Tuesday, November 29, 2011

early (temporary) retirement

i was guilty of asking friends who were not working at home 'what do you do all day?' as though it would be a struggle to fill your days with activities that had to be done and those you wanted to do.  i figured that it must be boring not to be busy, a daytimer full of appointments and to do lists, and a social calendar with other people working full time, regular hours.

and now when people ask me if i get bored without having a full time job or what i do with myself all day, i am sort of surprised because the answer seems so obvious.  i read, i lay by the pool, i grocery shop, i visit with our housekeeper, i cook, i play angry birds, i check facebook and twitter, i send emails, i apply for jobs, i go for walks, i edit photos, i go for lunch, i do yoga, i watch tv series i've always wanted to see, i work out, i get massages and pedicures at home.  but only for a few moments this past month have i felt bored.

i have felt some pangs of guilt that i am not working, not being productive, and not building the years and breadth of experience on my cv.  but then i reminded myself that people generally spend their entire careers waiting to retire and live the life i am living right now.

and it won't last.  come march, i will likely have to get a job either in liberia or wherever someone will hire me and then i remember what it feels like to squeeze in a run after rushing home from the office or wake up to an alarm everyday or not having time to fit all my friends and family in.  i am in no hurry to get back into the regular workforce and a crammed schedule so i am genuinely enjoying my time.  i just wish that people understood that when they ask me what i possibly DO all day!

now if you'll excuse me, i have another episode of Mad Men, the next chapter of The Hunger Games, and a swimming pool all calling my name.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

we are frying, oh!

i was all ready to declare my first liberian cooking lesson a success and then the boyfriend had to go and get sick after eating what my housekeeper and i cooked up.  but i have felt fine ever since so i am still going with the idea that it was a success, but i might include a disclaimer in all future kitchen endeavours.

it is not that i can't cook, i just have no idea what to do with all the greens in the market here.  and i can still count the number of times i have cooked chicken on one hand (three, if you are wondering).  but i am getting better at eating it (it was served a lot on my recent trip to morocco), so there's that.

mary, my housekeeper extraordinaire (and you will recall, currently my closest friend in monrovia) wanted to teach me to cook and had offered to go and buy what we needed at the market.  i figured it was a good opportunity to get a tour of the market so i asked if i could come with her, which she thought was a grand idea and off we went.

i thought our project would be cut short immediately after leaving my house and seeing the opposition party march going down the main street in protest of the recent elections and to mourn their dead from clashes with police a few weeks ago.  i looked at mary as if to inquire on the security of us wandering through the hundreds of people and she, a proud ma ellen supporter, didn't seem concerned so on we carried on amongst the chanting and yelling and shuffling throngs.  in fact, mary thought it might be a good photo opportunity, but i am still shy about whipping out my camera (slr or iphone).

the market is a huge building jammed with stuff and things and bits and bobs.  in amongst the kitchen items, there is a small produce section.  here are your choices: palm nuts, cassava leaf, potato leaf, collared greens, yams, onions, garlic, banana, plantain.  none of which i know what to do with.

mary and i had previously agreed that she'd teach me how to make collared greens so that is what we bought and had the woman in the market cut them up small, small for us with her giant (and incredibly sharp) knife.

after picking up some seasoning, a basin to wash and massage the greens, and onions, we headed back home where mary unceremoniously butchered a frozen chicken on my countertop.  i noticed she kept all the trimmings to take home with her, but otherwise all the chicken bits when into the oil.  my job was to watch her and ask questions and take photos (often at her request).

we fried the chicken with some onion and added the greens into the pot while mary sang 'we are frying, oh!'  in went the seasoning, tomato paste, chiles and then i manned the greens with instructions from mary not to stir too much and add water occasionally.  she got on with making the rice and soon, our meal was complete.

it tasted better than any west african food i have had before and it received positive reviews (apart from the upset stomach...) and was a fun process.  next up, a field trip with mary to the larger market in town.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

home sweet home in monrovia

remember that deal i made with kelsey?  well, i am really crapping out on it, aren't it?

and it is not that i have any wonderful excuses as i am not working a regular job, have more free time than i've had in years, and have had literally thousands of thoughts about life in liberia that i have wanted to share.

view from my bedroom window
i arrived about a month ago and was warmly welcomed into my new home that overlooks the atlantic ocean.  it is a furnished house, meaning it comes with the basics and all the necessary furniture, but little else.  not much on the walls or in the cupboards, but after a few shorts weeks, it does feel like home.

and you can't beat opening your balcony doors in your bedroom to hear the sound of the waves crashing.

waves crashing so hard that i actually cannot swim in the ocean near my house, but yoga in my makeshift hot yoga studio (aka my balcony) is wonderful with the background noises of the sea.

we have a housekeeper who is slowly becoming my closest friend in liberia and i know this isn't exactly how this relationship should go, but it is nice to have company during the days and she is happy to answer all my questions about life in monrovia.  for instance: how do i break a $100 dollar bill? (go to the forex and ask for 'pieces'), where do i find towels in the shops? (the big shop in town has them, it's called Abijala), how do i replace our empty cooking gas canister (give $45 to the groundskeeper and 5LD (liberian dollars) for a motorcar and he'll get it for you).
our street
she was also a wealth of information during the violence that broke out during an opposition party protest a few days before the run off election was held, which was peaceful in the end even if boycotted by the opposition that was crying foul (and also knew they would lose).

before i left calgary, i was worried that i would be bored and wouldn't have anything to fill my days.  i seem to have been wrong and manage to have a growing To Do list on the go as well as very few moments where i am not sure what to do with myself.

i do have work that needs to be completed from a contract i still have from home and i have been enjoying jumping back into the world of research with it.  but otherwise i have been reading books, working out, playing far too much angry birds than is healthy, stocking the fridge and cupboards, reading the internet and sending emails, and utilising the incredibly affordable long distance calling to call friends and family in canada (seriously, i have put $70 on my phone and have made at least 5 calls lasting longer than an hour each and still have $50 left in my account - if liberia can figure out affordable long distance overseas, why oh why can't canada?!).

and, as promised, i will be spending more time writing (hopefully in a coherent manner) about my impressions of my newest home to post here.
how i spend some afternoons