Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bad Behavior

I've been reading another international development book, by another white man who has worked extensively in Africa and thinks he can solve its problems. It's called Aid And Other Dirty Business, by Giles Bolton, and it's actually quite good. It's much less pompous, more readable, and less reliant on incomplete or anecdotal evidence than The End Of Poverty, and it's more concrete and optimistic than The White Man's Burden.

But I'm not going to bore you with another entry on other peoples' analyses of why Africa is such a clusterfuck. Instead, I'm going to bore you with another entry about ethics. I mention this book only because, nestled among the relatively dry ruminations over why foreign aid is such a mess, Bolton has a page-long side note about a disturbing though interesting topic: the fact that many Westerners take advantage of the thriving prostitution business in Africa.

Bolton doesn't have a great deal to say about this; his point is mainly that many Westerners, despite being perfectly lovely people in their home countries, feel free to engage in morally questionable acts when they are in Africa. He suggests that “it's extraordinary how people and countries will behave when they think no one's looking and they can get away with it”
(the “and countries” is in there because Bolton is using individual expats' bad behavior as an analogy for the way in which wealthy countries often renege on their promises to provide aid to developing countries – at least when voters in the powerful countries fail to demand that their leaders live up to those promises).

It's definitely true that expatriates in Africa can get away with a great deal. In general, expats enjoy more freedom abroad than they do in their home countries. Law enforcement is minimal in many African countries, and the sad reality is that this is especially true where expatriates are concerned (particularly those from powerful Western countries). Beyond that: money equals power, and a little bit of Western money goes a long way here. Many American expats can and do reside in luxurious houses with support staff, a lifestyle they would not be able to afford in the US. In addition, because of the dysfunctional and corrupt nature of many African systems, those with money have the potential to exert much more political control than they would in most Western countries. The result of all this is a place in which expats can and do act according to their whims. And since Westerners who are attracted to the idea of living in Africa are frequently, to put it kindly, adventurous people, and, to put it less kindly, nearly always strange ones, this freedom results in a dishearteningly large number of people engaging in activities that are illegal and/or unethical.

Still, I think that the implication that expats suddenly become willing to do things that they would not dare to do at home, simply because they are not likely to be punished for their actions, is not entirely correct. “Right” and “wrong” are situational, and an action that is unquestionably “right” in the US may be badly advised in a place like Liberia. As an example: although it would be considered amoral to withhold CPR from someone who needs it in the US, it would probably not be a great idea to give somebody CPR here. It would be pointless, since anyone who is at the point of needing CPR is pretty much a goner anyway in the absence of good emergency medical care. And it could actually do the potential do-gooder harm; CPR is a pretty violent act in practice, and could be misconstrued by people who are not familiar with it and do not understand its purpose.

As another example: In the US, we have an idea that, if we witness a wrong act and do nothing to stop it, we are also culpable. But here, where law enforcement is practically non-existent, that doesn't necessarily hold true. One of the reasons that it was so upsetting to hear my drugged-up neighbor abusing his wives when I first arrived was that I kept thinking “I should stop this!” But what could I – a small woman and a recently arrived foreigner – have done, with no police to call to stop the abuse? Doing nothing, while unthinkable in the US, became the only viable option.

Anyway, my point is that living in a foreign country and a different culture inevitably requires a person to think carefully about the morality of his or her actions, and possibly even to act in a way that would be considered amoral in the US. I am not saying that to excuse the actions of Westerners who abuse their artificial power and exploit host country nationals – like the middle-aged European men who are the stereotypical consumers of the African sex trade. Still, I think that it is important to recognize that anybody who lives in a foreign country for an extended period of time is going to end up re-evaluating his or her ethics, consciously or unconsciously. The problem, I think, is when people do the latter – adjust their morals without being aware that they have done so. It is all too easy for well-intentioned people (including not only those sleazy middle-aged white men, but also young, lonely Peace Corps volunteers) to justify behaviors that they would consider unacceptable in other circumstances.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Little Things

Much better today. It's the little things that do it. An NGO worker pointed out a cute little tea shop in town where you can buy fried egg sandwiches for 35 LD (about 50 cents), and the sandwiches are warm and delicious and contain no bones or intestines whatsoever. The kids around my house (the ones I know and like) have been extra enthusiastic lately, shouting out my name as soon as they spot me coming down the road toward the house and running up to say hello and grab my hand. I've had rice bread for breakfast almost every day this week (a not particularly tasty but somehow very satisfying snack made of pounded rice, oil, and bananas; in the mornings, women and children sell bite-sized slices of it out of buckets they carry on their heads, and I always consider myself lucky if I can buy a few pieces before it sells out). And best of all: yesterday, a teacher randomly came up to me and said I was doing a great job, that the students notice I work hard and tell their other teachers that I make them work hard too.

So yes, things are OK.

Classes have been going relatively well also. It's funny how certain subjects are so much easier for the students to grasp than others. The ones I think should be a breeze often end up being incredibly confusing, and the ones that seem tricky are a piece of cake for the kids. In my general science class, the most confusing and frustrating subject we covered was an overview of the scientific method (too abstract, I think). Yet although the students are still hopelessly confused about this topic, they easily grasped my brief introduction to physics and the topic we are covering now, taxonomy of living things. My math students are having no trouble whatsoever with prime factorization, but addition and subtraction of large numbers still gives them problems – not to mention the most confusing topic we attempted to cover, and which I eventually gave up on: multiplying and dividing by powers of ten.

Of course, a lot of this seeming incongruity has to do with the way the kids are taught in primary school. Concrete topics – even somewhat complex ones – are by far easier for the students to understand than ones requiring critical thinking, which is likely due to the fact that many teachers still teach using rote memorization. But what I find more interesting to think about is the ways in which the students' everyday lives affect their comprehension of certain subjects. For example, the reason that multiplying and dividing by powers of ten was so confusing for the kids was that many of them simply don't get what a decimal point means, and so my instructions to move the decimal to the left or right were not helpful (I realized this after I found out some of my students literally could not tell the difference between the numbers .01, .001, .00001, or 1. My pet theory about why decimals are so difficult here is this: The currency here does not use cents. From a very young ages, Americans are forced to learn the meaning of a decimal; 5 cents, 50 cents and 50 dollars are very different things. But here, where the smallest unit of currency is a 5-LD note (about 7 cents), decimals are rarely used.

In any case, decimals are just one example of the ways in which the most random things – like the currency we grow up with – can affect the way we think. It's funny to think of all of the things we learn without knowing, and to realize that the place in which we are raised can change something as fundamental as our reasoning -- our very brains, in fact.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The End Is Too Far Away

It's hard for me to think of things to write here lately, because my internal thought process has been going something like this: “I want to go home . . . I want to go home . . . I want to go home I WANNA GO HOME I WANNA GO HOME IWANNAGOHOMMMMEE!!!”

To be honest, at this point, I'm just sick of it all. I'm sick of the apathetic students, the disorganization of the school, my feeling of complete impotence when dealing with student behavior issues. I'm sick of kids I don't know yelling shit at me from the side of the road or running up to touch my skin with dirty, sweaty hands. I'm sick of finding pieces of cow stomach and other organs in my food. I'm sick of the dishonesty and the dysfunctionality of everything. I'm sick of being made fun of all the fucking time.

Most of all, I'm sick of myself. More than ever, I feel hideously unattractive lately, both inside and out. I'm cynical and negative and I can't be patient with the students anymore. The more they make fun of me, the more irritable I get, which just adds fuel to the fire. I'm lazy; it's a real effort for me to force myself to grade the students' half-assed homework attempts, and I find myself escaping from school to use the internet more and more often. I'm unnecessarily cranky with people I don't know, and withdrawn, quiet, and boring with people I do. I'm frustrated and unhappy with my total incompetence at work and in my social life.

So yeah, that's where things stand right now. Now that the end is in sight (less than 2 months to go), I'm constantly fighting the urge to just give up and say: “Sorry, Liberia. Sorry I failed. Sorry I suck at life. Sorry your country is so fucked up. Good luck with all that, but I don't want to deal with your problems any more.”

Friday, March 19, 2010


In Kenya, public transport vehicles are often outrageously decorated. A minibus might not have seat cushions, windows, or brakes, but it will frequently be covered in colorful artwork, including a boldly lettered name emblazoned across the front or the back of the car. Sometimes the name makes sense, like “ROAD WARRIOR,” although more often it is completely non sequitur. Inside, it is common to see English and Swahili bumper stickers, many of them religious in nature (“JESUS IS ALIVE” or “THIS VEHICLE IS WASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB”). The fanciest vehicles in Nairobi contain a small TV (always blasting music videos) or colored neon lights.

While there are far fewer public transport vehicles in general in Liberia, the majority of the few that I see around town also are externally decorated with names (“BILL 2000”) or – even better – slogans. “DON'T BE CORRUPT” is one that I saw printed across the door of a pickup truck, and “NO WORK NO RESPECT” or variations thereon seem to be popular (which is, as a side note, somewhat bizarre in a country in which over 70% of the population is unemployed).

But my all-time favorite slogan – one that I think perfectly captures travel in Africa – is one that I saw today. The back bumper of the dilapidated, overloaded station wagon simply said (and I quote exactly): “THIANK GOD WE MADE IT.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


So I just read the book Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Basically, it's one woman's analysis of marriage in Western culture. Although I wouldn't recommend it, it's not terrible – it makes some interesting points – and it has gotten me thinking about cross-cultural relationships.

One of the things that I find the most profoundly confusing here is Liberians' approach to relationships and marriage. (Of course, to be fair, I find romantic relationships profoundly confusing in the US as well. But that's another story, and not one for this blog). As Gilbert debates seemingly endlessly in her book, we as Americans are inundated with all kinds of confusing messages about what a spouse and a marriage should and should not be. But somewhere inside the relatively superficial discourse on gender roles in, the influence of religious and traditional values on, and the legal issues surrounding marriage, there is one basic supposition that affects our views on relationships: our romantic partner should be someone that we like and get along with.

That fundamental assumption doesn't necessarily hold here. A spouse, in many cases, is a work partner, someone to produce and raise children with, to run a household with – not primarily a companion. Companionship comes from other sources in the community – friends and extended family. Of course, with the ever-increasing influence of Western culture, this approach (like everything else) is changing. Still, my conversations with Liberians on relationships often leave me thinking, “what the fuck??!”

A good example of how dissimilar relationships here are to those in the US is the marriage of my landlord. When I first arrived in Liberia, he was living with his 10-year-old son and a young woman who I initially assumed was his daughter. I and my roommate soon discovered, however, that she was his wife. About two months after my arrival, my landlord and this woman got into a screaming, shouting argument (actually, I think the wife was the only one shouting), punctuated by the sounds of the wife punching the doorframe and perhaps also her husband. The next day, the woman packed up and left.

Here's where things get confusing: The next week, a new wife arrived – an extremely large, solid, bad-tempered, and very capable woman. Apparently, the young, attractive “wife” who had left was not actually a wife at all, but a woman he had semi-permanently shacked up with. This wife (who arrived with his 9-year-old daughter in tow) was his real wife, although she had been living somewhere else for the past God knows how many months or years.

So yeah, in addition to being based less around companionship and more around necessity, relationships here are also relatively fluid. I'm constantly surprised at how open many people are about infidelity. Actually, I'm constantly surprised at how open people are about sex in general. Yesterday, when I walked into my seventh-grade class, most of the kids were holding big packs of condoms, which some NGO or other organization had distributed that morning (which is great from a public health standpoint, but slightly distracting when one is trying to teach division).

In any case, because of all of these factors, I personally would be extremely hesitant to enter into a relationship with a Liberian. Admitting this is not easy; to be honest, it makes me feel like a terrible racist. I wince every time a Liberian man asks me “Why won't you marry a Liberian?” or, even worse, “Why don't white women marry black men?” It's not only the outrageous rudeness of the questions that gets to me, but the small part of me that has to admit, “Maybe it's because I am/we are horribly prejudiced.” And yet, I can't envision entering into a relationship with someone who doesn't share my most basic outlook on relationships, someone from a culture that has totally different standards of morality, someone from a place in which lying is standard practice and women are still often second-class citizens. Beyond that, as I said before, the actual and perceived wealth differences between myself and the majority of people around me are very large; this, combined with the fact that many people see marriage to an American as a golden ticket to the land of plenty, is enough to make me very suspicious of anyone's intents.

And yet, even after acknowledging that there are most certainly exceptions, that there are without a doubt attractive Liberian men who would make wonderful husbands by Western standards, I still can't help but feel uneasy as I read over what I just wrote . . . because it sounds eerily similar to every racist argument that's ever been made against any cross-cultural partnership (“they're just too different, it could never really work out” or, even worse, “I think they're wonderful people, but I wouldn't marry one myself”). So I wonder, at what point does being realistically cautious about a situation cross the line into being closed-minded and prejudiced?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bad Decisions

I'm irritable today.

It might have something to do with the fact that a medium-sized rat has taken up residence in my room. Being woken up at 3 AM by vague but very loud rustling noises, and knowing that you cannot simply turn on the lights but instead must wander blindly over to the vicinity of the unidentified intruder to light a candle, which then might or might not illuminate something terrifying . . . contrary to what you might think, it's not fun. But after 3 nights of hiding in my bed with my music turned way up to drown out the scary noises, I had finally had enough of my unwelcome visitor, and last night I decided to grow a pair and deal with it.

So let me tell you how not to deal with a rat in your room. Don't spray it with insect poison, even really strong and effective insect poison, because it won't kill the rat. What the poison will do is linger in the air for the rest of the night, prevent you from sleeping soundly, and provide you with a nasty headache in the morning.

Of course, most of you are probably smarter than I am and wouldn't even have considered this tactic. In my defense, it was a desperation measure;. I have not yet found traps or rat poison available for sale in town, but instead only an extremely ineffective and messy product called Rat Glue. The alternative to Rat Glue, which I tried before I resorted to the insect poison, is attempting to manually eliminate the rat, which in my case involved chasing it around for an hour with a broom by candlelight and unsuccessfully attempting to smash its brains in on my concrete floor.

So yeah, the whole vermin situation certainly isn't helping my mood (although, thankfully, the bats have been vanquished; my landlord installed a screen over the hole in the ceiling that prevents them from flying into the house). But there are more important reasons I'm in such an awful mood lately, and they all relate to several decisions I've made that are now coming back to bite me in the ass.

The first decision I made was school-related. This period, I flat-out failed any student who showed any evidence of cheating on this period exam, giving them the lowest possible grade for the period (the Ministry of Education specifies that all students must receive at least a grade of 50%, even if they do 0% of the work). I also decided that students who failed the exam would not be given the opportunity to take a make-up exam. And, furthermore, I took 10% off of the grade of every student I heard or saw talking during the exam, whether or not there was any sign they were actually cheating.

From my American perspective, this does not seem like an unreasonable approach. And I clearly warned the students beforehand of what I was going to do. But because cheating is so widespread, and the kids are so used to getting away with it, this zero-tolerance policy has resulted in a LOT of trouble with the students. In my 150-person chemistry class, 21 kids received a 0 on the exam, and about a dozen more lost points for talking. The percentage of kids in my class who are failing is extraordinarily high, well over half.

So my students are confused and hurt and blame me for their failures. Two students came to my door at 8 AM this morning to argue with me about their grades. And while I spent the better part of an hour explaining to them that, yes, the evidence that they were cheating was irrefutable, and no, I wasn't buying their lame explanations, and yes, they were going to fail this period, and no, they could not have a second chance, and no, they should not blame ME for giving them a 0 when they were the ones who had made the stupid decision to cheat after I expressly warned them what would happen to cheaters . . . this clearly wasn't getting through. I'm pretty sure that, regardless of what I was saying, what they were hearing was this: “I am the teacher and I have the power and I am the one making the decisions, and you are fucked because I have decided to fail you. Sucks to be you!”

So yeah, even though I don't know what else I can do, I still can't help but feel that maybe I'm being too harsh, that being such a stickler isn't really helping anybody. If the students are taking away nothing but anger toward me, I haven't accomplished anything.

The other decision I made recently that has not worked out so well is more administrative in nature: I am going to leave before June 26th, my official end of service. I made this decision after I found out that the school year, for all intents and purposes, ends in mid-May. There are two weeks in May during which no students are allowed on the campus (during this time, the seniors will be taking the standardized national high school examination). Students then return to school the first week in June to take their final exams.

Following this schedule would mean that I would basically sit around for half of May and most of June with nothing to do. This sounds horrible to me, and anyway, I have things to do back in the States – such as being in a good friend's wedding and preparing to start med school in July. So, I talked to the principal and he agreed that, instead of waiting around, I can give my exams on the last day of class in May and then peace out.

When I talked to Peace Corps to see if they could move up my official close of service date, since I will have completed the project I came here to do, they sent me a series of unpleasant emails implying that I was uncommitted, that I was disappointing Peace Corps and my school by wanting to go home early, that I had some ulterior motive (??), that it was “inappropriate” for me to give my exams early, and that they absolutely would not grant me an early close of service. This, shockingly, did not change my mind about not wanting hang around in Liberia for an extra month, chasing rats around with brooms at 3 AM. Of course, Peace Corps can't physically stop me from leaving, but this means that I will essentially have to “quit” and accept the fact that, in Peace Corps' official eyes, I was not a “successful” volunteer with a “successfully completed” service.

So although they didn't make me change my mind about leaving early, what the emails did do was make me feel shitty about everything I'm trying to do here. Of course, it doesn't take much to make me feel shitty about that, especially given the situation with the students lately. There's a part of me that knows I wouldn't be nearly so upset by all of this if I were 100% confident that I was making the right decisions – that the fact that most of my students are failing doesn't mean I'm a total failure as a teacher, that my rigidity with cheaters is totally justifiable, that my desire to go home early doesn't mean that I'm a terrible person or a flake. But I'm not confident of any of those things. There's a little voice in the back of my mind that keeps saying, “Peace Corps is right. You signed up for 10 months and you should stay for 10 months. You're lazy and you're finding excuses to go home early. If you were more committed, if you were more understanding, if you were a better teacher, your students would not be doing so poorly and you would be able to do something constructive with your time outside of school.” And I can't quiet that voice because I have a nagging sensation that it is correct.

Monday, March 8, 2010


I've been entering my students' grades into my laptop, and thus have spent a great deal of time lately looking at long lists of student names. So I'm finally inspired to write about something I've been meaning to address for awhile: Names and naming.

Traditional African names (to make a vast over-generalization) generally have a specific meaning. Sometimes the meaning is relatively trivial. At my site in Kenya, with the Kalenjin tribe, children were usually named after the time of day during which they were born. This, in my humble opinion, is not a great way of doing things. In a class of 40, I generally had 10 “born-in-the-mornings,” 10 “born-in-the-afternoons,” and 10 “born-in-the-evenings, with a few strange ones thrown in (my favorite being Chepchirchir – born-when-there-was-a-lot-of-activity-and-everybody-was-running- around-like-crazy). Most people had a “Western” name as well – Judith and Daisy were popular girls' names – and then a family name.

Here, it seems as though a lot of people also have an African name, a family name, and a Western name, but most people go by their Western names. The funny thing is, although these names are certainly recognizable to Americans, they are unusual and sometimes unintentionally hilarious. Names with meaning are popular: “Princess” and “Prince” are by far the most common, while “Promise,” “Patience,” “Precious,” “Love,” and “Secret” are also frequently encountered. There are a few names that seem outrageously pretentious by American standards; for example “Glorious,” “Wise,” and “Holy” are three of my students. Archaic and Biblical names are also very popular (names that I personally had previously associated more with cranky elderly white folk than strapping young West Africans). I have an “Ebenezer,” an “Ezekiel,” and several “Emmanuels,” “Ophelias,” “Reginalds,” “Alvins,” “Melvins,” and “Sylvesters.”

The traditional African names in this region, from what I've been told, seem to have relatively complex meanings. The principal gave me the Krahn name “Zarkpa,” which he tells me roughly means “someone who is making up for the shortcomings of his predecessors.” Apparently, this name is frequently given to children who have had older siblings that died. (The reason the principal gave that name to me is somewhat less morbid: In the past two years, the school has had two Peace Corps volunteers who each stayed for only six weeks before going home; hence, I am making up for their departures. No pressure or anything).

And then there are a few names that, as a white American, make me somewhat uncomfortable. There are several “Browns” in my classes (I always think “thank God my parents didn't name me 'Pink'”). And one kid in my neighborhood simply goes by “Black Boy.”

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The President's Visit

I just met Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia. She shook my hand, thanked me and my sitemate for our service to Liberia, and posed for a picture.

Too fucking cool, right??!

One of the bizarre and interesting things about Peace Corps is that sometimes it allows you to be more important than you actually are. Even though we're the lowest of the low on the international service totem pole, we represent something that everybody can love. It's hard to argue with Peace Corps in the abstract, even if the reality of it doesn't quite live up to the ideal.

And so by virtue of our status as living symbols of goodwill, we sometimes get paraded around in front of people who are much more important than we are (“Look, poor American volunteers!!! See how great the US is for sending these?? Ain't we somethin??”). Tonight, I was lucky enough to attend a relatively small dinner at the Chinese UN compound, where some of the guests included the American Ambassador to Liberia, the Chinese Ambassador to Liberia, and the President of Liberia herself. The whole thing was awkward and intimidating (thank God my sitemate was there as well) – but at the same time, it was an incredibly cool and unique opportunity. (Also, it was tasty – a nice change from plantains, cassava, peanuts, and rice).

To back up a little bit: The President arrived in town on Monday evening. Wednesday, it was announced that she would be visiting my high school and the adjacent midwifery training school. The principal thought she would be arriving around 10:00 AM; however, nobody was able to confirm a time. At 8:00 AM, I and the students arrived at school as usual. By 9:00, everyone had piled into the auditorium. Three hours later, word arrived that Her Excellency was on her way. A dozen or so Indian UN police appeared on the campus around 12:30, and several (strangely casually attired) security members began a short and extremely pointless sweep of the front quarter of the auditorium. Shortly thereafter, the President and her entourage (rhymes with “encourage” in Liberian English) appeared.

The ceremony proceeded in true Liberian style, with prayer, singing, speeches, and of course lots of requests to the President for money and resources. It ended, however, in a somewhat more dramatic than usual fashion. Just as the President was preparing to exit, a teacher from the high school stood up and shouted that he had a BURNING ISSUE TO ADDRESS with the President. After a short and very embarrassed period of confusion, the President allowed him to take a microphone and present his complaints, the chief of which was: Most of the school's teachers have not been paid in over a year.

After hearing this (extremely valid) concern, the Minister of Education took the microphone and explained that they are aware that some teachers are not getting paid. He also explained that they had issued some checks that were supposed to have gone to the teachers and, gosh darn it, they just couldn't figure out where all that money ended up; it seemed to have disappeared somehow. But rest assured, they were doing their best to track it down, and if the teachers could just be patient a little bit longer, they would all get paid in the near future. (OK, I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it).

In any case, the whole thing was very exciting. It also reinforced the precarious position of the President – a lot is demanded of her, and the Government's resources are very few. Foreign countries are (rightly) becoming more and more loathe to lend or give money because of the rampant corruption. It's difficult to make any headway of any sort without resources, and people are quick to blame the President and the Government of Liberia when they do not see immediate and dramatic improvements in their everyday lives. (Of course, to be fair, I suppose that all of these problems exist, to a greater or lesser extent, in every government; witness all of the flak that Obama is taking these days).

Anyway. In any case, I should go to bed. With the thrill of meeting two Ambassadors and a President, not to mention the excitement of eating Chinese food, I've had about all I can handle for one evening.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I'm supposed to be giving an exam right now. This particular exam was scheduled to be given last Thursday, and has now been postponed twice – once because school was canceled for a soccer match, and again because school was canceled to clean up for the President's visit. Now, the exam is going to be delayed a third time, because three-quarters of the students decided not to show up for school today (apparently, again, because of the Presidential visit tomorrow).

I am no longer surprised by any of this. I will, however, allow myself to cynically observe that the whole situation beautifully illustrates the priorities here: Soccer first, then politics, and then, -- falling way, way below those and a score of other things – education.

I won't lie; I am especially cranky because life here has been particularly uncomfortable lately. I didn't think that the heat could get much more unpleasant, but somehow it has. Whereas previously it had generally cooled off in the evenings, it has been unbearably hot at night during these past two weeks or so. Even though it still cools off somewhat outside, since I don't have electricity (at least not consistent electricity that I can keep on all night) and don't know where I could buy a fan even if I did, there is no way to make the air circulate through my living quarters. Thus, my room is hot and stuffy and very difficult to sleep in.

To make matters worse, all manners of creepy-crawlies have been infesting my house. I found a mouse in my oven mitt last night. Some kind of maggoty little bug got into my flour. There are roaches in every room. I have, fortunately, had some help combating the roach problem. Unfortunately, that help has come in a form that is even more unpleasant than the roaches themselves: large spiders and bats (which eat the roaches in a way that would be more helpful if it were not so disgusting, and if it did not involve leaving lots of small roach parts about).

Out of all these things, the bats are definitely the worst. They enter the house through the roof, and then fly down through a hole in the ceiling and hang from the laundry lines or ceilings in the bedrooms (though, thankfully, they have only invaded the unoccupied bedrooms – my own is still bat-free). And they shit on everything. The worst part is, the hole in the ceiling through which they enter is in my bathroom, where I generally do private things that should never, ever, ever involve flying mammals, particularly fast-flying mammals that have a habit of swooping down in a sudden and surprising manner.

Still, when I think back to the image I had of Africa before I came, things are not that bad. I had envisioned huge and hairy tarantula-like spiders, thick clouds of monstrous flies, and all manner of venomous snakes and scorpions (the latter two of which I do see, but rarely -- and when I do, they are usually dead, and never in my house). I pictured giant rats in my bedroom and hordes of loudly buzzing mosquitoes keeping me awake at night (thankfully, there are very few mosquitoes, though I still religiously take my Lariam and sleep with a net). So in comparison to that, what's a few roaches, some spiders that rarely leave the dark corners of my house, a cute little mouse, and a bat or two that usually stay confined to my attic . . .?