Topher’s (Continued) Adventures in Vacationland

(No, not Maine. Think: the other Vacationland!)

Upon returning to Liberia fro the first time in two years, I installed myself at my old hostel haunt, St. Theresa’s Convent, where the quasi-equivalent of a bellboy, 12 years old and doe-eyed last I was here, has blossomed into a 14-year-old pimp. Yes, despite my increasingly strident refusals and the fact that–lest you forget–this is a CONVENT, my man repeatedly offered to find me a “girl you spend time with.” Oh, makes me think fondly of my own first high school job.

I spent my first two weeks getting as dressed up as I could stand to, given the rather oppressive heat, and interviewing firm managers who had somehow continued to produce goods during the country’s 14-year civil war. As scintillating as this part of my time was, I’ll leave the results out of this posting for brevity’s sake (look for them, though, in a poorly-circulating academic journal near you!).

The following week, I went to work for the country office of Medical Teams International, an NGO that works in rural areas doing…well, the name basically says it all. A Liberian friend and former classmate of mine is now Liberia Country Director with MTI, and we arranged my “consultancy” with the organization in order to get me the grant money necessary to come here. The upshot of this marriage of convenience, however, is that I am now writing the Country Strategy Paper that will direct policy for the next five years, and getting all too familiar with meaningless NGO-speak (complimentary sample: C.O.P.E.: “Client-oriented, provider-efficient”). On a side note, my friend makes me feel that my academic pursuits are somewhat arcane and ungrounded. He has started a micro-credit institution in Monrovia that now has branches in most major Liberian cities, employs tens if not hundreds of people, and serves tens of thousands of poor. He also personally sponsors numerous Liberian students to attend university, recently raised tens of thousands with his wife for a rural development program in his home county of Lofa, and plans to found a university there. Bill: you’re my hero!

I’ve also had a bit of beach time, though not much. Liberia is home to some of the best beaches in the world, but Monrovia’s own beaches are mostly strewn with human feces. Not that a little E. coli stopped me from venturing in once or twice, but really I felt much more at ease with my dips in Blue/Bomi Lake, a former open-pit mine in Bomi County now filled with ground water and serving as the camp headquarters for one of the Pakistani UN battalions that “peacekeep” in Zone 2 of Liberia. Peacekeeping in the Pakistani tradition, as far as I can tell, consists of putting on your camo and gear, strolling down to the lakeside with a group of your buddies, and endlessly taking turns striking alternately stoic/pensive, heroic, and militaristic poses at the three-quarter angle where your cheekbones protrude in masculine glory just so. Seriously, I was at the lake all day, and they were at it the entire time.

A few days ago, I took a walk around and through the 12-story Ducor Inter- continental Hotel perched atop the mountain at the center of Monrovia’s peninsula (that county’s eponymous Montserrado). This used to be one of the most luxurious hotels in West Africa, but since 1990 hasn’t hosted many guests other than snipers (there’s a really great angle to strafe the Mesurado Bridge from up there) and squatters. Now the pool is dry and a favorite after-school hangout for high school girls, all valuables have long been looted down to the wiring in the walls, the marble foyer and windows are bricked up to protect from incoming fire, and the elevator doors, agape, open on a dark, empty shaft. Except for its great size, totally usual for most Liberians, who are too young to remember it in its heyday; but for those of us from the developed world, a stark reminder of the transience of our most cherished things!

That’s all for this episode! Join me next time for another episode of:

Topher’s Adventures in Vacationland!

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