28 August 2006


Since I'm staying for one last week, I've added some conditions. For example, I have my own desk now. I turned it so that I can look out at the crashing waves and I attached an exterior mouse and a full-sized keyboard to the borrowed laptop to create an ergonomically correct workstation, since most of what I'm doing this week is reports on everything we the interns did this summer. Too much typing for the poor golf-elbow problem (which is NOT gone, although my arms are in much better shape post-surgery).

I'm getting sad about the idea of leaving Liberia. If I had taken my original flight, I would be somewhere between Brussels and the continental US right now, but instead I am sitting again in the office in Monrovia. I'm trying to work, really I am, but so much work craziness went on last week, right up to Saturday night, that I feel like I need more weekend to recover from the whole thing.

I don't want to leave. One more week is not enough. First I need to recover. Then I have so much to do. Plus I know that New York is waiting back there and no matter how I try to solace myself for the cold and the lack of trees, I am not and cannot be a New York girl.

Monrovia I could get used to. Monrovia is crazy, let me just say up front. Driving, for example. There are too few roads into town for too many cars and driving here is like driving with no rules nor drivers' training nor blinkers nor anything else you would expect besides the actual vehicles (although that is up in the air, too - yesterday I saw a little Nissan Sunny sedan traveling down the road with four people in the front, four in the back, three on the hood, two on the trunk, one sitting in the window frame of the passenger's window, and one sitting in the window frame of each of the back windows - try that yourself and let me know how it goes, driving down the road in that fashion). Oncoming cars are almost as likely to be in your lane as in theirs and they absolutely will never turn their bright headlights off, so that at night in the rain with their lights reflecting off the raindrops on your windshield you can't see the looming six-inch deep potholes, which will be in a different place every day because it is rainy season, which turns out to result in potholes opening up overnight out of nothing.

Monrovia is further crazy because not only is it too many cars for the space but it is too many people for the space and they all have a death wish. I guess if you have never driven a car it is not clear exactly how hard it is to see people crossing the road at night when they insist on wearing black from head to toe and most of town has no streetlights. I mean, I understand this. It is very human. All of us think, after all, that we are the center of the world, so why shouldn't that oncoming car know that I, myself, am here, right here, right now. It HAS to know. It has to be clear to all of humankind that I, the only I there is, am right here crossing Tubman Boulevard at 10:30 p.m.

Speaking as the driver of the car that is trying not to hit you, however, I do have to tell you that it is not that clear that you are there, in fact it is not clear at all until I see your shadow pass in front of the headlights of an oncoming car and even then, if you are heading toward my lane, there is no way for me to know if you have continued into my lane or are standing on the center line. None.

One has to make a choice when driving at night: the inner lane or the outer? The inner lane means that you are less likely to hit the people walking on the side of the road but more likely to hit the people standing on the center line having crossed halfway and waiting to cross the other half. I have chosen the outer lane, because:

1. It tends to have fewer (although still many and large) potholes.
2. As long as you are close to the lane marker, you are unlikely to hit the people on the side of the road.
3. The undimmed oncoming headlights are less glaring.

The drawbacks are that taxis are apt to stop in front of you without warning and that broken-down vehicles with no warning signs are more likely to be in that lane.

We left work really really late one night last week - about eight of us were in the office until 2 a.m. and then the other car insisted on driving behind mine to make sure I got home okay. So I was driving around back in the Airfield area, the truck following me, bringing a coworker home, and as we turned down a street, there was suddenly a group of about six young men walking down the road in front of us. A gang, basically. They clearly intended bad things. It's hard to explain how this was clear unless you've done some reading about the wars in West Africa, but I will start with this: one of them was wearing a shirt and nothing else. And I mean, nothing.

Then a mile or two later we dropped the guy off and turned around and headed out the other way and while I was inching through a huge mud pit/mud mountain area of the dirt road, the guy riding next to me in the car said, "You know, you should speed up, because they often ambush cars when they slow down in areas like this." Thank you, that was just what I needed to hear. I told him I had no choice, because the car is too small to speed up on that kind of terrain, unless he wanted to call the other car and have the driver (not the person who was driving the car, who was not technically a driver, but the guy who was riding along who is actually paid to drive cars) come and drive this one. And then, because he evidently believes that I am an idiot who can understand nothing I'm told (as revealed by the constant repeating of things that I already told him I heard) and because I was not already scared enough, he started repeating it and I had to yell.

I said to C earlier this summer, "Can you believe that back in the US some people actually think we are smart?" Believe it or not, they do. Here, not so much. When we got back onto Tubman Boulevard, the same guy told me that I "steer too much." What? He doesn't even have a license, and I steer too much? Apparently it's better just to hit the potholes dead on in a tiny little low-riding car.

I have now begun ranting about nothing, so I will stop and do work.

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