Monday, May 31, 2010

Overheard in Monrovia, 3

"I have learned of a vacancy for a position of bar observer...and I hereby apply to fill it."
--Letter of application to Tides

"Next time, you must give me stronger instructions."
Waiter in a Monrovia restaurant, apologizing for bringing the wrong thing. (Submitted by reader)

"Y'all really aren't giving Minnesota nightlife the credit it deserves."
-- Liberian girl, defending Minnesota, at our bar.

"I'll come tonight if I can find a girlfriend."
-- Our welder, making non-committal plans to come for a beer at the bar.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Anonymous Country turns 1

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Flett.

Today, Anonymous Country is a year old. Hurray! And this dog will rob your bank.

(Joe, a young man from Robertsport, rubbed charcoal around his eyes as a joke and now everyone loves him.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Co-op at the US Embassy Summer Craft Fair

Just a quick Friday afternoon post after coming back from the U.S. Embassy Craft fair, where the Women's Sewing Co-op had their own booth, as you can see. I was taking pictures and getting in the way, so I left them with their display and am picking them up to serve them fish sticks at 5:00.
I'm hoping either Matilda, who you see at the display above, or Jenneh, who is posing below, will want to start running more sales and marketing outreach for the Co-op. They're getting transport money, a Monrovia per diem and 10% of today's sales. They're very serious and keen!
Check out our stuff at The African T-Shirt Company if you can't stop by our new merchandise corner at Tides.

I'll be posting stories, contact details and lots of photos on the amazing Liberian artists over the next week or so. They've all agreed to ship using the Liberian Postal Service to the US and internationally for anyone who likes their stuff!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rubber smells *disgusting*

We were driving back to Robertsport, minding our own business, when we smelling something foul. So foul that the whole car recoiled in disgust and instantly went about guessing what it was that could smell that bad. I suggested a dead goat. A fellow surfer sitting the back seat suggested sewage. But as we drove, the smell didn't dissipate. We began to panic. It was a toxic, nausea-inducing smell, as if an entire village of sheep had decided to get dysentry and die in the sun.

Then, we saw the trucks. Truck after truck of what we learned was rubber--because we asked a group of checkpoint policemen why everything suddenly smelled like noxious death. As you can see below, the rubber does kind of look like jiggling meat. Eww, right?

Monday, May 24, 2010

We save sea turtles

Last weekend, Nate and I were surfing Shipwrecks with a visiting Aussie when we saw a large fishing net drifting towards the rocks. We focused on it and a lone flipper waved. We waited a moment, and it waved again.

"Turtle!" announced the Aussie.

"Let's rescue it!" I said, starting to paddle towards the rocks and hoping that a giant set wasn't just beyond the horizon and about to smash me to pieces.

The sea turtle was impossibly tangled, and while the men slowly paddled against the current to get it to the beach, I ran back to the campsite to get our knife so that we could cut it free. A kilometer later, I was back and we got started.

The turtle was freaked out to be pulled out of the water, but the Aussie kept it calm by sitting next to it and rubbing its neck, humming softly to console it. Nate started cutting the net, which was chaffing tight around the turtle's neck and flippers, right to the muscle in some places. It must've been frighteningly uncomfortable, but the turtle didn't try to bite us like I expected. Instead, it stayed pretty calm as we cut it free.

It only took a second for the turtle, once released from the 20 kg net it had been lugging along, to lumber itself towards the water and disappear. I wanted to take more photos, but got kind of caught up in the moment.

"We saved a turtle! That's great karma. I feel fantastic," said the Aussie, ever enthusiastic.

I think we just started our turtle conservation project. More details on what it will look like when we talk to our new Project Leaders next week.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Women's Sewing Co-op is now on Etsy!

Thanks to the support of the U.S. Ambassador's Self-Help Fund, the Women's Sewing Co-op has hand bags and beach bags now on Etsy! We've already gotten 22 views!

There will be a dedicated Co-op website coming soon...

Friday, May 21, 2010

OM Africa

I love Africa.

I love yoga.

And this shirt--created by my sister and me--brings them both together.

Order yours here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Local solutions for oiling the deck

Saying Monrovia gets its fair share of rain and sun is an understatement. During dry season, it's scorchingly hot and humid. During rainy season, frequent downpours are interspersed with overcast humidity. I quite like it. But our deck doesn't.

Part of the Tides construction project was replacing the rotted beams of the large wooden deck that faces the ocean--only the boards weren't fully dried when they were nailed in. Now, we've got gaps on our deck and the wood has been splitting and cracking all dry season. What to do?

Where I grew up, you use linseed oil--with its unmistakable smell--to coat and seal the wood, but not before sanding away its top coat of dirt and dullness to reveal a smooth finish and visible grain. One thing: there's no linseed oil here. In fact, there's nothing like it. The only wood oil I could track down cost a breezy $35 a gallon--and we'd need 10 gallons for the job. And then, in two weeks, another 10. And next month, another, until the wood gets its fill of the oil, repels rain and doesn't mind the sun.

We were going to need another solution. A week ago, I thought of palm oil and tried it. "Why not?" I reasoned as I sanded and painted a coat of red oil on the deck, noticing a faint palm butter smell. The workmen around thought I was crazy, but it looked, as you can see below, a rich and wonderful color and in the places it has dried has left the wood noticeable soft.

Here: the dry, sanded wood, ready for palm oil.

Here is the difference the palm oil makes:
The finished product, once it soaks in a bit:
I showed the test job to to my South African friend, who agreed the local solution was taking nicely. I convinced Nate, who remains doubtful, that he should let me try a coat on the whole deck. As you can see, I was convincing. Notice the empty palm oil container--a reused water bottle.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tides: Our first party

Last Sunday, one of my good friends hosted her birthday party at Tides. We're not quite ready to open yet, but having 15 people come over for sundowners definitely showed us what we need to do to open: screen the kitchen, for one, and get another cutting board so we don't have to queue. You can see the giant chalkboard we made for the drinks menu above, and the smaller one I commandeered for our menu.
Here is Mawuli, the Togolese bartender we met in Ghana, diligently preparing fresh ingredients for the mixed drinks (not the tomatoes and hot pepper--those I was taking to the kitchen).
This is Elizabeth, making tortillas that will become tortilla chips. Note the apron, hand-sewn by the Women's Sewing Co-op! We'll all have matching ones, with headscarves too.

This is Muna, one of Solomon's friends, making us a lunch of dry rice, bitterball and fried fish as I kept distracting her with other kitchen tasks and then, feeling hungry, putting her back on lunch duty. Look how patient she is with me: I'm hiring her.
This is Edward, with the unenviable task of prying coconuts out of their shells so we can roast them with sea salt and chili.
We're ready to start our speakeasies tonight and open on either Saturday or Wednesday next week. Email me--if you haven't already--for an invite. We'll see you there!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rainy season: The fear factor

The rainy season is coming. This means big storms and big waves. Really big. As tall as your ceiling big. Sometimes bigger. Good thing I know how to duck dive.

Duck diving is the reason I shortboard. It's the reason I can surf double-overhead waves without actually catching them, riding up and over the swell before it breaks like a child on a slow-moving roller coaster. I learned how to duck dive on my first trip to Liberia, planned at the usually-perfect end of rainy season. I kind of had no choice.

That first rainy season, Nate and I don't talk about much. Whenever I refer to it, I qualify with something like, "After that, it's actually amazing we moved here." Imagine: camping in unceasing, two-week rain, sometimes a drizzle, sometimes loud enough to knock the tent down. It did knock the tent down, on a pre-dawn morning Nate and I now smile about. We had to take refuge at Nana's, slouching in plastic chairs and leaning our heads on their wooden tables three hours before breakfast started, defeated as tired students. That particular occasion, because the tent had not only collapsed but also flooded, we hung our clothes out to dry--in the rain (see actual photo of our clothes "drying" in the rain, September 2008).

So, add to unceasing rain a double-overhead swells that nothing but occasional onshores kept the surfers off of--at least the better ones. Nate was joined by his good friend Sean--who I went to school with in Cairo--and both of them can surf. Then, there were the brothers--two northern English boys with their dutiful wives. And by dutiful, imagine following your partner into the rain with a video camera, parking yourself (sometimes with a shade tent or rain shelter) as close to the break as you can, and then recording every minute of every wave they catch, every single two-week session. It made me feel like a bad girlfriend.

The waves were quadruple anything I'd ever gotten near, at least it felt that way. It was also my first time near a point break, and point break wave energy is way different than beach breaks. I was intimidated. Not intimidated enough not to paddle out--if I sat next to the wives, I looked almost evil by comparison--I would launch sometimes 400 m away from the peak and paddle against the current to the line-up. This meant I avoided any whitewater, except when I drifted inside and a set showed up.

When a set showed up, I would do what I do when I get really scared--scream for Nate. I scream "Nate!!!" so loud, with so much terror, that you could be forgiven for thinking he sent the waves to land on my head, or that he had supernatural powers to rescue me. Which would be nice, but instead, he taught me how to duck-dive. By the end of the trip, I could push my board under the set waves and pop right out the back, just like a pro. That little escape trick makes all the difference, trust me.

At the moment, my wave preference is shoulder to head-high, up from chest high last rainy season. Chest high waves are hard to find in rainy season, to be honest. To catch them, you have to wait for a set to pass, sneak to the inside, catch your wave and paddle back out to where the set waves are breaking before another set comes. Your timing on the sets has to be impeccable to avoid getting smashed by a ceiling-high wall of whitewater. You also have to be lucky.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My phone's contact list

Largely because I'm hiring for Tides, I sometimes get 20 phone calls a day. Many of them are from strangers who have called me before about something I'm meant to follow up with them about, so I save them in my phone with names that remind me of who they are and why they're calling. Here are some examples of what I have saved in my contact list:

Annoying Tides
Club Joseph
Comfort Massage
Elizabeth Tailor
Frank Welder
Inappropriate Tides
Loretta Clean
Miata Great Wall
Musa Sofas
Napolean Ministry
Peter Glamour
Son of Sam
Sumo 2nd Chance
Zigna Wants Job

I've also met a Specialean and a Sackoline. If anyone knows the etymology of these names, please send me an email or comment below. I'm interested!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tides is almost open

It's been a month or so since I've posted photos of Tides and since then, we've made tremendous progress on the place. So much progress, in fact, that we expect to start serving...well. Email us if you'd like to be on the list for one of the speakeasies we're opening with. (Better to open quietly, for friends, over a week or so than to have one crowded, overwhelming party where the staff go into meltdown, no?)

This is what you're looking at below: Mirrors line the entire area behind the bar, so you can still see the ocean when you're having drinks. See the bamboo bar stools? Anyaa Vohiri is doing all our bamboo furniture, including the bamboo work you see in the kitchen on the next shot. Notice the thatch work on the roof--and the tarpaulin that's covering us until next dry season.
The kitchen island, where we'll do most of our prep. The kitchen looks small in comparison to the bar, until I remember that this island is 13 feet long.
We started looking around for sinks, there weren't any suitable commercial kitchen ones around, so I had some made. I downloaded specs from the Internet and had a welder make them from sheets of steel. They look good, right?
I'd say there's about a week to go--maybe less. See you when we open!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Overheard in Monrovia, 2

“Do you think he’ll take this money?”
-- Nate, taping up a torn 100 LD note for a second-hand clothes seller waiting outside.
“He’s forced to. It’s our country’s money. If he doesn’t take it, who will?”
-- Solomon, making a good point.

"I want to be a witchit."
--Waitress application for Tides.

"It is important to always be working high."
--Waitress notes from Tides training, who misheard "working hard."

"I am having an urgent movement."
--T-Boy, telling me he needs to be in Monrovia--urgently.