Steph and David in town

Where\'s John

Once again I’ve managed to go a month with out any updates. When I started out I thought this would be easier than it is. The hard part is getting the photos up here, and we all know photos make the blog. Like this photo here. See if you can spot the white man standing at Water Side Market.

David's picture of water side

Water Side is where i took my friends David McCann and Stephanie Kruse when they arrived here to get a taste of Liberia. David and I studied computer science at Georgia Tech together for both our undergrad and grad degrees. He now works for Busy Labs in Accra. Steph and I went to the same church in Atlanta. She teaches special ed in the Gwenette County school system. Steph arrived at the beginning of July and has been helping the TRC with some copy editing.  The following is a brief summary of the high points of our adventures this past month.

Suspension hack

I’ve noticed for some time that GATECH-1, my company car in Monrovia, has been riding a little low in the back. Especially when there’s equipment in the back and a back seat full of people. The tire would be an inch from the wheel well when the car is fully loaded. I found myself driving very slowly to avoid bottoming out on every pot hole, and there are a lot of pot holes here.

I took the car to No Lemon garage to see what could be done. Given the nature of the driving the 4Runner would be doing, they recommended heavy duty shocks and springs, which I fully agree with. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the parts in for several weeks. They had to import the parts from their supplier in Australia. So I decided to work on a quick fix in the mean time.

I went down to the rubber market, and found four 4″x1.5″ blocks of rubber. I had the guys at the market cut these up into eight 2″x1.5″ blocks. This set me back a paltry 700LD. I then went home, jacked up the 4Runner, and shoved 4 blocks in between the each coil of the rear springs as shown above. Amazingly, this added about an inch and a half of lift to the rear of the car and fixed the bottoming out. The ride was even pretty good, no squirly backend or anything. This reminded me of the kinds of things friends in my neighborhood would do to raise their pick-ups when we were in high school. Though after a while a few of the blocks of rubber fell out, so a real solution to the problem is needed. I’ll keep you posted.

MOSES AKA the Kiosk in VonzuluWe also took the MOSES (MObile Story Exchange System, formerly known as the Kiosk) out to Vonzula, Grand Cape Mount county. We were invited to go there by David Kizolu, the TRC county coordinator for Grand Cape Mount. Vonzula is a market town about 20 (I’m making up this number) miles from Sierra Leone. We went on market day so the place was packed. There were some good interactions with MOSES and the locals, lots of good videos were recorded, and as always people seemed excited. I think Steph and David liked it because it was a break from Monrovia and more of a sampling of rural Liberia. Like a lot of places the capital city is not what the rest of the country is like. David and I met a lot of people from the surrounding area, and Stephanie was befriended by every child in the market. Some parents just asked her to the take the kids back with her, she declined.

Riding down the cliffs of the riverWhat trip to Liberia would be complete with out going to Robertsport? So of course Steph, David, Carter Center Sean, and I rented a tent at Nana’s Lodge for a night to soak up the sun and the waves. The surfing was OK on Saturday, but Sunday was rainy and windy. However, we did have a good time walking down the beach. In this picture I’m riding down the sandy cliff of a stream created by rain water running from the hills through the beach and into the ocean.

First ever trivia night

On July 17th Monrovia saw its first ever trivia night. Founded by Sean Mcleay, trivia night was composed of a round of Liberian trivia, general trivia (music, movies, people, places), and  wild card trivia, with a final question. Between the first three rounds was a special picture question. Our team comprised of David, Steph, new roommate Sabrina, and me. Trivial was held at Taaj Indian Restaurant, with first place receiving a $50USD gift certificate and second place a $20USD gift certificate to Taaj. We dominated the Liberian trivia round but then hit some rough waters with the other two rounds. Thankfully, we had a strong showing in the first picture question and the final question, which was a science question. So we came in second. Not bad for our first try and David’s first full day in town.

Monrovia Breweries control room

In our quest to find touristy things to do in Monrovia, which isn’t easy, we ended up at the Monrovia Breweries, home of Liberia’s own Club Beer. When we first arrived we were told we had to submit a written request for a tour and then management would get back to us. These guys wouldn’t have any sweet talking, they were all business. But they did tell us that maybe we should come back at 2:00 when the boss man was back from lunch. So I left my business card and we went on our way. After lunch and a way fun ride on a random dusty road we came back to the Brewery.

Canned hops extract

We talked for a while, and again were told we needed to submit a request in writing. Then, right as we had started up our motorcycles to leave, they flag us down and said, “Why didn’t you tell us you were the people that left the business card? Come on in.” Apparently my business card constituted a request in writing, or something like that. So the assistant brew master, a very nice man named Sampon, took us on a full tour.

It was amazing. One of the best things I’ve done in Liberia. The picture on the top left is me in the brew house control room with one of the guys that runs the system. The picture on the right is of cans of hop extract. They don’t use fresh hops because it takes too long to ship them over from Germany.

Monrovia Breweries

There were several outstanding things about the tour, but for me the most amazing was that we saw no other white people working there. The whole place was run by Liberians, and these were some serious, on the ball, and very professional Liberians. Though the plant is Swiss owned it was so nice to see it Liberian run. Often I find myself struggling here with the lack of capacity in human capital, so it was very refreshing to see such an operation so well run by Liberians.

Another thing I enjoyed about the tour was the lack of OSHA/FDA restrictions. We went everywhere and saw everything. It was great. No, “don’t walk there it’s slippery or.”, “We can’t go past this point with out washing our hands.” It was all access. I mean we’re all adults, we don’t need the government telling us to walk slowly on a wet floor, I can see it’s wet. Though I must say that the plant was very clean, neat, and sanitary. They showed us all the things they do to clean out the system between brews. They also answered every question we asked. No, “That’s a trade secret.”

Some facts I found intersting about the plant.

  • Contrary to popular belief the plant did shut down during the war.
  • They brew Club Beer, and are licensed to brew Guiness Stout and Guiness Malta, very impressive.
  • They brew a little less than 5 million gallons a year.
  • They don’t export because they can’t meet the local demand as is!!
  • Obviously clean water is important to them, so I was very surprised to learn that they mainly get water from the city of Monrovia. They said it’s usually pretty pure and if they do anything at all to the water they only add a little chlorine. They said the real problem is when they have to get water from other sources, then it’s not clean.
  • A crate of 12 large club beers wholesales for 860LD. On average they retial for 100LD per bottle. So a profit of 28LD per bottle. That’s almost $0.50USD.

At the end of the tour we saw their bottling operation, also impressive, and had a absolutely delicious club beer. It was so hoppy and fresh. I asked when it was made, “yesterday”, was the reply. Amazing!

Hotel Africa

On that same day we also visited Hotel Africa. Built for a continent wide conference in the 70’s, Hotel Africa was at one time the largest hotel in Liberia, and I’m told it had the largest swimming pool in West Africa, and maybe all of Africa. As you can tell from the picture the building was very impressive. The pool is in the shape of Africa. In addition to the hotel there were casinos, restaurants and boutiques.

Hotel Africa\'s hall ways

I was super impressed to see dry wall in the rubble. I haven’t seen dry wall since I’ve been here. They also had duct work lying around from the hotel’s HVAC system. Again, something I haven’t seen working here since I arrived.

John\'s Skillet Surprise

I’ll end with a little bit about my life in Liberia. To the right is a picture of my favorite meal to cook here. I call it “John’s Skillet Surprise.” Because of the uncertainty of refrigeration and the price of most food items I’ve adapted by pan frying some potatoes and onions, and then adding adding eggs. Some times cheese or avocado can be added, a little garlic is nice as well. Often I’ll serve skillet surprise with ketchup. It’s around $2.00USD to make a plate of skillet surprise and refrigeration isn’t required for the meals components. Though I do prefer to keep the eggs refrigerated most of the day.

SurpiseIs skillet surprise tasty? Just look at Sean’s face.



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