For the last six weeks, I’ve been living with my host family here in Liberia. Yesterday, I packed my bags and returned to the training center before my big move out to site. While training and model school have had challenging moments, I can happily say that homestay was not on my list of difficulties.
Getting adjusted to Liberian life can be hard, but my host family has taught me more than I could have imagined. From how to cook sugared palm nuts on a coal pot, to doing laundry by hand, to hauling water on my head while wearing a tied lappa skirt, my family has done more than show me the ropes. They have encouraged me to try new things and always kept smiling. Even when I did spill some of the water I carried, or didn’t remember the “right” way to tie my lappa, or couldn’t quite dance azzunto, no matter how many times they showed me, they would smile and shout “Vannie, you real African now!”.
If you had asked me back in June how much I expected to learn during homestay, I would have correctly predicted ‘more than I can imagine’. But if you had asked me how much I expected to teach my host family, I don’t think I could have accurately guessed what would happen. When I was adopted back in June, my Ma kept saying how she was so happy to get a girl this year. I was the second trainee to be hosted by the Mendscole family, as last year they hosted a boy from the Midwest. Americans are a diverse crowd; even when you are from the same city, people have different traditions, preferences, and perceptions. So I spent a lot of time explaining to my family how different America can be; Massachusetts isn’t the same as the Midwest. And that even though their last trainee didn’t like fish, it wasn’t common where he came from, but I could eat fish and it could be found commonly in Boston. While at first these differences surprised them, they grew to love it and asked me all about Massachusetts and if that was the same as the Midwest.
More than beginning to explain the diversity in America, I taught my family that not all music in America is rap or hip hop and that life in America is not like the movies; we don’t have microchips in our arms, and The Matrix didn’t actually happen. I spent one afternoon teaching my 8 year old host nephew, Samuel, how to shuffle a deck of cards in a bridge. The first time I showed him, his eyes lit up with amazement that I could do that. After one afternoon and some practice time on his own, he could too.
Moving out of homestay is a little bittersweet. While I’m sad to be saying goodbye, for now, to my host family, I’m excited that this means I am ready to be out on my own (…well, with Elyssa).