I can't believe it's almost Christmas. In part, that is because it is still 85-95 degrees outside every day (and nearly that hot inside also, with no A/C or fan). Also, there are none of the cues that signal Christmastime in the US – no tinsel, no ugly fake Santas, no Christmas carols playing 24/7. The only thing that seems to have changed with the onset of the Christmas season is that people have a new reason to ask for money (which they do by saying “Where is my Christmas?”); also, there are more people selling small toys on the roadside. For some reason, little inflatable dolls on sticks seem to be very popular – brightly colored Chinese-style fish, Spiderman dolls, and inflatable wands decorated with famous soccer players are appearing everywhere.
School is officially over for the year. Exams were, again, miserable, but this time at least I had help proctoring from two of the male teachers. Apparently, the key to getting 150 teenaged students to do what you want them to do is to carry a big stick, which you whip around threateningly and slap on the desks to make a very intimidating noise, all the while shouting at the top of your lungs. I can't say that it would have been my chosen method of trying to create order, but it worked just fine. As a side note – although threatening students with switches seems to be an accepted method of motivation, actually beating the students appears to be frowned upon. This is in contrast to the situation in Kenya, where – despite the illegality of it – the public was enormously in favor of corporal punishment in the schools. The extent to which it was actually carried out varied – in my first school, I only witnessed the girls receiving a slap on the palm, wheras at my second school, the teachers would routinely call girls into the teacher's lounge, force them to lay on the floor, and beat them over the back and shoulders until they cried. In other schools, teachers would circumvent the legality issue by calling parents into the schools to beat the kids themselves.
In other news, life outside of school continues, in its leisurely though unpredictable and often confusing fashion. Yesterday, the neighbor's kids captured a live snake and put it in a bucket of water, which they showed to me. When I asked what they were going to do with it, they said they were going to “sell it to the Chinese.” Speaking of -- the Chinese soliders have been driving all over town lately, carrying shovels, and offering to pay people rice in exchange for bushes, which they dig up and apparently re-plant on their compound. Our county's soccer team beat the neighboring county the other day and there was much rejoicing in the form of people riding around on motorbikes, honking and shouting and wearing the Grand Gedeh (pronounced “Jee-deh”) county flag. A new phone-charging station opened near my house, which would be much more convenient if they actually charged phones in a timely manner (in a country in which most people have cell phones but no electricity, phone charging is an important business; the town is dotted with small booths containing gas-powered generators, where people – including myself – leave their phones to charge for a fee of 30 cents or so. But at this charging station, they leave the generator off when the phones are “not plenty,” as they say, meaning that a phone can sit there all day without actually charging).
So that's la vie quotidienne here in Liberia. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with myself until I go home in January, aside from grade papers, which is always a good time. I'm excited to go home but already dreading the journey back to the States – the trip from here to Monrovia (a vomit-inducing ride over unpaved roads, which I've been told can take anywhere from 8 hours to 2 days), then two 8-hour plane rides, then a 2-hour plane ride, and then, finally, a 4-hour drive back to my hometown. But the rewards at the end – unlimited hot showers and haircuts, food that I actually enjoy eating, and being able to blend into the crowd again – are well worth the effort.