Nate and I have been in Liberia for three months, just long enough to start to put our roots down and have a good idea of what we've gotten ourselves into. Here's what I've noticed about Liberia in the last ninety days and counting:
1. There's a lot less hassle here than in East Africa. I'm not sure why this is. There's hussle -- people struggling to make ends meet by trying to get you to buy their DVDs/mangoes/biscuits/washclothes/insert cheap Made in China product here. But they do it, for the most part, nicely. They remember your name, even if they mispronounce it, and if you want to sit in your car, chatting on your cell phone with the windows down, they leave you alone. This also goes for walking on streets in Monrovia: dramatic bids for your attention -- yes. But for the most part, these are fourth-grade harmless, and satisfied with an eyes-ahead smile or a shake of the head. I'm used to African city streets being a constant battle of controlled body language, closed communication and gaze -- anything to get people to not pay attention to me, to let me pass unnoticed as much as possible, to let me be. Things are, strangely, different here.
2. Liberia is small. I grew up in a city of 23 million people, where over a million a day, every day, commute. Monrovia is 2 million. There are only 3 million in the whole country. This makes for an almost neighborhood feel, or like I'm in some sort of grad-school simulation. People who have lived here for a year often know everyone from private sector CEOs to government ministers, mentioning them casually as bar mates or favor-doers with whom they're happy to put you in touch.
3. Um. The waves. Sorry to those of you who don't surf -- I waited two whole bullet points before bringing this up. Liberia's sandy-bottom point breaks are the best places I've ever surfed. Most of the people in the water with me agree, mentioning Teahupo and secret Southern CA spots now and then. Seriously. Mamba Point, which I can practically see from my house, is chunky, protected from the wind and a slow-breaking machine. Robertsport's string of points, each one faster and steeper than the next, bloody well rock.
More soon. I have a roast chicken salad with green beans and fresh herbs waiting for me, and a well-deserved celebratory bottle of wine. Cheers to three months -- and counting.