John 2 met me at 6:00am sharp on Thursday morning so we could get to Monrovia around 9:00am and beat driving in the heat (and congestion). Our first stop was at the DuraPlast plant to dump off the old cracked water tank. It was a bit confusing because we first pulled into the gated area labeled “DuraPlast Recycling” which I assumed would have taken our tank for grinding up. We were, however, redirected to the the other side of the street into the same area where we loaded the new one. Amidst the chaos of uninformed employees, one asked me if “they said you should drop it here?” Not knowing who “they” were and not wanting to be rerouted again I shook my head with enough of an indistinguishable motion as to neither affirm or deny. He took it as a “yes” and we soon untied and unloaded our hunk of plastic, then headed for the exit before a boss could tell us otherwise.
Wednesday night I had mapped out in my mind a loop around Monrovia to maximize navigation efficiency through the constant traffic. Our next stop down the road in Vai Town was the JMC truck dealer. I was confused by an AC button that would depress as if intended to be functional yet the dealer stated this truck line doesn’t arrive in Liberia with AC because no one ever wants to pay extra for it. A car in the US that is missing a feature on a lower end model typically has a filler cover to blank out the missing switch/button. Apparently that’s not how the Chinese truck manufacturers do it. My dream of cool conditioned air was over. I also needed to find status of their search for a trailer hitch (needed to haul the block making machine). No news but he promised to search (I was skeptical but FYI, two days later he called and had found one for $200 less than what I paid on the Foton).
We continued our loop of errand efficiency by heading to the US Embassy. An enormous building complex situated on what appears to be a massive rock within a 1/4 mile of the Atlantic Ocean, I wasn’t quite sure where to enter. Sensitive to safety concerns (and the threat our 3-ton truck near the Embassy might impose), I grabbed my passport and had John 2 park far from the first gate. I was sent from one visitor entrance to another with my grant application in hand. Eventually I was told to drive around to the service entrance on the other side of the complex. We plied our way down streets with old and new road blocks with gates and safety cones, ultimately down a drive that felt just narrow enough to question whether we were headed the wrong way down a one-way street. It looked more like the back loading dock area of a strip mall. I stopped at the cloned visitor entrance and it turned out to be correct. I handed the guard my application in an envelope, however, the guard said it was dirty and wouldn’t accept it. It did have a fingerprint on it from holding it tightly in my sweaty hands as I tried four visitor entrances. He told me to get a new envelope before returning. What a pain…we had to go back into town to find a stationery store and I had to buy a pack of fifty 9×12 envelopes because no one would sell me just one. Back to the Embassy with a crisp new envelope which I held by folding my old one and pinching the new one to keep my sweat from marring the pristine white exterior.
Next up was an unsuccessful attempt to find a store described to Tumamee that sells drinkers for chickens. We moved on to the insurance company, the supermarket, and the Royal for lunch. More errands then a stop at the LCL Guesthouse to check in. Despite having called ahead several days earlier, no one knew I was coming and they scrambled to find someplace for me. I ended up in a dark room with no AC or mosquito netting over the bed.
I met my friend, Isaac Dowah, who is head pastor at St. Peter’s in Monrovia. He brought along his friend, Stan, who has come from Alaska to Liberia since 1997. We enjoyed some fried rice dishes at the B-First Restaurant adjacent to the LCL compound. I retired to my first floor dungeon accommodations and had a less than restful night in the thick hot motionless air.
On Friday, I did my requisite stop at Eagle Electric for supplies then ventured farther on my loop of efficiency to GSA Road. My mother-in-law, Marie, put me in touch with a missionary, Becky Grossmann, working with Lutheran Bible Translators (LBT) in Liberia. Before leaving the States, I contacted Becky who put me in touch with a Liberian friend of hers, Mary Dossen, who is operating two successful schools in Monrovia. I wanted to visit to pick up whatever tips possible for adapting to our school. The school is named The Dale Federwitz Christian School in honor of the Federwitz’s help given to her during the war. Dale and Alvina Federwitz were also of LBT. I was greeted by smiling children who immediately stood at the site of a visitor, dutifully reciting a welcome greeting in response to which I needed to say, “I’m well. How are you?” or the entire well-practiced memorized rhythm of the exchange would have been blown. Soon after greeting individual classrooms from preschool to 6th grade, all 700 students filed out to sing more greetings to me.
Though the facility is quite modest, the teaching methods seem quite effective with a strong emphasis on phonics. Mary was very proud of her schools and requested that I visit her new annex about 20 minutes away since it was right on the highway along our path to Gbarnga. First we needed to stop at Red Light.
I was in search of the elusive “Store 15” – the store at which all the market sellers in Gbarnga say they buy their eggs in Monrovia. I met Sumo’s son, Lee, who would lead me through the chaos on foot to avoid our massive truck being squeezed into a place it couldn’t fit. Mary joined me as we found there were at least ten “Store 15’s”. We searched from one to the next without finding any that sold eggs. Wanting to get on the road to Gbarnga knowing we still had a stop at Mary’s annex, I gave in after five or so attempts. Like mice to cheese in a maze, we made our way back to where John 2 was parked.
Mary’s annex school was even more modest than the first. With only three small classrooms, some constructed of temporary plywood walls, it was situated close to the highway. I came to appreciate how well our students can concentrate being tucked in the back of Deanville without the distractions of road noise and nearby market busyness. We said our goodbyes and John 2 and I hit the road for arrival in Gbarnga at a reasonable hour before dark.