Let’s Make A Deal – Liberian Edition

As I rolled over to extinguish the demonic sound of the alarm, my brain did register that 5:45am had arrived much too soon. I needed to meet Sam at 6:30am to start the anticipated lengthy process of shopping for supplies. The cold bucket-bath-shower did not endear me to the plumbers of Liberia after the previous day’s long travel. I hussled over to the ATM to make withdrawal #2 then down to the Royal Hotel hoping to grab a croissant from the coffee shop, but alas, Satan also holds the key to the bake shop and it was still closed.  I walked back to the compound to meet Sam with a wad of cash in my pocket but some already digested Totota peanuts in my gut.

Our early shopping departure was an attempt to avoid Monrovia traffic as we headed across town, past the port area, and over the bridge by Providence Island on our way to Cemenco.  This has an interesting process and I thank God every day for Sam because this is definitely a country of inside information as to the procedures of commerce.  We pull into a parking lot full of huge empty cement-hauling trucks and park by the concrete wall surrounding the cement factory.  There a a few locked steel doors in a corner that, to my eye, looked like back entries since there were no signs or staff people in the area to direct you. Sam gets on his phone, makes a few calls…10 minutes later his friend shows up, one of the non-descript doors opens and we enter.  It looks a bit like a small airport waiting room and we sit together…alone.  Another man joins us and the three of them start talking. I’m having a hard time following the Liberian English and occasionally Sam will lean over to ask if I’m following…I nod (but I’m not following!). I wait till the bulk of discussions are done to get the Cliff Notes version.  I learn that we’ve just negotiated with a trucker who will haul the 300 bags of cement and rebar (aka “steel rod”) to Gbarnga for $550.  I need to give $300 deposit plus $2,300 for the cement.  It feels like a drug deal as I reach into the cavities of my backpack (how sly of me…no one would have found it there!) to pull out envelopes of cash and count out my greenbacks.  The entire economy runs on US dollars…they seem to only use Liberian dollars as change for a US$1 bill (FYI-They HATE $1 bills so I won’t bring those in the future…I couldn’t pay the balance of delivery with singles….they wouldn’t take it).

We exited the stealth meeting and left to acquire block moulds (basically welded steel cavities for hand packing concrete into form blocks then sun drying them). Sam carefully examined and measured the various moulds which are hand made (I also saw a child cutting steel rod with a hacksaw…hopefully a self-motivated child of the owner and not child labor!).

Selecting the perfect cement block molds.
Selecting the perfect cement block molds.

We negotiated for 8 moulds, made our purchase, and headed off to the next stop–across the street to buy large 50 gallon drums for storing water.  More negotiations…off to the next stop–Eagle Electric.  We inched along the traffic to the other side of town and began a shopping spree of tools…mason’s trowels, levels, shovels, wheel barrows, circular saw, etc. etc.  Fortunately, our account had already been set up after our initial meeting with the boss via our connection with Jim Foster.  Down the street, we searched for a 5,000kv diesel generator.  Bargain with shop owner #1.  Use shop owner #1’s price to bargain with shop owner #2.  Visit shop owner #3 who matches the price, has a 3 month full and lifetime labor warranty–SOLD!  They pack the truck with our booty and I dive into the adjacent Stop & Shop (yes, it’s the same Stop & Shop…in case you didn’t know, Stop & Shop in New England is owned by a foreign company).  Everything looked good after missing the last 3 meals since breakfast Tuesday. They even had freshly made croissants like the one I had hoped for from the Royal Hotel.  Life is good!  A few cans of tuna, mini raviolis, pasta, etc. later, we were headed back to the LCL compound to find the status of our truck repair.

About 11:30am I walk into the main LCL office to speak with Mark (boss of the drivers).  He doesn’t know “how much it will cost yet”. I said I wasn’t as concerned about the cost as I was about getting us (most importantly Sam) back to Gbarnga with our tools and supplies so we didn’t hold up the workers expecting our arrival. He made more calls…no word yet.  My “spidey sense” was tingling again…Mark’s tone implied he needed to inform me of “how much it will cost ME to repair the car.”  Meanwhile, I had worked with Nyekeh in getting some documents printed off for Sam but he had forward them to the main LCL office so I checked on their status.  No one had opened the email attachments yet.  I sat there while Naomi struggled as her computer was sluggish and she couldn’t remember her yahoo.com email password.  About 15 minutes later, she got it but couldn’t open the attachments.  I patiently suggested forwarding them to someone else in the office or putting it on a memory stick to hand carry to another person’s computer.  Eventually, someone printed one off and made copies.  While waiting, the discussion came up about the truck repair.  My spidey sense was correct…Mark came in will a cost for the fuel and mileage of the second truck that came and towed us to Monrovia.  I explained that I didn’t feel responsible for towing their truck that needed to be repaired and wasn’t responsible for paying for the truck repair either.  This led to more discussions with Naomi and Isaac.  I guess the standard policy is that whoever borrows the vehicle is responsible for any repairs.  I told them this was a vehicle maintenance issue and I wasn’t paying.

Isaac and I had a heart to heart conversation alone.  I agreed to the $100 or so dollars for fuel/mileage but absolutely not to repair a broken timing belt with all the resulting internal engine damage!  That’s an expensive repair! In fact, the LCL driver that we encountered in Totota said the LCL should be embarrassed that it broke down and put me (one of their partners) through a full day’s expedition to Monrovia. Going forward, repairs will be on us.  Just another reason to purchase our own vehicle so we can ensure it’s reliability and maintenance history.

By 2:00, the truck hadn’t been repaired and it was going to be an overnight endeavor. I arranged to have the rescue truck filled with supplies return to Gbarnga with Sam so he could keep work moving and I would spend another night in Monrovia awaiting the truck repair.  Here I am…sitting in my LCL guesthouse room and the power has gone off again.  I’ve got just enough juice on my laptop to make this post then I’m headed off to dinner.

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