We drove all around the city today running last-minute errands for Tuesday’s Christmas party. I’m not sure whether driving through New York or Monrovia is more chaotic. In New York, taxis whiz by and there is occasional gridlock — but at least you can opt for the subway when that happens. In Monrovia, you can’t get to market or town without sitting through some traffic — there aren’t traffic lights and the roads are full of pot holes you need to maneuver around. Liberians pass by the stopped cars hoping to sell candy, water, washcloths…It took all day to pick up the food to feed 600 orphans tomorrow — frozen chicken and sausage; rice, cooking oil, and peppers at the market; noodles, Kool Aid, and paper supplies at the Westernized supermarket — and to coordinate the cooking plans. A few women will begin cooking the chicken at 4am Christmas Day, so we can serve it at noon! We went to a bigger outdoor market than this one, but the photo gives you an idea of what the street atmosphere is like.
Today at the market was the first time we were mingling in true Liberian society, outside the car. As you can imagine, Gen and I attract quite a bit of attention being fair-skinned and carrying around cameras. The hardest was when we left the supermarket, and a group of kids were clanging garbage together to make music, so that we’d give them money. Or when we were getting in the car and girls yelled, “Hey missy! Hey missy!” to get us to buy from their stand. (Earlier, boys outside the Royal Hotel called to us, “their American sisters,” to help them. As sad as it sounds, just like in New York, you have to pretend you don’t hear them — you feel terribly cold-hearted, especially on Christmas Eve, but you can’t help everyone. That’s the hardest part of this trip — the discomfort of knowing how privileged you are in a country that is in extreme poverty.
I was reading “Eat, Pray, Love” on the balcony tonight – the best place to be to get the ocean breeze and some light before the sun sets and the electricity turns on in the apartment — and part of the book (a travelogue) made me think. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, is talking with an Italian friend in Italy. She writes, “If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought…And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don’t really belong there.” They talked about New York, and how “achieve” sums up the city – I strive for that, so I can see why NYC is my haven. I tried to think of one word I would give Monrovia…Devastation? Hurt? Survival? These didn’t quite fit, because as I said before, there is hope and beauty if you look for it…so I asked Genevieve, who was sitting beside me, what word she thinks is appropriate. Without any delay, she replied, “Money.”
She nailed it. It’s all about money here. However, unlike in the US, money means just having enough to afford the basic necessities — it’s not about affording designer clothing, making millions like Donald Trump, or greed in general, in my estimation.
On a brighter note, I’m very much looking forward to what all these errands have been building up to — the Christmas party!