To the next 10,000

Whew that milestone is over! 9,999 to 10,000, 10,001, and onwards towards 10,050 and the next 10,000 will come. That’s life hey, one click, one minute, one idea, and one step at a time!! Before you know it the day is over, the week is done, the month is finished and the next one is beginning!! So, here’s to the next day, the next click, and the next dream idea!

I dug into my files for these two lunchtime photos. These guys worked on the construction site next to my place, and they built a 5 storey apartment block – one brick at a time!  

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2011: Every holiday was a safari!

Well I must say that the true genius of 2011 was my holiday planning!! On that score the year rocked! If anyone questions my planning and organising skills, I’ll just point them to my awesomely planned holiday schedule!! Aside from my annual journey down-under, in 2011 every holiday was a safari!!

I won’t gloat too much, but 2011 allowed me to enjoy safaris in 3 national parks in South Africa, plus a sublime month-long safari which took us through Botswana, Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania/Zanzibar!! I simply haven’t had time to edit the 15,000+ photos I took in that month!! What a blast that was…2011 was the ‘year of the safari!’

So, allow me to indulge in a few safari references to illustrate the year that was.

The 6 am rises for the morning game-drives quickly settle into the ‘safari rhythm’ and you start to appreciate the momentum of the morning dawn experienced while bumping across the savannah and the sundowners enjoyed to the fading light of the sunset. [2011 was my 3rd year in Liberia and life had developed a largely dull and unchallenging routine. I can’t say that I like it much, but I am grateful to be here and there are some enticing opportunities emerging on the horizon.]

The anticipation of the chase and the kill are definitely high adrenelin moments of any safari. You have to be alert and ready because even though the hunt can take time, the kill can be over in seconds. But after the kill, you do think of the victim – the sweet baby antelope that just happened to become the leopard’s dinner. [There were moments in 2011, when I felt like I was being hunted by a pack of nasties trying (and failing) to make me their victim! Lesson: stay alert and don’t become anyone’s ‘kill’!]

 

 

 

 

 

The safari experience is best enjoyed with like-minded friends and/or photography buffs. Sharing the vehicle with restless bores is definitely excruciating and I find I don’t have patience any more for difficult and complex people in my social life!  [In 2011, more friends left my social circle than entered it so I have ended up in a deficit of like-minded people around me…except that my new friends are outside my work-life and they’re pretty cool!]

Open spaces, rare opportunities, and splendid skies. Safaris always restore my sense that it is great to be alive and moving in god’s creation, spotting rare wild creatures under an enormous blue canvas sky. [Even though Liberia’s skies are often hazy and grey the wet season can bring some spectacular thunderstorms, enormous clouds, and beautiful sunsets. Whatever the weather, I am grateful to be here: alive, exploring, and ready for more!]

I hope that 2011 was a splendid journey for all my friends and readers.

I wish that 2012 will be a superb safari for you all!

A year of adventure, unexpected surprises, natural beauty, 

and wild possibilities!!!

Life is a safari!

Real Man helps his Wife in the Home

This is my favourite social awareness sign in Liberia! I pointed it out to the three Liberian men I was travelling with while in Voinjama recently. Two of them who drive past the sign daily, claimed to have never seen it! The billboard is part of the programme to stop Gender Based Violence and is a fabulous effort but I’m not sure if any Real Man is paying heed to the message!!

Real Man Helps His wife in the Home – I certainly hope so 🙂

Shy smiles

I don’t usually get a chance to get up close with people when I have my camera with me, so when I do I so wish I could capture more from the moment – but that’s my constant photographic cry. I have found that children are often uncertain how to react to the camera but after they see their image they usually put on a more dramatic performance.

When we were waiting for the heli the other day a small group of boys kept trying to get my attention from the other side of the airfield so I went to speak with them and “flash them” – take some photos. The first shot is of them from the distance – note the aggressive stance in the small boy on the left! Oh man, there’s trouble coming in that one! The second shot is the formal pose while the last shot is where we ended up just 4 shots later…all smiles and thumbs-up…well almost all!

Meanwhile this boy in Greenville hugged his blanket and tried to cover his face – the parents insisted I take the photo – but then after seeing the image he wanted another “flash” and this time a shy smile emerged in his eyes.

There was however no shyness from these girls who seemed to know instinctively how to synchronise their pose. I hope I get more people photo opportunities in 2012.

On the road again… Travelling in Liberia

It is not easy to move around in Liberia. In the last month I visited 7 counties and survived because most of the trip was undertaken on the UNMIL helicopter. These photos are taken from the moving vehicle during our 6 hour road trip between  Zwedru and Sannequellie. 

The roads are paved and in reasonably good condition to the main towns in the two directions heading out of Monrovia, and then the bitumen ends and the red-brown dirt or mud begins. The UN military components try to keep the main supply routes maintained and open so for the most part they are okay but with patches of corregations and potholes. When you go off of the main routes onto the feeder roads and further from the County headquarters into the Districts, towns and villages, the road conditions quickly deteriorate. During the rainy season, many Districts are inaccessible.

If the photos above don’t convince you – try these – taken by colleagues in the field (Thank God I didn’t have to drive through these ‘critical spots’)

People tell me that I should enjoy the opportunity to travel by road to see the countryside and the different villages. I completely disagree. I’ve seen enough of the countryside from the ground and the air to know that it is consistently green (trees, rubber plantations, forests, and a rare patch of agriculture here and there), red-brown (dirt or mud roads, clay or mud structures) and grey-blue sky (heavy grey rain clouds, or haze and dust when the winds blows down from the Sahara). The scenery may change according to the season, the weather on the day, and the road conditions, but its always a variation of the same green, red-brown and grey-blue. I’m sorry but I’ll take a 2 hour heli ride over a 10 hour road journey any day!!

There’s no happier sight at the end of a field trip than to see these Ukrainian birds land! Oh and of course I have to acknowledge that as an expat I have the priviledge of a decent 4×4 vehicle or a heli to move me around, but that is unattainable for most Liberians.

Christmas in Liberia

“My Christmas is on you!” is the greeting I heard most often during the Season in Liberia! At first I was confused. What has your Christmas got to do with me? ‘People, we have to take care of our own Christmases’, I thought. And after four Christmas seasons spent as an expat in Liberia I think I eventually ‘got it’ in the end.

Christmas is a very important celebration.

The majority of Liberians claim to be Christians (about 80%). Church attendance is a priority and after the mass or Sunday service people spill out onto the roads in their Sunday finery, greeting friends, blessing each other, and searching for a ride home. Christmas Day is spent with the family and people go all out to enjoy a nice meal and share some small gifts for the children.

Family time is very important and after sharing the special meal families will go to the beach or somewhere special to visit and pass the time together. Interestingly, Christmas is not always celebrated on the 25th December. If, like this year (2011), the 25th happens to fall on a Sunday then Liberians will celebrate Christmas on the public holiday.

Christmas shopping is stressful all over the world!

The RedLight market area in Monrovia may not be Woolworths or Marks and Spencer, but the stress for the shopper on the hunt for a bargain is the same the world round, and more so at Christmas! (The photos tell the story!)

Now you cannot compare the Christmas consumerism of a typical Australian with that of Liberians because the two are quite different contexts. However speaking only from my observations, many Liberians seem to face more pressure than most Aussies would experience during this time of the year. In Liberia, where 85% of the population do not have regular jobs or salaries, the urgency to hustle and beg is an incredible burden for many. I can’t really imagine how it feels.

“My Christmas is on you!”

So here’s where the saying “My Christmas is on you” starts to make sense. The security guards say it, the office cleaning ladies, the parking attendant at the shops, government interlocutors, and even my colleagues at work! Everyone looks to their connections, no matter how thin, to ask for money.

Of course, expats are a natural target as everyone assumes we have money to give away to anyone who asks. But the Liberians with a stable job and salary are constantly chased by the unemployed family members, long-lost cousin ten times removed, and neighbours who they barely meet throughout the year. Imagine how much pressure that is!

While the hustlers might accept a negative response from an expat, they do not let up with their Liberian brothers and sisters. They will hustle until the family member gives them some money, and they will shame them if the amount they give is not enough. (I’m not sure that this makes any sense until you have lived in Liberia.)

 

How to respond 

At first when people greeted me with “My Christmas is on you” I used to smile and say “Bless you”. I felt that if I gave to one person I would need to give to everyone. And so the well reasoned mantra, ‘I can’t help everyone, so I won’t help anyone’ justified my inaction on too many occasions. (Thankfully, not on all occasions)

Once I understood the Season greeting would come every December, I thought about who was important to me and what they might need. I planned ahead so that for some people I could give more than a ‘bless you’.

The spirit of Christmas in Liberia

I eventually  realised that the consumerism and pressure people faced at Christmas time in Liberia came from the same source as everywhere Christmas is celebrated – a desire to celebrate a special occasion and have time with family.

That is the same heart and motivation many people have across the world. It is the spirit of Christmas!

So when Liberians greeted me with ‘My Christmas is on you’ they were actually voicing in a unique way, their desire to celebrate and their need for help. I would rather hear that greeting than “Hey big mama! You got money for me!” Yes, I did hear that statement in Liberia too, but never at Christmas time!

I hope that my comments as an expat have captured some of the reality of the challenges that come with celebrating Christmas in Liberia. And I hope also that when someone greets you saying, ‘My Christmas is on you’, you can feel the heart and need behind the expression.

I wish I had caught on to that heartbeat much sooner!

MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone and richest blessings for the year to come!

 

A look around Greenville, Liberia

Yesterday I posted some photos of the Greenville Port, so now here are a few photos of the town and the fish market. In my opinion, if you have to live anywhere outside of Monrovia, try to opt for a coastal area. At least then you can supplement your diet with fish and there’s usually a nice beach to visit and enjoy somewhere nearby. Otherwise, this country is mainly made up of green trees, red dirt, and a sprinkle of villages.

This is Greenville, Sinoe County!

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I enjoy the fish market, and yes we did enjoy nice grilled fish! I also love the way they name their boats. Maybe it is because the fishermen cannot always swim and the sea can be so rough, they often quote scripture as if to try to bless their boats and bring God’s protection!