This week we got to go into Monrovia for the first time to explore. In reality Monrovia is a giant city with much danger and small crime. I absolutely dread the idea of going into Red Light, the Taxi hub for most places into and out of the city. The other Taxi hub is called something that starts with a D, but I cannot remember it. I dread it as well. I actually dread the idea of being crammed into a cab. Two in the front bucket seat, four across the back seat. And for emergencies VIP which can be on the roof or in the trunk. But enough about Taxis! Lets just say they are not my favorite.
We arrived in Monrovia on Friday around 10 am. I should backtrack for a great road story. We piled into the Taxi at Doe Palace. We were assigned cars and we also had assigned groups. My group was Mariah, Kim and myself. Our group leader was Maureen, who has been living in Kakata for the last year. She has been around our group much of our training. As we were leaving Doe Palace, I had this piece of banana cake that I was given for the road, but got tired of carrying and was not going to eat soon. I offered it to the others, none wanted it. The guy in the front seat was going to throw it out the window of the car. As I handed it to him we saw a kid with an older man, maybe his dad. Alex B. yelled “hey kid you want cake, catch” then launched this cake wrapped in napkins at this kid. The kid actually caught it, the taxi driver said “of course they catch it, it was food, if not food no catch.” Alex then said, “for the next two years, you see me in a taxi you best duck, cause I am throwing cake!” So that was our exciting fun taxi story for this adventure.
We arrived at the Peace Corps Headquarters around 10 am. A few people needed shots, I did not, but I had this rash under both my arms that was not healing. I thought it was rug burn from my backpack straps. Turns out is is a fungal infection, I was treating it with anti-bacterial cream and that was feeding it. So I knew it was getting bigger and worse. I must say it is very painful and nothing really helps, but knowing it will go away in a week makes me feel a bit better.
After seeing the PCMO, which is a fancy acronym for the doctor, we headed out. Maureen chartered a car for our adventure. It is much easier and better to charter a car and not have a taxi stopping to pick up and drop off people. Our first stop was to the Ducor Hotel. It was once the most prestigious hotel in all of West Africa, but during the war it was destroyed. Being able to wander through an old abandoned building is a dream of mine. One like this, that I would never have been able to every afford to spend time at is even better. It sits atop the highest point in Monrovia. It had 8 glorious stories, a large pool and what looks like an incredible bar and restaurant under a green roof.
Most of the inside of the hotel has been stripped out. The walls and floors on the right side were mostly gone on many floors. After the war the Libyan Government took a 30 year lease on the building. They initially hired security to run the squatters out of it. They began some demolition so they could restore it. The Libyan Government is no longer actively pursuing this project due to civil unrest and financial instability, but the lease is legal and cannot be broken, so for the next 24 years it looks like this grand site will sit rotting.
We were able to access the rooftop and had a picnic up there. It was beautiful and grand. There is a 360 degree view of Monrovia and the Atlantic coast. I really wish I had brought my camera for this. We also got a long history lesson of Liberia and why the war happened and what the problems were prior to the war. It is very sad that an evil entity like Charles Taylor, who in case you did not know was trained by Gaddafi, exists. Such a proud city and country completely devastated by war. It makes my heart hurt for them.
After we descended the Ducor we headed into the heart of Monrovia. We went to the old Ministry of Education building, where many textbooks are sold. I am not so good at these bartering things and I paid $15 for the same book two other girls bought for $10. I did refuse to pay $35 for the first book, which another trainee got for $15. I have to get better at this.
I bought a T-shirt at the Waterside Market, which is this crazy huge swap market on the streets. Wheelbarrows full of T-shirts. I paid $50 LD for this nice soft T-shirt. I refused to pay $150 LD for another one. By the way $50 LD is the equivalent to 60 cents in American currency. I spent most of my money on food. No really I did. The lunch atop the Ducor was a sub sandwich with melted cheese, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. It was most fabulous $3.50 USD I have ever spent.
The next stop was the grocery store with cheese, yes cheese. I bought Pringles, on the request of my host ma, I shared some cheddar cheese Pringles with her once and told her it tastes like America. Now she thinks America tastes good. I also bought two small baguettes and a hunk of Brie. I bought a soda, because it was ice cold. We finally chartered a car to the restaurant with dancing later that night. This was the one thing I wanted so badly to do. I ordered a side of spring rolls, which were basically veggie egg rolls, and a bowl of cream of asparagus soup. The soup was so good. We started at 6 pm and went until after midnight. We have had a 7 pm curfew for the last month and a half. Most of the trainees eventually showed up to dance. It was a ton of fun and I am so glad we did that. The place we went was a specific spot for NGO’s and Ex-pats. So not many Liberians were there, but plenty of other nationalities.
The hotel was decent for $35 USD a night. It might even have been less, Peace Corps paid for them. I turned on the TV and the first station that came in clear enough was showing the night before’s Sounders game. I was a bit teary eyed over that one. The next morning we checked out and chartered a car to the Royal Hotel, which had a coffee shop, like Starbucks type coffee shop. Real pastries, soy milk expresso, lattes. It was glorious. We basically camped there all day. We held everyone’s bags until they had to leave. Our last stop was to Red Light and we were one of the last groups there. I ran to the grocery store before we left and bought cabbage, tomato, small cucumbers, olives and a can of chick peas. I am so stoked I will be making a mock version of a greek salad. I even bought some of that laughing cow type cheese to throw in it.
We paid for the whole taxi home. It is spendy to do this, but we all agreed we just wanted to leave and not wait for car to fill up. As the taxi pulled down the road, he stopped and put his brother in the trunk, this was not acceptable and we argued, but he owed him a favor so we all pulled our bags up front. This is how I left my umbrella in the trunk, sad face, I never even used it yet.
We got stopped at a checkpoint and the guy in the back was causing the police anger. The taxi driver had no license to boot. We were panicked that we would be stuck there, but it all worked out, the brother got on another truck and the taxi driver, I have no idea what he did to get to leave again. We were about 5 miles from Kakata when I looked at Mariah and asked what’s that noise? About 5 minutes later we had to pull over for a flat tire. Ahhh that noise was a flat, good to know. Lucky he put a spare back in the car when he pulled out the other load when we paid for whole car.
Other fun and exciting things, we will be teaching on Monday for the next three weeks. I have my first two lessons planned out. We all celebrated some birthdays last weekend. That is all I can think of.