I am now halfway through my time in Liberia (!), and I thought reflecting on what I have learned would be a useful exercise. The following is a list of my favorite facts, life lessons, and common occurrences from Liberia. They aren’t necessarily the most important things I’ve learned, but they are what make Liberia Liberia. In no particular order, they are as follows…
- Mosquito nets are not like princess canopies. When I was little, I dreamed of sleeping in a lush, white four-poster bed with a princess canopy above me. I tried to make a canopy myself, but it wasn’t as glamorous as I envisioned, and hence rather short lived. I’ve discovered that mosquito nets are poor substitutes for princess beds. The net not only blocks the breeze of the fan, turning my bed into a stuffy, humid cocoon, but still manages to allow biting insects inside.
- All generators will fail. When the entire country is powered by generators, this becomes a noticable fact of life. The guesthouse generator fails. The generator at the Royal Hotel restaurant, an elegant expat hang out, fails. All of a sudden, entire buildings plunge into darkness. But hey, those are the lucky ones, the ones who have generators to begin with.
- Crabs will make the 300 yard trek from the beach to my hotel room. Specifically, my bathroom. They will lurk in the corner and launch sneak attacks on my unsuspecting toes while I sit on the toilet. An umbrella, I discovered, is the best tool for removing the wayward crabs, though each crab is replaced by one of its larger friends several days later.
- Men peeing on the side of the road, in full view of all passing pedestrians, will not hesitate to wave and yell hello. This is one quirk I have not, and will not, get used to. Though it is not as bad as the children…
- Children squatting to use the bathroom, also on the side of the road, will run up with their pants still down and rub their hands on any exposed patch of pale skin within reach. They giggle and say hello while doing this, and their parents look on with smiles. I do my best to manage a weak smile in return. This would be cute, except that it is compounded by the lack of running water in my hotel.
- In four weeks, the number of showers I have taken remains in the single digits. I am residing, mind you, in a well-regarded guest house popular with Americans and Europeans for long-term stays. During my first week here, I was puzzled and pissed off when the water failed to run, and merely satisfied when it did. After several days of this, my mindset underwent a gradual change. Now, I am unsurprised and unbothered when the tap refuses to produce even a trickle, but overjoyed when I hear the gurgle of water coming up through the pipes. On the bright side, the measly supply of my favorite shampoo and conditioner that I brought from home probably will last until I return to the States.
- The Delta Airlines office will not accept credit cards from any organization or individual other than the US Embassy. Everybody is expected to pay in cash – no easy feat, given that tickets to the US cost upwards of $2300. I managed to get around this rule by flirting with the Sri Lankan accountant in the office, though this has led to half a dozen phone calls from him each day asking me to spend time with him. But at least I got my tickets.
And finally, here is my favorite fact about Liberia, one that I think does a great job of summarizing this crazy place.
- There is not a single traffic light in this entire country. When people ask about Marion, my hometown, I explain that it is a New England town so small, it has only two traffic lights. I think Liberia is the only place with fewer lights. Monrovia, the only city in Liberia with intersections busy enough to warrant lights, had several traffic lights before the war. But the city has been without a fully functioning electrical grid since the war, making traffic lights impossible. On the streets of Monrovia, the green light goes to whoever exhibits the most confidence.
My Liberian friends frequently apologize for these “flaws”, but I wouldn’t dream of accepting those sorries. These facts may change from hilarious to inconvenient depending on my mood, but they are all part of the adventure – and that’s what I came here for.