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.

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