I arrived safely at Roberts International Airport (ROB)–on time and ready to wait patiently at baggage claim. I feared the Rubbermaid plastic tote filled with tools and hardware may have busted open during the ever-so-gentle heaving by United Airlines luggage handlers, spilling its precious construction cargo around the bowels of the plane. But, alas, it appeared — gliding through the slit rubber flaps that conceal the inner workings of ROB – riding happily along the conveyor like a toddler on the kiddie train at Disney…unscathed and calling to me with the bright pink duct tape I applied to help identify it in the sea of suitcases. While loading my airport rolling cart, I noticed the couple next to me grabbing a wooden crate stamped “Phebe Hospital” so I started up a brief conversation among the baggage claim chaos. Turns out it was Gary Winters, his wife (I think, Anne) along with two young adults. I had heard Gary’s name a few times over the last couple of years because he has an organization that provides tuition scholarships to Liberian children. I gave him my card and a quick, “we’re building a school outside Gbarnga and I’m staying at Phebe” and told him I’d appreciate some time up there to talk more.
I left Gary and moved to step 2: Customs. The agent queried me regarding the odd contents of my luggage (PVC pipe fittings, saw blades, etc.) and the mysteries of what was sealed tightly within the Rubbermaid tote. After a few minutes and further scrutiny by her manager, they let me through after my persistent plea and name dropping of Phebe Hospital. I rolled my cart of 50lb. checked bags, a very densely packed carryon, and my backpack to the pick up area outside where I phoned my driver, Saah. In a matter of seconds, he met me with his trademark smile and despite his shy nature, I ignored his handshake and gave him a “guy hug” greeting…I was glad to see a familiar face again.
I was surprised to see that Saah had driven baby Foton to fetch me since I expected it to still be at the dealer undergoing some maintenance. We loaded up and after some catching up conversation, the 1-1/2 hour ride to Monrovia defaulted to “guy mode” with little chatter as Saah’s appetite for small talk waned and I zoned out after a long 27+ hours of travel.
Upon arrival at the LCL Compound, I moved my cargo into the same room I usually occupy and welcomed the whisper of its A/C. Although awakened by nocturnal time-zone adjusting interruptions, I had a good sleep overall, finally getting out of bed around 11:30am local time. After my first bucket bath of the trip, I walked to the Royal Hotel for lunch and some list-writing (the only method that works for me to be organized and focused). I walked back to LCL and decided to search out a vendor that could install a trailer hitch on baby Foton (a task the dealer was supposed to do after at least 4 emails and a phone call from the States…but was not done). I need this to haul the blockmaking machine I hope is on schedule for pick up by Tuesday.
Ok…I wasn’t even going to write this because I’m a bit embarrassed, but felt compelled to share the landscape of adversity in Liberia as productivity hurdles change from season to season. So with a nod to Star Wars which I saw with Kathy before departing Massachusetts…In October, it was the evil “Darth Mud” holding me back. Now, it’s the slithering “Sand Sith” (aka: dry mud!). When I parked the Foton last night, I didn’t realize I had backed into a spot without blacktop and was sitting on a sand so fine it feels like talcum powder. The wimpy tread on Foton’s rear tires just spun and spun until they were deep in the clutches of the evil lord Sand Sith. I was determined to release Foton from this debilitating death grip. As Yoda says,“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” It took me and three helpers over 1/2 hour to release the heinous hold. I may need to get more aggressive off-road tires to avert this ongoing terrestrial battle and ensure the “Foton Force” is with me.
I did manage to shop for a trailer hitch in town and found only one auto dealer that has such a thing. It may need to be modified to fit the Foton…stores are closed Sundays so it looks like part of my Monday morning To-Do list. After a tiring education in the ways of the Sand Sith, I need to retreat to my mosquito netted nest – tomorrow is another day in this “galaxy far, far away”.