With a whirlwind of last minute projects, last minute visitors, last minute requests for assistance, last minute attempts to get the generator from the guy who promised to fix it since last May, last minute letter scribing for Moses, last minute singing to me by the cooks, and last minute packing, I finally got to sit down – exhausted – by 8:00pm. Knowing John 2 would be driving at 6:00am the next morning and I could snooze on the way to Monrovia was a relief. But then a last minute call to ask if someone could catch a ride with us. I couldn’t take the idea of three of us with a couple of backpacks crammed into the truck cab for three hours as my farewell trek. I declined.
This morning’s ride was comfortable as temperatures had cooled significantly overnight and roads were clear on most of the back ways John 2 took around the city. We dropped my luggage off at LCL and went straight to the JMC truck dealer for our first free service, a modification to the air filter configuration they do to minimize dust intake, and to have the trailer hitch they found installed. Along the way we were stopped by one of Liberian National Police’s finest who checked our vehicle documents and John’s driver’s license. We were released and, out of curiosity I asked John, when his license expires. When he replied, “the 17th of next month” I knew I had another last minute task ahead. We dropped off the truck and walked about 6 blocks to the Transport Ministry where the gears of Liberian government mesh ever so slowly.
Approaching the reception desk, a woman who would shepherd us through the process (for a little “assistance”) told John to go back out and across the street to get passport-type photos taken and a photocopy of his current license then return. A man with a point-and-shoot digital camera, three different colored cloths hanging from a string like a makeshift window curtain backdrop took John’s headshot (the backdrop was purple!). He printed four photos on a 4×6 print produced on a portable battery-powered Canon printer and was paid 175LD (about $1.10 USD). Standing 5 feet away was a teenager making photocopies for 30LD. Just as the front side copy of John’s license exited the printer, power went out on the unreliable electric grid in Monrovia. Fortunately, the backside copy was not required. Returning to our Transport Ministry Sherpa, she carried John through the Ministry maze which included a “chauffeur test” (which simply entailed identification of road signs), then forms, then fingerprinting, then waiting in lines. After two hours I handed John the $45 fee and some food and taxi money. I needed to get to the Royal Hotel by 12:30 to finally meet my young Peace Corps friend, Andy, in person.
Andy’s school up in Klay is on semester break so he had time to meet me in Monrovia. I treated him to lunch and listened to updates on his Peace Corps teaching experiences this academic year. With time to kill before my truck work would be completed, I suggested we hit the ice cream place up the street that he had raved about but I hadn’t indulged in yet. We walked the five brief blocks down Tubman Blvd to a half gas station half ice cream eatery. There was a much larger and more varied flavor selection than expected. Ice cream was displayed in shallow stainless steel rectangular pans, much like gelato in Italy. In fact, the consistency was half gelato, half hard ice cream and the taste was excellent. The double chocolate drizzled with hardened dark chocolate was delicious. I’ll be back!
We walked down Tubman as we were both headed in the same direction. Along the way we crawled through a broken section of fence to sit under the shade trees on the University of Liberia campus. There was a cool breeze whipping up the hill from the nearby Atlantic Ocean which was a relief from the scorching mid-afternoon sun reflecting back into my face off the sidewalk. We chatted for a while on a concrete park bench (gift of the UL class of ’07). I tried to engage a couple sitting across from us and got little response…the body language was clearly saying “not interested”. I was trying to find if the story about President George Weah proclaiming all public universities to be tuition-free was true. They soon moved on and another freshman woman sat down with ear buds fully engaged. I interrupted her musical isolation to repeat my query. She confirmed the story with the caveat that registration fees of 2,500LD ($15 USD) I think per semester, we’re not included. If this policy persists, my mind was already racing to a time when a university scholarship fund could be setup for our graduating GLTC senior high students.
Andy and I continued walking towards Broad Street where we would catch separate taxis – I a three-wheeled keke to Vai Town and Andy a passenger filled car to Duala en route to Klay. Quick goodbyes were exchanged as the chaos of grabbing a taxi seat superseded social formalities.
By 4:30 John 2 and I were back at the truck dealer. They did a great job welding the trailer hitch in place and relocating the air filter. So far, I’m impressed with this dealership. John, however, suffered the common plight of electricity interruption so his new license could not be printed and laminated. Fortunately we have time tomorrow morning to pick it up before heading to the airport after lunch. Back to LCL. After we parked, I stepped out of the truck cab and almost instantaneously was approached by an American woman, Sandy, whom I had met a couple of times. She needed to get up to Lofa and wanted to know if she could catch a ride with us to Gbarnga. I explained her ride would need to include a trip to the airport. She may end up squeezing in…TBD.
I spent the evening relaxing in my air conditioned guesthouse room. The staff remembered I was coming this time!