Saturday, February 27, 2016

Returning to Liberia, January 22 - Februrary 21, 2016

When I left Liberia at the end of May, 2014, I had questions about what would become of the projects I had started and the people left behind. These included:
-A group of mainly illiterate women, called the Wolekamah Women's Organization. who wanted to build a community center where they and their children could learn to read and also to serve as a vocational training center to help women learn ways to support their families. My main goal was to help them become an NGO so they could apply for grants.
-"Dr. Nick's", the shop I had started
-The promises I made not to forget them and their aspirations for a better life

Other questions plagued me too:
-What had become people with whom I had become friends?
-What had become of the Cuttington University students who helped with a mentoring program and the health related programs at local primary and secondary schools?

-How did people cope during the Ebola crisis?

Somehow it is easy to explain going to a place like Liberia while a Peace Corps Volunteer. You are part of a greater program with the protection and services provided to employees of the U.S. Government. But on your own, you need to rely on Liberians to help you find a place to live, feed you, get your water, and assist you if you became injured or ill. Somehow now I had more faith in Liberians than the U.S. Government to watch my back. I think there was more at stake for my well-being with people I knew and trusted.

Yes, there is the dollar costs. It isn't cheap or easy to get to Liberia, but "What the hell". Off I went.

What people said upon seeing me again was that I was bigger (I weighed more this time) and looked younger. I guess that was not all bad.

To get some idea as to how the Liberian civil war affects society, you may want to connect to this article from Al Jazeera about two Liberian brothers, called "Children of War":

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Weather

Liberia is not Minnesota where the weather is the most common topic of idle conversation (It's how is your family? or How did you sleep? in Liberia).

Liberia has really two seasons, dry and wet. During the dry season, approximately from November to April, with the hottest, driest months being February and March, little if no rain falls. While I was there, it was only once did I see clouds. The end of January were two sheet sleeping nights. In February, it was HOT, DRY, and DUSTY with any sheet sticking to you. Since there are no thermometers, I can only go by the fact that Liberians said it was very hot, probably high 90's. Your clothes are continually covered on dust not only from the local soil, but from the harmattan winds which blow very fine dust particles from the Sahara Desert.

The rainy season is just the reverse. Rain comes down in torrents. Just how much it rains where I was I really don't know, but in the Monrovia it is close to 12 (144 inches) feet of rain during the rainy season. Minnesota gets about 40 inches of precipitation all year.

For dress, men wear long pants and dress like most Westerners. They say to be civilized. I wore my Samoan sarong in my house because it is cooler. I guess this is still a preferred style in the more remote, "less-civilized" parts of the country.
I wore in Liberia the same lava-lava as in this earlier Samoan picture, an indispensable piece of cloth.

My Liberian House

The Wolekamah Women's Organization found me a three bedroom, 2 bath house to rent for $75/month in the village not too far from where I was before. The house did lack certain amenities which some would find unacceptable, like running water and electricity.
My rental house
Backyard view
Water well
Neighbor's House

Nearest Neighbor's House

My Dining-Living Room (Water Filter in corner)

En Suite Bedroom
Bath with water supply, scoop, bucket for shower and flushing. Actually once hit the handle out of habit.

My Cuisine

Let's start with food.
All my food was natural, organic, and paleo. Prepared fresh by hand, brought over hot to my table. Ingredients would cost a fortune at Whole Foods, no tips required. One thing about Liberian food, you better like rice and spice. Two meals a day, but each is filling.
Some of my favorites:
Spaghetti with canned sardines and chilies. You can eat it with mayonnaise as a cooling condiment.
Taro (called Eddo in Liberia) in a spicy sauce with onion.
Fried dough balls
Coka Oats (Oatmeal)
A large quantity of rice accompanies every meal, with:
Ground up cassava leaves, spice, palm oil, dried fish, chicken feet
Ground up potato greens, spice, palm oil, and ground hog
Ground up palaver leaves, spice, palm oil, chicken drumstick with canned fish
Pepe Soup, a spicy broth with some form of animal
Left overs, later washed down with a beer from Dr.Nick's

As strange as the food sounds, I have come to like it.
A King's Table

My Staff

When you eat like a king, you need to be taken care of like a king.
My Plumbing System, Martha

Martha with her 3 year old son, Lawrence

My landlord
My Pet

About town

There are three ways you get around in Liberia:
1) Walk
Definitely the safest, cheapest, and most common way to get around
Foot paths go everywhere, usually next to a naturally created trench for rain water

Typical road. No grading or leveling here.
 Girl on her way to school listening to music. I probably would be arrested for stalking in US

2) Motorbike (Motorcycle)
Used for intermediate trips from 10 minutes to three hours. Dangerous, forbidden to be used by Peace Corps, but all do. Cause of my new scar, and most limps in Liberia
Motorbikes and loud music are synonymous with Liberian Life 

Muslims in town. Their 5:30 am Call to Prayer was my alarm clock.
 3) Taxi
They only are where you are usually not. They are mostly Nissans which have been salvage from some other country's junk yard. Always a risk they will break down half way on your trip. Usually seat 4-5 in the back and 1-2 in the front besides the driver. Picking your nose is a common practice in taxis to pass the time and for entertainment.
The other vehicles in Liberia are new Land Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers and Pickups owned by the United Nations and the country's numerous foreign NGOs.

Dr. Nick's Enterainment Center

It is hard for me to believe but the dream of a family of 10 children and three grandchildren, led by a determined single mother, Oretha Togbah, to finish a store she started to build (had no walls) but was unable to finish after her husband abandoned the family seven years ago. The store is now over twice it's original size with a little help from me and a lot of hard work and savings by the entire family. I think I called this right.

Dr. Nick's, 2014
Boys digging out side of hill, and carrying cement for the floor.

Walls are of hand-made, sun-dried clay bricks, covered with a cement veneer. Metal roof and lumber need to be purchased.
Almost finished with heavy metal security doors installed.
Open for business

 Dr. Nick's 2016 
The original plan was to build an enclosed area in front since you couldn't do business during the rainy season. This addition was to be built with store profits. Little did I expect to see what the family had done, despite the seven month Ebola quarantined period.

Have your private party at
Dr. Nick’s Entertainment Center
A Great Place For:
Bachelor Parties
                                       Special Occasions
Just Having Fun
Dr. Nick’s is located in Plato-ta quarter of Sinyea Town, next to Cuttington University.
For details, call: 0880510951, 0886442273

Original Dr. Nick's
Addition with a bathroom and large storeroom, curtained with strobe and Christmas lights.
Party Time at Dr. Nick's

My Going Away Party
Dr. Nick's as a place to make sour milk balls for the children to later sell.