July 1, 2001 - Personal Web Site: Second Thoughts a Little Late by Phillip Martin, Liberia RPCV

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Liberia: Peace Corps Liberia : The Peace Corps in Liberia: July 1, 2001 - Personal Web Site: Second Thoughts a Little Late by Phillip Martin, Liberia RPCV

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, February 14, 2003 - 8:40 pm: Edit Post

Second Thoughts a Little Late by Phillip Martin, Liberia RPCV

Second Thoughts a Little Late by Phillip Martin, Liberia RPCV

The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love?

Second Thoughts a Little Late Another bead of sweat dripped down into my eye but, at that moment, it was the least of my concerns. Where was I? I knew exactly where I was. I was in Liberia, West Africa, in the Peace Corps. Why was I there? That question wasn't as easy to answer. Not too many questions or answers matter when you are suffering with malaria. I had never been so sick in my life. This wasn't part of the package deal I signed up for. Nobody at the Peace Corps interview mentioned raging fevers, cold chills, body aches, blinding headaches, sweating, vomiting, and insomnia when I agreed to go to Africa. All of this is malaria, but words can't begin to describe it to someone who has not experienced it. I just wanted to die. Nothing I had ever encountered had ever made me so sick.

Way back in America, that place with hot running water and constant electricity, this all sounded pretty exotic and adventurous. The Peace Corps is called "the toughest job you'll ever love." I knew that I wouldn't save the world, but I was out to help my small corner of it in the best way I could. I came to Liberia to work in the government schools. I had two jobs. I supervised five elementary schools and I collected African folk tales to be used as reading materials in public schools.

That Tough Job The best part of my job was the fact that I was able to travel all over Liberia. The worst part of my job was the fact that I was able to travel all over Liberia. You see, travel in Liberia was just not easy. Public transportation was usually the back of a pickup truck. There were no windows to keep out the dust or rains. Benches meant for five human bodies somehow managed to squeeze seven or eight people onto them. Nobody was comfortable.

If patience is a virtue, I am really a saint after my travels across Africa. I never knew what kind of delays to expect when I entered the back of those trucks. All I knew for sure was that there would be some kind of delay. Sometimes, the truck wouldn't start until everyone got out to give it a push. There were breakdowns in the middle of nowhere, multiple flat tires, times for the Moslems to pray, stops for food, far too numerous police check points, occasions when the driver saw something along the side of the road he wanted to purchase, and incredible mud holes. The worst delay happened when a little girl in the opposite corner of the truck became motion sick. We had to stop several times for her. I was just thankful that I didn't sit next to her.

I might have come to help the people, but the Liberians gave back more than I could possibly have given to them. They were eager to show me their ways and feed me their food, even if it had fish heads and snails in it. It was a time to celebrate our cultural differences and rejoice in our universal similarities. They cared for, loved, and watched over this crazy American who lived in their midst.

Educating the Educated One of my friends once saw a snake in my yard. Liberians HATE snakes. They hate worms because they look like snakes. I tried to remain the ever cool, calm, collected American when Quejue saw the snake. I wanted him to know that not all snakes were bad. They didn't have to be killed just because they were snakes. This snake, no bigger than a gardener snake, probably chased a lot of pests from my yard. My friend looked at me as if to say, "You fool, what do you know?" He then proceeded to beat that snake with a stick. That was when I saw the back arch up and the neck flare out. It was a cobra in my yard. I had no idea that there were cobras in Liberia! I had a quick education and a change of heart. "That was a good snake to kill," I agreed. "You can kill any snake you see in my yard."

My biggest fear before going to Africa was living without running water and electricity for two years. Although almost everyone who has ever lived on earth has lived without these, I wasn't sure if this American could. I did. In fact, it was no big deal. As it turned out, it became the least of my concerns.

Gone, But Not Forgotten My biggest surprise in Africa was the wonderful friends that I made while there. When I was sick, some of my Liberian friends walked three or four miles one way just to check up on me. Although I never wanted to be sick, this attention certainly made me feel special and the sickness wasn't so bad. It just may be the toughest job I'll ever love. In the two years there, I had very special friendships, warm memories, great adventures, incredible sunsets, and more rice than I ever dreamed possible. I won't forget Liberia and I know they won't soon forget me. I can be fairly certain of that because one of my friends had twin sons. He named one of the boys Phillip and the other one Martin.

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