13 August 2006

8 August 2006
2114 hrs

And, still at work. And I have to be back at 8:00 a.m. Tired, so tired.

C left on Sunday, R is leaving tomorrow, and J is leaving on Friday. I’m all sad and stuff about being alone, but I keep thinking, “Maybe I’ll finally get to sleep.” It gets crazy to be out until all hours and back at work early. I will never be a good lawyer. I don’t have the right work hard, play hard ethic. I need too much sleep.

9 August 2006
1801 hrs

So here are two little interrelated stories: two and a half weeks ago, C and R and I got done with work surprisingly early one Saturday (like 2 p.m) and went to the beach. I went for a long walk, and when I came back, C and R were just getting in from swimming. Silver Beach is a surprisingly rough beach, for a swimming beach (it gets deep really quickly and then there is a sandbar and then really truly deep), and they were both pretty tired from fighting their way back to shore. C had a cramp and was frantically drinking water to try to get rid of it. R, however, was eager to go back in, as was I.

Out we went, past where the waves broke, but closer in than the far break. We paddled out there for a while, and then decided to come back in even though it had only been a few minutes. After five or ten minutes of swimming toward shore, we realized that we were actually no closer. And no closer. And no closer.

We were alone at the beach (Sunday is beach day here; everyone works on Saturday) except for a few surfers, and R, being the smart one of the bunch, hailed them over as soon as we realized that swimming and swimming was getting us nowhere. A surfer came over and tried to help us – we were both clinging to the back of the surfboard while he paddled in. Nothing. He called over another surfer and R and I split up. He went with the first surfer and I with the new one. I hung onto the rope at the back of the board and whenever we went through a wave, the board gave a horrible jerk at my arms (poor, poor wrists) and we went… nowhere. The first surfer gave his board over to Rich, who laid on it and paddled in, but I couldn’t balance on the board and I was still pretty non-tired, so the new surfer stayed by me and let me hold on and float every once in a while, but generally I just swam. And swam. And swam. And swam.

Far away on shore, C was standing at the edge of the water, a row of observers next to her, staring out at us in horror.

After a while, which turned out to be about 30 or 35 minutes, I saw R catch a few good waves on the board and make it into shore, while I was still out beyond the breaking point. And then suddenly I was in the breaking waves and wave after wave tumbled me over and over into shore. I barely had time to get my breath between them.

I may have very unfortunately spread the “we almost drowned” story all around Monrovia, with me looking much less likely in the story to drown than R, so he wasn’t so happy.

Then on Sunday evening, after dropping C off at the airport, R and J and I went to Silver Beach. We’ve learned our lesson well, though. We know all about rip tides now and how you can spot them (no waves breaking, because the current is pulling out too hard to let the waves build height). When we got to the beach, we noted immediately that there was a rip tide and it was in front of the bigger palaver hut. Our previous rip tide had run parallel to the beach, neither letting us in nor pulling us out, in fact not really pulling us anywhere, just keeping us between the two breaks of the waves. This one was narrow, but ran straight out away from shore.

We are not foolish people. We don’t want to die in a riptide off the coast of Liberia. We went way down to the left and then floated down in a pretty strong current until we were nearly to the riptide, then got out, walked back up-current, dashed back into the water, and floated down again. If you took your feet off the ground, the north-westerly current (toward the riptide, naturally) was so strong that it took only a minute or two to float fifty meters down shore.

Just as we were getting out of the water on one of our little floating rides, one of the UN people who had pulled in at the same time as us, out a little past his depth, began to flounder and yell for help. He wasn’t alone, so we didn’t immediately think of doing anything, but when he went under during a wave and didn’t come back up, R, who was closest, swam out to him and hauled him to the top of the water.

R’s description of the event goes something like this: “So I was just grabbing him anywhere I could and shoving him toward the top of the water and then when a wave came I would shove him forward hoping that it would carry him toward shore but then he would go under again and I would grab at him again and push his head out of water.”

After a very tense few minutes, R and the other guy and the drowning guy all made it in to shore. And R and J and I promptly walked back upstream and got back in the ocean.

The guy came over later to thank R. It turns out that R saved a military police officer working for the UN. Don’t they teach swimming anymore in the military? Or the police? Apparently not in the Middle East or Central Asia or wherever this guy was from.

My “we almost drowned” story suddenly pales by comparison.

11 August 2006
1305 hrs

It’s a big girl world now
Full of big girl things
And every day
I wish I were small

But I have ended up in India
All alone
With no map to guide me home

The strangest place I think I’ve ever been

~Kendall Payne, Scratch

13 August 2006
1518 hrs

I try not to say too much about work on here because I want to keep working here and blogging can be detrimental to one’s work tenure, but I really do love my job here in Liberia. There is many a day when I walk down the stairs thinking about how amazing my job is. Then there is the morning when R overslept when I was supposed to bring him to the airport and we finally got in the car – late – and then the tire turned out to be flat and R had to race over and get the neighbor missionaries to bring him to the airport and I had a yelling match with the compound manager because a friend of a friend was staying in C’s vacated room (they wanted her to pay for the room that C had already paid for) and there I sat, in a broken car, waiting for someone to come from work to help me and I finally got a ride and when I got to work, I sat down in a chair in front of several coworkers and said, “Someone ask me why I'm here. Because right now, I’ve got nothing. Zero reasons.”

But generally I love it. You know you love your job when you get your stuff together to go to a restaurant with internet on Sunday afternoon and you go to take the work stuff out of your backpack and can’t quite bring yourself to do it, because you might want to work on some of it. It is crazy. It is busy. I often work for twelve hours a day during the week and eight on Saturday. I rarely get lunch. As of Wednesday, when R left, I am the only non-African (all but two are Liberian) in the office. We the office staff have spent a lot of time in some pretty close quarters, like 8 to an office, so we are all very comfortable with each other. The women hold my hand and the men try to. We laugh a lot.

Not only do I love the office and the people in it, even the ones who are completely crazy, but I love the actual work. Law school was a good idea, it turns out. I borrowed a book from my coworker, which I would not have been able to get through at the beginning of the summer, even knowing that I would be working at this job. Now I eat up every word. I have it open on my lap next to the computer right now. Suddenly everything in it is extremely practical. I am surprised at the amount of responsibility and influence I’ve been given, surprised at the sheer magnitude of work that necessitates delegating such things to mere interns.

1552 hrs

Last night the Liberian-American intern from work had a goodbye party at New Jack’s, across the street from Mamba Point hotel. I drove (heh heh – car is a new development, gifted by one of my coworkers) and somehow left way too early, with one of my coworkers and his brother and yet another friend of a friend who is visiting from Sierra Leone (we’ve had a rash of them lately). So we arrived more than an hour before anyone else and we sat on the beach where the sand dropped off about two and a half feet down to the water. The tide was coming in and spray from the waves made my sweatshirt just a bit damp. We were four shadows against the water. Up on the hill to the right, the US Embassy stood all lit up with guard towers along its perimeter. We were silent for a long time and then M. and his brother and I started playing Liberian kids’ games that we had all played in the 80s. We hid circles in a line in the sand and patted sand over our feet with a flipflop, singing, “Spider, spider, please build my house. If I die, I will pay you.” Down the beach, a man came out and laid on his back in the sand, looking up at the sky, and out on the water were the lights of two ships.

The guard at the gate of the restaurant remembered me from last time and exclaimed again about how I sound more Liberian than he does – which I actually do, often, because my Liberian English is country, not city. On the way home, the Liberian police officer at the UN checkpoint remembered me, too, and waved me through without demanding registration and the other things he tried to demand the night before because there are some license plate issues with the gifted car. Out past the ELWA junction dropping off M. and his brother, we were stopped by a large group of armed UN soldiers. (I don’t stop unless a checkpoint has: 1. weapons, or 2. a physical barrier across the road. Otherwise I assume they are not serious.) And again when we turned off near his brother’s house, we were stopped by a UN patrol, who told us they were patrolling for rogues. Of course we had to stop at both again on the way back. I drove through the dark, trying to miss potholes and people while oncoming traffic refused to turn off its high beams. As we pulled up to the gate of the compound, M. called to make sure we had arrived okay. “We’re fine,” I said, “Just now at the gate.” And I honked the horn, even though there is a sign saying not to, and in the beam of the headlights I saw feet under the gate, coming to open it.

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