V-day, Beaches, Boxes, and Tickets

The guys, looking at the cameraFor valentines Leah Kaplan and I planned a fundraiser 80’s slow dance party. The funds were to go to a orphanage in Kakata, about an hour or so north of Monrovia. Anyway, it was obviously a lot of fun. We even got a few, not so slow dances in. People even dressed up for it, as evidenced by this photo to the left. We were able to raise well over $400 for the orphanage. To ensure that the money is properly used Orphan Relief and Rescue, a small NGO operating here in Liberia, will oversee the distribution of the money. Regrettably, Leah’s company pulled out of Liberia right before the dance, and she missed it. She was missed

River Mouth at New Siff beach in Buchanan, Grand Basa CountyThen the weekend after a few of us went on an exploratory surf trip to Buchanan in Grand Bassa County. Buchanan is about 2 and half hours away from Monrovia. The road there is paved, but it’s so tore up that you have to drive super slow to not hit every pot hole. It’d be better if it wasn’t paved and just smoothed out by the occasional grader or something. I had heard rumors that they fixed the road. These were not true.

perfect row of palm trees at New Siff beachWe never found the beach were we’re supposed to. The directions we had said go to the end of the road. We had an in car discussion about what constituted the “end of the road”, and whether the people who wrote the directions were as “hardcore” as we were when defining the end of the road. In our quest for the end we took a sweet jungle by-pass to get around a tractor that was stuck in the middle of a one lane trail along the coast. It was sweet; we were literally driving through the jungle. I love moments like that. Sadly, I got my first flat tire in Africa from this little off-road jaunt.

waves at the river mouthFinally, after trekking for several minutes off the main road, we arrived at this amazing little village next to a river that let out to the ocean, it was beautiful. Unfortunately, the waves weren’t super great. We did have a fair bit of fun riding the class 1 rapids from the river into the ocean and then riding waves back into the river, just to get pushed back again. That was pretty cool, but took a lot of work to time it right.

Building Slim MOSES(2)Kids using MOSES(5)In some more technical happenings, my crack squad of research assistants (RAs) and I did some major work to rebuild the wooden enclosure of the MObile Story Exchange System, or MOSES. The old enclosure was designed to be bullet proof. It housed our most important project and so needed to be strong. It also weighed 100lbs, took up all the space in the 4Runner, and had to be plugged in. So we redid a few things. The new system now comes in two halves. The bottom half is the power pack that houses two 12 volt 80amp deep cycle batteries hooked up in parallel and a 1500watt inverter/charger.  To date we’ve never run out of juice and have run for over 8 hours, it’s a thing of beauty. The top half contains an audio amplifier, two 6″x9″ speakers, the laptop MOSES runs on and the Plexiglas panel that the 19″ LCD is bolted too. The new system is much lighter (though the batteries weigh a lot) can easily fit in the back of the 4Runner, and doesn’t need power. Kids using MOSES(8)Slim MOSES Power PackIt’s great. People at the TRC, where we built it, have told me, “Thanks for the hard work.” I think that’s the Liberian way of saying, “Nice work.”  Since I didn’t really do the hard work for them, and secretly, I really liked getting to use power tools again. My favorite part was getting the drill bits out of the drill for my RAs. The drill was made to be tightened and loosened by hand, but the RAs were hesitant to rev the drill and pop out the drill bit. Special thanks to Matt Cramer and Andrew Tyler for loaning me the tools.

TicketFinally I got the first ticket of my life in Monrovia. I was on Broad street heading west at the Randal Street intersection.  I wanted to do a U-turn and as usual there was the normal crazy traffic, in which you wait your turn, edge forward and then either take your turn or wait for someone to let you in. But instead of pulling up past the little, I don’t even know what to call it, the thing the police stand on in the middle of the intersection to direct traffic, and then turning, I just started to turn. I had pulled about a foot forward when I noticed the cop, who had just noticed me and stood up to direct traffic and stop me. Then he realized I was white and waved me forward. He gave me a lecture about how that was illegal, I should have gone past the police stand.

I knew he was right, and that I was just being lazy with my driving. I didn’t want to “compromise” AKA bribe him to not give me a ticket. In fact, we even had a little tift where I was pointing out why compromising isn’t the way to go and he said, “But why this is Africa, you can’t change Africa”, and I looked him straight in the face and said, “I can try.” I don’t think he liked that very mcuh.One of my friends told me next time I get the, “this is Africa” line I should ask if they like their African salary, or African benefit package, if we should keep the 300 LD (5 USD) bribes, and the 100USD a month salaries. Well, I went with the usual call their bluff since they can’t write tickets and insist on a ticket stategy. To my amzement the commanding officer on the scene had a ticket book. This is defenitly a step forward, though still needs a little polish. For instance I was sited for “wreckless driving” and not obey the directing officer, who wasn’t directing anything till he saw a white man. I also got slapped with a $1500 LD, $25 USD. The cop that pulled me over said, “be nice to my friend and give him one thousand-five.” I’m pretty sure he was really saying, “show this guy he can’t change Africa, charge him a lot”. Everyone I talked to, Liberian and expat, said that was too much. Still beats the ticket price in America, though in America I would have just waited for my light to turn green, and we don’t put crap that you have to drive around in the middle of our intersections.

Paying the ticket was surprisingly pleasant. I had to go to the Ministry of Finance, pay the ticket, then take the receipt to the police station. The nice ladies in the ticket department were very helpful and had everything processed in a matter of minutes. To ensure that I paid my ticket the ticketing officer took my dirver’s license, and again I was amazed that they had it there waiting for me. So law and order is, slowly, coming back to Liberia.

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