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Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Smattering of This and That

It’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog.  What can I say?  The muses haven’t blessed me with the writing “bug” in quite some time.  However, I have plenty of time on my hands today and figured that it was time.  Here are a couple of anecdotes from the past months.  Please forgive me; they aren’t necessarily in order.

Party Time:
My teacher's assistant, Theresa, and me
One of my co-worker’s “sons” got married.  The reception was held in the gym on our school’s compound.  (Our gym is one of two in the country.)  I helped to decorate the night before and the morning of the wedding.  It was one of the first times that I felt I could truly give back and help out a friend who has helped me acclimate. 

I enjoyed attending the reception.  Liberian wedding receptions are something to be seen.  First of all, the wedding dress reminded me of an 80’s bride, replete with puffy sleeves.  Second, the seating at the reception is done according to importance.  The family of the bride and groom, the clergy, the dignitaries, and the school staff had special tables.  We were provided with food and drink by the wedding hostesses.  The others in attendance served themselves at a buffet line after we had eaten. 

I wore a traditional African dress on which I received many compliments.  I was so proud to have chosen the lappa myself and have it made by a tailor.

Wulki Farms: For the first time since I’d arrived in Liberia, I left the confines of Monrovia and headed out of the city.   The city of Monrovia is unlike the rest of Monrovia.  At times it feels stuffy.  There are so many people in such a small place!  Plus, once you get out of the city, you realize how lush the rest of the country is with its sprawling hills of greenery.

Ed, his girlfriend Alyssa, Javier, and I trekked about an hour and a half out of the city to Careysburg.  Just past the school where Alyssa works is Wulki farms.  The land is gorgeous.  The farm boasts chickens, cows, pigs, crocodiles, ostriches, etc.  Additionally, there’s a large series of pools complete with slides!  The restaurant on the property serves food grown (and slaughtered) on the grounds.

The owner’s house was the biggest I’ve seen in Liberia.  There were many limousines parked out front of the house; I wonder if there were foreign dignitaries staying there.

After touring the farm, we dropped Alyssa off at St. Anthony’s, a boarding school.  Seeing that school provided me with a better idea of a traditional Liberian school. 

 Getting chummy: The parents at school are very gracious.  Twice the teachers from my school have been hosted by parents for nights out of eating, drinking, and being merry.  The first time, we were provided with all the accoutrements of a Lebanese dinner at one of the local hotels.  I LOVE Lebanese food and gorged on kebbeh, kebabs, and baba ganoush.

All the parents that attended that dinner were Lebanese, so I learned a lot about the Lebanese community here in Liberia.  Many of them were born in Liberia.  However, because of Liberia laws, they are not considered Liberian citizens.  Additionally, non-Liberians are not allowed to own land.  This discovery shocked me because the majority of stores and restaurants that I frequent are managed by Lebanese familes.

Later, our school staff was hosted by the head of Total in Liberia.  Total is a French gasoline company.  The house was magnificent!  The conversation was even better.  The French couple has a child in my class, and it was enlightening to hear how he goes home after a full day of school and continues lessons in French at home.  I admire his parents for maintaining his home country’s language.  Additionally, I am always in awe to hear of the places where these families have lived. The pictures I saw of Benin made me begin dreaming of other places in Africa that I want to visit before I move back to the States.

"White woman! Take our picture."
Blue Lake: Alyssa, the director’s girlfriend, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia a few years ago.  A friend invited her back to Tubmanburg, which is about 2.5 hours outside of Monrovia, for her 1st wedding anniversary party.  I was invited to tag along, and I am so glad that I did.

A run-down church on the way to the anniversary
While in Tubmanburg, I saw the Peace Corps housing where Alyssa had lived.  Let’s just say that it made my apartment on campus look like Shangri-la. 

Before we attended the anniversary party, we went to Blue Lake.  At one time, iron was mined in Bong County.  After the mining stopped, the area was filled with water.  Thus, Blue Lake. 

Blue Lake
The anniversary party for Amos & Meenie was
held underneath a tent of woven palm leaves.
We took a quick dip in the refreshing water.  The little boys taking a swim did not hide their gawking at me – a white girl in a bikini.  As soon as I got in the water, they surrounded me like minnows.  I wish I had a picture of that!

A Country on the Brink

As the presidential run-off election approached, feelings escalated and there were some instances of violence around the city.  On the eve of the run-off, the opposition party hosted a rally that ended in bloodshed.  Depending on which report you read, between one to five people died with the Liberian National Police acted to break up the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) rally.

Despite the fact that the incident happened just a mile or two from my school compound, it did not really faze me.  At no point did I feel threatened or worried.  In fact, it wasn’t till that evening that I realized how volatile the situation was and how it could come down the street toward me.  

The empty canister still
smelled like gunpowder.
The scorched earth outside our compound
The security guards at the compound showed the director and me an empty canister.  It must have contained a flash or tear gas.  Regardless of what it was, the canister was dropped by a UN helicopter outside the school walls to disperse a crowd that was gathering there.  The canister caused about 15 yards of grass along the wall to catch fire.  Thankfully, the canister didn’t land inside the fence; it was only feet away from our generator!

Like I said, I didn’t realize any of this commotion was taking place.  I can always hear sounds from outside the wall.  People and music from the streets seem to echo within our walls.  The only difference I had noted that day was an abundance of helicopter noise.  They seemed to be circling the compound…and now I understand why.

Since that incident on Monday, November 7, there have been a few other acts of violence around the city.  Someone’s house was burned, a few businesses were ransacked, and a radio-station was razed.

As results from the run-offs came in, there are posted here.
UP is the Unity Party.
CDC is Congress for Democratic Change.
The CDC called for a boycott of the elections.   It was no surprise, therefore, when the incumbent President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson won by a landslide – like 600,000 to 60,000.  Unfortunately, the prior day’s commotion deterred many from going to the polls.

One of "Mama" Ellen's campaign signs
Every once and a while there are rumors.  The riots that were supposedly going to happen when the CDC buried the shot man did not happen.  November 21 was supposed to be “Black Monday,” a day marked with many petrol bombs.  When rumors of these events fly, people stay home.  They pray for the best but prepare for the worst.  Those are the days when only a few of my students show up for school.  I cannot blame the parents that keep their kids at home.