Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eating Good in the Neighborhood

I LOVE the market! You can get all kinds of yummies like these on Benson St.

Yes LAWD. Snails. And we nah talkin' escargot!
Upon my family's recommendations, I ate at Jande's on Center St this week. It's owned my members of my family on my stepfather's side, so thanks in advance for footing the bill! You'll see it when you get here!

This was all that was left when I remembered to take a picture. Bong (casava/ yucca) fries: THE BEST. Who knew that a thin shave instead of a fat cut would make all the difference? They're so good he could bag 'em up and sell 'em at Lonestar football games if he wanted.

The only thing is that the plate of chicken and fries is $12 each. That's like charging ex-pat prices at a Liberian establishment. The clientele and the price don't click. Again, thanks Baba for taking that tab... it surprised me!

And in more simple delights:
I was walking to my tailor on Camp Johnson when I saw these treats on the street. If I ate street food, I'm sure I'd be delighted to have some shortbread buttered on all four sides or a meat pie, but I'm a bit of a food snob. I like to see running water near by before I dig in.

Great pics of the market coming soon. Room temperature cow foot anyone?!?

Beautiful Life

This is the scene I live for the most. I love to see children walking around the streets of Monrovia, enjoying their city. Most times I see them escorting a handicapped man from car to car, begging for money or with big buckets of cold water on their head. But sometimes I get the visual treat of viewing true adolescence. And it makes me smile.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

African Purples!

I love bright colors, so I moved to the right continent! I get so giddy over the bright pinks and purples that surround me! See for yourself why there's no place like home...

My colleague Amanda just came back from Rwanda and brought me these sassy earrings. She also brought me the rubberband below that reads "Genocide- Never Again- Rwanda 1994." I love being able to be socially conscious and trendy at the same time.

And of course, for my latest broadcast I rocked a custom made hot pink and black tye die jacket. Clearly I wasn't going to be really cooking in it. If you wanna kiss the cook, kiss Rose.
Wanna see it? Here it goes!

Happy 26th Paw-Paw Pie for Liberian Independence Day!! from Archel Bernard on Vimeo.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Liberian Living: Nelson Mandela Dreams

I should apologize for leaving you all hanging for so long. There's no better day to get back on the writing train for a struggling young journalist than Nelson Mandela's birthday. I think being in Liberia is a crazy experience, but if I can make it here I know I can make it anywhere. Anywhere except 27 years in a hard labor prison. Nelson Mandela's life puts a lot of things into perspective for me, and the first is that no matter where I think my ceiling is, I can always go a bit higher. Push a bit further. "Stay the course," as my mom likes to say before she gives me her "unbiased opinion" that if anyone can accomplish what I want from life, it's me.

Maybe I think I can do anything because she always told me so.

These plans I'm looking at are so wild, God HAS to intervene for them to be successful.

Working at the Mayor's office has its ups and downs like any job. The "up" is that I get to host and produce a great webisode with relevant content twice a month for my faithful viewers. The down is that I have a limited number of faithful viewers. I want Oprah's viewership. Pronto.

Everyday I try to do something new to further my career goals outside of MCC. Have you ever googled "African Female Presenters" or "African Lifestyle Television?" You don't get a lot of relevant results, I'll tell you that. This just shows me what an untapped domain I'm aiming for, and how much I'll have to convince the world that me and my talents are needed. I'm pretty scared. What if no one cares? What if Africans would rather watch Tyra and Ellen talk American culture on DSTV than let me, their fellow African, tell their stories to the world?

Well, here goes nothing. Like a true believer in the Law of Attraction, I decided to write out what it is I want from my life, and now that it's published I can't turn back.

  1. To host a show that draws a large audience globally and exposes that global audience to African people.
  2. To contribute to the modernization of Africa in business, technology, and culture.
  3. To speak at a Georgia Tech commencement ceremony.
  4. To build an orphanage to supreme standards that will educate many of Africa's great minds.
  5. To make my momma proud and free from financial burden.
That's really all I want.
Let the church say "Amen."

I'm enjoying the road so far, but imagine the days when this will be "way back when..." (!!!!)

Please pray for me. And I'm not asking in a superficial way, but I really have plans that seem so huge that my little body can't accomplish it all on my own.

"...when my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I." --Psalm 61:2b

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Liberian Living: The Land Where God Smiles

Just had my first plum from my tree!!! It's a great day in Monrovia for me! I popped it in the fridge and had the best two minutes of my life eating an authentic, Liberian, chilled mango. My tongue still has the taste of sugar! Way better than the ones in the states!

Over the weekend, I traveled to Buchanan, a city an hour past the major airport in another direction. The large destination part of the beach is right through the ArcellorMittal plant. There, a few friends and I found a few palava huts and an outdoor bar and cookshop to enjoy the most beautiful beach in the world. You can see the interesting formation of the coast, with the rocks, sand and grass, palm trees, etc. The black rocks weren't even hot because of the constant spray from the ocean. The Atlantic Ocean on this side of the world is pretty rough. I don't even really know what an under-current is, but ask any Liberian, that sucker is going to drag you out to sea if you're not careful.

Not a speck of trash in sight!

I'm always scared to eat from cookshops. You just don't know how clean the food is or how long it's been sitting out. The sun can give you huge hunger pains though, so I risked it and was quite happy I did. They had a luxurious cookshop menu in Buchanan.

No gloves, plenty jewelry.

Typical Cookshop food in Liberia:
  • Roast Meat: Cut meat cubes on a skewer (stick). Often with onions and served with fried pepper sauce and ketchup on the side. Sometimes simply called a meat stick. Mind you, I've never seen a cow in Liberia, but somehow roast meat is everywhere. I'd beware if I were you.
  • Chicken: Just chicken, usually dark meat. The 'country chickens' are kind of tougher and skinnier than what we're used to in America. I prefer imported chicken. I like the added hormones.
  • Plantains: Usually fried, but can be found boiled easily. My favorite side that can double as a dessert if they're sweet enough. If I had a restaurant I'd serve it with vanilla ice cream. Alas, I'm asking a lot from a cookshop.
  • Sausage: Pronounced Saw-chage. Really wrinkled, over-cooked, skinny hot dog on a stick. I haven't seen a real sausage since I touched down. I wouldn't mind so much if they were using Nathan's or Hebrew National's, but there I go again wanting too much from a cookshop.
  • Fish: We are after all on the coast. Usually the fish is fried with the plantain or grilled with everything else. It's always really bony, and typically a type of fish I've never heard of.
  • Boiled Egg: Hard boiled egg. I always wish they would just scramble it.
This cookshop was luxurious because they also served typical Liberian style potato salad. The salad recipe consists of potatoes, mixed veggies, boiled egg, spam, and mayo. This cookshop also cost about 2-3x as much for each entree. A roast meat stick may usually cost $20LD, here it was $50LD. The chicken platter was $5USD and came with potato salad and plantains, but that price and suggested quality would be unheard of in the city. In true cookshop fashion, there was no place for the cook to wash her hands and I did a little prayer that I wouldn't get sick after eating it.

The House at Sugar Beach
I have been trying to read more literature on Liberia so I can have something to base my findings on, but all Sugar Beach did was make me cry. I read the book when I went to the beach, ironically with some Cooper kids my age, and finished it rapidly. I had never learned as much about Liberian history before reading the book. I was in college before I truly understood how I could be West African and yet had a red complexion. My family rarely talked about Liberia, and I think it's because we had to really focus on having a life in America. I knew my grandfather was somewhere in Africa, and I knew my parents grew up there, but I never really grasped what it meant to be Liberian until I came in 2004. During middle school, I wished I was from some cool, faraway country where I had different customs and colorful clothes and a culture I could share with a few kids at school. 14 years of war robbed me of being able to grow up knowing that I already had all of that.

Anyway, I put off reading Sugar Beach before, and I think I was meant to read it at the low point of my time here. My close family knows I've met a few issues in the past month, and Sugar Beach has helped me realize I am just part of the pioneering class of Liberians here today. It really renewed my anxiousness to keep moving toward my goals here!

The book was written by Helene Cooper of the Dennis and Cooper families, which are two relatively large Congo families that I have plenty "Antys" and "Uncles" from. In Liberia, older people always want you to "add handle" to their names. Even if they're not related to you, you have a lot of play Antys you didn't know about until they meet you and say you look just like your parents, their good friends from the time they were small. "Mrs." and "Mr." is much too formal, and "Uncles" will give you food and money. ;) She went to ACS, which is the American school my mother attended, and also attended First United Methodist Church, for which my grandfather was lay leader. The hardest part about reading the book was understanding the life I could have had here if there had been no war. I would have watched movies at the Relda, and begged to go across the street from my house to Sophie's Ice Cream to hang out with other Congo kids that I knew. I don't have any childhood Liberian friends now. My Liberian English is laughable, and both Relda and Sophie's are in need of serious reconstruction (understatement). The places a kid could go to have fun in the 70's are now just cement shells.

Liberians just didn't learn how to integrate. Just because we were all the same color we felt we didn't need to, but oppression of any kind is bound to cause unrest. We're a great example of the need to open opportunities for advancement to everybody. I'm at ground zero and I believe we still need to work on this Congo/ Country People thing. Right now I have friends in the states that are of Country families, because we all had to scatter by 1990, so how different are Liberians really? Success seems to be a birthright.

Below are some Cooper properties. The morning I finished the book, I woke up at the nearby Thinker's Village Hotel and walked right over to Sugar Beach to feel connected. Well, it would have been great to have had a tour guide who actually knew which house was the one Helene lived in. I didn't. Desmond took me here instead of the right property. And as I walked around trying to picture the room that the girls all shared to protect each other from imaginary demons, or which room her mom was raped in, I realized every shell really has a story. Some family lived here and had to flee. What happened to them? Were they able to do successful business wherever they relocated? Will they come back to property disputes? The squatters are plenty in this house, and they believe they own it, that's for sure. When I returned home in 2004, my grandfather had put every penny into making the house livable for us. I never was familiar with a shell. The shells didn't talk to me before, and the country is full of houses that look just like this. Imagine if this were your home.

Would have been awesome if someone could really point the house out to me. Anyone headed to Kendeja soon??

Anyway, Helene Cooper wrote "Liberia wasn't a place where you lived, it was a place where you died." I'm here to claim it for you living breathing pioneers!!

Endless Trash:
There's a really slummy district of Liberia called West Point that we're trying to clean through the IMPAC Program at Monrovia City Corporation. This is the program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. When people talk about the worst places in the world to live, West Point is the best place to get footage of extreme poverty. The site manager was discussing her frustrations with the daunting task ahead of her:

"The main hospital in Monrovia discards birth waste (umbilical cords, etc) by throwing it outside and rinsing the street.It runs off into a community called West Point (named after the US military location) which is full of squatters and essentially homeless residents.
Since the residents of West Point are not landowners, they cannot formally complain about the issue. The hospital always claims they will report the people and have them removed. So children walk to school and jump over after-birth and umbilical cords like hopscotch."
I showed up to West Point in a sundress and flip flops. Well, next time it'll be rubber boots and long sleeves. People didn't even pause from using the bathroom when we drove up. They literally squat where they eat at West Point. Progress cannot come fast enough for these residents.

My grandmother said "West Point? What were you doing there?!?!" Trying to have my part in making a change Nana. I'm documenting things that will not be the same five years from now. We have great grants and leaders that are taking us away from this point.

Whein Town

I took a trip to the World Bank funded landfill at Whein Town, just outside Monrovia and I see we are making progress already in some places. The workers on site showed me how they dig the hollow beds to dump trash and cover them with dirt again so they meet international standards. The manager who took me out, Pusah, is very proud (not in a cocky manner) of the job he is doing out here, and he has every right to be. He took me to see the dump site and made sure I didn't take pictures of exposed trash because he wants the world to see how hard they're working to make things better in Monrovia, and specifically by international standards. I enjoyed my expedition so much! As filthy as it was. My mom would have died!

On top of trash!

Kids were there as young as 8 years old, picking through the trash for things to sell. Bottles, tins, rubber, and scrap metal are valuable items in the landfill, and if they don't find them they don't eat. I think of my own sisters in flip flops among rubbish so they can buy some roast meat. One kid's skin was so dirty the sweat didn't drip, it simply beaded and stuck to her face. Progress is being made but it all takes time.

I'm here and I'm hopeful and I'm waving at you from across the Atlantic!
I don't think I'll continue this blog beyond the summer. I have to save some material for a book of my own, you know. Maybe you all can join me in Monrovia and we can write history together!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Liberian Living: True Nationalism

I sure have missed writing. I am now a true African as I have acquired and gotten over my first round with malaria. Trust me, it was beating me up well!

I have to thank my Anty Nyemale at Krystal Oceanview Hotel in Mamba Point for helping me heal at full speed. Without her I would have been on the flight home and there would be no
more Liberian Living to enjoy. I encourage you to stay there if you need a hotel in Liberia, or at least visit by dining over the oceanside when you're in the area. The breakfast buffet for guests of the hotel kept meat on my bones and made me truly feel at home. What I like most about their hotel is the branding involved. In Liberia, when you rent a room, you rent a room. At
Krystal you get the little shampoos and napkins with their logo, similar to Western hotels. A
little touch like that may seem trivial to you, but I'd like to think Liberians can have the simple things when we vacation as well. I enjoyed my Krystal/malaria experience as much as one with
malaria can.

Malaria is scary because I know people can die from it. And before you ask, yes of course I was taking anti-malarial medication. However, I had heard that if you're in Liberia for a while
you're going to get malaria no matter what you do to prevent it. The first symptom for me was a really persistent chill. If you have a chill in tropical Liberia, you are sick. That's pretty basic. I was so tired at work and just cold. Everyone's answer for everything is, "oh you must have malaria," and how I wish they had been wrong.

The worst part of it all was the night my heart was beating through my chest. I just prayed to God, "please take half this pain away and let me live through the night." Malaria can really make you feel like you're dying! I had never cried from persistent pain before, and I don't even like getting my hair braided. Malaria feels like someone put their hand in your chest and is just looking for organs to pull out.

So there you have the experience if you ever wanted to know. I don't want it ever EVER again.

Anty Nyemale referred me to a great place for treatment called Snapper Hill Clinic near Mamba Point. It was such a drastic change from JFK Hospital, and it was still very affordable. All of my treatment, medicine, and lab work cost me less than $10USD. More important, the doctor there was able to diagnose other issues I wasn't aware needed to be treated. Your health can really deteriorate in Liberia, and you may just blame it on the filth, but I'm more confident there are good healthcare options after the care I received at Snapper Hill.
pre war operating table... frozen in time

very charismatic lab tech

extended stay bedrooms... way better than JFK

this tests your blood... how ancient! but it said positive for malaria, and they keep everything sanitized. Use what you've got!

Nah mine - A shortened version of never mind, which is what people say when they feel bad for you. For instance, since I was sick everyone said "nah mine yah," as their way to express their sympathy for my condition. When you say this, you may not even be at fault, but it's just how you show you care.

Foreigners and Liberia:
There's an interesting event going on in Liberia right now called the Liberian Mining, Energy, and Petroleum Conference. It's the first one of its kind and it made me feel good to see an event of its caliber being held in city hall. All the money makers of Liberia are here, but the Liberian bosses and board members are painfully few. I don't have any resolve on these problems. What can Liberians do to acquire the wealth in our country? Another war would make the foreigners leave, but then we would be isolated and in even more pain. Liberians don't think of long term investments enough to even sustain our country. Everything is done with the mindset of eat today, worry about tomorrow when it comes, and this keeps all the major business out of our hands. Last night the president's sister had a birthday party at Palm Springs Resort and Casino. All of that business would have been welcome at Liberian owned Myrtle's Beach at Kendeja, and they would have had a blast at a lower price, but if you want a resort and casino the Liberians haven't got the resources or drive to open one yet. So the Lebanese business benefits and takes our money back to Lebanon. We aren't helping ourselves, and now that mining and energy are becoming huge cash cows here, we still aren't herding the cattle. Shame on us for our mismanagement of our land. If you had a foreign company, wouldn't you capitalize on small, mineral rich countries as well?

The catch-22 is that I keep trying to appeal to you all for help. I want you to donate, but I don't want you to take all the business. My dispute is simply in my search for equality. There are Australian kids going to great schools because their parents work for a logging company in Liberia. But those are our logs, and a child born on the same day in Liberia probably will never benefit from those trees. The child will not even be able to read in sixth grade, yet they come from a wonderfully generous land of liberty. It's all almost a joke. We're not winning here.

I almost ate a sardine sandwich today. It was really cute and from PA's Ribhouse so I thought it was tuna salad. I'm certainly glad I asked because I have never had sardines in my life and the thought makes me cringe. Liberians love sardine sandwiches, but I love American food. Still as a Liberian, I'm going to want to keep the American feeling of a cheeseburger (no nutmeg) and sort bread. I want a real sausage for breakfast, not a chopped hot dog. I can't fully be Liberian as long as I don't shake my American preferences, and a big preference for me is nationalism. I want us to want to own Liberia. This feeling I will not shake. People think going to a foreign country will make their lives better, but we aren't focused on making this one supreme. The foreigners have money largely because of our land. We should just be more proud of ourselves than to let everyone set the terms for our lives and own our resources. We should not eat sardines because we should have earned the money to eat tuna (not that tuna is so posh). Why are we eating sardines in the first place? In America that is pet food. People should not be able to dress up the sardines for us and make us think we are being nourished while they eat our tuna off our coast. I'm tired of it.

I promise you we will soon talk fashion. Air France flies direct from Paris to Monrovia starting April 20th. I will soon be fundraising for my fare.

Special thanks to my friend Patrick Lancaster from AZ. He came all the way to his favorite African hideaway, Monrovia, and brought me my first batch of children's books. He even chose African American characters so the kids can see themselves in the stories! They're going to love them and I'm eternally grateful! Keep em coming guys!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Liberian Living: Progress in my Heart

I know it’s been a minute since you’ve received a personal blog update from me, but I do hope you’ve been following the Mayor’s blog to get a glimpse at what I’ve been up to. I currently work in the hardest working office in Liberia, and that leaves very little time to author my personal experiences, but you know my mind has been overflowing with good things about being home.

Me, Mayor, Desmond

Check out what's happening in Monrovia here. Visit my new little pride and joy.

The very same day I got my job, I got a car. It was not just any car either. It was a Mercedes. This Mercedes was older, so it’s not like I was driving around Monrovia in a flashy manner but it was still enough car to make the police think I was wealthy enough to pull over for foolishness. The reason a Mercedes in Liberia is key for me is because my grandfathers drove Mercedes cars when they lived here. When I got mine, it felt suited perfectly for me. I could never bring myself to park it in the car port at my grandpa’s house because I believe that it’s still where his car should be. I can only imagine how things would have been had there been no war. I would have seen my grandpa in his Mercedes, going to and from his company, rather than simply hearing about his legacy. This morning I cried a bit as I brushed my teeth in his bathroom. I looked in that same mirror he looked in thousands of times while he shaved for work. To be in Liberia without my grandfather is surely a sore feeling for me. Everyday I have to talk myself out of tears.


Butmy grandfathers are protecting me. One week after I got my car, my boyfriend and I had a car accident that could have been horrible. I was asleep in the back seat with my body stretched out and I heard someone whisper, “hold on tight.” As the car flipped several times we were able to emerge with our faith and bodies intact. Both my grandfathers were Mercedes fans, and although one passed away in the 70s behind the wheel, I was blessed and protected this month. Clearly someone thinks I’ve still got a large job to do here in Liberia.

Praise God

The worse part of the accident was going to JFK Hospital afterward. The way people were strewn about the emergency ward in any kind of way they could fit. Men laid naked with their legs open on the beds and on the cold floor next to puddles of urine. The women laid in beds with their clothes off, sweating, trying to cover what they could. The rats that scurried by the check in desk were the size of the children who were still begging for money and attention. This is the emergency hospital in Liberia, and had we needed plenty of attention, we surely would have died.

The organization called HEARTT, Inc was in town that same day to host an event at Monrovia City Hall. Dr. Sirleaf from HEARTT’s board checked us out later the next day. When we told him about our experience at the hospital he partners with, he wasn’t surprised. He simply reiterated how important it is that people invest in healthcare for Liberia. After my trauma in the trauma room, he couldn’t be more right.

Translations for this week:
Seree – Another word meaning “of America.” Being that I am “of America” I hear all the words that have to do with my upbringing. “Yah mayor’s office full a so so seree girls,” means “The Mayor’s office has plenty of American girls.”

You pa – A phrase that usually means someone is about to tell you about yourself. It seems to be short for “your part of problem,” which is pretty much stated when people tell you about your flaws. “You pa you like too much street business,” pretty much means “you like going out too much.”

Women as a Commodity (my tough story for the week):
One of the themes for the last class I took on campus was ‘commodification’ and it is here in living color with women as an affordable, common good. I work around many women who were here during the war and the stories are just awful. One, Angeline, had a mulatto sister before the war. Her father had a fair skinned daughter by a Peace Corp worker in Maryland County, Liberia. Angeline explained that she always ran from the war because Prince Johnson killed her pa, and raped her sister until she died. In her mind, war killed her family so she was literally running for her life. As the story goes, Prince Johnson always had a thing for the fair-skinned “Conga” women, meaning women whose ancestors are former US slaves and therefore were mixed with Caucasian blood somewhere down the line. They say every time he saw a Conga woman, she had to be his. I think about my beautiful sisters and just cringe at the thought. Women were victims and weapons in the war here, and ultimately it was women who caused the fighting to cease. I still cannot watch ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’ because the story is too real. For right now, I know there was a war here because everyday I work to clean it up. But to see footage will make it too real for me and I don’t think I can experience all of that.

Another co-worker talked about when she was 13 and a general came to her mom and said, "that’s the one I want. I will be back for her tonight." Her ma told the general that her daughter was a small girl and couldn’t possibly go with him. He said “big girl like that? She will be just fine.” After that she had to stay away from her town for almost a week until the coast was clear. When she was old enough she got a job at the Royal Hotel in Sinkor, and whenever people said “government officials are here,” she would hide in the back storeroom until they left. She didn’t want anyone to want her, “because one will want you, take you out, then another will see you and take you from him. Before you know it they have all passed you around whether you want them or not until they find the next red girl to take your place.”

These days, women still have a cost, the fare is just handled differently. I work in the Mayor’s office and every Lebanese man that comes through the door has asked for my phone number when the Mayor looks away. They offer money right there in the office with huge wedding bands on their fingers. Some say “don’t be scared,” or “we will be friends, I will help you,” as if associating with them is something I have no choice but to do. It’s hard for me to see the foreign businessmen as people whose industries can build my country up while they still prey on my Liberian sisters. A woman who makes $100USD a month would at least consider the option of dating these men. During the war it could keep her fed. Now, it could still just keep her fed. There are some very tough decisions to make here.

The magic words used by NGOs to gain funding these days are girls, women, empowerment, and technology. Any combination of these will earn your group a piece of someone’s budget this quarter. President Johnson-Sirleaf is so tickled by a conversation she had earlier this month with a boy who wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, and a businessman. She asked him why he didn’t want to be president, and he exclaimed ‘that’s a woman’s job.’ The problem here is this: women have been misused for so long in our history that we need to take measures to level the playing field. However, if we are not careful we will have a society of prosperous women and incompatible, corrupt men to stand beside them. I really enjoyed the photos from International Women’s Day and Emma Thompson’s recent visit to Liberia. The two accounts really spell out what’s going on in here better than I ever could.

Girls at Ricks Institute hanging out at recess.

What Liberia Needs is You

Many people ask what they can do to help the situation here and I LOVE that you feel so engaged. Liberia really needs hustlers. There’s a lazy way of life here. People take too long to do anything, make money only for themselves, and few try to make an impact on Liberia as a whole with their actions. There is so much “Liberia for self” going on that even the NGOs are money makers. My professor just alerted me that the Carter Center has said their job is done in Liberia, so they’re ready to ship back to Atlanta. Liberia is far from better right now and there is always work to be done. With all the world’s crises, it’s been easy to forget about all the other people in need, but I’m glad there are like-minded people like you who still need ways to help.

Desmond is having an international college fair at city hall from June 20-24. We need schools present! Please send me an email if you have questions on how you can contribute.

I am starting a summer reading program as my birthday present to myself at the end of May. I need children’s books, coloring books, crayons, etc. Again, email me!

We are having issues with the school for which we would have referred potential teachers to work, however if teaching here is something that may interest you, please email me!

Basically, I’m risking unwanted emails in the hopes that something will call you to help the kids of Liberia. Below is the formal request for books for my summer reading program:

My beautiful home country of Liberia needs a lot of help in many different ways, but the first challenge that needs to be addressed is education. Without reading and writing skills, our children cannot hold positions to run our country in the future. 14 years of civil war has ruined our once thriving educational system, and we can take very simple steps to make it better. I believe the first step in recovery would be to have books the children can read.

When I was little, I had every book in the world. At least it felt that way. I was able to read and escape to different worlds, learn life lessons, and relate to fictional children my age through words and pictures. Nancy Drew made me want to be a detective, and the Babysitter’s Club made me excited to get my first job watching neighborhood children. I wanted to be something, and I could articulate what I wanted to be because I had access to a vocabulary I could use limitlessly.

As communications is my job in the Mayor of Monrovia’s Office, I would like to initiate a summer reading program at an orphanage my mother supports. The problem is, I haven’t got any books to do so with. I’ve not seen anything sturdier than a Newsweek magazine or more children focused than a cereal box in Liberia. Even if I did find a children’s book, I’m certain the majority of children couldn’t afford to purchase one. I want to teach kids to read, and I think everyone should have the chance to enjoy children’s literature.

Someone in the Liberian Orphan Education Project shared with me a story of their visit to this particular orphanage. A group of girls were sitting together on the ground with one sheet from a coloring book and one piece of a red crayon between them. The girls would take turns shading a part of the picture, and then passing the red shaving and paper to the next girl and so on and so forth until the picture was all colored in. I always had a favorite color in the crayon box. And when the crayon would break, I would simply throw it away and get a new one. My coloring books had tons of colors. I could never choose which page was my favorite to start with! I know that because I had coloring books, crayons, and reading books my mind had no bounds. Please help me expand the creativity of a young Liberian child. The orphans could be the next rebel leaders and armed robbers, but a small intervention could make them the democratically elected president that influences other countries to seek better for their children. Here is the change we wish to see in the world.

Kids at Ricks Institute at recess

This weekend I perform "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou for an UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) women's concert. I don't really know how I ended up doing this, but look forward to updates on women and fashion!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Liberian Living: The Bare Necessities

It would be wrong for me to continue to use the internet at Rozi's and not explain why I cannot get enough of this restaurant. Allow my pictures to do the talking.

The bottom line is I've been sitting at her buffet brunch all day. I eat a typical Liberian breakfast of casava (or yucca for South American readers) and fish gravy, type a little bit, get back in line for potato greens, type a little more, and finish with the world famous lemon tarts. Watch out for the croissants, they're better than the ones I had in France! Thank Rozi's on Airfield Shortcut in Sinkor for my illustrated posts.

No hangovers in Liberia:

This is a soursop plant. If you do a little research you will find that this member of the pawpaw family grows where it's hot and tropical, including Liberia. What you won't find out without asking around is that it is an amazing hangover cure. The fruit itself tastes like a tropical Starburst candy without the artificial sugar. A friend of mine explained how he drank liquor in excess, ate some of this fruit in the same evening, and woke up the next day prepared to take on the world again. Earlier in 2010, Time Magazine released an article on the hangover benefits of coconut water. If you refer to my first post in Liberia, you can see why there are too many options of relief for anyone to get sick due to too much alcohol in this country.

For the literary minds:

I love reading about Liberia when I cannot be here. If someone's coming in April however I hold your foot, you must bring me a copy of And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation by Agnes Kamara- Umunna and Emily Holland. It's available for pre-order right now on All I've had to feed me is this excerpt, and indeed I want more.

What I want to say is this: For too long, my country, my Liberia, was a difficult place to love. The war came and took everything that was good and loving and peaceful. People grew older and older and still peace did not come. But it's different now. The sorrow is subsiding, and individuals are making peace with the past. A woman is president. Children go to school wearing pressed uniforms, satchels on their heads. "Did you finish your homework?" their mommies call after them, steadying their own buckets of water and bundles of wood. After school, boys shoo cows from the fields to make room for soccer matches. Girls skip rope under trees that look like elephant legs. They are not oblivious to what came before. Still, most of the time they are doing what children should be doing, and that is progress.
Now for those of you with middle school aged kids, I think it would be cool for them to read Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta. It's a coming of age novel about a 12-yr old boy whose father works for the US Embassy in Liberia during the 1980s. I've not been able to read it for myself, but I'm thirsty for reviews! It must be a nice way to get your 8th graders familiar with my home, pre-war.

'I hold your foot' :
I beg you; a very strong way to say please (pronounced ah-hole-ya-foot in Liberian English)
Bonus translation
'You got best' : I'm at fault; I'm sorry (pronounced you-gah-bes in Liberian English)
I had to learn the last one while I was here. Someone told me "you got best" and I didn't even know how to respond! Clearly I'm learning and observing everyday! Add these to your Liberian dictionary and use as needed!

In my backyard:
I got my first taste of a pawpaw this week. I was so excited! Then I tasted it and decided I like it better in the pawpaw pies Rozi makes at her restaurant. It needs sugar. The houseboy says my grandmother used to squeeze a lime on top of the fruit before eating it. The texture of the pawpaw is soft like a banana though it looks similar to a melon. It slices very easily with a knife. Plain and hot like it was, it left a lot to be desired, but what grows from your backyard?? I'm still waiting for my plums!!

Cut it when it's green and yellow like this. Compare to my previous post when the pawpaw was completely green.

Scoop out the seeds and you can eat it easily with a spoon.

The elements of a luxurious bucket bath:
Fact of the matter is that most Liberians do not have running water in their homes. Sure, foreigners and many of the Liberian elite class can take showers, but as I showed you in the last blog post most Liberians make do with water pumped right from the ground. Below I've included a step by step guide on how to take the most luxurious bucket bath of your life.

You will need:
A bucket. This is indeed what it sounds like. You will use water from the bucket to bathe. You also need a small cup with the handle. Both of these are easily found in the streets of Waterside (Waterside is like an outdoor Walmart in Monrovia. Whatever you need they've got it).

And I don't know why they use this tye dye pattern on all the buckets, but it's pretty typical.
You also need the houseboy to fill the large drum of water.

For sanitation, use an antiseptic like dettol.

How to do it:
Have the houseboy boil a pot full of water for you. Pour that into the larger tye dye bucket. Fill the rest with cool water from the large drum. Use the smaller tye dye cup to dip water from the drum into your larger tye dye bucket. We encourage practicality.

Pour two cap fulls of Dettol into your warm water mixture. Now we're sanitary.

I hope you're adult enough to know how to bathe when the water is in front of you. If ever I have to take a bucket bath, which happens sometimes, I put the bucket in the bathtub. If you drive through Monrovia however, you can see lower income families bathing children in the dust by their house so the water can runoff. TIP: Don't put your soap in the large bucket because that is your rinse water. That would be counter-productive. As you need to wet your body, dip the small tye dye cup into the larger tye dye bucket and pour as needed.

Bucket bathing is indeed an experience, and you've got to work to be clean. Nothing beats a cold shower in hot Liberia, but it's always nice to understand how the other 90% lives and bathes.

On a tougher note:

Each time I've been to a foreign-owned restaurant, I've seen a young Liberian girl dining with and doting on an older foreign man. The prostitution in Liberia is too plentiful, and it makes me so ashamed. The girls are no older than my baby sisters, and they prostitute for school fees and as a means to sustain themselves. My boyfriend saw a young girl with barrettes in her hair dining with the father of her newborn child. I would really like to encourage everyone to refer to my mom's news package here and really try to make a proper education within reach for our young women. If we don't invest in our people, we will raise a country full of houseboys and drivers.

Truth be told, I'm not too convinced about the quality of education the children are receiving here anyway. Baby Archel, the daughter of my father's employee, is supposed to be reading now, but she hardly knows how to speak proper English. Her mother doesn't help her read but I don't believe she knows how to read well herself. Even if she did, I haven't been able to find any children's books to read with her. The education gap is so large between Liberian children and children in the states that I wonder if these kids ever be able to lead their own country. Think about how many reading and coloring books you had as a child. Baby Archel has none at all. As I make my living talking and writing, baby Archel gets nervous when people ask her questions and cannot open her mouth to speak audibly when asked a question. This all comes full circle. Will she be able to demand a fair salary for whatever work she decides to do in the future? Will her school equip her to properly fill out a job application? Can Liberia train leaders with this educational structure, or are the young girls in restaurants prostituting for school that cannot properly advance them?

I've got a short Liberian wish list. If you come or know of anyone making their way here, I beg you to please send children's books. I will soon be starting to read to baby Archel and other Kindergartners of Monrovia as I try to help my people catch up. Even one book will help a child develop proper phonetic skills. I will see to that personally.

Love and kisses to all of you from across the Atlantic Ocean. I will be going out with the Carter Center Liberia mid-March! It's not a paid job (yes I'm still looking for one), but I'm still trying to hold NGO's accountable for their work here.