Having neglected this blog for several months, I have double the normal number of amazing stories to share- so get ready.

Christmas, briefly: I traveled to the forest region of Guinea with a large group of volunteers to explore the cultural differences, the tallest mountain in Guinea, and of course, search for wild chimpanzees. On Christmas other another volunteer and I were able to visit the chimpanzee reserve on the border town of Bossu, only a few kilometers from Liberia. Two minutes after following our guide into the bush, we began to hear the barks of the animals. We quietly crouched in the bushes, and a few seconds later, one of the wild chimps began to walk by, soon followed by several others. We saw about twelve of them in total, staring in silence and awe as they paraded by. After our chimpanzee adventure, my friend Stacey and I continued to Bossu's liberian Christian church to participate in the Christmas day celebration. The tiny church was more like dance club than a chapel, and with balloons hanging from the ceding and the parishioners dancing their hearts out, we had a rocking birthday party for Jesus. We finished the incredible day by eating some incredibly spicy rice and sauce in a shack in Bossu, then returned to the town of Lola to rejoin the large volunteer group.

A few days later we were able (with a few permit-related obstacles) to finally hike Mount Nimba, Guinea's tallest mountain, found on the the border of Guinea, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. Along the way we scaled boulders and dodged vipers (for real- our guide had to hack one's head of with a machete), until finally, exhausted, we arrived above the tree line and to the breathtaking summit.

With two other volunteers, I then taxi'd cross-country to get to Conakry for new years... I'll just say that's an experience I never want to repeat. Returning to site in January, classes got back to their regular schedule after about a week, and the teachers and I spent many hours calculating the first trimester grades by hand. Somehow, I ended up the "professeur principal" (lead teacher) of 7th grade, the grade that happens to have the most students. So it was my job to calculate grades, rank, and hand-write report cards for all of the seventh graders, as well as read out all of their final grades in order at the proclamation of results day at school. What a nightmare.

Between spying monkeys in the village, finally mastering how to prepare greasy soup sauce, and saving the health center from burning down after a gas fire, life at site has been one steady adventure after another. The most exciting event of the past few months, however, has been our Girls' Outdoor Leadership Conference in Doucki. (Check out the pictures here! http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151314660256871.468592.506756870&type=1&l=df43a4cf97)

By far, the conference has proven to be the most exciting and rewarding experience of my Peace Corps service. Ten girls from all over the country came together for three days to go on hikes and learn about important life skills such as health, goal planning, communication, environmental awareness, gender roles, and leadership. The girls, strangers at first, made fast friends with each other and eagerly participated in every activity of the conference. They enjoyed the beauty of Doucki just as much as we did on our first visit, and laughed hysterically as they played silly communication and team-building games. They climbed on rocks and vines (some in veils, some in bedazzled jeggings), and they discussed serious issues facing women today in Guinea. Hassan Bah (the acronym-friendly guide at Doucki) was wonderful with the girls, teaching them other important skills, like how to throw a shot put and stand on their hands. He insisted that education was the girls' first husband, and helped us instill ideas of environmentalism in the girls. All of the sessions were followed with interest, and we concluded our conference by presenting each girl with a certificate, calculator, and Aicha magazine (another awesome project led by Juliette Keeley from Labe.) The girls will now return back to their respective schools and present to other students what they have learned. On their follow up surveys, many of the girls indicated specific things they learned with respect to the environment and planning for the future, and every girl wrote that they had an excellent time. Girls' empowerment for the win!