Out of Liberia

Hi ya!

Yes I’m still alive and thinking about my blog and everyone who drops by to read it!! I can see that its still attracting readers even though my last post was in October, just after I left Liberia!

My goodbye cake was pretty delicious!

My goodbye cake was pretty delicious!

These photos were taken at my farewell from the mission in Liberia and when I look at the faces again, I know how much I miss my African brothers and sisters and all my colleagues. I served the section there for 4 days short of 4 years! I learned a lot and that is helping me in my new role in Cyprus. I know I gave a long speech that day, but what touched me during the farewell was how people spoke about my work. I can’t claim to have had a huge impact but I do hope that our staff in the county offices knew there was some hope of help in HQ when they needed it. In the end I think we had a good time at the farewell and there were plenty of jokes and laughter. Even though mission life is about transition and comings and goings, hellos and goodbyes, the lessons and memories of time with good friends can be taken with you wherever you go. Everyone contributes into my life and I hope I contributed into others lives too. I certainly do miss my friends from Liberia and I thank them for expanding my life experience.

There always has to be a group photo!

There always has to be a group photo!

The medal cum reward for my service! Handshake with the Chief!

The medal cum reward for my service! Handshake with the Chief!

There’s absolutely no way to compare Liberia and Cyprus! But the UN is the UN whatever peace-keeping mission you’re in and so the adventures continue in a new setting with new challenges and new colleagues.

As for this blog. I will continue to talk about Liberia but I’ll expand it to include photos and stories of my travel throughout the African continent. I still have 10,000+ photos that need to edited and shared!!!

Out of Liberia!

I am ‘out of Liberia’ and ‘out of Africa’ but I find my eyes searching constantly for reminders of the continent! A big part of me misses my African adventures and my african brothers and sisters, while the other part is enjoying the thrills of traffic lights, 24 hour power, fast internet and 4 euro lattes!! I have been in Cyprus for a month now – busy with settling in, learning new stuff, and establishing my new digs! Today I got connected to fast internet!! So in the coming weekends I want to get back to my blog and write more. There’s still so much left unsaid about Liberia and my travels in Africa. It will be interesting to see what observations I have about Liberia when it is no longer my daily experience – to describe it with the freedom of being  one step removed.

I miss you!

A few words on my week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

On the first day I felt as though I had landed in paradise, and that feeling has not lessened in the few days I’ve been in Addis Ababa! Of course everything is relative, and most of the people I’ve met here have grumbled and complained about life here, but as I’m coming from Liberia, this is relatively close to paradise! It helps immensely that I’m being hosted by my friend in her cosy house with wonderful garden. She’s introduced me to all manner of interesting people and we’ve eaten at several lovely restaurants. Aside from the intimidating government (they just banned Skype) and the lack of big modern shopping centres with well stocked shops, I can’t think of anything to complain about! Addis does not feel like a city of 5-7 million people and the parts I’ve seen of it have been easy to move around. I admit I’m moving in the expat world, but I move in the expat world in Liberia too and I know which of the two I would prefer! This is not Nairobi, or Dakar, or Joburg, but there’s a lot going on because it has the African Union HQ and there’s a big presence of UN and international organisations. There is potential for things to move ahead and in the meantime, its definitely possible to have a comfortable and interesting professional life in Addis. I will continue to explore the options!!

Hopefully these few photos can be uploaded….

I don’t know how many people have heard of InterNations, but I had the chance to go to the 5th InterNations event in Addis and it was so cool! For people who move to a new country to live, InterNations helps to connect people to the expat network so that they can find their way around the new location as well as meet like-minded interesting people. The whole objective is to ‘bring global minds together’! It worked so well in the last event, a dinner at Top View restaurant in Addis (my photos are on the IN Addis website). I’m a member in Liberia’s InterNations network, but I don’t think they’ve ever had an event in Monrovia. I will be curious to see what potential there is to activate such a network in Liberia.

It’s been a fruitful and amazing holiday in Addis. I will come again! When I return tomorrow I will fly with a head full of ideas and plans which should sustain me for the next period in Liberia and also help me to do something to rescue my pathetic career! Cheers for now!

Another birthday, another chance to reset my direction

I’m in a reflective mood brought on by the fact that its my birthday! So allow me to ramble a little as I sit in Addis Ababa looking out over a green flowery garden, listening to the birds twitter. This is paradise for me at the moment, because it is beautiful and because it is not Monrovia. I have to admit that my main objective seems to be to ensure that the 19th June is not spent in Liberia! My first birthday since working in Liberia (2009) I flew back to Australia to escape, in 2010 I went to Senegal, 2011 to Durban RSA, and this year to Ethiopia! That’s a fun way to remember my birthdays! I wonder where I’ll celebrate next year! But, beyond the surface, I really like to get out of Liberia so that I can reset my thinking and direction.

I think when milestones come along, they should be celebrated – marked in a special way.  The birthday date serves as a marker and a milestone. Another year has passed by and what have I done with it? What do I want to see happen for the coming 12 months? At the moment, a big part of me would love to settle into a comfortable life in Liberia with good friends, a comfy house, and some semblance of normalcy – that is very attractive! It could almost be possible. Another part of me wants to see how far I can stretch the limits of my abilities and how much I can contribute to this planet. Its a dilemma to balance these two conflicting desires because I don’t know how to blend them together. I hope it is possible to push ahead with the career motivations but within a network of loving, supportive friends who encourage and give you the courage to give your best. I doubt that this international life will ever be normal, but I can see from my friend in Addis, that there are ways to create a loving, exciting, and challenging lifestyle within the constraints of the abnormal settings where we are temporarily located. That may not make sense to many readers, but its very real to me! I want to shake up my pathetic career and I want to live a more connected and real life with loving friends. It will be interesting to see how far I’ve moved towards that by June 19th, 2013!

Love ya!

I am alive, but silenced again by technical challenges!

It has been a long, long silence – far longer than intended. This time I will blame WordPress because the changes they seem to have made to their system have overwhelmed the Liberian internet service provider! I have been unable to log into my account and unable to access my dashboard. It maybe that the changes are good for the world of fast ISPs but it is not wise to assume that everyone enjoys such luxury!

During this dark period of silence, I have in fact been very busy! Work was more interesting and varied – I like that! Then I had a 3 night visit to Buchanan which also varied the pace a little. Now I am about to head off on a well-earned holiday – to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the first time. That will make my 14th country on the African continent which is not bad for my time here, especially when you consider that I’ve been to many places more than once.

Hmmm, I am not able to attach a photo due to the ISP incapacity. Sorry! But at least these few words let you know I’m still alive. One can hope that the ISPs will be faster in East Africa! Love & laughter!

 

 

The road to Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County

The main thing everyone mentions in reference to Gbarpolu County is the road! Oh my goodness…the road!! We drove to Bopolu City in March and it wasn’t the worst road I’ve seen in Liberia, but it certainly is tedious. The things is that this road is repaired and cared for. Beyond the county HQ into the more rural areas, the roads are worse. Three of the six districts are inaccessible by 4×4 for most of the year. The UN military engineering unit was out repairing the road before the onset of the rainy season, so here are a few photos of them in action.

Personally for me, the main problem with Gbarpolu is not the road, it is the lack of food! If you don’t have contacts or people to care for you, then the constant drama of daily life will revolve around food and the never-ending question of “what am I going to eat for my next meal?” The UN staff there rely on each other to bring supplies every time they travel from Monrovia and that is what sustains them. We only saw small stalls such as you see here and there was no fresh produce to be found anywhere.

The oddest contrast of Gbarpolu is that it has the largest newest court building I have seen outside of Monrovia. It is almost completed but not yet connected to generators or operational. Why they need such an audacious building in a remote and humble county, defies my logic.

Just so you do not think that UN staff live in luxury – this is a photo of the guesthouse accommodation provided to us by the UN for a nightly fee of USD35! I had nightmares of imprisonment but cannot think what might have brought that on!!

So that’s Gbarpolu County. The HQ is only 3 – 4 hours driving up from Monrovia, but due to the bad road it feels as isolated as the counties in the south-east that take 10 hours+ to drive to. There really is nothing there to comment on and life is spent in the compound every evening and weekend just to enjoy the power and internet. It is not an easy life at all. As usual I admire all our staff who do good work and make it tough in rural Liberia!

Faced with the desire to be Reckless

I woke up this morning with a desire to write and post recklessly without the usual care and limitations, and without knowing what thoughts are compelled to escape onto the blank screen. Not sure what brought this on, but will run with it anyway! 🙂

Having written that, my mind has gone blank. I don’t really have a lot to say beyond describing my life in Liberia – but that is hardly reckless posting! As for all the other topics, (such as my personal thoughts and political opinions, my dreams, fears and ideas),  well I type a paragraph on those things and then I swiftly delete it. Too much personal information. I’m obviously reflecting my personality into my blog. I’m not a reckless person. In person and through the social media, I am cautious about what I reveal to others. People have commented that it is not easy to get to know the real me. “Yes”, I agree with a sweet smile! I know it. The difficulty with recklessness and the social media is that I don’t know all of the readers and there’s no way to control who reads the words or how they might interpret the message. Therefore I want to keep this blog at the safe level of information sharing and photos. I am obviouly retreating from recklessness pretty rapidly!

Okay, I do take many risks and my life is far from ordinary. Some would say that living outside of Australia in post-conflict countries, or travelling alone as I often do, is reckless – but its not really. Whatever I do is always a calculated risk and I know Plan B and C to get out of a tricky situation. In fact I will rarely walk into a tricky situation. Planning removes the recklessness from my path.

If there were a scale between Routine and Reckless, I’d be edging upwards from the middle…getting somewhere close to Risk-taker but not at Adventurer or Reckless dare-devil level yet!!  Certainly, I have moved beyond the ordinary routine of the comfortable city life I could have had back in Oz. That suits me just fine! Its good to be comfortable with who you are and your level of discomfort so that you can push it out just a little, each time!

But then I do have moments when I want to break free and be reckless. Is that part of the normal human condition? I wish I didn’t care so much about my professional reputation. I wish I didn’t care what people thought of me personally. Then I would wear jeans everyday, even when meeting VIPs. Say all the outrageous things that cross my mind. Voice the wickedly cheeky observations that are far too politically incorrect! Snap photos of every person or scene that attracts my eye, even if people don’t like it. Travel alone. Spend all my money. Laugh and laugh and laugh all day, loudly and for no particular reason. Play insane jokes on people. At least that’s how I would start IF I were to be more reckless. Oh, and I’d probably blog more recklessly too!!! Commit it all to writing and damn the consequences!

Does anyone else have that desire or urge?

Well, that was a nice moment of exploration, but even though I desire to do something entirely reckless – it ain’t going to happen! Not today and not here in this blog post!! I’m far too sensible to tell you something recklessly and regret it later 🙂  (Pushing the publish button for this post will take care of my reckless urges for today!)

Sorry-o, she says with  sweet smile!! Til next time…

Welcome to Cestos City!

At the end of the dusty track is a small town on a peninsular between the Cestos River and the Atlantic Ocean. But you have to drive the 4+ hour journey yourself to fully appreciate the humour to the sign, “Welcome to Cestos City!”

We visited there recently and stayed in a local guesthouse which provided me with a far better sleep than I’ve had in UN guesthouses in other parts of the country. A clean simple room with a mosquito net, large bed, sea breeze, and a bucket of warm water to wash with in the morning – what else does a gal need for her US$25? If it were not for the generosity of the Ghanian peace-keepers who provided meals for us, it would be difficult to manage as a visitor. Food is not available on the streets and I don’t know how often there is a local market. The only way to make it for a long stay is to find a house/room to rent – you may have to find a partly constructed house and complete the building yourself – and set up a means to cook for yourself everyday with supplies brought in from Monrovia or Buchanan. You can get fresh or smoked fish which is the enormous benefit of living on the coast! Our staff spend most of the evenings and weekends in the office where there is 24-hour power and internet access most of the time. (Cestos does not have a functioning light or power grid nor running water as is the norm for all places outside of Monrovia.)

The County Superintendent (who has just been reappointed by the President for another term) is quite active. He moves everywhere with his iPad showing photos of building projects and he has quite a few plans to develop the county. He has started a new road and wants to encourage people to eventually move to a new part of the town as sea erosion will eventually inundate the current town centre. Unlike many Superintendents he spends most of his time in the county and he appears to enjoy the job and be competent to plan and manage the work well.

Somehow despite the difficulties, I quite like Cestos. It is a quiet village with a restful feel to it. Perhaps I like it better because it is on the coast I have an affinity for the beach),or perhaps the functional County Administration brings a different sense of hope, but whatever the reason, if you get posted to Cestos you should not be too despairing – there are many worse places to be!

These photos will illustrate some of the sights of Cestos City…

Logs in Liberia

Logs are murdered trees – cut down in their prime!!

Following from my last post…here are some photos of dead trees…logs stacked up at the Greenville Port ready for export. When you see them piled up there (put into perspective against the man in the photo) you realise that’s a lot of Liberian trees sacrificed for someone’s furniture or smooth floorboards.

At least you should replant what is cut down! REPLANT!!!

That would be responsible and sustainable natural resource management, wouldn’t it!?

Logging Liberia

This week I was back in the field again and will write in more detail soon about my restful visit to Rivercess County.

On the 4 – 5 hour road journey to Buchanan and Cestos, we were dusted by the numerous logging trucks. We must have seen more than 20 in our drive which amounts to quite a number of trees cut down. Liberia is blessed with natural resources including amazing forests. Unfortunately its easy to cut down the trees, but sustaining the forests is more challenging. I haven’t seen any managed forestry or replanting of the hardwoods although I do hope it is happening somewhere, or it is planned for the future! The bush we passed on the road has all been cleared and there are very few of the original tall trees visible along the main roads.

When you see Liberia from the air you see that there are trees everywhere, but a lot of that is bush, palm trees, and regrowth. The taller trees are being removed quite fast with little regard for the future generations.