August 7, 2011
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore….
Where do I even begin to describe the Liberia I have encountered in my 7 hours here?
I arrived in at the Roberts Airport around 5:00pm local time. The airport is a tiny, shabby building with people bustling to and fro. No one seems to know the meaning of a line, and I can tell as soon as I try to vie for my luggage that I’m in for some trouble. Sure, some men in front of me were kind enough to grab my two suitcases from the conveyor belt, but only seconds later another man was loading them, unsolicited, into a cart. That’s the first lesson I had to learn: everyone is out to make a buck and will do so –um – eagerly.
After breezing through customs I sought out my ride. I walked out into 80-degree weather with a light breeze, finding Amos the chauffeur with a homemade AISM sign. After introducing myself, he quickly whisked me to the curb to meet Ed, the site director, and Javier, an embassy worker. We waited for another staff member to arrive. During that hour wait, I saw a monkey dressed as a baby, nursing on a bottle, and a fight betweens some locals. I am told that I came on a good day – that there hasn’t been any rain and that the temperature is cool.
When we (Amos, Ed, Adisa, and I) began our 90-minute journey to the “compound,” I was amazed by what I saw. The countryside is sprinkled with what I can only call shacks – the kind you see in those “sponsor-a-child-for-pennies-a-day” commercials. Most of them are staked out by slender tree trunks and covered with thatch; some with dobbed mud. There are also a few cement block buildings. Few of those look occupied. I am told that many of them are under construction -- meaning that the owners of the land are building their houses. When money runs out, they stop building. When money returns, building continues. There are also remnants of the past civil war. Burned buildings that serve as a reminder of a less peaceful time.
People line the streets. They sit on their porches or in a circle of plastic chairs. Naked babies play near buckets of water. Chickens roam freely between the people and their conversations. I’m told that the commotion will go on till about 1 am tonight because it’s a Sunday, but that locals may be roaming the streets until 4 in the morning on regular days.
It isn’t till we’re near the city of Monrovia that any electricity is visible.
The place where I’m staying is like the Shangri-la compared to what I passed on the road. First, it is gated. I have yet to see less than 4 guards there at a time. The property, or what I’ve seen of it thus far, is impressive for where it is. The “compound” is in Congo Town, a suburb of Monrovia. Some parts look well-kept, old but clean.
There are five members of the staff living in the newly built apartments on campus – four of us are here already:
Ed (50-60, there’s been some debate about that between Anisa, Albert and me)– the director of the site who has been a world traveler for years. He’s worked in Africa, Colombia, Alaska; lived on a boat; and worked three stints with the PeaceCorps
Albert (46) – a 6’5” Liberian guy who is all about his chakra. He’s a music and math teacher originally from Liberia, but has been living in Maryland for several years. He’s going to be an invaluable guide.
Anisa (41)– a lovely lady who spent the past year in Liberia working at a teacher-education program. She’s originally from New York City, but has traveled and worked abroad consistently.
Linda – hasn’t made it in yet.
My apartment has the modern amenities: refrigerator, stove with gas and electric hook-ups, hot water, two air conditioning units! There are two rooms – one with a queen bed and another with a twin. I have two couches, 6 chairs, and one chest of drawers (that smells like old feet). The table and hanging clothes racks are still to come.
I have found a few other living things in my apartment. There’s a lizard about one inch long. I’ve named him Irving. Harold and Maude are the two crickets that are somewhere in the corner of my kitchen; if I find them, they’re in trouble. Oh – and I did kill one spider that walked across my lap while I was reading a book before bed.