Friday, April 18, 2008

T.I.A.--"This is Africa"

This is a popular explanation to many of the situations that happen around here. T.I.A.—This is Africa. To branch off of that, I’ve been making a list called T.I.L.—This is Liberia. So far I’ve got 3 pages of things….and I want to start sharing them with all of you. Please feel free to post your own T.I.A. or T.I.L. experiences. Here’s my first 15.

  1. You sweat all day, every day.
  2. You have a cutlass by your front door, along with a broom and a baseball bat.
  3. Your hallway décor consist of 8 body boards leaning up against the well.
  4. You begin to shiver upon entering any air-conditioned establishment.
  5. A pint of Hagen-Daz ice cream has a $25USD price tag!
  6. If you’re not eating rice or bread- well, then you probably aren’t eating.
  7. You have forgotten what it’s like to shower with hot water, and without wearing flip-flops and bathing suit.
  8. You use a bucket of water to flush the toilet, your sink is propped up with a stick and you spit your toothpaste into the tub; and you don’t use the sink or tub for their intended purposes.
  9. You drive down the road honking your horn—for no reason really, but nobody minds because everyone else is doing the same thing.
  10. There’s no point in using a wallet—you need a small bag to carry around $20USD worth of Liberty.
  11. You greet everyone with “ah-lo” and ask “how you coming on”—even though you already know the answer.
  12. When asked “how you coming on”, you answer with either “aright” or “trying small”—no matter what.
  13. You crave milk, beef and salad (or maybe that’s just me?).
  14. Any round, typically green-ish, fruit-like thing is a “plum”.
  15. You respond to “wha mah”, “chinee mah” and “auntie” and tend to not respond to “fin jew” or the Liberian smooch sound. (translations: white man, Chinese man and fine jewel) are told there will be a 30 minute intermission from the internet while making a blog because they need to refuel the generator!

Good Eats in Monrovia

I apologize in advance for not giving the exact locations of these places…but they’re all in/around Sinkor. I’ve only eaten out at 3 places so far, so I’ll rank them in order by preference.

Top Pick: Sajj—really good and cheap food. The seating is outside but you’re inside of a wall, but it provides for an escape…when you’re there, you feel like you could be anywhere in the world; but then you hear all of the car horns honking, and you remember you’re in Liberia. I’ve eaten here 3 times, and ordered different things every time, and I haven’t ever been disappointed. They have a good variety to choose from (mostly Lebanese, but they have other things too) and it’s easy to eat here for under $10! I recommend just about anything from the first page of the menu! Service is decent…we are friends with most of the wait-staff, which helps. And supposedly they have wireless internet.

Second Choice: Golden Beach—you can’t beat sitting on the beach, eating a decent meal, and watching the sun set over the Atlantic. You can sit at a table out in the sand, or on the covered porch area. The menu can be a bit more expensive, but you’re paying for the view. The menu has a wide variety to choose from (Liberian, Chinese, sandwiches, ‘American’ appetizers, etc). I had the Club Sandwich, which was $7USD, and it was alright….the Liberian dinner and the Chinese chicken were $12-$15, but it was plenty-o food. Pretty good service too.

Lastly: Delish—we had planned on going to The Royal this night, but apparently everyone else had the same idea! The parking lot was packed, and so we opted for Delish, which is right next door. It was a first for all of us. You can sit inside (slightly air-conditioned, large TV with Italian football games on in the sit-down section) or you can sit outside and watch the traffic go by. If you’re looking for Italian food, they’ve got lots to choose from…but since you’re in Liberia, it might not be quite what you’re used to. I got the spaghetti and ragu meat sauce for $12USD. It was a lot of spaghetti, and it tasted decent….but alittle salty. My coworkers got spaghetti carbonera and a chicken pizza….which were both sufficient in size, and had a decent flavor. The service was exceptionally slow (slower than usual Liberia) and we were the only people in the place eating dinner. The redeeming thing about the place is the ice cream! Banana and pistachio ice cream….and it was GOOD and COLD! Also, the bottled water was the coldest drink I’ve ever had in Liberia. Our bill was $44USD for the 3 meals, 2 large bottles of water and 4 scoops of ice cream.

I can honestly say that my best meals in Liberia have been the dinners made by our Liberian Ma. Anything Mary makes is good…and spicy! We usually sit around sniffling while we eat because Mary makes everything spicy! I think the main reason why it tastes so good is because of the love she puts into the meals. She usually wakes up early to go to the market to buy her ingredients. Then she usually gets here between 9-10am and cooks all day long so that dinner will be ready at about 5pm. She’s a hard-working woman with a servant’s heart and she takes good care of us! She also does all of our food shopping and food deliveries for our feeding programs. Mary has introduced my taste buds to some new Liberian dishes…and I think my new favorite is pumpkin! I’ll try and get some pictures of the Liberian dishes so that you will all be well-educated.

Akon Mania

This week’s excitement has consisted of Akon coming to town. It seems as if the entire country has gone Akon-crazy! Our security guards have been begging for tickets for the last month. Cramer finally decided that the issue would be settled by arm wrestling…whoever could beat him could have a ticket. Nobody could beat Cramer, so no Akon tickets.

Monrovia was covered in banners and flags advertising for the concert, and there has been marked cars and motorbikes driving around to sell tickets. Here’s the kicker: the cheapest ticket was $20USD! So people probably went for a week without food just to buy a ticket. I never saw anyone buy a ticket, and I don’t know anyone who actually purchased a ticket. By the way, VIP tickets were $100USD, and I heard you could pay $200USD to eat dinner with the guy. I think they were trying to take advantage of all of the expats having money and needing some entertainment, but still…we’re in Liberia, where most people make a dollar or two a day!

The show was on Tuesday night at the SKD Sports Complex. I met an old friend two nights ago who went to the show because his school gave the top students tickets. I learned from him that Akon only performed 3 songs, and then the crowd was so out of control (apparently he invited the crowd to come closer or something—which you should never do in Liberia!) that they took him off the stage, and he never returned. So much for money well spent, eh?

The Ducor Hotel

I know I’m alittle behind, but I still wanted to share a few pictures from my trip to the rooftop of the Ducor Hotel. The Ducor sits on top of the highest point in Monrovia, so it provides for a great 360-degree view! When I was here last year, the hotel was packed full of squatters. Since then, the squatters have been evicted, and the property is guarded. There is talk that a foreign investor is coming in to restore the hotel, but it’s going to take a lot of work!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Liberia Photo Essay--Take 1

My days are filled with kids like this. Next time I will tell you this little girl's story.

My wake up call...literally, hence the sleepiness!

4wheel driving it through mud puddles in the Liberian jungle!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Needing Some Pictures

I know many of you are still wondering what in the world I’m actually doing here. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one wondering, haha. I’m still visiting orphanages and getting acclimated with the area, the directors and the children. I’ve visited over 20 orphanages so far. Yesterday we went on an adventure to Kakata, which is about 1-1 ½ hours drive from the house (towards the interior). The road is horrible, but it’s fun to play ‘Dodge the Potholes’. We visited an orphanage that’s 13km down a dirt road and with the rain the night before, it made for some exciting off-roading. We had to forge 2 rivers, and get through numerous puddles…which was no easy task. We were praying the whole time that we wouldn’t get stuck! Because of the road conditions, we’re fairly certain that will be our last visit until after rainy season.

Today we spent the majority of the day running errands in town (bank, post office, Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, etc). We also got the air-conditioning fixed on the jeep (must have for rainy season—to keep the windows clear), but we enjoyed alittle of the air while we waited in traffic. The air-conditioning was almost more then we could handle…and we stopped at Abi’s for cold drinks….so between the two, we “Liberians” had goosebumps!

Some other things that I haven’t had time to talk about are:
- We went on the roof of the Ducor Hotel, which overlooks Monrovia. Totally cool! They now have kicked out all of the squatters and the road up to the JJ Roberts Monutment and Ducor Hotel are guarded, so our NGO tag helped us out.
- I had my first driving in Liberia experience last week! Andrew’s been really good about not pushing the subject, but he forced me to drive home from BJCCV (10-15 minute drive). I feel pretty good about driving out here, but I haven’t gained the courage to go towards town. I’ll get there someday.
- After Sunday there will only be 3 of us on the ground here in Liberia. Kind of scary, but I think we’ll be alright.
- There was a riot about a mile down the street on Tuesday. A school was demolished before the new building was complete, so the student’s showed up for school and there was no school. They rioted, and things got out of hand so the LNP and the UN came in. Tear gas was used to break up the crowds, and somehow our head of security managed to get himself arrested. He was warned not to go down there, but he did anyway. After 24 hours in jail (and his friend paying the commander some bribe money), we’re pretty sure he didn’t learn his lesson.
- Sorry to end on a sad note, but our poor pitiful kitten passed away on Thursday. Someone ate her/his mother, so being that we rescue orphans, we took her/him in. This is not the usual outcome of our rescue missions, just for the record. We think it was death by car, but not sure. We buried her/him just on the other side of the compound wall. So, now I need to find a new friend.

I'm going to put together pics of mud puddles and roof-top views from the Ducor for next time.


I know, I’m a loser for not keeping everyone in the loop! By the time I plow through 130+ emails, my hour is up and the blog gets put on the back-burner. Starting today, I’m planning on changing that…blog first! Well, actually, I’ve decided to blog ahead of time and just show up at the internet café prepared…pictures and all.

So, today I’m giving you some basics about my house & neighborhood. Once we get past the basics, then I can start with the stories.

The focal point of our ‘dining room’ is a huge chalkboard, which serves as our to-do list. Notice the time measurements are in African time (Now, Soon and Later).

My bedroom, also called the Princess Palace, is the girl’s room in the house. Mariel and I share the room and the attached bathroom. And yes, we sleep under our nets every night! I will provide a picture of the Princess Palace another time.

We have a front porch and a back porch…both provide for great hangouts. The back porch is great place to cool off in the afternoon, and we usually sit out on the front porch and watch the sun go down at the end of a long day. Below is home...the windows on the right corner is my room.

Now, I’ll branch out. Onto the neighbors! To the left, we have a house that turns into a music-blaring night club of a thing around 6:30pm every night. They have a small playlist, and we have names for a lot of the songs (they’re so distorted that we have no idea what the real words are). Music usually goes until 9-9:30pm. The good news is that there’s no music on Mondays, so we get once night of peace and quiet! In front of the house is the road. Across the street are 2 houses packed full of kids. Randolph & Rudolph usually dance for us (sometimes in the rain w/o clothing), or like tonight, they sometime shoot at us or show off their karate moves. The other house of kids isn’t as pleasant. The most common sound from that house is children screaming. The kids are frequently beaten with a stick, and there have been some instances of punishment by way of hot peppers in the eyes. The guys have had to go over a few times to check on things. To the right is another compound, but it’s the offices for the Tropical Resource Company…aka a logging company. There are always big trucks full of workers going to and from. On the other side of that is a small house where about 7 of the cutest kids in Liberia live. They come over almost daily and hang out. Behind us is a small school, so usually when we’re making breakfast we hear the children singing ‘Hail Liberia’. There’s also an orphanage there, and I’ve briefly met some of those kids when I went with the kids to the right of us to draw water from their pump. Also behind is…somewhere…is the praying lady. So far, she’s only disturbed my sleep 3 times. She wakes up at about 4am and viciously prayers for about an hour…for the entire neighborhood to hear. She prayed the first night I was here, and if Mariel wouldn’t have warned me, I would have thought someone was very angry…or someone was passionately preaching. So yea, that’s my exciting little living bubble. I’m sure more stories will come from the ‘hood.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I'm in Liberia!

Sorry to make you all worry, which I'm sure you all were, right? I admit, I came to the internet cafe unprepared. So to tide you all over, I'm just going to cut and paste the update I sent out. I will come better prepared next time, promise! Thanks for all of your prayers and support.

'Ah-lo' from Liberia!
[that's hello in Liberian-English]

I can't believe that I've already been in Liberia for almost a week! I apologize for those who worried about me arriving safely; this is the first chance I've had to make it to a computer. It has been great checking my email (all 132 emails) and reading all of the emails of encouragement! This first update is going to be short, but the next will have more details.

I arrived without any problems on Monday night! I was able to find the person I was meeting in the Brussels, and because the plane was half empty, Debbie and I were able to sit together and get to know each other (and sleep). When I got off the plane in Monrovia, I thought I landed in the wrong place! It wasn't too hot, the air wasn't thick with smoke, and the airport was repainted and air conditioned?! Other than that, I felt right at home!

This week has been very very busy! On Tuesday I was able to go to BJCCV to see all of my kids! They had no idea I was in Liberia, so needless to say, they were totally shocked! Lots of hugs, smiles and tears! The new school building looks amazing! I have also already visited 9 of the orphanages that ORR is currently doing work at. It was an overwhelming 2 days of alot of traveling, and it was also eye-opening. The children are all so sweet and beautiful; but the needs are tremendous! I spent those 2 days surrounded by children playing with my arm hair (that's new for them), platting my hair (braiding), dusting the dirt off my feet or clothes and basically just starring at me, trying to figure me out. It was been wonderful! At the same time, I've been in a few orphanages that have some great great needs, and those orphanages have broken my heart! I'll go into more detail in my next update.

I was able to go to Mercy Ships on Friday night for dinner. It was my first time going into town, and Monrovia looks GREAT! So many improvements and just the activity of the people on the streets--you can tell things are improving. There's some electricity in town and there's a new gas station that literally blows me away every time I go by, which is awesome!

Now I know you're all wondering about the living conditions. My roommates/coworkers are great! Better than I could have imagined! We've had alot of great times already, and bonded over children, sweat and surfing! My house is super great! Plenty of space and sweet ladies who are taking very good care of us! We have a generator that runs from about 8pm-10pm. No running water...but an amazing outdoor shower that feels great at the end of a long, hot, sweaty day! Mary cooks our meals...and she can cook some mean pumpkin and potato greens! We have 3 security guards who rotate watching our compound, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know them better. And if the security guards weren't enough, we've got a guard dog (One Love) and the most pitiful kitten you've ever seen. They provide for our entertainment when we sit on the porch to cool off at night. (You aren't picky in Liberia)

Anyway, this is really long! And I'm sweating to death, so I need to hop back in the car for a breezy car ride! So yea, God is doing some really great things already, and I'm really looking forward to what He will do! Thanks to everyone who's been praying for me!!

God bless,

P.S. I am changing phone numbers, so I will let you know of my new number as soon as I get it.