20 June 2006

a little bit more of Liberia

Everything is pre-written... someday I'll catch up. Maybe I'll just post a ton at once sometime. Or maybe today will be enough.


16 June 2006
1716 hrs

I’ve run out of today’s projects.

Soooo… what else can I say?

Apparently there are duikers in our compound. I have not seen one. Of course, being a bit jet-lagged, I prefer to sleep as much as possible, but still. We got home at about 11 last night. No duikers. (Duikers, just in case you don’t see them on your compound on a regular basis, are little deer-things about the size of a dog. They are nocturnal.)

Compounds. Someone asked me about compounds before I left, as in what are compounds? Another sign of my abnormality, that I am so accustomed to them that I can hardly define them. Compounds are walled areas with buildings in them. One or more houses or living spaces or warehouses or whatever. Ours has a lot of houses and apartment buildings. And duikers.

One slightly surreal thing about Monrovia right now is that all the military vehicles are white instead of camouflage and all the military personnel have blue helmets. Everything military is from the United Nations. Even the tanks are all white with UN written on the sides. On the way into town every day, we pass the barracks of NIBATT 8 – the Nigerian battalion – a neat compound (heh heh) full of two-story white buildings with satellites on every roof. Big guns slung over the shoulder are abnormally rare for Africa. I don’t know that I’ve seen any. Not that I generally even notice guns anymore. The checkpoints are different, too. Instead of a gate or barrels or spike strips or whatever other checkpoints are made of depending on where you are, these are sort of standardized – a set of three or four big grey blocks of something (rubble?) encased in chicken wire on your side of the road just to the middle line, then another a few yards later on the other side just to the middle line, so you have to weave between them. Sometimes another set of them after that on big roads. The people monitoring them hardly look at you.

(Later: I was wrong. There are lots of guns. It’s just that only UNMIL – United Nations Mission in Liberia – people have them. But at the checkpoints, there are big machine guns in the little towers the UNMIL guys stand in. I apparently can no longer even see guns. Someone else had to point them out.)

I never spent much time in Monrovia, so I don’t know it all that well. Being here is a little bit strange. I recognize things, but I never bothered when I was a kid – or even in 2000 – to pay attention where things were. I’m completely lost when people mention street names or tell me where to go, but when I get there, I recognize things: streets, buildings, turns. I can suddenly tell you how to get to Waterside from a certain corner, or tell you where the museum used to be, or that a certain store is a good one.

You would hardly know that Liberia has no electricity. There is no electricity in the entire country. But in our office, in the hotels, in our compound, you wouldn’t know. There are generators everywhere. The only time it causes any problem is sometimes when the main one goes out and we have to limit the number of laptops plugged in so that the tiny baby one doesn’t get overloaded. I’ve always loved the little generators. They look like an oversized lunch box that you can pick up by a handle on the top. I want to take them home with me and set them in my closet like nice luggage because they are so cute. They look like a toiletry suitcase that Audrey Hepburn would carry around. But they only run five computers at a time.

3% of Monrovia is scheduled to get electricity in exactly 40 days and the rest of the country within six years.

It’s perfectly safe, by the way. I feel safer in the streets here than in Arusha, and I felt pretty safe in Arusha. Definitely I feel safer in our house than I did in Arusha. I used to barricade myself into that house because of all the horror stories about armed robberies. I feel safe in Monrovia.

Happy days.

19 June 2006
1102 hrs

So, Monrovia. On the way into town this morning, I noticed that store signs abbreviate to save space, so a lot of them say Mon-Lib. instead of Monrovia, Liberia. I’m not really sure why a sign at a store that is in Monrovia needs to specify its city and country, but I like it.

Saturday was full of fun activities, but it was all work-related so I can’t talk about it here on the internet. But it was fun. It involved buying L$5 bags of plantain chips and L$5 bags of water and L$5 bags of popcorn and L$5 boiled eggs and L$5 ears of roasted corn, sharing them around between about 10 people, and eating them under the blazing sun while riding in the back of a pickup truck. (There are about 60 Liberian dollars to a US dollar right now.) I love moments like that. My heart swells up and I’m so happy to be in Africa in general and in Liberia in particular.

We were frighteningly expatriate-like yesterday and went to Silver Beach, which is just past ELWA on the way out of town. There was a parking lot full of UNMIL people there and unfortunate numbers of chubby European men in too-tight Speedos. So beach, yes, nice. Food, sodas, nice book to read. But then I went into the water. And stayed. And stayed. I outlasted a lot of UNMIL guys (some twice) and only finally came out when I was just about the only person left out there and I started getting scared of sharks. There are waves! I’ve spent the last 16 years being disappointed by every beach I’ve gone to, and now I know why. They didn’t have waves. Not like this. These are amazing waves, like at Silver Beach in Buchanan. I can jump over them and dive under them and float up them and flop against them for many hours. Apparently Robertsport, up the coast a ways, is one of the two best surfing locations in… Africa? Maybe just West Africa. I’m not sure. And it’s not like I can just check the internet, because I don’t have it. But anyway, hopefully we’ll get there in the next few weeks. BIG waves.

Last night I finally made it onto the internet after numerous frustrations involving things like my computer not recognizing various networks at hotels and the power never being on at the same time as the office was open at the guest house. Unfortunately, it took ten minutes to upload the blog update, so I’m guessing I won’t be doing much on the internet while I’m here. That’s okay. I will learn to live with lack of internet access. It will be good for me.

20 June 2006

Another legal intern and I walked up the back road behind our compound after work yesterday, past the ocean winking in and out of sight beyond the lagoons, up to a little store to buy some drinks and supplies. This is another thing I love doing in Africa: buying things in tiny stores that are no more than a counter and a few shelves. I stood there buying merrily. I got a box of eight candles, a package of ten boxes of matches, a bottle of Vim scouring powder, two rounds of spreadable cheese (eight wedges each), and a packet of Foster Clark’s strawberry juice mix (makes one liter, no added sugar necessary), for US$5. It was getting slightly dark as we walked home on a road that the guards at the compound continually tell us is not safe. We were trying to hurry to get back before dark, but there were cute puppies. Little girls who walked with us and told us their names. A man who said, “Taking exercise! Good!” We got back and set the booty down on the table just in time for complete darkness to settle in very suddenly.

Later I went out and sat again on the office steps in the dark because there was INTERNET! And I had to have it! Because it was there! You have to take what you can get. And get excited about what you can get when you can get it. I kept dropping first my phone and then my flashlight and they would go rolling down the slight incline of cement below the bottom step and I had to fish around for them in the dark. The bugs seem to hover near the office and ate me alive, nearly. I really do have to make work of getting some Larium. I’m antimalarial-less right now and that’s probably not smart.

Even later, J was trying to kick a soccer ball down a hallway (okay, confession, I kicked it down to him, and R did it first) to wake up C, who fell asleep at 9:30 before we had time to play cards and we absolutely had to play some cards and he slipped and fell on his elbow and the glass bottle in his hand just as she opened her door. He had shards of glass in his hand and a huge bump on his elbow and once his nausea from the adrenaline subsided and I patched up his hand with four bandaids (I should have been a doctor – it would be so great), we laughed about how it’s the stupid stuff that will get you. It isn’t the malaria or the typhoid or the driving (well, it could be, but so far it hasn’t been). It’s the kicking a soccer ball down the hallway. And then when he turned out to be fine and I asked if he was going to blog about it, he told me I should have taken a photo before helping him up, so he could have put it on his blog.


The most romantic sounding name in all of Monrovia is Oldest Congo Town. I’ve never been there, but I’d like to go. It sounds so much like jungle and dangling vines and old houses sliding into swamps next to the ocean that I feel like I must go. But I don’t dare, for fear that I would be disappointed.

1 comment:

Joy said...

So happy you are in Liberia and BLOGGING. Hoping to be there by January...your blog will keep me entertained until then.

I've been told by folks coming back from Monrovia, that you don't want to get in a taxi if there are already two people in there...there's been an increase in armed robberies via taxis.

Stay safe!