|My teacher's assistant, Theresa, and me|
|"White woman! Take our picture."|
|A run-down church on the way to the anniversary|
|The anniversary party for Amos & Meenie was|
held underneath a tent of woven palm leaves.
|My teacher's assistant, Theresa, and me|
|"White woman! Take our picture."|
|A run-down church on the way to the anniversary|
|The anniversary party for Amos & Meenie was|
held underneath a tent of woven palm leaves.
|The empty canister still|
smelled like gunpowder.
|The scorched earth outside our compound|
|As results from the run-offs came in, there are posted here.|
UP is the Unity Party.
CDC is Congress for Democratic Change.
|One of "Mama" Ellen's campaign signs|
Saturday was the best day yet! I slept in late and took my time fixing biscuits for breakfast. I have finally conquered my oven – I know how to light the gas oven without burning myself and how to convert recipes’ Fahrenheit temperatures to the Celsius on my oven knobs.
Ed volunteered to drive Adisa and me to Abi Jaoudi on Randall Street. I spent an exorbitant amount of money there, vowing not to go grocery shopping again for two weeks. I found out, though, that the more you spend, the bigger your US Embassy discount!
Afterwards, Ed, Adisa, and Iwent to Dona Maria’s to eat. I’ve made a connection with one of the Lebanese owners, Albert. He and I started chatting last week because we both have Mac computers and he admired the protective case I have on mine. This blooming friendship resulted in free cookies for the table. They were yummy and reminded me of macaroons.
During the afternoon, I put a batch of clothes in the laundry and returned to my room to let the rain lull me to sleep. I needed that nap desperately.
From the Expat Listserve, Adisa and I had found out about an open mic night at Tides. This restaurant/bar is located near the US Embassy, between Mamba Point and Waterside. It also hosts movie nights on Tuesdays.
I had a great piña colada with freshly squeezed pineapple juice. From the balcony, I could see the ocean lapping against the sand, and it was then that I actively thought I’m in Africa. I mean, I knew I had been in Africa the whole time, but it was only in this moment that the reality of the situation hit me. I wasdrinking a fruity cocktail, but I am in Africa. I was listening to a band, but I am in Africa. I was watching the ocean, but I am in Africa.
The open mic night was a fun outing. Ed did sing. I met a girl named Kate, who works with orphaned and prostituted girls. She works with an organization called More Than Me, and her spoken word pieces were poignant and horrifying. Albert, the Lebanese guy who had just hours before given me free cookies, showed up. It really is a small city. Everywhere I go I see at least one person I know.
The Unity Band, Adisa’s favorite band in Monrovia, played between and after the open mic performers. The band’s front man is “Mr. Music.” He’s a vibrant person, who caters to the audience’s mood. He invited two other older gentlemen to take the mic, giving way to his “profs.” One of the fellows could have been made of sticks, but good music and a deep voice emerged from the twig-like man. Robert had been the director of the Liberian National Police band and had given Mr. Music his first opportunity on stage.
Adisa, Ed, and I went home,happy to have found “our place” and vowed to return the next week.
I was finally able to access the internet on the school compound! Granted, the WiFi doesn’t reach all the way back to the residences. I’ll take what I can get for the time being.
The internet came in handy for the second day of school. I was able to use google.translate.com to communicate with my Swedish student. We wrote back and forth to one another to explain directions, ask questions, and talk about the Swedish book he was reading. Thank goodness for technology!
After school, Miatta come for her first day of cleaning. Man, she is a hard worker! Together, we used a bleach solution to wipe down the insides and outsides of all the furniture – a necessary task since many of the dressers smelled moldy. Then, Miatta took out the trash, swept, and mopped the floors. The whole place smells wonderful and looks better than when I moved in! Our next cleaning date is Tuesday.
Unsure of how long my internet connection would last, I downloaded updates, checked my email, got updates about the weekend events in Monrovia via the Expat Listserv, and even Skyped with my brother Christen, who recently moved up north to attend Yale Law School.
Even though we only had two days of school, all of the faculty that live on campus were ready for a night on the town. We all squeezed in the school SUV and headed to à la Laguna, a restaurant/bar near the Chinese Embassy. At first, we were all ooh’ing and ah’ing about the beauty of the place. Our table was on a dock out on the water. The light breeze was doing a great job of keeping the mosquitoes away, and the stars overhead twinkled brightly. Two hours later, we were all grumbling and ready to leave, angered over the long wait time for our food. To a certain extent, we all have grown accustomed to “Liberian Standard Time,” the lackadaisical and non-prompt time it takes for anyone in Liberia to do anything. But, when our food arrived at 10:30 pm, no one was particularly forgiving of this aspect of the culture. My chicken was delicious, but I’ve learned my lesson. Go to à la Laguna before you are hungry because it will take forever to get your meal!
I’ve officially made it through Day 1 of school. All in all, I’d say it was a successful day, but it can’t really serveas an indicator of things to come because only 7 of my 17 kids were in attendance. Supposedly, the rest will trickle in during next week and the beginning of September as they return from summer vacations abroad.
Today, the kids that were there represented Canada, Zambia, Lebanon, Brazil, and Sweden. I asked each, in honor of Flag Day, to design a flag to represent himself or herself. One of the 2nd graders particularly impressed me as he described his flag to the class. He explained that the green represented the color of grass and growth; the red was for the blood shed for Africa, the orange was for the minerals of Zambia, and the black stood for the black men. He also drew an eagle to show leadership. Wow! How eloquent and reflective for a 7 year old!
The Swedish boy hardly knows a lick of English. I asked his mother to write a few phrases down for me, which was extremely helpful. I spent the whole reading time asking him, “Vad är det?” (What is this?) He’d tell me the word in Swedish, and I’d tell him the word in English. We labeled the objects in the classroom with both languages and practiced.
The challenge, I foresee, in teaching these kids is that, though they are only in one of two grades, they are all at different levels. Looks like I have my work cut out for me.
After school, Adisa and I traveled to the Cape Hotel for a change of pace. We needed a meal and an internet connection from somewhere other than the Royal Hotel. The Cape is another expat hotel, but it’s in Mamba Point. It’s located on the beach and surrounded by palm trees. I wonder if guests there get the wrong impression of Monrovia, thinking it’s a beautiful vacation spot instead of what it really is. How surprised are they when they walk not 5 minutes away and see chickens, dogs, and naked babies wondering the filthy streets?
Dinner was excellent. For the first time since I’ve arrived, I found a place that cooks excellent American food. I had a pork chop, rice, and vegetables. For dessert, I had a layered chocolate cake that tasted very much like tiramisu. Finally, I felt full and satiated!
Today is a national holiday, Flag Day, and it is observed by everyone. The stores have shut down and none of the staff is on campus. Even I have decided to take a break from the classroom and try to relax before the madness begins.
The Liberian flag very similar with red and white stripes. On the left hand side, in the blue rectangle, there is single white star.
My classroom is ready; it looks aesthetically pleasing and welcoming. I have printouts of the school schedule, my welcome letter, and my classroom policies ready to send home to the parents. However, I have never been so unprepared for work in my life. I don’t have a lesson plan ready to go, nor have I mapped out a rough idea of what the school year will look like. I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I will be improvising for a while…until I get a feel for how a classroom with two grade levels works.
On top of everything the copier not working and my handy sidekick, Theresa, is unreachable via phone. Hers was stolen while she was in a shared taxi riding home from work on Monday.
I used my free time today to finish another book. Since I’ve arrived in Liberia, I’ve read more adult books than I’ve read in the past three years combined! Usually, my nose is always in some children’s novel, but lately I’ve finished: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Larsson), The Girl Who Played With Fire (Larsson), The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Larsson), The Help (Stockett), and The Sorceress (Smith). I’ve begun reading Every Man in This Village is a Liar (Stack) and have downloaded The Game of Thrones (Martin) and Elizabeth Street (Fabiano) on the Kindle for Mac.
Thank goodness for books. Without television or consistent internet access, I need something to entertain me!
Today is a “holiday” because there is a referendum vote. The ballot will feature four issues:
1. The option to change the maximum age of Supreme Court judges from 65 to 75
2. The option to change the minimum time for someone to live in Liberia before he/she can run for president from 10 years to 5 years
3. The option to change the presidential elections from October to November
4. The option to change the voting process to reflect the majority (right now the government spends lots of money hosting run-off elections even when someone has already emerged with the majority of the votes)
Even though school starts in two days, the majority of the staff is not here. For some, I think it’s one of those excuses not to come to work. For others, who take their voting privileges seriously, it’s a civic duty to travel to the polls.
James, who has been at school even on Saturdays and Sundays, is not here. When his daughter was sick with malaria, he still came in to work and brought her too because there was no one at home to care for her. He drives two hours to work and two hours back home. I’m assuming he’s voting and not just taking a free day. I admire James’ work ethic.
My assistant, Theresa, spent the whole day working with me and helping the first grade teacher, who’s just now able to get into her classroom to work. Theresa has opened up to me and told me how the previous teacher treated her. The woman referred to her as “thing” instead of calling her by name! I can’t imagine that level of disrespect being tolerated in a school. Theresa has 25 years of teaching experience. She’s taught her own kindergarten classes and has her teaching degree. The only reason she does not head a classroom here is that AISM requires its teachers to have a valid US teaching license. Theresa has told me that she’d like to open her own small school, but that it’s very difficult for Liberians to get business loans.
Tonight, I baked some sweet potatoes. They’re not at all like the yams at home. First, they are white inside like a regular potato. Second, though they are sweet, they are not as moist inside.
Afterwards, James took our pictures so that he could process the paperwork for our new bank accounts. Then, Amos opened his office to us so we could pick up any office supplies he already had in stock. Unfortunately, most of what I put on my “wish list” was not available in the storeroom.
Linda, Adisa, and I bummed a ride from Amos, who was heading into town on a school errand. We ate at Dona Maria’s, which has large sandwiches for $5 and a fast internet speed. I actually had the chicken fettuccine and would recommend it.
While having out “ladies’ luncheon,” Linda told us about how she met Aminu and married after only months of dating.
Adisa’s phone rang to remind her that it was Mefloquine Monday, an affectionate nickname to remind her that it was time to take her weekly meds. Linda relayed her misadventures with Mefloquine, an anti-malarial medicine that sometimes induces night terrors and hallucinations. For Linda, the last straw was when she left her front door wide open after letting the leprechauns in her house go free. Needless to say, I began to feel more confident about my decision to take Doxycycline.
When lunch was over, the girls weren’t ready to quit each other’s company, so we decided to venture into the market close to school to buys some fruits and veggies. Before heading to the market, we actually explored some of the empty rooms in the compound. Walking through the high grasses behind the rooms caused Linda and I to pick up some briars. Adisa said some of the Liberians call them homework because they take forever to dig out of your clothes. Linda decided to change, so Adisa and I decided to sit outside and wait.
I sat near the AISM sign within our parking lot. That was a bad move!
As I got up and began to walk around, Adisa began slapping my butt. She was trying to rid me of the red fire ants that had begun to crawl over me! Thankfully, I only sustained a few ant bites on my right foot. I think I owe Adisa a bottle of wine because I can’t begin to fathom the pain I’d have felt if those buggers had gotten into my pants!
Linda returned and we walked the 50-100 meters to the market. Accurately explaining the market place really requires pictures. I don’t know if I can adequately relay the sights and sounds of that place.
First, I must say that the markets are located behind the street vendors I had been seeing on the sides of the streets. There was no indication that these stalls went back so far! Street vendors sell things from roughly hewn tables or wheel barrows (I saw one guy selling large snails from his wheelbarrow!) and make stands out of tin roofing material turned on it’s side and covered with cloth for its roof.
Second, the market is – well – imagine the dirtiest flea market you’ve ever been to and multiply it by 100. The roof is tin and held together with string and held down with rocks. The tables are blackened by the same filth that’s on the floor. The dirt here isn’t hard-packed. Rather, it’s fine and gritty and impossible to keep out of your shoes.
The tables varied from spices, peppers, fufu, vegetables, and fruits. It was when I caught sight of a massive amount of flies that I realized there were also tables with meat – pigs feet, chicken feet, livers, fish, etc. The smell was awful. I tried to hide the fact that I was gagging, and had to put a considerable distance between me and the meat tables until the urge to faint finally subsided.
Third, the people in the market are interesting to watch. Some are like vultures, sniffing out this white girl as financial prey. I always have to look to Adisa and Linda to see if the prices I’m quoted are reasonable. There are children playing in the mire and muck on the floors. I’ve noticed that many of the toddlers are taken care of by children on slightly older. Older women have no problems falling asleep on top of their tables, while younger women might be seen slaving away using mortars and pestles to grind what looks like butter or cheese. There aren’t many men here, but one kind guy did let me take his picture as he used a meat grinder to process some cassava leaves. (I had to promise to print a picture and bring it to him.)
After I made my way home with my meager purchases of bananas, oranges and sweet potatoes, I set about the task of scrubbing my flipflops. There’s so much trash mixed in with the dirt that I can’t stand the idea of carrying that in and around my apartment. So, part of my nightly routine is scrubbing my feet and my shoes with soap and water. I bought a special brush for the purpose.
Later that night, the electricity went out. Ed was out with Adisa and Albert getting some ice cream, so no one was here to turn on the generator. So, to date, I’ve had times in Africa without water or electricity. No, I’m not in the US of A any more.
I can’t help but wonder how having a married couple on campus will affect the balance. Albert’s happy, though, at the prospect of another man, who is not his boss, living on campus.
Albert volunteered to drive me to the 8:30 Mass at Our Lady of Lebanon, but I had to back out at the last minute. I pulled a muscle in my neck and shoulder that kept me up all night. The pain was sharp and uncomfortable, and I was relieved when I remembered that I had brought some Heat Wraps with me from the states. (I had pulled the same muscles just days before my flight to Africa.) Thankfully, those provided enough relief for me to get some sleep.
Albert went to Mass without me anyway, which surprised me because he’s not Catholic. He reported that it was a great service with African drums and all. The homily was actually the reading of a letter from the Archbishop, encouraging people to go vote in the upcoming referendum.
I hope Albert will continue to take me to Church. I miss it and feel at a disadvantage since I used to have Mass every Monday at my old school.
I feel like everyone was getting a bit antsy today. Maybe it’s the fact that no one had a raucous weekend or the fact that we know that the start of school is right around the corner, but everyone was looking for something to do. So, we arranged a movie night.
All of us (Linda, Aminu, Adisa, Albert, Ed, and myself) watched Avatar in Ed’s room and munched on popcorn. He’s got about 500 movies stored on an external hard drive, and the school has a projector. So, we were able to watch the movie on his living room wall – like a mini-movie theater. Ed talked quite a bit during the movie, always noting that it was the females of the Navi that had all the power. Albert kept asking when the characters were going to get some; Adisa, who hadn’t seen the movie before, kept muttering “Oh no” as suspenseful scenes unfolded.
The day started out with all sorts of shouting and banging, which was not appreciated after my late night out at Groovies. The Lebanese contractors had returned, though, to do some work in our apartments and there was no getting around the sound of drilling as they installed curtains in the kitchen and master bedroom of each apartment. (Note: One of the Lebanese guys is now the first Facebook friend I’ve made here.)
Adisa and I took a cab to the biggest grocery store in town, Harbel. The locals know it as Abi Jaoudi (I think I misspelled the name in an earlier entry), though. There may be an interesting story behind the change in ownership; I hear rumors that the store changed hands in a game of poker! I met one of the store’s owners; his two children attend our school, but I didn’t think it appropriate to ask if he was a lucky poker player.
I had been to Abi Jaoudi’s already, but since then I had made a list of things that I needed that I wasn’t able to get at other groceries in town – a laundry basket, a squeegee, scrubbing brushes, etc. I also broke down and bought a few things to remind me of home – chicken nuggets, Bisquick and Duncan Hines cake mix! When I checked out, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a discount because I’m affiliated with the Embassy. Food here isn’t cheap, and the 10% discount was an unexpected surprise.
In the store, I began to feel like a local because I ran in to several people I knew, including Ed, Javier, and the school office manager (james) and his wife!
I accepted a ride back with Javier and Ed; Adisa still had more shopping to do around town. I’m happy I did because the night turned out very differently than I had imagined.
Javier took us back to his apartment. It’s actually not too far from the school compound, although I wouldn’t want to walk that distance. It’s situated in what is referred to as “the American building” because the Embassy has leased most of it. Javier’s place is lovely with matching furniture, African art, lush carpet, his own distiller, etc. The apartments have a pool, tennis court, gym, and a nice view of the ocean. Those Embassy folks live the life of Monrovian royalty, and I can’t think of someone more deserving that Javier to enjoy those amenities.
Lisa, the WHO worker, was at Javier’s apartment preparing dinner for us – a Moroccan chicken dish with chickpeas and apricots! Before dinner was served, we were briefly visited by a Brit named Peter. What an extraordinarily motivated young man! Peter is organizing the first marathon in Liberian history. Over 1,200 people, including runners from Kenya and Hawaii, are signed up to run on August 28, and it’s his vision to transition the role of organizer to a local Liberian so the event can continue in perpetuity.
Javier told me that Peter works for an initiative affiliated with Tony Blair, which I plan to research when I finally get the internet on the compound. I’d love to talk to Peter more about how to get involved in future events like these – maybe not necessarily athletic events – but I have a feeling that he’s a busy, busy man. He was leaving the next day to go home to London for two days to buy the marathon supplies like walkie-talkies, water-proof runner’s numbers, etc.
I have to admit that the past two days have sort of sauntered by. I wasn’t busy, but I was completely drained. I’m told that yesterday was the last day of my jet lag. Ha! What these people don’t realize is that I can sleep almost any time and anywhere. I wouldn’t mind, though, being able fall asleep before 2:30am.
Here’s a few things of note that happened over the past two days:
1. I saw the presidential motorcade. Everyone had to clear the road for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her attendants to pass. I find it miraculous that these bikes and cars, which normally scurry to and fro like madmen, were able to clear the president’s path so quickly and readily.
2. I got more furniture. The embassy was holding an auction of some if its old stuff, and the school staff living on campus was able to go and pick things out. I added a dresser and bedside table for my guest room, a dining room table, set of drawers for storage in the bathroom, and a living room coffee table and side table. Now, my place really does look like a home. Albeit, the mix-match style reminds me of what a first-time apartment in the US would look like.
3. Another, bigger gecko made an appearance in my apartment. Must be Irving, Sr.
4. The basin around my shower is leaking. In my efforts to mop up the mess, I took a nasty fall. Wonder what that bruise will look like tomorrow? The contractor who is responsible for having renovated old classrooms into our new apartments. Much is made of the fact that he’s Lebanese. By this I mean that there is a certain stigma attached to Lebanese as being good workers who suck up to the foreigners and treat the locals poorly.
5. I had the most messed up dreams last night – about three or four different episodes. One segment featured me pooping out full-grown crawfish. In the dream, my mom told me not to worry – that that happened because I had diverticulitis. Anybody want to analyze that for me?
6. I’ve now eaten at Christine’s multiple times. So far, I’ve tried cabbage, bitter ball, potato greens, and cassava leaves. All the dishes are the same consistency – just different colors – and served with a separate dish of rice. The flavors are great, but my inexperienced mouth burns! Most often the dish features fresh or dried fish. Albert pointed out a piece of cow skin in one dish. Needless to say, I ate around it. Each time I visit Christine’s I make sure to say hello and good-bye to the ladies in the “kitchen.” They asked my co-worker Albert were I was when he stopped by without me. “Oh, that little white girl is so nice,” they ooh’ed and ah’ed.
This morning, we had our first faculty meeting. Eight of us were in attendance; two were missing. Quite honestly, I still don’t know what grades I’ll be teaching. I was hired to teach 2nd and 3rd, but another lady (who will arrive in Monrovia on Sunday) was assigned 1st and 2nd. Whatever happens, I know I’ve got my work cut out for me since I haven’t taught 2nd or 3rd grade before. I am a planner, and it’s driving me out of my mind to not know what I’m teaching or to have ample time to get myself mentally prepared.
I’m still having to frequent the Royal Hotel in order to use the internet. The director at school has arranged for internet at the school compound, but the company is giving grief about sending a technician out, wanting to charge us even though they haven’t completed their end of the initial set-up. Ed has threatened to take our business elsewhere, so I don’t know when we’ll get WiFi up and running.
Oh, I mustn’t forget to mention the oddest thing that happened to me today. I heard a light tap at my apartment door. I opened it to find Aletha, one of our two custodians. She asked if she could talk to me so I invited her in. At first, I was touched; she explained that some people make your heart “tick” and for them, your heart opens. She told me that she had that feeling when she first met me. Aletha had claimed me as one of her daughters. In real life, she has six kids – 2 sons and 4 daughters.
As the visit continued, I realized where all the flattery was going. Aletha’s daughter who should be in 8th grade cannot go to school this year due to a lack of funds. She explained that she wants me to take her daughter, my sister, Mitta into my care. To work beside me on the weekends or after work. I can show her what I want done around the house and offer her what I think is appropriate compensation.
Part of me understands. If I were Aletha, I’d want my daughter to go to school and to surround her with educated young women she can look up to and learn from. Before I traveled to Liberia, I had already been told that it was customary to employ local people to wash your clothes and help clean, but had put this to the back of my mind when I realized we had washing machines. The other part of me wonders if I’m seen as a mark – someone who work easily fork over the money.
I haven’t made any decisions regarding the matter and told Aletha upfront that I needed to think. I want to talk with my coworkers and feel out the situation. God knows, though, that I hate to sweep and mop and this might be a mutually beneficial relationship to have.