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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 12, 2011 Under the weather

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog entry.  In some ways, I think that’s a good thing.  Why?  Well, first, it feels like I’m settling comfortably into my new routine of work and rest.  Second, the busyness of life has been less time for writing.  Third, it felt, for a while, like I was living life behind the camera instead of just living.   By that I mean that I was always on the look out for the next blog entry.  What can I write about?  What would surprise other people the most? 

I’ve got a few things to write about today, but it’s with a gracious heart that I document them – not out of greed for people to read my “newsworthy” adventures…

In the past few days, I’ve really begun to experience the meaning of community here in Monrovia.  On Thursday, Adisa, Linda, and I bummed ride from the US Embassy bus that shuttles kids back and forth between the school’s compound and the embassy compound.  From the Expat Listserv, Adisa had found out about a consignment sale.  The sale was held at Coconut Plantation, a compound not far from the embassy. 

I don’t know what I expected of the outing.  The most I had hoped for was to buy a few kitchen things and a few items to adorn the walls of my spartanly apartment.  What I got out of it was a glimpse into the female expat community.   As we introduced ourselves as teachers at the American International School, one of the hostesses recognized my name; she had gotten an email about my blog for students!

There were a gaggle of ladies there, including several moms of students at my school.  Some people browsed and exited quickly, but most people sat down and enjoyed the company of the fellow females.  It seemed like not many people were in a hurry to head home.  The comfy seats and the delectable finger foods (I must inquire abut the recipe of the puff pastry with the goat cheese inside!) invited guests to stay and mingle.  I saw Sandra, the beautiful Italian/Swiss hairdresser who just trimmed my hair on Tuesday and met Christina, the founder of Resurrection bags.  She helps a group of seamstresses turn the local fabric, lappa, into wonderful totes.  I met Jenny, a former British head of school who’s here now volunteering her time at a mission with her husband.  The ladies hosting the event also had tales of volunteering their time to teach English at Francis Gaskin, a local school/ orphanage in Payneville. 

These are the women, I realized, who understand that I am going though. 

I think when people back home here about what I’m doing they think Yikes!  Africa. but they say That’ll be a wonderful adventure adding the cautionary Be careful

These ladies know that life is different here, but somehow it’s still the same.  We still work and cook and clean and raise kids and eat and play.  (We just have work harder at finding the fun things to play at.)  We live in a country plagued by poverty, not by depression.  We live in a place that has been riddled by violence and war but is in a growth spurt of positivity and peace.  No, it’s not what we grew up with.  No, Liberia is not a place of convenience and affordable luxury.  But, yes, it is a place where you can exist and live happily.

I looked around the room and not one of the women looked at me with pity or concern in her eyes.  They looked at me like, Yeah, well, this is what normal looks like here

In the end, I came home with a pair of earrings, a Resurrection handbag, a Pyrex dish, a dress made out of lappa, a pair of “sailor” pants, and an excitement to hang out with the girls again.

Another feeling of community has extended on the school compound.  I got sick on Saturday and thought I had beat it by this morning.  Not so.  My gracious assistant Theresa took over the classroom while I tried to sleep off whatever bug it is that I have.

I have never had more visitors to my room than today.  Klubo, the school nurse, came to look me over; Ed brought me crackers; Adisa brought me tea; and Weata, Suba, and Linda checked in on me after school.  Gertrude and Theresa scoffed when they saw that I had soup past its expiration date in my pantry; they ventured to the grocery story and returned with chicken noodle soup and juices.  Sure, they mocked my constant denials of needing anything while the soup heated, but they did it out of love.  Gertrude said that we have to watch out for our fellow Lower School Teachers.  And, she didn’t hesitate to add that the soup she’d just brought had an expiration date of 2013!

Note: As of yesterday, the student blog I’m working on has already had over 500 visits!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

September 4, 2011 After one month…

I have made it through the first week of school…alive. The teaching part is not hard; it’s the monotony of living and working in the same place and being around the same people all the time that is going to drive me nuts. (Perhaps I should note that I’m in a bit of a cranky mood as I write this post and that, had you asked me earlier in the week, I might not have had the same take.)

I don’t think I’m the only one in this proverbial boat. Each day after school is over, one of the other ladies is busy trying to make off-campus plans. We’ve journeyed to the grocery store and to eat out just to get off the compound.

I feel like it’s taken almost this whole month for me to take off the training wheels. Finally, I went to the market by myself. When I told my mom that I went outside the compound gate by myself, she had a minor conniption fit. However, it was time. I need to be able to venture out. To prove to myself that I am really living here. These people are not to be feared, but to be mingled with and educated by. I used my solitary journey to bring the picture I promised to the man who grinds cassava leaves. I also bought bananas, potatoes, and onions. Thankfully, Miatta, my house help, had given me a little mini-lesson on how much I should expect to pay.

The main stress this week was water. There’s a leak somewhere on campus, and all the water they bring in to fill the tower drains out within a day or two. Every other day, Adisa texts me to inform me of the lack of water; she has become the consistent bearer of bad news.

It is the rainy season, so it is uber-ironic that, with water falling all around me, I can’t get it in my own room. Therefore, I donned my swimsuit and took my shower products outside one morning before school. The water was a bit chilly, but it beat the option of trying to take a bucket bath in my shower, which is the size of a phone booth.

Ed told the school board about our woes with leaky pipes and unreliable internet connectivity. The board members have promised quick solutions. One member sent his crew out to look into the possibility of cleaning up our well and putting a pump in it to supply the apartments and school with a more reliable source of H20. Another member sent an internet supplier out to check our routers. Here’s to hoping the results come quick!

Other things to note about this week:
• I ate sushi on Thursday night with Adisa, Aminu, Ed, and Elisa (Ed’s girlfriend who just arrived on Wednesday night). The Living Room is a restaurant located in the lobby of the Royal Hotel. It’s a bit sketchy to eat seafood here in Liberia; many of the waters are polluted. So, I stuck to shrimp tempura and California rolls. The chicken stir-fry looked good, too. All-in-all, not a bad dinner. Afterwards, we rolled over to Dona Maria for some more macaroon cookies.
• The yard behind the apartments has been cut…by men with machetes. Of course there are no lawn movers in Africa; it’d be too expensive to import them or to buy the diesel.
• After one whole week of school, I have 11 kids, with one more confirmed to arrive on Sept. 12.
• I began a kid-friendly blog site at
• I got back into the routine of cooking my dinner. This week’s menu included Ritz cracker chicken, beef stroganoff, and some delicious marinated chicken (garlic and butter) from Exclusive supermarket
• Albert, Aminu, Linda and I went to Groovies on Friday night. Albert spent the night pointing out the three other white women who showed up --one of whom I had already met last week (Kate). A group of young girls wearing matching shirts that said “Girls Guard” got loud and rowdy. They were definitely in the spirit of “I am woman. Hear me roar.” They were in town for a women’s symposium where President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson spoke. One of the girls gave me an election pamphlet about the initiatives the president has taken and plans to take if reelected.
• Saturday night, Albert, Linda, Adisa, and I revisited Tides for the 2nd open mic night. Albert played one of my favorite songs, “Sweet Pea” by Amos Lee. Mr. Music gave Adisa and I several shout-outs. I must remember not to order the Bourbon-ade again. It was too sour!

August 27 Red Letter Day

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 piƱa 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.