How Being a Teacher Prepared Me for Life in Foreign Service.
I was a high school teacher for twelve years before I married into the foreign service.
Each year, I would become intensely invested in the performance and success of each of my 200 students. Before I became a mother, these students were the most important part of my life because I gauged my own success as an educator by their respective experiences and achievements (however great or small).
This is a post that has been in the making pretty much since I arrived in Liberia.
When one travels to a location for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that she eventually compares her destination to her city or country of origin. The time frame is different for everyone; but, once the excitement and stimulus of being in a new place fade just enough, the individual begins to consider how THIS place is different from THAT place.
So, over the past 10 months, I have made some mental notes about the facets of life in Liberia that compare to life in the United States. Some of these are completely subjective. Fortunately for me, the experiences I’ve had in my life have made me feel more at home in Liberia than perhaps others may feel when they are posted here. Parts of life here that have struck me as particularly comforting or curious may not seem so to you as you read. And that’s perfectly normal. If you have been to Liberia, I’d really love to hear your take on some of these points–especially if you disagree with me. 🙂
This week, I was on a five-day trip to Zwedru for my work with the U.S. Embassy/Monrovia State Department. Since I did not have access to the internet for most of the trip, I kept notes on my phone of the experience. These notes became journal entries.
Monday, April 9, 2018
A 5:21 am wake-up call from a rooster somewhere outside. “Cockaroo,” it says, still half asleep and seeming to only begrudgingly carry out its role.
I am in Ganta, a small town about a five-hour drive Northeast of Monrovia. My colleagues Paul, Belvis, and I are on our final field visit for my educator training series at the Embassy’s American Corners. Ganta was our layover on our way to Zwedru, still six more hours southeast. Because of the underdeveloped road system, we had to go northeast and then southeast to get from Monrovia to Zwedru rather than simply cutting straight across Liberia from one city to the other (see map below). Along the way, we will be stopping in the city of Saclepea so that I can offer a training seminar to 45 area school principals.
This past weekend, Andrew and I took a weekend trip to the nearby, coastal town of Robertsport, Liberia. The weather was cool, the moon was full, and the secluded beaches were lovely. We camped on the shore beneath a grove of native trees, and with the light of the full moon in our faces, we laid awake for a while. So, with no wifi signal or electronics to provide us with entertainment, and feeling inspired by the natural beauty around us, I resorted to a tradition found in every culture around the world dating back hundreds of generations.
I decided to tell a story. And it went something like this….
“April is the cruelest month…” begins T.S. Eliot’s brilliant modernist poem entitled The Waste Land before he laments the confusion brought on by all the possibilities of springtime.
If you, like me, grew up in the U.S. South, I’m sure you would quite agree that April is actually a brilliant month. The sun shines longer, the temperature is warmer, spring break is near, early crops are fruiting, and flowers are blossoming! The only confusion is about how many supplies to take as you head out for a day of fun.
My initiation into new experiences while in Africa seem to begin with a baptism by what I affectionately call “bucket baths”: those daily ablutions that occur with a limited resource of hot water that has been carried to the shower in a bucket or pot (depending on whatever vessel might be available) and enjoyed immensely in the knowledge that one is lucky to have the opportunity to wash away the day’s oil, dust, and dirt to make way for a restful night and a fresh adventure the next day.
When I was younger, I dreamed of Africa. I craved the adventure of it. The mystery of it. The exoticism of it. As a girl, I envisioned myself as an adult, bringing change to the continent in my own way … which just happened to evoke brilliant smiles that surrounded me in appreciation and mutual connection. That dream never left me. Six months ago, I joined my husband in Liberia and had this very vision in mind.