July 2nd marked something of a new beginning for me in Monrovia — on that day I moved from the City Center neighborhood to the Sinkor neighborhood.
I knew my first apartment would only be available for a month, so, toward the end of June, I posted a “room wanted” note to the (ever so helpful) Liberia Expats Google-Group. I received loads of offers and, ultimately, chose to share an apartment with two women from South Africa. While my new place is not quite as nice as my last place, it is nice enough. But, the real bonuses are as follows: I now have a small porch-like area by the front door that allows me to sit outside and read on the weekends, I am a block from the ocean, I am across the street from a massive church that (thank goodness) has a very talented choir and, best of all, I am now within walking distance of a few spots worth walking too! One spot is a super-market, another is a Chinese restaurant, and my favorite is a nice hotel (i.e. The Royal Hotel) that has both a general restaurant with Internet access as well as a sushi restaurant! A friend took me to the sushi restaurant and it was awesome! The place was very trendy, both the décor and the music gave it a mellow feel, and the food tasted as terrific as the menu looked… it was very much a welcomed surprise.
Having Internet access at the hotel restaurant is key since I no longer have it at home, oh, and just a quick note about Liberian beaches… while there are a few decent ones, most are not very nice. Aside from fairly dirty and rough water, the sandy beaches themselves are commonly used as garbage dumps and (literally) toilets. So, living near the beach is nice because the weather is more pleasant and it is nice to see the water from a distance as well as hear the sound of the waves, BUT, I will not be taking a long slow stroll on the sand anytime soon!
Being able to now walk to a few places on occasion has been very nice, and this development has finally allowed me to meet a few new people and watch World Cup matches. I have had some other cool developments since moving. On the 8th and 9th I attended a workshop for all local NGOs working on good-governance advocacy projects. A specific Liberian man was pointed out to me and I was told he was quite respected here and that he had experienced some truly challenging times (to be vague) under the rule of Charles Taylor. Sometime later, that man approached me and asked me how long I would be with LDI and where I was from. He then said “oh, Boston! I am moving there in a month to study international development at Brandeis University.” Immediately I wanted to hug him and share all the helpful knowledge that I have amassed during my 2 years at Brandeis and in the international development program, but I stayed composed and instead offered to chat with him at a later time over coffee. I do not think it is possible for me to love Brandeis any more than I already do, but such moments (of which I have many) are just constant cherries on the sundae!
A few days later it was Saturday the 10th and I was off to my first Liberian wedding — the groom was a co-worker of mine! For the occasion I had had a “traditional” suit made by a local tailor, it turned out well and looked good on me (despite the fact that it appears as though I’m wearing an orange prison jump-suit in photos). We experienced TORRENTIAL down-pours all day, but it did not take away from the fun and excitement. First we made our way to the ceremony which was held in a Pentecostal church. It was my first time in a Pentecostal service and it was quite exciting, but it was also a bit scary as the large band was using electric instruments and several microphones… all while the roof was leaking on the instruments, electrical cords, and the performer’s feet. Thank goodness there were no accidents. After the service we had to head to the reception, one of my co-workers threw me the keys to the LDI pick-up truck and told me to drive it over. Not realizing that it had been parked on pure soaked sand (and had already sunk a bit in the rear), I proceeded to give it just a bit too much gas in reverse which resulted in me spinning the rear tires enough to get it truly dug into the sand. Onlookers quickly noticed my predicament and came over to help, but 30 minutes worth of attempts all failed. Just when I thought all hope was lost, I saw a bunch of young guys walking toward me from the nearby village. They got in front of the truck, pushed, and told me to give it gas… the truck was almost instantly freed! But, as I yelled to other co-workers to run over and get in so that we could leave, one informed me that “Liberians do not help for free and that it is customary to give them something.” With that I looked up and realized that about 20 guys had worked to free the truck! I was like “how much do they expect?!” Thankfully they did not expect too much and I managed to get out of there with my wallet pretty much intact.
The reception was at a Methodist church (at which I randomly met 7 members of a Lutheran church, from Philadelphia, that came over because a congregant was related to the bride), and to my surprise it was quite quick. Everybody sat down immediately, chowed down (without hesitation) on pre-prepared plates of food, and chatted away loudly while the bride and groom and wedding party attempted to make speeches… which simply could not be heard over the truly loud chatting. At the conclusion of the reception, I was informed that a smaller group of us would be going to the groom’s home for something of an after-party. I was quickly shocked to see how far away he lived and, ultimately, that he lived in a hectic yet rural area known simply as “Chicken Soup Factory.” Apparently, Richard from the office lives in Chicken Soup Factory! When I enquired about the peculiar name of the area, I was loosely informed that (prior to the war) there had been a factory there that used to produce chicken-flavored soup powder… so, there you have it! By 9pm I was tuckered out and happy to get home, it had really been a fun day.
The next day was Sunday and I took it easy. I walked to The Royal Hotel, ate lunch, got a few hours of Internet access (which afforded me the opportunity to learn about President-elect Frederick Lawrence… great choice Brandeis, super exciting!), and I closed down the day by watching the World Cup Final from within a packed house. It had been a special weekend and I continue to be thankful for the opportunity to intern in Liberia for the summer. Organizations here have told me that they are interested in hosting Brandeis interns and I look forward to getting that message across both now and especially upon my return to campus in September!