Well, almost a full week after I left central PA, I have finally made it back to my site.
In all honesty, I probably could have made it back here a few days earlier. But for several reasons – some totally within my control and others beyond it – I ended up staying up in Monrovia a few extra days.
I don't envision myself traveling back to Monrovia again before I go home for good, and I have to say, the thought of that doesn't make me particularly sad. Monrovia is oppressively hot, humid, busy, confusing, and yet (somewhat paradoxically) also very boring. Its main appeals are Western food, Western amenities, and a few beaches that are not completely contaminated with human feces, but these things unfortunately also come with Western price tags. It's not really possible to do Monrovia (safely and comfortably) on the cheap the way it is in Nairobi – as far as I can tell, there are no Westernized-yet-tucked-away $5-a-night hostels, such as there were in Nairobi; no reliable and/or comprehensible public transport; no mamas selling beans and rice on the side of the road. The UN presence has jacked up prices on nearly everything to an astounding degree (UN folks generally receive excellent pay and benefits, from what I've heard, and I believe at least some of them also still receive hazard pay in Liberia), and so everything from food to transport to lodging is outrageously expensive.
There obviously must be places to eat Liberian food and sleep in developing-country-quality hostels at Liberian prices, since there are of course many not-rich Liberians who live in Monrovia, but I don't know where those places are. Furthermore, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable staying in such a place. There are plenty of white people in Monrovia, but the city is still not nearly as diverse as Nairobi, and there are none (or nearly none) of the Western backpacker-tourist class that populate the cheap (though still very comfortable) hostels and hotels in Nairobi. As a white girl in a cheap hostel here, I'd stick out even more than usual (and “usual” is quite a lot), and I'm not convinced that it would be in any way safe (particularly since the vast majority of white folks in Monrovia are affiliated with the UN or other aid agencies, and so are quite wealthy by Liberian and my own Peace Corps volunteer standards; thus, the perception of white people as rich is even more exaggerated than it is elsewhere).
In any case, I'm very glad to be back at my site. I'm even glad to be eating Liberian food again; despite the lack of variety and surplus of oil, bones, and strange animal parts, it is still nice to be eating food that is actually made of food and not preservatives and chemicals and whatever else they pack into most packaged “foods” in the US these days. Having some time away and then coming back has also made me realize that I'm doing OK, as far as community integration goes. There are a lot of people I'm genuinely happy to come back to – students, neighbors, co-workers, friends, friends' co-workers, and so on. And they seem genuinely happy to see me (although, “Welcome back!” is often followed by “What did you bring me from America?” -- but I'll choose to ignore that part and believe that they're happy to see me – the actual me, not mascot-white-lady-representation-of-America me).
My guilt at spending extra time in Monrovia (which brought the total amount of school I missed because of my trip home to nearly three weeks) was assuaged by the fact that apparently the students did not show up for class at all the entire first week, and have been trickling slowly in since last week. My classes today were surprisingly respectful and manageable, which I'd like to think was a sign that I've gained a little bit of ground in the battle of classroom behavior. Of course, I think it's more likely that it was due to the fact that classes were still only 50-75% full. It could also be a result of my having exaggerated classroom management problems in my head to the point where I was almost expecting the students to tear apart the desks and start beating each other over the heads at the slightest provocation, making nearly any kind of behavior seem angelic in comparison. In any case, although there was a not-altogether-small part of me that was dreading the return to site, I'm genuinely happy to be back, and to be able to jump right into things.