I was going to go to the beach yesterday but Davies said not to go by myself, and it turns out that the "safe" ie expat beaches are quite a ways away so I didn't bother. I went to the local market to see what I could find, I was hoping to get some tomatoes and other veggies. Oh my god it was like being in a horror movie. It was nasty. It's a big, dirty indoor market full of stalls, pretty typically African except everyone was selling the same few items...hot peppers, onions, potatoes, and tiny little plastic bags full of what I presume to be spices...maybe a teaspoon in each bag. Then they had plastic bottles full of some sort of red liquid, maybe hot pepper sauce (they like their food hot here). That was on the bottom floor. I went upstairs, and the smell hit me about halfway up - fish. Gross. But the worst was what I saw at the top of the stairs...piles of bushmeat on the first table. Cut up monkeys and little antelopes. People eat monkeys here!!! I actually knew this but thought the trade was a bit more illicit than in the open market. Little humanlike hands piled up on the table. Tiny little antelope hooves and fur. I almost heaved. The driver told me they eat chimpanzees in some parts of the country. People prefer bushmeat to beef etc even though its more expensive than farmed meat! I'm just sick. I understand why and am trying to be culturally sensitive, but I would have preferred to not have seen it. I'm still disturbed.
After that, I went to the supermarket for another horror- the expense of buying food here. I went to a different shop this time, and this one had about 10 times the stuff in it, but it was even more expensive than the first one. A container of Folger's coffee just like what I get at home for 5 bucks was 25 dollars!!! Ham is $15 a pound, turkey $17. a box of Rice Krispies is $7. Premium Plus crackers - $5 a box. Kraft parmesan cheese - $8. I ended up buying milk, some pasta, 4 cans of diet pepsi, a jar of peanut butter, two tins of green beans, and two tins of tuna, for $25. My In Country Living Allowance is not going to go far. In Kenya I lived for 2 weeks on $25! There is no food production to speak of locally so everything is imported - and it must be flown in. Of course the local businessmen are totally exploiting the expats, many of whom do get paid enough that $10 cheese slices are not a big deal, but many of us do not get paid that well! I thik I'll be eating a lot of pasta. I had pasta mixed with a tin of tuna and a tin of green beans for supper on Friday and lunch on Saturday. Pasta with Ragu last night. No idea what I'll do tonight but I suspect pasta with Ragu.
I also went and checked out a nice new hotel that expats frequent. I had a look at the menu - same as the other restaurant I've been to - $27 for a steak, $10 for a salad, $10 for a hamburger. Eating out is going to be infrequent if it happens at all.
So today (Sunday) I’m sitting in the apartment doing some work and killing time. Maybe I’ll watch another bootleg DVD. I watched the new Raiders of the Lost Ark last night, complete with the silhouettes of people getting up out of their seats at the movie theatre where it was videotaped off the screen. It seemed good, but I couldn’t see half of it because the quality was so poor. I guess I’ve learned to wait until the movie is actually out on DVD “for real” before I buy a bootleg copy. For 5 bucks I got Raiders plus seven or eight other movies, nothing special but will kill time.
This job seems to be pretty much 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. Definitely not what I was expecting after working in Kenya, which was 12 hour days 7 days a week. I don’t quite know what to do with myself with all this time, especially given that I don’t know a single soul in the country besides Davies, and he is in his room when he’s at home. I don’t have to go to the field, and I don’t have to do any finance, or HR, or any other administrative stuff. There are staff that do all of that. I feel like a bit of a warm body waiting in case someone has a question about malaria. At least I found a gym and I can kill a couple of hours a day there, and when there is power and internet I can waste time like no one’s business.
I went to a meeting at the UN this week, a mind-boggling hour of acronyms meant to help NGOs coordinate with each other (mostly on security issues). There were a couple of presentations about the food crisis and its impact on Liberia. It was depressing.
- the GDP is 40% of what it was before the war
- Liberia imports 50% of its food
- 92% of exports are a single commodity - rubber - making the country extremely vulnerable to price fluctuations
- 2/3 of its rice (the staple food) are imported (in urban areas 90%) and the price has more than doubled in the past year
- to make rice more affordable (and under pressure from the World Trade Organization) the government dropped its $2 per sack import tax. This was great for consumers, but a disaster for the government...it lost $6M in revenues, which is HALF of the health budget for the year (which is also depressing because for only $12M some rich person could pay for health for all Liberians instead of buying a new mansion)
- 56% of the rural and 29% of the urban population live in "extreme poverty" (less than $1 a day income
- 40% of children under 5 are chronically malnourished
So, here we are trying to do our best to help what seems a hopeless situation...I guess I shouldn't complain too much about the price of coffee and ham when most families can't afford a cup of rice.
Here are a few more pictures of lovely Monrovia:
abandoned construction site