…everything works out


It’s been a strange few weeks.

I rushed off to Liberia at the last minute for an urgent assignment. Then…nothing. It seems to always be a case of hurry up and wait here. The request for proposals I was meant to be working on wasn’t released until the end of my 2nd week here. While I had plenty to do, it certainly wasn’t the emergency that they had led me to believe. Oh well!

It was surreal being back. I’ve been gone just about 1½ years, and I was amazed at how little had changed. Yet so much had changed. After having come and gone from here so many times over the last 5 years, it feels a bit like coming home. And in this case, IRC was the crazy family you sometimes wish you weren’t related to, but love just the same.

I left Liberia in a haze of frustration and exhaustion. My two years here were…well, let’s just say challenging. Although I’d had some good times, I was ready to never set foot in the place again for a variety of reasons. So it was a pleasant surprise when I walked into the IRC office that first morning. So many familiar, smiling faces greeted me, and plenty of new ones as well. In many ways I felt like I was welcomed back as part of the team as if I’d only been gone on R&R for a few weeks. It was nice to be back in a country where I know how things work, or rather where I know how they don’t work. it makes things so much easier.

I gorged myself on Lebanese food while I was here – I ate so much moutabal that I nearly turned into a giant eggplant myself. I think I managed to get my fill, though, so I can survive awhile back in SA where Lebanese food doesn’t seem to exist. I also had plenty tuna sashimi salad from Royal sushi…yum. Who knew the stuff my sushi dreams were made of would be found in Monrovia?? And sundowners and drinks on the beach are pretty idyllic here – I’ve yet to find the same sort of unpretentious, chilled out beach spots in Cape Town. It was great catching up with old friends and meeting new ones – fun colleagues, feisty little Liberian kitties at my apartment building, random friends of friends to chat to over drinks. I had forgotten how easy in some ways it is to live in an expat community like Liberia – everyone is constantly coming in and out, and everyone ‘gets’ what you do, so you quite easily find common ground to bond over. I found myself feeling quite proud of my life choices, though – I got more than one jealous comments about my house and Cape Town and just getting out of the madness of development for awhile.

Some things seem to be inching forward in the country – new buildings going up, banks opening and ATMs, roads being repaired in town – and others seem to have gone in reverse – the roads up country and UN drive, ATMs that don’t work, driving skills, corruption. So I guess if you do the math the place is the same. It’s a bit like the seasons here – you build, repair, make progress during the dry season, and much of the work that you’ve done is washed away or damaged in the heavy rains. But it was good to see the signs of progress and stability.

I’ve ended up being here for nearly a month in all. More than enough time in my book! But who knows, I may have the chance to go back sooner than I think. And at the end, I’m pretty happy to have come back – I needed to exorcise some demons and remember why I actually liked working in Liberia. The best thing a friend told me on this trip about Liberia sums up the place to a tee – ‘In Liberia nothing works, but everything works out’.


On the road again

So, I’m on the road again. After MUCH hemming and hawing, IRC finally gave me the go ahead this afternoon at 2pm to leave. On a flight at 7pm. Talk about last minute.

I’ll be back in my old stomping grounds, Liberia, which I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading. My last few months there were less than plesant, and I won’t have Nick there to keep me sane – but I did have some good times, and I hope I won’t be there long enough for the place to really get under my skin. Plus I get to see some good friends and former colleagues, which is nice.

Of course, timing couldn’t have been worse. When I originally agreed to the assignment a month ago I told them I had to be back by the 1st to move. Unfortunately everything was delayed, so now poor Nick has to move into our new house (!) by himself. I packed as much as humanly possible, but feel really badly. I’m super bummed I’m not going to be around!

Anyways, it’s time for flight #2 of 3. The lovely midnight flight from joburg to nairobi. OR Tambo is the place to be this time of night…Here’s to hoping my window seat isn’t comandeered, that I win the armrest war and that I can actually get some sleep.

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leaving Liberia…

Not sure where to start, but after a year and a half I am leaving Liberia! It’s been pretty crazy for sure – it feels like my last month here has gone by in a flash. I have had so many things that I wanted to get done at work before I left – I am feeling really terrible for leaving my great staff. I wanted to stay for at least 2 years, since the program and the staff suffer each time there is a turnover in senior management (which happens all too frequently). I won’t go into the details, suffice it to say that it is time. Liberia isn’t the easiest place to live and work for sure, but I am surprisingly sad to be leaving…Nick and I have made this our home, met awesome people, and finally in our last few months here have really established an amazing group of friends (why does it always happen that way?).

But I am ecstatically happy at the same time! I’m not exactly sure what’s next – but it looks like it will be a good few months off, visiting our families in SA in MN, going on an extended road trip, who knows.

Our last day in Liberia was great. Some colleagues felt that they should give me a going away party over lunch, whcih was actually incredibly awkward – everyone felt like they had to stand up and say a few words, including my boss (with whom it is no secret there is no love lost between us), but the thought was nice. But it was a great chance to say goodbye to the many staff I will truly miss. After dealing with a few last minute issues (surprise, surprise), I left early to go have a mimosa at home and kill one last bottle of champagne we had in the fridge.

A group of us then shuttled out to Marlin’s Corner, one of my favorite places in Liberia. It’s about a 45 minute drive with all the traffic, but it is well worth it. It’s probably the most relaxing place in the city, right on the water, a great place to watch the sunset. With Club beer (the local Liberian brew) on tap and 75 cent beers during happy hour and the BEST fish ever, it was the perfect place to say farewell to Monrovia. After dinner we headed to the Red Lion for a few more beers and a rousing game of darts. It was a great night!

Now we are on our way. The house is packed up, the bags and Squeekers are (almost) all checked in, and we are off to SA. I didn’t know that I would be this sad to be leaving – as I said, the last few months have been hard, but there are a lot of good memories here! Who knows, maybe I’ll be back someday!

30th Birthday!

Today I officially turn 30 years old! Let the jokes begin…

I wasn’t sure what to do to celebrate the big milestone. The Monrovia party scene is an odd one – you either have a small gathering of people, or you have a big party that nearly everyone in Monrovia feels entitled to show up to, whether you know them or not. I didn’t really want to supply booze to the entire expat community (nor did I really have the time to plan it), so I decided to ring in my 30th with a much more low-key event.

My bday falls on a Monday, so I decided to celebrate the weekend before. As has happened the last few years, there have been a few kinks in my plans. A few weeks ago Nick found out that he might have to be in Abidjan over the weekend…he did everything he could to make sure that he could be here for the party. And it was integral to my plan to have him here – I wanted to have a brunch (my favorite meal – breakfast food that you don’t have to get up early for!), and he makes an amazing quiche! 🙂 Actually, birthdays always mean a lot to me, and since this was a big one it was great that he was able to finagle a way to be around.

A bunch of friends came over around 11am, and we moseyed over to the pool. Despite a huge night out the night before (and the wicked hangovers that came with it), Nick was up SUPER early to start cooking (I helped of course!). We had an awesome spread of home– banana bread, tzatziki and pita, fruit salad, chocolate brownies, ham and mushroom quiche, and best of all, Nick managed to make me a special treat…BAGELS! He figured out how to make sesame bagels (not at all easy), one of the things I missed from home. My mom also figured out with Nick how they could get a cake made for me in Liberia – who knew? With the amazing spread, friends, and tons of mimosas, we had an awesome brunch. We hung out around the pool all day, soaking up the sun and having a great time.

My actual birthday has been much quieter – Nick couldn’t manage to stay today and is off in Abidjan. I had dinner with a friend, enjoying some sushi and margaritas. Overall 30 has gotten off to a good start!

Liberian English

Liberia is officially an English speaking country. When I first got here back in 2004, though, I realized quickly that ‘English’ is subjective. Liberian English is almost a completely different language. t has its roots in English, of course, but the pronunciation (or lack thereof) is sometimes completely foreign, and speech is peppered with some very colorful phrases. My favorites include ‘For true?’ (are you serious?), “how da body?’ (how are you?), ‘whywoma‘ (white woman – called out by all children, and even adults, every time I walk down the road), ‘are you getting me?’ (do you understand?), and one of my most commonly used, ‘it’s not easy-o!’.

Most of the time I feel like I am doing pretty well with the Liberian English – I can follow a long conversation with local villagers, and they can even understand me most of the time. But then I’ll say something and be greeted only with blank stares, and I’ll look to my Liberian colleagues to translate for me. While most of the staff that I work with and people I come in contact are fluent in both American English and Liberian, they can also make sure that I don’t understand a word if they want! It’s amazing that even after a year here that I can be so lost sometimes…

Election night, Liberian style

The US election fever has taken hold of everyone here in Liberia, as it has all over the world. With Liberia’s strong (albeit dubious at times) connections with the US, with so many Liberians with friends and family in the states, and with the large number of Americans living and working here and with so many Liberians living in the States, everyone feels very invested. I was definitely a bit bummed about not being at home for all the craziness – all my friends in DC and on campaigns were having big parties, planning on going to the balls if Obama won, etc.

There were election night parties set up all over town – the US Embassy (stuff diplomats), different Ministries, and more. I was amazed by the number of parties planned, given that Liberia is 5 hours ahead of EST, and 8 hours ahead of the West coast…Some friends from the Carter Center organized an election night party that we decided to go to – they had two big screens set up with CNN projected, drinks, and a full breakfast buffet they had catered. I hadn’t watched CNN in a long time (no TV for Jenny in Liberia), and it took me awhile to get used to how cheesy and self important the ‘reporters’ are, but once we got into it it was fun. The crowd was a mix of expats from all over the world and Liberians – really cool to see how excited the non-Americans were. I had never realized how difficult the whole Electoral College thing is to explain until I sat there with Nick trying to make it sound logical to a South African, along with all of our other quirky rules! There was actually a lot of tension and nervousness running around – in retrospect looking at the margin by which Obama won it was needless, but given our experiences over the last two elections (mostly 2000) it was scary to think that Americans might make such a bad choice again! It was a really great atmosphere to watch the returns in – most development workers tend to be more left-leaning than the average American (well, except the military/defense contractors…but they weren’t at this party!) so nearly everyone was rooting for Obama. We stayed until the bitter end – cheering when they called the race for Obama, making a champagne toast when he gave his speech. It was 3am when I got home, and after a couple of hours of sleep…SO tired the next day, but so worth it!

Obama – ‘Tryin’ Small’

One of my fav Liberian phrases is ‘tryin small’. When you ask people how they are doing, that is the stock answer – often coupled with ‘it ain’t easy-o, it ain’t easy’ if you probe a bit further. (I’ve never heard anyone try big…) During election fever here (as everywhere else), the best t-shirt I saw was the image of Obama that was everywhere with a caption underneath – ‘tryin small’. LOVE it. Wish I had a pic – a guy I know Jon designed it but they sold out right away!