Thursday, September 30, 2010

Overheard in Monrovia, 6

"If you hold it like that, it will slap you."
-- Ma Bendu, advising me to hold the sea turtle we were releasing upside down until we put it in the water. She was right.

"Did you just put that you're working 881 days this year?"
"I think so."
-- Nate and I, correcting my math.

"It's so hot, it feels like the sun is branding the center of my brain."
"We don't have nearly as many ways of talking about heat as you do. In my culture, we just say, 'It's hot.'"
-- Nate and Solomon, on the way to Robertsport.

Have something to share? Email me and I'll post it in the next installment of 'Overhead in Monrovia'!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The 2nd Annual Surf Liberia Contest runs Oct 23-24

Photo of Liberian surfer Armstrong (no pun intended) courtesy of Myles Estey.

Robertsport Community Works is pleased to announce the 2nd Annual Surf Liberia Contest, to be held on the weekend of 23-24 October on the surfing beach in Robertsport, wherever the waves look like they're breaking best.

Participants and volunteers will meet at the Robertsport Community Campsite cotton tree on Saturday 23 October at 9:00 am to decide which break is working best. We'll postpone to the afternoon/next morning/next afternoon if we expect conditions to markedly improve.

If you'd like to participate, send me an email. Registration for participants is $25 and you get a cool contest t-shirt inspired by a Liberian painter. Shirts will also be on sale at the contest site and though The African T-Shirt Company. All profits go directly to the RCW Surf Liberia Mentoring program. Local surfers compete for free.

We hope to organize a fun, relaxed event that showcases the local surfers' skills and sportsmanship, and to have a fun day at the beach!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The big picture

It's been almost a month since Nate and I got back from our desperately-needed vacation. While we were relaxing, we didn't pick up the phone. We didn't open our laptops. I ate a lot of steamed callaloo and drank bananas blended with rum. We got to see Toots and the Maytails live under full moon. It was relaxing, revitalizing and, best of all, it gave us focus.

A lot of things sifted into place while we were away. First was that our life in Liberia had gotten too hectic. Way too hectic. We hadn't had time for writing, collage, or even surfing--all things that really matter. I couldn't remember the last time I'd cooked a meal just for the two of us.

While we were away, both of us clearly identified a need to step back and prioritize. We still loved that we live in Liberia and are leading on some cool and creative projects, but we missed our freedom, especially the ability to craft our own schedule for work and play. It seemed, at least as far as the major start-up was concerned, that it was time to hand over the baby.

We focused on Tides because, as the new project in our lives, it demanded the most attention. It's a bar-with-food, so of course it does. Anyone who's gotten close to one of those projects will tell you that--and this is probably the exact phrase they'll use--"It's a lot of work." It is, first because of the sheer number of things, people and processes to manage, and second because the schedule is unrelenting.

It doesn't matter if you're on a call for your real job all afternoon or that you're down with malaria. If you don't call the vegetable supplier before 2:00 pm, you're not going to get your delivery on time and your prep won't be ready by opening time, effectively delaying food service for the whole night because you needed some personal time. That kind of unrelenting schedule--where you sometimes have to put the job first and yourself second--wasn't such a good thing over the long term.

Looking at the way things worked out, just less than a month back, I couldn't be happier or more full of gratitude for how gracefully we've been able to move through this management transition. I love beginning things and then handing them to the right people. It keeps my energy in the right place: conceptualizing, creating, building, moving things from ideas into reality and making something new. Being able to turn Tides from an abandoned, dilapidated rooftop to a popular cocktail bar that showcases Liberian and West African produce and where people feel like they can let loose....I'm proud of us.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The changing Tides

Officially as of my birthday today, my dear friend and fellow Funrovian Sachin will be managing Tides. Those of you who are our people know him as the chatty Indian guy who hadn't missed a night at the bar since he found us and who sent out our welcome back email four times to the expat list. I recommend getting to know him. He's a perfect host and all-around awesome.

This good news means Nate and I get to step back, enjoy the fruit of our hard work and drink coconut water as we sit on the deck and watch the fishing boats sail past. We're still involved as investors, but the start-up phase is officially over. We did it!

And I only halfheartedly apologize for the pun in the title. I can't help it: it's genetic.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Adventures in African Cooking: Liberian Pepper Sauce

I am writing this in withdrawal. It's been 5 days since I've allowed myself to eat hot peppers, the small bit off the end of a roasted hot pepper dipped in Thai sweet vinegar sauce last night notwithstanding. My stomach is feeling much better, thank you. I still deny any causation from the correlation hot pepper equals terminal belly pain, but my behavior has changed.

So, in my longing, I give you multiple variations on pepper sauce--that Liberian elixir that, when everything else in your meal is going very wrong, you can slather on in abundance and find comfort in the fact that yes, it is passably good and now you can eat it.

Here in Liberia, the predominant fresh peppers are Scotch bonnets with bird's eye around if you search a bit. For 100 L.D. (about $1.40) you can get about 3 cups of mostly green ones with some red thrown in. I like to sort out the slightly sweeter red ones, blitz them in the food processor and add vinegar, salt and sugar for an Asian-style pepper sauce.

There are as many variations on pepper sauce as there are people who love it too much. For example, my ladies in Robertsport boil the peppers first, then mash them, then fry them. The way I've written up here is easier and probably slightly hotter because you don't boil and drain the peppers. Do with them what you will, but don't blame me if you start to experience intense distress over liking something that causes so much pain...

Liberian hot pepper sauce

1 cup hot peppers, washed and dried, then sliced finely
2 cups onions, sliced
salt or a seasoning cube, if you're up for the MSG (and who here isn't?)
vegetable oil, about 1/4 cup (don't skimp. this will help preserve the pepper sauce and aid its sauce-like consistency)

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan or a frying pan, stirring over low to medium heat until everything is cooked and smelling nicely. You might want to open the windows, as the steam from the cooking peppers will make you and everyone in your kitchen and perhaps your building cough violently (don't forget that people have called anti-terrorism squads in response to fumes from brewing pepper sauce). When the acrid and inflammatory fumes disperse and start smelling sweet, the sauce is ready to taste to adjust the seasoning.

At this point, you can add a variety of ingredients: creamy peanut butter (a.k.a. ground pea butter), tomato paste (my favorite, creating a very spicy ketchup) or, if you're really brave, some mashed smoked fish.

Don't be shy to tell me what you think!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The RCW Sea Turtle Rescue Project

Design courtesy of Tamar Losleben.

Last September, before our first beach cleanup, Alfred and I were surfing Inners and he noticed a massive pile of sand right under the big almond tree.

"Turtle!" he shouted, and started digging.

Rather naively, I asked what he was doing.

"Turtle eggs are too sweet," was his reply.

I paused for a minute, reluctant to be the white woman in Africa who pushes conservation just for the sake of it, going crazy with zeal for, say, saving turtles while the community around me was also in need. I waited, weighed my options--Alfred thinking I was insufferable versus being indirectly responsible for a hundred dead turtle eggs--and told him not to dig them up.

"But why, Elie? If I don't, someone else will." He had a point. Without a plan, and a good one at that, what was I doing trying to change the behavior of one person when clearly it wouldn't affect the outcome?


"Do it for me, okay Alfred?"

Alfred gave me a look like I was exactly the crazy white woman stereotype I was trying to avoid, then grabbed his board and we surfed a few little Inner Cottons stomach waves before starting the cleanup. We joked about the turtles for weeks.

We still joke about the turtles. Only now we've run a 3-month pilot Sea Turtle Rescue project modeled on the one in Ghana and we're a little further along from where we started. Just a little.

What we've learned from Project Leader Abraham (AB) Fanbulleh is that it's not easy for people to trust the project's motives. They think we're working with the police, who arrest people in possession of either sea turtles or their eggs and imprison them until they pay a hefty fine.

We also have teaching to do about the importance of sea turtles in maintaining species balance in the ocean ecosystem, although AB has been explaining slowly their connection to keeping jellyfish populations--that ruin fishing nets and spoil entire catches--at bay.

There's obviously more, but that the main stuff. We have a lot to work on in the future!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Excerpts from the Current Gratitude List

#3 Two Chinese women give $30/hour massages at Glamour Salon beneath Tides. They have a strong massage table, use scented oils and it's a wonderfully relaxing experience. It's worth the effort to get an appointment. I highly recommend.

#7 I can get $7 pedicures at Glamour Salon beneath Tides and order grapefruit juice and soda--my new favorite at the bar. Service to the spa is a little slower than upstairs, but it's worth it. Way to feel pampered!

Glamour Salon and Spa, beneath Tides
077-093-236 / 06-413-197