05 July 2006

4th of July

0929 hrs
Oldest Congo Town

Monrovia, Liberia

I found out that we live in Oldest Congo Town, the place with that most romantic of names.
The reality of Oldest Congo Town is not as disappointing as I expected after envisioning such grandeur. I rather like it, actually. On the back road behind our compound, there actually are huge houses all vine-covered and slipping inexorably into the swamp. On the beach past the lagoon, a few shells of grand old houses remain, lonely and broken. And better, there are children running along the road and puppies tumbling over each other in the yards.

I walked along the back road on Sunday, coming home from dinner at the house of a family who drove me to church. It was raining. I was wearing a raincoat but had no umbrella, so when it started to rain hard I ducked under the roof of a little store. It was blaring loud hip hop music I didn’t recognize and after a minute or two someone brought me a chair and I sat with all the other rain-refugees for thirty minutes or so until the rain let up and I could venture home. The best part of the day.

I feel like I should capitalize Back Road, because that is actually how it seems to be known. Also Old Road. And Main Road (which is Tubman Blvd, which is still not a boulevard, further out of town). We were in a car with some coworkers on the Old Road the other day and I asked, “What was Old Road called when it was new?” My coworker laughed and said, “Old Road!” Which doesn’t seem possible. I need to ask an old person who might remember what the name of it was before Tubman Blvd came through.

When I’m in Africa, I wish I were a morning person. Mornings are so lovely here. The heat has not yet started, the birds are chirping, the air is so clear, and the smell of cooking fires drifts about with the breeze. Really experiencing morning would require getting up at about 6, but I just can’t. I need to sleep. They turn the power off earlier and earlier these days, so by 8:20 am the compound is free of the generator roar. From back here, you can’t hear the cars up on the Main Road, so the only sounds are birds and children and the waves crashing on the beach.

We were left rideless this morning because the normal driver is sick. Our taxi can’t get here for a while yet. So C and I are sitting on the back porch looking out over trees and water. Right in front of us is a tall, skinny mango tree. Yesterday there was a pinking plum up near the top, which had been scoped out as the one to be eaten. There was talk of kicking a football up into the tree to knock it down. But today it is gone. Something else got to it first: the wind, or the ripening, or the birds.

Today is the Fourth of July. I don’t usually do much for the Fourth of July, at least not since I left the US and could no longer go to the family picnics (I haven’t been in the US in July since 2002), but today C and I are wearing red-white-and-blue, in honor of the day. I’m being tricky, though, and also wearing my bracelet in blue-yellow-and-green, the colors of the Rwandese flag, because it is Liberation Day there. In Rwanda we got both 1 July and 4 July off for Rwandese Independence Day and Liberation Day. When they fell on a Friday and Monday, it was a beautiful thing. Everything was a holiday in Rwanda. Days off right and left. Here in Liberia, days are holidays, but you don’t get them off. Like the Day of the African Child, last month. It was a holiday, but no ceremony. No day off work.

I’m really unclear on this whole working all the time thing. We have to work on Saturdays, because local NGOs work, but there are people (mostly ex-pats at international organizations) who don’t have to work on Saturdays and do. It isn’t that I mind this work. In fact, I like it. I just can’t figure out when people get everything else done. If you work Mon-Fri 8-6 and Sat 10-3, when do you run errands? When do you go to the market? When do you fix up your house? When do you clean your house? When do you take a long walk and learn about the neighborhoods around you? All on Sunday afternoon? That’s the beach day. So when do these things get done? Maybe they just don’t, because ex-pats aren’t really investing that kind of time in their neighborhoods or houses, but it doesn’t seem like much of a way to live.

Okay, enough ranting for today. This is getting too long to read anyway.

4 July 2006

1304 hrs

It really is thrilling to be in a country where speeches start, “Madame President…” instead of “Mister President…”

1743 hrs

Our ride never came this morning. Then our taxi never came. About 11:00, he called and said that he couldn’t get out of town because of streets blocked off for Kofi Annan and he would try again in an hour. C and I, brave, fearless people that we are, decided to take a collective taxi for the first time. We were ready. We took out the right change. We secured our bags. We stood at the side of the road and waved two fingers (because there were two of us) straight ahead (because we wanted to go straight into town, not up the Old Road). Full taxis passed us by. Empty Land Cruisers passed us by. Old Road taxis passed us by. Finally a car stopped. But no, not a taxi. Not even a car. A red SUV. A red SUV containing a young Lebanese food products importer and his driver.

Dilemma: to get into town or not to get into town? Getting there requires hitchhiking with this Lebanese man who we do not know and his driver and a whole bunch of cases of Red Bull.

We hitchhiked. The roads were perfectly clear of cars, no streets blocked off, but many more people than normal were walking, or, as the Rwandese say, “footing” into town. In the end, as C puts it, “We traded your phone number for a ride into town.”

Fair trade, I would say. The guy was perfectly nice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Before the Construction of the Tubman Blvd., The Oldraod was part of Sinkor and Congo Town. I don't no the detail of the geography but I do know that one part was Sinkor and another part was called congo Town.