Thursday, December 15, 2011

deep breaths

after moaning about not knowing what i should be when i grow up, recently some options have materialized.  my recent flurry of job applications has resulted in 3 job interviews this week.  i've only heard back from 1 of them and i have the option of moving to azerbaijan if that were to tickle my fancy.

and it might.  it is just that i am still not really clear on what my next move should be.  and yet i am also perilously aware that this indecision can turn into paralysis.*  but so many factors need to be weighed.  salary, contract length, career direction, my interest in the roles, levels of responsibility, distance from the people i love.

more than anything, i am wondering if i am ready to relocate after coming to liberia just 2 months ago.  and after another few months in another location, if i will be ready to pick and leave again.  perhaps i could do it for a year or so, but the idea of having a home base once again is rather appealing.

but what is equally appealing is more field-based experience and more travel and adventure (even if adventure means sitting by my pool in tropical heat in december).  and i keep thinking it is a mutually exclusive decision, but maybe i need to think more creatively and explore ways to achieve both a sense of home and stability with the challenge and excitement of 'the new.'

i sense a few pro/con lists in my immediate future.  and more than a few reminders of deep breaths and that this decision, like all that have preceded it, is not the last i will make and that it is just as much ok to say no as it is to say yes.

* paralysis is a rather tricky word to spell without spellcheck.

Monday, December 12, 2011

a reminder

The good fight is the one that's fought in the name of our dreams. When we're young and our dreams first explode inside us with all of their force, we are very courageous, but we haven't yet learned how to fight. With great effort, we learn how to fight, but by then we no longer have the courage to go into combat. So we turn against ourselves and do battle within. We become our own worst enemy. We say that our dreams were childish, or too difficult to realize, or the result of our not having known enough about life. We kill our dreams because we are afraid to fight the good fight. 

Paulo Coelho from The Pilgrimage

Thursday, December 08, 2011

to town we go

i can be as guilty as the next traveller/expat of wanting to have a unique and 'authentic' experience when i am in a new country and yet i recognize that even seeking this out takes away its authenticity and leaves you constantly feeling as you didn't do enough, see enough, photograph enough.

and there are those instances that remind me that authentic experiences are authentic because they just happen.  and they just happen when you are open to them and others.

a bit trite, perhaps, but seems to hold true where ever i have been in the world.

yesterday was one of those 'authentic' days that i will likely cherish.  and largely because it felt so... normal.

motorcycle taxi driver (with sunglasses, of course!)

mary had agreed to take me to the waterside market in monrovia to buy lapas, the brightly printed (and ironically, printed in china) fabrics west africa is known for.  as much as i wanted to add to my collection and feed my addiction to fabric, i also wanted to hang out with mary and have her show me around town.
the first decision was how we would get there.  the shared taxis were an option, but we decided to spring for the motorcycle taxis at double the price because they are faster and a lot more comfortable, especially if you don't have to share one.  mary hailed them down and we got on.  she told me later that she was a little nervous when she couldn't see me, but she needn't worry as the only thing that i had to fend off was another motorcycle's passengers, two men who were fighting over talking to me every chance they got (in the middle of the road!).  it is times like these i need something that resembles a wedding ring in my back pocket.
bustling water street, with wheel barrows for hire
waterside is less of a market and more of a number of streets lined with vendors selling anything you need of your house.  much of the clothing and housewares were used, but there appeared to have been a large shipment of chinese shoes and they were laid out nicely for passersby to take a look.  the thought occurred to me a number of times that all those people at home who think donating t shirts and shoes to 'africa' are unaware they are being sold by the bundle and sold on the streets (in fact, there is a documentary made on this very topic: T Shirt Travels).

merry christmas!
it seemed as though mary knew a number of people around and we had to make several stops to say hello, but it turns out that she used to work there selling food so still knows many of the salespeople and shop owners.  i clearly stuck out, but didn't feel out of place or uncomfortable.  it is a pretty broad statement, but i have found monrovians very welcoming and kind to me.  but i would be lying if i said i was a lot less worried about getting lost or ripped off by having mary with me.

like much of the rest of the shops i have seen, many were owned by lebanese people.  we poked our heads into the ones selling lapas and i found 12 yards of fabric that i plan on using for sheets and cushions.  coincidentally, i got the number of a wonderful tailor today who can hopefully help me out because although learning how to sew (and quilt!) is something i would love to do, i am without a sewing machine.

it is tough to visualize what the fabric will look like as it is overwhelming to see so many patterns at once. and sometimes is very dim light while you are sweating buckets in the stuffy shops.  i picked out some more basic patterns although i might go back for the 'obama' print, which was rather lovely even if it did not have any images of obama on it at all.

in fact, there are some ma ellen prints i have seen around and like the nelson mandela cloth i bought in south africa, i might pick some up just for the laugh and memories of the time i am here.

lapas - the purpose of our journey
as i was unfolding and feeling all the fabric, mary was checking out the shoe selection and making sure my bags didn't get too heavy to carry.  one of my favourite parts of monrovia is the shop signs that are painted on the outer walls of buildings.  i hope to gain more confidence in bringing my camera along to take more photos next time i go to town, but this time i just took some snaps on my phone (which, by the way, have you downloaded the camera+ app yet?! amazing.)

after a wander around, we caught more motorcycle taxis on the way back.  this time, my driver was a shyster and made us pay too much and since we had two drivers, the second being a honest guy, i paid him the same exorbitant rate that the first demanded before taking my money, refusing to give change, and driving off.  i have no idea if he thought he could rip us off because of where he dropped us off, who he was carrying, or just because he was an ass, but neither mary nor i were impressed.  we were also nearly melting so we didn't bother too much and came inside to share a can of coke (which is still one of the most refreshing beverages when it is so hot out!).
this is what i look like on the back of a motorcycle taxi,
if ever you wondered

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

the week ahead

after my complaining about having a houseguest (who is a marvellous cook, i do admit), i will be spending the next week on my own in the big city of monrovia.

truth be told, i wish i was also heading out to the field to see more of the country, but instead i will be making the most of my time.  i have found a few shops that i want to check out: afropolitan and Jola House Creations and i'd like to take a trip to waterfront market to buy some lapas, but am a bit nervous to go alone partly because i have no idea how much anything should cost and partly because i envision it being a cacophonous and seemingly chaotic place.  i could be entirely wrong, but may enlist mary's help to navigate it.

one of the challenges to life in monrovia for me is that there are few options for transportation and i feel as though i can't be as independent as i'd like.  we don't have a car, although i recently learned that we could have one if someone had renewed his license (and knew how to drive standard...).  the yellow shared taxis that ply the roads are seemingly ubiquitous, but also come with a queue of people ready to fight their way to squeeze into the car doors and i'm not sure how exactly payment or the system works, which will cause me quite a bit of stress.

there are the motorcycle taxis, driven by young men often with a version of trendy (and sometimes lens-less) sunglasses regardless of the time of day.  the un security briefing includes a prohibition against using these, but we tried them out on the weekend and i must admit that it was a much more pleasant way to come home after a day in the city than being stuck to the synthetic seats of a dilapidated taxi.  very breezy and rather exhilarating, if not a bit dangerous.

the typical mode of transportation i use is a car service operated by 5 guys.  their cars are not always so reliable, as we found out while we were stuck for an hour this past weekend, but they are very friendly and a great resource about all things liberian.  they tend to be available when you call, but it means that you have to hire them for short journeys or by the hour.  and when i am in a shop knowing someone is waiting for me, i can't help but rush through my shopping.  i think that this is something that i will just have to get used to otherwise i will spend the next few months rushing about and worrying about how long i am taking.  the other downside is that if you just want to wander about and catch a taxi home, you can't.  i either plan a pick up time or location or call them and hope they are free to collect me when i'm ready.

after my week of living like a bachelorette again, i will be packing my own bags to head to dar es salaam, tanzania to celebrate christmas on the other coast of africa.  let the countdown begin!

Friday, December 02, 2011

top tips for being a houseguest

  • avoid offending your host by rolling your eyes at the mention of the industry she has worked in for the past 3 years.
  • try to keep your unsolicited information and knowledge on how the sugar releases the chemicals in tomatoes to yourself at the dinner table.
  • be mindful of how much you are asking the housekeeper to do and in what you are asking your host to communicate to the compound staff on your behalf.
  • don't let your host know that you approve of her selection in a partner, she likely doesn't care what you think.
  • don't complain about the bedding or the mattress or the curtains.  just don't.