war varies between 10-14 years depending on who you ask).

Overall, the attitude of the country is one of optimism and excitement.  People are happy and proud to exercise their right to vote.  In a country of 3 million people, over 1/3 of the country died in a war fighting political oppression.  The people that remained alive are excited to be a part of the rebuilding process.  They want their country to remain peaceful and to remain on an upward growth pattern.

In preparation for the elections, many political parties hosted parades.  These parades are not like the Thanksgiving parade and Christmas parades I’ve been to back in the states.  Rather, the parades are made up of thousands of people marching in the streets. 

President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson
I was amazed at the throngs of people that showed up for the Unity Party’s  parade.  The current president, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, is up for reelection and is the UP’s candidate.  As people marched and danced in the streets, they gave thumbs-up signs, saying “Up with Ellen!”  I quickly got caught up in the merriment of the day.  The support of the president surged throughout the campaign, especially when Madame Sirleaf was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.  She was one of three women honored with the award for aiding women and democracy. 

The mood, while mostly jubilant, has been tense at times.  After the initial election results were announced, someone set fire to a Unity Party office.  Madame Sirleaf received 46% of the votes and the runner-up received over 20% of the vote.  Because no one had the majority of the vote, a run-off will be help on November 8.

In the country, you can see more peacekeeping UN troops.  UN stands for United Nations. 

Question: What is the United Nations?  What is its purpose?
Police from Nepal
The UN was very conspicuous, or
easily seen, during the elections.

On Monday, we celebrated UN Day.  To celebrate, our school invited members of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  The UN presence in Liberia is largely a peacekeeping body.  They are helping Liberia build and grow.  They also have helped oversee the election process to make sure all the voting is fair. 

Visiting our school were members of the US Army and Navy, policewomen from India, and policemen and women from Nepal.  Each group has a different uniform, but they are all working for the UN. 
Challenge: Check out the flag of Nepal.  It’s unlike any flag I’ve ever seen. 

The visitors brought bulletproof vests, binoculars, telescopes, and walkie-talkies for the kids to try out.  They talked about their jobs, especially their roles in the recent elections. 

Playing dress-up on UN Day
Random Information: No guns are allowed in Liberia.  The only people allowed to carry weapons are those UN police, who guard the president and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As all of our students were assembled to hear the UN representatives talk, I looked over the student body and was amazed at how diverse our kids are.  The students are from over 20 countries including United States of America, Brazil, Ethiopia, Nepal, Lebanon, Cameroon, Zambia, Canada, France, Gambia, India, Finland, Sweden, Korea, etc.  The school is like its own united nations!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dr. Doolittle

It’s 5 am in the morning.  You hear a rustling noise.  Something is in bed with you, scurrying across your sheets.  You turn on the lamp on your bedside table only to find yourself in bed with a gecko! 

What would you do?

Once upon a time, I probably would have run screaming from the room.  I might have even been tempted to grab a broom and hunt that gecko down so that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to snuggle up again in the late hours with me.

On that early Sunday morning, however, I simply swatted the reptile out of my bed, rolled over, and went back to bed without blinking an eye.  Africa sure has changed me!  I’m no Dr. Doolittle; I can’t talk to the animals.  However, I seem to tolerate, or put up with, them more and more. 

The reason I don’t kill the many geckos that get in my apartment is that they serve a bigger purpose.  They kill mosquitoes!  I’d rather have geckos than mosquitoes any day.  Plus, mosquitoes in Africa carry malaria. 

If a mosquito bites a person with malaria, the blood they suck is contaminated and can be transferred to the next person who is bitten.  That is how malaria is spread.  Malaria is like getting the flu times ten.  Your body feels weak, you get a fever, and feel very exhausted.  Some mosquitoes carry a type of malaria that can cause your brain to swell, leading you to die.  That’s scary stuff!  (Don’t worry about Ms. R., though.  I have plenty of insect repellent, bug spray for my house, and anti-malarial medication!)
Can you imagine the reaction of the first grader
who sat down to find this spider by his chair?

As for other animals, there aren’t a lot roaming through the school compound.  Mostly, we have geckos, lizards, spiders, millipedes, and cockroaches.  There are spiders as large as your hand, flies as big as a nickel, and cockroaches as big as your longest finger. (It’s the smaller spiders you really have to watch out for; they bite.)  I find that that bigger the insect is the slower it moves and the easier it is to kill the thing!

My favorite animals on the compound are the large lizards and the snails.  The lizards like to play dead.  They lay flat against the concrete, very well camouflaged, and look like plastic toys.  When you get close to them, they like to show how macho they are by doing push-ups!   The snails like to shimmy across my back patio in the morning, after the heavy rains.  If I open my curtains, I can usually spy at least six of them at a time.  My mother joked that I should buy a wheelbarrow and open a business (many people eat snails here).

Question: What’s the difference between a gecko and a lizard?
After a heavy rain storm, snails this size and
bigger are abundant on the sidewalk.

Question #2: Where do snails’ shells come from?  Do they grow on the snails back or do they trade shells when they get too big to fit in the one they have?

Remember that I do not live in the rural, or country, part of Liberia.  I do not see elephants and lions walking the streets of the city.  Therefore, the most exotic animals I’ve seen are monkeys.  Some people keep them as pets and tote them around like babies.  They dress the monkeys up in diapers and feed them from baby bottles.

It’s sad to say that there are very few dogs and cats in the country.  Dogs and chickens roam the streets freely.  I don’t know if the flea bitten things have any owners.  I’m told that cats and dogs are food here.  Again, that’s another reason I always have to ask what type of meat is in my food before eating.

The animal I dislike the most are the bats.  The school compound has many empty rooms and bats like to “hang” out in the one empty room across the hall from my apartment.  They use the hallway to the staff’s apartments like a landing strip.  One ran into me the second week I was here!  I thought that a bat’s sonar was supposed to keep it from running into things and people, but I had no such luck.  Sometimes, when I walk up and down the hallway, I can hear the bats squeaking away.  It’s a bit creepy for my taste.