Sunday, November 29, 2009


The flights (Austin-Chicago-Brussels-Monrovia) were mostly uneventful, even if we were 2 1/2 hours late out of Chicago. Brussels Airport is a bit of a maze, but the coffee is excellent. I arrived at Roberts Airport with all of my luggage, limbs, and wits. The first thing you see upon landing are the enormous UN vehicles - troop transports, planes, and a gigantic helicopter. Visa and customs processing were as painless as could be expected, although I did have to pay a small bribe entry fee.

worldgroove  and I spent my first night in Liberia with friends. Last night, we (and the friends) lapped up the luxury at RLJ Kendeja, a luxury resort on a private beach. Kendeja is owned by Bob Johnson, founder of BET. (Oh the irony!) Apparently, the spa offers cocoa wraps for the ladies. I've seen the effects. Cocoa wraps get the ulitave seal of approval.Hotel Manager William Tubman, grandson of William Tubman, became quite incensed when he heard about my entry fee. Will knows people, so I might see that money again.

Yesterday. Slept in after a 29-hour flight. Got up. Went shopping with Maryella and Lonette on Gurley St. in Mamba Point, the best (safest, priciest) neighborhood in Monrovia. They took me to a sort of Liberian Whole Foods - shelves full of expensive stuff most people can't afford. But, they had the international flavor of travel, Nutella, Liberian coffee, and Christmas lights. We got extra passport photos taken in an alleyway, and I picked up a pair of sunglasses from a street vendor. The streets! Vibrant, lively, dangerous. Liberia hasn't yet developed traffic laws. There's a general agreement that everyone drives on the right, like America. They've painted yellow lines down the middle of the streets. That's about it. No street signs or streetlights. No crosswalks. No tickets. No ambulances, or buses. Plenty of taxis, mostly pin-pins (motorcycles).

We ate the most amazing BBQ grouper at some hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The owner/chef prepared an entire fish, head, bones, and tail, in the most wonderful peanut/BBQ sauce, accompanied by a small salad, bread, and Fanta. As we ate, a number of street vendors came up, offering whatever. Girls shoes. Coloring books. Guavas. I stopped the sunglasses guy and bought a pair, as mine broke during the trip to Brussels. I paid the man 200 LD (about $2.95 USD) and he left. I put my new sunglasses in my pocket and the lens broke. Ugh! I jumped up and looked for the sunglasses guy. He had a huge piece of cardboard with all of his inventory, yet I couldn't find him. Gurley St. is crowded and dusty. Small children run unaccompanied. Derelict churches crumble into the street. A competing vendor next to me pointed the culprit out. He'd gotten nearly two blocks down the street in just a few seconds. I sprinted down Gurley (no small feat in that heat) and confronted him. Words were exchanged. Sunglasses were exchanged.

Today, I'm taking it easy. No shopping, no sprinting - all stores are closed on Sundays. Tomorrow is a national holiday (President Tubman's birthday), so everything is closed again. We have an IFESH meeting on Tuesday, and then orientation for the rest of the week. I have to go by the embassy, open a bank account, register at the Ministry of Education, all that good stuff.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


How can I express the sublime fantasticness of my weekend? Gabrielle Forman lecture. Gender Studies gathering at the Pub. Madly wonderful MFA dance party later. Consoled a friend over recent breakup. Found best Waffle House in America (Huntsville, AL). Flying rock punched a hole in my gas tank near Padukah, KY, left me stranded. Picked up by my cousin James. Caught up on family stuff. Hung out at James' biker clubhouse in St. Louis. Flew to Memphis. Flew to Mobile. Fixed a car. Drove to Tuscaloosa. 

I smell like gasoline, cigarettes, coffee, and Pringles. Everything hurts. Shower. Bed. Goodnight.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Encounter at Panera

Man in blue polo shirt (on phone): Let's say you and I were black. [looks at Andy nervously]

Andy: [looks back with expression that says don't get crazy now.]

Man in blue polo shirt (still on phone): So say we're black and we hear stuff like 'we're gonna blow up Africa.' Wouldn't we be offended?

Andy: [looks back with new expression that says have your crazy time elsewhere. Any suggestion that you will not have your crazy time elsewhere should be directed to My Black Ass.]

Man in blue polo shirt: [leaves]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Humanity of Faculty

I'm in final preparations for the trip. That sounds so normal. It is normal. People do this all the time. I have another friend in Nairobi, and a writing buddy in Dakar. (In fact, I may go to Dakar for a writer's conference. More on that as it develops.) They've done it - packed everything, gotten multiple vaccinations, passports, visas, and dealt with all the minor things. Mail. Phone. Vehicle registration. Moving doesn't freak me out so much. Even the schedule, tight and rather sudden, I can manage. My new title makes me cringe.

Professor. (Actually "Visiting Expatriate Assistant Professor". Translation: "substitute teacher".) Really? Me? I'll answer to it if I get a shirt that says, "I'M WITH STUPID" - arrow pointing up. I've known a lot of faculty, good, bad, and ugly. I've seen the humanity of faculty, in all their humor, anxiety, brilliance, and gob-smackingly brutal competitiveness. 

I've seen alcoholism, hoarding, and depression. I've seen two faculty members in a fistfight, and met one who ripped the lid off a copier. I've seen faculty steal research from their students and peers. I've seen faculty more interested in humiliating students than teaching. I've seen faculty members (male and female) having affairs. I knew a lovely faculty member killed by her insane grad student, and an insane faculty member who threatened to kill his wife and kids. I've seen several mental breakdowns - one led to suicide. I'll need to remember them. 

I had a professor once who taught his own C.V. in class - we had to memorize all of his accomplishments and their importance. Yes, there was a quiz. I knew a professor who walked the halls with his nose pointed at the ceiling - until he passed a pair of breasts. Then he'd point his nose right at them and say "Hello!" I listened to a faculty member complain loudly when the faculty parking lot (next to our building) was appropriated for a new building. "Faculty," he cried, "are the most discriminated-against group on campus." His new parking spot was in a garage a few blocks away. This was the same parking garage I used, except his (faculty) space was free and my (staff) space was not. A famous faculty member held the door for me almost daily, when I left for lunchtime bike rides. After a semester, I realized this was less due to notions of gender equality, and more due to notions of my bike shorts. I've seen artists-turned-faculty - amazing and productive people reduced to arguments over printers and mailbox placement. I'll need to remember them.

And I've seen faculty change people's lives, cure diseases, improve schools and neighborhoods, and protest all manner of evils. I've seen faculty cancel classes in support of student rallies. I took class with the man who discovered Things Fall Apart. I've had several amazing writing professors, and met many more at conferences. I've commiserated. I've seen faculty reach out to distressed students, volunteer time and energy, host visitors, and do everything they can to make life a little better.

I'll need to remember them too.