03 July 2006

formatting problems... oh, well

30 June 2006
2308 hrs

Beautiful, beautiful internet. I’m reading blogs and stuff. Only possible because I consolidated my student loans in 4.2 seconds while other interns’ lenders’ websites were overly busy. That and we told the taxi to be here at midnight and it isn’t midnight yet. Clearly. Since I just said it was 11:08 pm. The poor taxi driver has been having terrible problems with not being able to charge his phone, which is also a terrible problem for us because he’s really the only one who actually comes when he says he will come and is so very concerned about our safety that he stands outside the gate with me at 4 am yelling for the guards.

Work has been madness. There was nothing going on for so long and I bitterly mourned the lack of internet, but suddenly it just went bonkers. Absolutely bonkers. Bonkers to the point where we three interns were on three different computers and we conscripted four other clerical-type staff who were watching some silly World Cup game (I think they all hate us now) and made them do data entry and I kept running around making them save it over and over because you never know when the generator will get turned off. One of them, who I’m pretty sure doesn’t work there but just happened to be in the office and knew how to type, gave me a scathing look the first time and said, “I know how to save.” But you don’t know what I want it saved AS, do you? I let him save it himself after that. I was just slightly scared of him.

This morning, while sitting waiting for the guy to come open the compound office (he ended up coming just in time to tell me that there was no power so getting into the office was no help because the internet wouldn’t work, all the while shrugging and saying, “Maybe power will come back,” and then our ride showed up), I was looking at the trees and plants across the pebbles of the driveway and thinking of how much it looks like Liberia. I know that’s pretty obvious because I’m in Liberia, but for so many years we would go places and one of us, my mom or my dad or I, would say, “Doesn’t this look like Liberia?” Palm trees in Florida, or a picture of the red dirt in Kenya, but now I’m here, in Liberia, and it really is the spiky orange flowers over there and the tree with the red flowers and the long seed pods on that other corner. All those other places each had only one little piece of Liberia.

After work we went to Mamba Point for internet and then a friend picked us up and took us to the Bordello. There’s no bordello, but this other friend lives in this very bizarre building that seems to involve many floors and doorways and hallways, all open to the air, all painted, as A said, “the color that things end up if you don’t paint them. Why would you spend money on that?” It’s slightly bizarre but our friend’s apartment is neat and tiny. There was a big party going on at the restaurant upstairs. And the place really is slightly like a bordello, what with the music and garish lighting and all. The actual story I’m telling, though, is that due to the big party upstairs, the grassy lot in front of the building was full of cars, full enough that we blocked in five cars by parking where the guard told us to park. There was fervent pleading with the guards not to let anyone park behind us and block us in because we would be there for no more than thirty minutes. No more than thirty minutes! Please! No cars behind us!

When we came out, after about ten or fifteen minutes, we were blocked in. Fits were thrown. Yelling ensued. The guards had to go up to the party and track down the driver of the car that was blocking us in. Once we managed (barely) to have the space to get out, the smallness of the opening required some maneuvering and then backing straight up a slightly uncomfortable slope onto a street of honking cars and children darting around in the dark. The driving friend was ranting rather angrily. The offending guard looked up at us as we went and waved brightly and said, “See you!” in a very pleasant tone of voice.

These moments that are so symptomatic of everything that some people would say is wrong with Africa, these moments when everything goes wrong by North American standards, are the moments in which I am the happiest. I sat in the back seat against the door and smiled to myself. I thought, as I always do when things go zigzagging off in these strange directions, “My life is so amazing.”

1 July 2006
2143 hrs

Waterside is no more. The street sellers have all been moved to Bushrod Island. So, okay, that’s good, because I’m sure it’s safer and crime has improved. But the fun is gone. The crowd, the weaving through, the bustle: all gone. Instead it’s just a street lined with shops. A busy street, but a street all the same.

Over at the bottom of Randall Street, a bulldozer was bulldozing mountains of trash into the back of a flatbed UN truck, making mockery of the mockery that C and I were making only last night when her mom told her that she read in the news that Monrovia City employees were going to strike while Kofi Annan is here on Monday. “Oh, THAT will be effective.” we laughed. “Two whole people striking!” And wrong we were, because today, Saturday, July 1, 2006, they were cleaning up the mountain of trash at the bottom of Randall Street. We need them after all.

We wandered around the-street-formerly-known-as-Waterside and vicinity for a while and bought some cloth to make skirts. Here the Liberian English and a bit of Bassa once again came through for me because the woman selling the cloth turned out to be Bassa from Buchanan and exclaimed over me endlessly and reduced the cloth price and told us that we, her sisters, must come back, MUST, before we leave so she can have beautiful clothes made for us.

I am so enjoying speaking Liberian English. It startles the harassing men on the street enough to make them back off. Prices go down. I get handed the phone when communication is going badly. Not just the practicality of it, though. I’m enjoying the actual speaking. I’m learning the phrases I’d forgotten and the slang that has sprung up since I left. I’m learning how to pronounce the words that I used to just fake because they were too big or complicated for the Liberian English I learned by the time I was ten. I’m getting so into it that I sometimes can’t remember which English I’m in, though, because I’m no longer thinking in order to be in one or the other, and then I speak to Americans in the same accent. Which is fine. They can deal.

The light in the hallway is flickering madly.

I stayed home tonight even though my friends went out. I need some sleeeeeep. I’ve done what I tend to do, which is to get sick and then ignore it for a long while (in this case, over a week) and then suddenly realize that a nasty headache and all this sinus drainage for over a week might actually be a problem and now I want to take antibiotics RIGHT NOW, but it is Saturday night and I’m home in the middle of nowhere so ce n’est pas possible.

Meanwhile, I’ve forgotten how to read. Also how to play Sudoku. I only brought four books and a bunch of New Yorkers, but I’m not reading anything. Anyone who knows me knows that this is weird. I read four books a week for fun, even during exams. For the last few weeks, though, reading a book just doesn’t seem interesting. Very weird. I play Sudoku instead, but I’ve gotten bad at that. I used to fly through them and now I stare at one for hours without putting in a single number. It’s as if my brain was so wound up during school that it has just given out. It refuses to focus. I hope it comes back by the end of August.

We had our first centipedes in the house today. You know you are in Liberia when you have centipedes. Unfortunately C was alone in the house and came seeking assistance from the missionaries and me who were talking on their porch, but when she returned with the “spri gone,” as the bug spray is called, they were gone. So they are prowling somewhere in the house. Just what I wanted to know. I promptly went out and bought house flipflops today. No more bare feet at night.

3 July 2006
1343 hrs

Observation: it’s much better to arrive first than last.

1715 hrs

I’m watching the waves break at Mamba Point. For those of you not from ‘round here, Monrovia is built on a peninsula that narrows and then widens again, ending at Mamba Point. There’s some other stuff, too, like Bushrod Island, but the main part of Monrovia is on this peninsula. The waves out here are BIG. I’m watching them and wishing I was in them.

We left work early today because Kofi Annan is coming to town. We don’t actually get to see or hear Kofi Annan, but the fact that he’s here means that they are closing Tubman Boulevard (which is NOT a boulevard) and Broad Street (which IS a boulevard) and so our driver essentially told us that we had to leave the office at four pm or never leave it again. So here I am. Watching the waves. Eating peanuts that I don’t deserve because I didn’t actually buy anything at the restaurant. Forestalling the moment when I have to go in and plug in my computer.

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