Saturday, 10 June 2017

A lovely rainy Saturday walk around town

The rainy season is here although we've been having freak rainstorms and full rainy days these past few months when it was still officially dry season. When I first arrived in Liberia, I was told the rainy season starts in April and ends in October. However, the rainy season starts a little later now.

I was recently chatting to my Karachi cousins on WhatsApp and, sent them a picture of a rainy day. They didn't quite understand how much it rains in Liberia. 

I must say the rainy season is my favourite time of the year. The city feels completely different. 

Kavita dressed herself up for a rainy day with her rain boots, a sweater and her umbrella. We took a keke to L'oven Bakery to buy some meat and spinach pies which we had with Haresh back at the NATC office where he was working. For LD $ 150, the keke took us and brought us back. Kavita is slowly getting used to the concept of money and one needs it for things and keke rides. 

The feel of the cool air on our faces was delicious. How nice it is to finally feel this weather. 

Kavita and I left Haresh at the office to continue strolling around Monrovia. As we walked back up Randall Street, Kavita stopped at Super Cool's store. She wanted to pop in and say hello. The lady was quite pleased to see her. I understood that Kavita has made quite a few friends on Randall Street while she walks with Musu. 

We then met a couple of fellows selling moringa leaves. They told me to boil the leaves and drink the tea. I bought a bunch for $ LD 100.00. One of the men walked in front of me and, started selling the leaves. "Back pain, malaria, anything" could seemingly be cured with these leaves. "See," he called out. That part of his marketing made me smile and I paused to take his photograph. He gave me shot with his arms wide open. 

We dropped off the leaves at the house. Kavita wanted to stay on to practice her ballet (she makes graceful leaps around the living room, I think she's learned about ballet from Max and Ruby and some story books). I convinced her to keep going for another short walk. "Let's enjoy the weather," I implored her. "We'll have tea when we come back." 

So, we kept walking. Kavita insisted on walking into Tiny Tots, a children's clothing and toy shop right next to Compu Tech. She looked around and I told her we're just window shopping. 

We kept walking and bought some bananas to snack on. 

We stopped by the mosque on Benson Street. The azaan was being called out and, I peeked into a small stall selling tasbee, jaanamaaz, skull caps, incense sticks. I even bought a few "Aladdin" incense sticks from India.

We passed some boutiques. 

We passed a DVD shop and I saw some interesting film posters. Kavita became obsessed with a fake fire. It was one of those devices that looked like a flame. She didn't believe it until the shop keepers let her touch it. She kept asking to touch it over and over again. 

We kept going and, came to the intersection of Mechlin and Carey Streets. I bought some honey from Guinea. The vendors were from Guinea but they were third generation Liberians. When I asked why they still considered themselves from Guinea, they said it was because Immigration officials would often harass them and tell them they are from Guinea. Some girls shopping in the next store turned around and engaged the conversation. It kept going and, I couldn't stay because Kavita got bored. 

I hope the honey will be good. 

We walked on and browsed in the book stalls under the old Ministry of Education. I managed to find some Liberian children's books! That was quite exciting. What was nice to see was that the illustrations by artists I actually know through the NATC technology art contest. 

Kavita wanted to go home but I convinced her I wanted to see the red flame trees on Broad Street. So, we kept walking up Broad Street and, I took some photographs of the beautiful trees. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Joining International Alert as Country Manager for Liberia Part 2

Peace building is a completely new "technical sector" for me in terms of my actual experience in the Aid Establishment. So, joining the Liberia office for International Alert has been given me a very unique opportunity to learn about peace building. In the industry sense of it. 

I started my first work day in town. International Alert's national Programme Officer met me at NATC along with an Economics for Peace expert from International Alert's head office. There was a meeting scheduled with one of the companies that International Alert Liberia is engaged with in downtown Monrovia.

It was ironic to be in a meeting with a company representing an NGO instead of an IT services company, something which I have been doing since 2009.  During the meeting, I was really a quiet participant, observing how my colleagues interacted with the company's top manager. 

Coincidentally, many of NATC's past and current clients were in the extractive industry and at least one is a plantation. Some of these companies pulled out of Liberia such as BHP Billiton and Putu Iron Ore Mining Inc. I managed to get some lucrative supply and service contracts with such big companies. I learned a little bit about how companies operate, the sheer expertise and highly skilled  planning and projection that's required and, what challenges and risks companies operate with. I had the chance to visit the camps, meet geologists, learn about the social corporate responsibility teams, learn about environmental studies companies had to undertake and so on. There was also political challenges such as being called to meet with government officials regularly for regular paperwork or to respond to news of conflicts with communities or other allegations. Because I had befriended often times almost the whole management, I would hear of problems the company would have because there were pressures to recruit people from the area but often times the skilled labour from areas outside of Monrovia was even poorer than from Monrovia. I also remember hearing about the limitations of the clinic that was set up by the company and, how it couldn't serve everyone in the company.

I spent more time with 2 iron ore mining companies so my knowledge regarding this extraction is better than challenges/operations of palm oil plantations (I have one palm oil plantation client). I understood that these companies initially go through an exploration phase where highly detailed analysis and projections are made before any extraction and processing even takes place. The Agreements are quite complex and, even though there are hefty fees to be paid, a lot of under the table hand greasing also has to keep things going. While one of these companies may have not been so sincere about environmental protection, one of them seemed to walk the talk when it came to community and environmental protection. All in all, I got a sense that these companies had to tread quite carefully, maintain relationships and manage their reputations.

Despite such close encounters with companies and positive impressions, I found International Alert's model of engagement with the extractive industry something new to understand. I was told that International Alert does not do the 'blaming and shaming' type of advocacy and, rather tries to work with all parties to a conflict.

I had a lengthy and interesting chat with the expert from London who explained that International Alert believes there will always be conflict and, it is only be engaging all parties to it that peaceful outcomes can be envisioned and produced. This is Alert's  notion of peace building. So this entails providing conflict-sensitivity training to companies; promoting dialogues between the companies and "communities"; and even providing consultancies to companies. Where is the government's role in this whole process? I was told that the government is also included in the whole work but often times governments don't ensure consultation and protection of "communities" through the whole process.

The first few days and weeks have been quite interesting in terms of learning International Alert's approach and work. In Liberia, they've been operating since the mid 90s.

My induction at the London office was quite a treat. I was able to visit London after about 7 years. What a long time! Not only that, I went back with Kavita and, was able to stay at my brother Tariq's place and spend some good time with my sister Saira and Tariq.

During the induction, I was able to meet all the department heads and, many other colleagues as well. It was quite a packed 3-4 days at the office in Clapham. My sister and brother took care of Kavita during the day while I was at the office. One day she didn't want to go with Saira so I had to bring Kavita with me to the International Alert head office. Poor thing was so well behaved and quiet for the whole morning. She stayed in the recreation room and, then eventually I brought her to the Africa office where she was entertained by the communications officer while I was in a meeting with my boss's boss (my boss is the West Africa manager while his boss is the Africa manager). I could hear that Kavita was demanding that the communications officer put on "Frozen" for her. I kept apologising but the Africa manager was quite kind and did not mind, even when Kavita popped her head into the meeting room.

It struck me through the induction that the intellectual cream, the experts, the technical experts, the policy makers, the fund raisers are all based in a head office while the Country Offices, such as ours in Liberia, house a different set of folks. Not many of them have been around that long and, are implementing projects that haven't been designed by them. I am not quite sure how this model benefits the Country Office.

I was not so crazy about the required security training which was 4 nights away at a training facility an hour outside of Oxford. I dragged my sister with me so Kavita could be close to me.

It's been about 4 months and, it's been quite a busy time. When I joined, I found myself with 2 reporting deadlines for donors. It was quite an overwhelming task to put together a report with the team without having been there at all. I also had to go up to London. I have not even had the time to go visit any of the projects in the "field." I have tried to network as much as I can to get a sense of what's going on in Monrovia and "map out actors."

It's quite interesting to be in this world again. I am giving myself prep talks to be patient with the organisation, with the NGO world and to really learn what are the socio-economic and political issues that "civil society" is currently grappling with. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Facebook is bigger than China

I just read "If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than China" in a BBC Technology article. I read about 5-10 technology articles almost every day to post on the New Africa Technology Company page. The article goes on to say :
And yet, Mr Joler argues, we know next to nothing about what goes on under the bonnet - despite the fact that we, as users, are providing most of the fuel - for free."All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook," he says. 

Yet we all willingly participate in this forum because it has become the central site for us to see what's going on with our friends and family, particularly those of us who are not in our countries and close to our families. I particularly enjoy following political discussions and reactions/opinions to latest events. It is a great platform (and other social media sites) and changed the way we engage with ideas, news. Thankfully, we don't need to rely on mainstream news anymore for our only source as an opinion maker. 
In the process we help Facebook become bigger than China. 
One often meets or writes folks who are seemingly inactive on Facebook yet they are on it. They'll reference something you have posted and, you realise they are on Facebook. But then you get folks who are a little slow or just surfaced. I posted a picture of Kavita and my brother and sister when I was in London in April and, one friend of my brother asks him, is that your kid? Clearly, they aren't that close friends. 
But we're all friends on Facebook aren't we? 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Settling back into life in Monrovia

I arrived back in Monrovia from on 3 May after being away from about a month. It always takes a while to settle back into Monrovia after being away, especially if one has been away in a country with far more advanced infrastructure and pleasures of limitless consumerism. 

Folks always remark they don't miss the consumerism (ah, but they do) but as much as they miss culture like being able to watch a film at the cinema or visit a museum or enjoy concerts. But these cultural delights also have to be consumed. Sure, sometimes they may be 'free' in advanced societies but many times they are not. 

But apparently, there was a Joss Stone concert in Liberia while I was gone. 

For the last few days of my induction and security training with International Alert's head office in London, Haresh joined Kavita and I for a mini London break. We had a good time together and traveled back together on the newly resumed KLM service to Liberia. The experience was fantastic. The crew was genuinely friendly and smiled with sincere smiles, unlike the stiff faces of the coiffured and slicked Emirates staff. They also looked like real people which leads me to wonder whether Emirates has launched a test pilot of robotic air crew. 

The 3 hour stop over at Schipol Airport was an enjoyable experience. The airport is modern in the real sense of the word: beautiful art, comfortable sofas and seats for weary travelers, and a playground for children. The tables in the food court had in built charging stations to charge one's devices. 

Coming back to our life in Monrovia was not so easy. The first night we had to sleep at a hotel because we didn't have light at home. It took us more than a month to restore the LEC. We spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars repairing our back up generator twice and, hundreds more in official and unofficial fees to the LEC. 

I nearly forgot to mention that on our second day back, our staff at NATC banged up our car, damaged 2 other cars and, cost us $ 10,000 and more. What happened was that they were meant to take some small bags from the NATC office to our apartment (walking distance), an activity that has happened thousands of times every evening. Somehow, my staff gave this task to our technician who doesn't know how to drive and even while Haresh was at the office, the office manager took the keys from the desk and convinced the technician to drive. This technician is a Pakistani, without a driving license. Was he dreaming? He decided to drive and while reversing, rammed the car into 2 standing vehicles, one with a passenger. The wreckage was so bad you wouldn't have believed it. Worse, one of the cars belonged to some folks in the Cooper clan. Thankfully, we were able to resolve the whole mess with the aggrieved parties but it cost us an arm and a leg. 

This same team couldn't get our light and generator back on in our absence but had the presence of mind to drive when not knowing how to drive. 

You can appreciate what a foul state of mind I was in for quite a while. 

Things at International Alert have also been quite hectic so much so that I've not had the time or energy to slip back into my weekly ritual of evening walks, cooking at home and, having friends at home. 

The work at International Alert has been busy with following up donors, addressing funding crises, and working on a proposal in response to a donor call. The proposal writing process (we had to abandon the process half way) was truly a soul sucking experience, especially as we didn't give ourselves enough time. I did learn a lot about some new "thematic" areas that touch upon the work that we're already doing. I think I appreciate a lot more at what a strong local NGO sector is in Liberia although it can be said that after all these years, 'we' have not done enough to build up the professional capacity (what the technical industry requires) of local NGOs. 

I did have the privilege to meet a delegation from one of our donors (Sida) that was in town to assess things in light of UNMIL's phase down. The whole delegation was made up of women which was highly inspiring. It was interesting to be in a room with local and international NGOs with this delegation at the Swedish Embassy sharing experiences and opinions. 

Given the enduring lack of infrastructure, social services and security in Liberia, NGOs and the international community needs to innovate and invest in creativity, thinking of ways to leap frog over obsolete technology and routes and, find faster/newer ways of delivering basic infrastructure and services to Liberians. 

So, I'm back with my life in Liberia, trying to the best with my 3 jobs: NATC, International Alert and Haresh. Yes, I have to manage Haresh, too.  

Life in Monrovia is simple. During the week days, I make the long trek from Randall Street to Congo Town, dropping Kavita off at Kid's Nest en route to my office. She loves her school and is the ideal, obedient and engrossed student. At home she makes demands for endless cartoons and, doesn't eat her food properly. But at school, you would never know. 

So, we live our life in Liberia and, continue to wonder will things change or not? What's in store for our business? Will the economy improve and grow? Will infrastructure improve? Will security improve? Will the elections be peaceful? 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Joining International Alert as Country Manager for Liberia Part 1

I joined International Alert Liberia as Country Manager on 1 February. I saw the vacancy back in September or early  October 2016 and, applied and was confirmed by early November. It took a couple of months for the contract and recruitment formalities to be agreed and finalised and, I joined as head of the office here in February, a few days after returning from Pakistan from holiday. 

I've lived in Liberia since 2003 and worked with WFP-UNJLC and UNDP until 2008; took a year out to pursue a masters at SOAS in London; and been running an IT company since 2009. 

The time ebola struck Liberia and indeed the region, I started to think about reviving my development career. Ebola was a  real existential crisis: I was away in Pakistan for about 8 months because folks told me it was better to stay away and, that in itself created feelings of anguish and guilt. I was also separated from Haresh and, he even had an ebola scare himself. It was time to think about putting my eggs in other baskets. If I revived my job career, I would have an alternate source of income and even have the option to start moving out of Liberia in case things got worse. 

The general existential and moral crisis of course has not been resolved. Ebola and the suffering it wrought exposed to outsiders a barely existent health care system barely managed by a state. As the death toll increased, many aid workers living in the bubble they do in Monrovia, fled the country. An emergency was imposed and, everyone was fighting a war. International airlines pulled out and only 2 airlines served the whole country. Despite it all, the Liberians managed to control and halt the epidemic. Unfortunately, the ebola epidemic coincided with a general global market slump and, the fall of iron ore prices forced some of the mining companies to pull out. Things in Monrovia have normalised of course since the ebola epidemic but the fractures and vulnerability are still here. One can have an enormous sense of helplessness and anger when one thinks about what little postwar reconstruction has actually taken place. 

Against this personal crisis, I joined the big bad Aid Establishment in 2015 when I saw an advert for a Partner Support Director position at Mercy Corps Liberia. The project I was part of was an ebola sensitisation  project: Ebola Community Action Platform. I completed my 6 month contract and, unfortunately, was not renewed for the second phase of the project. I was told I would be better suited at a think tank. 

In some ways, I was glad to be out because I was not really intellectually stimulated per se and, wondered how we could better use $12 million in a country without critical life-saving medical equipment; and, how sustainable was this work without hand-in-hand collaboration with government counterparts. 

I was too glad to see the post of Country Manager for International Alert. I read as much as I could about them and, bombarded my interviewers with my rants about the socio-economic-political crisis in Liberia. Somehow, they hired me and, I began my new stint with a London-based peace building NGO. 

It's been about 3 and a half months since I joined. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Back in Monrovia.

We arrived in Monrovia at about 10 PM with the new resumed KLM service. It was really nice to pass through Schipol Airport, one of the most modern and stylish-but-understated airports. The KLM flight itself was comfortable with crew that were extremely friendly and smiled with sincere smiles, quite a stark contrast to the Emirates experience. In fact, 5 passengers didn't show up for the Amsterdam-Freetown flight and, the pilot kept us informed every 5 minutes and, in fact, the bags of the defected passengers were offloaded in 10 minutes. Talk about efficiency. It was also a very chatty flight with folks from Liberia and Sierra Leone who were socialising through out the flight making one feel like was in a restaurant or bar. I bumped into my best friend's cousin on the flight. I overheard project plans about a medical project or assessment in Monrovia. And, the passengers clapped each time the flight landed in Freetown and Monrovia. We landed in a dark air strip and, could smell rubber right after we got out of the plane. I've usually landed at RIA during the day time so I was quite struck by the smell of rubber. One person on the bus to the terminal told me the smell of the rubber is emanating from Firestone. The folks on the bus were very chatty and, joked about the heat and, why they had to be on a 1-minute bus ride. Pretty soon we were at the terminal that became the scene of friendly hugs and loud chatter. While arriving at the airport in London or in Chicago was such a subdued and hushed hushed affair - folks exhausted with the endless immigration queues and anxiety over the grilling and interviews of why they had decided to come - coming through RIA is a pure chaotic family affair. An immigration lady who we knew took our passports while we waited in the small rackety baggage hall to collect our bags. It was humid, hot and the baggage belt croaked and shrieked. Lo and behold, one passenger started screaming that his iPad and Laptop were stolen and he jumped over the baggage belt to throttle the ground crew while another one started making a huge racket. I started to worry whether our stuff would also get pilfered. After 20 minutes, we collected our bags and went outside to our welcome party: the New Africa Technology Company friends driver and our nanny. They helped us load the car and off we went on a dark highway back to Monrovia (the same dark highway I drove along when I first arrived in Liberia in September 2003, picked up by a WFP driver who impressed me with his knowledge of Benazir Bhutto). The moon was really a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas and, Haresh and I wondered about the stark contrast to our comfortable time in London (although Haresh will complain about the dry weather in London which gives him sore bleeding lips) and the stresses and headaches of running a business and our daily concerns over light, water and security. We were informed that despite best efforts, our house generator was still not giving output to the house and the LEC meter was still not replaced. We made a quick decision to crash at a hotel in town. Our nanny and driver took our suitcases back to our apartment on Randall Street and we slept quietly with our thoughts in a freezing room in Boulevard Palace. I dreamt Kavita and I were mistaken for terrorists by the CIA in Afghanistan. 
Good afternoon Monrovia!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Save the Children

Haresh and I rang up Save the Children's hotline for donating 2 pounds a month to save dying children in Africa. We've always been pretty offended by these ads (we've had the chance to see them on some channels on offer on DSTV back in Liberia) and, since we're here in the UK, we thought we should complain. 
"Why do you use such harrowing, undignified images of children to collect money?" "Why are you perpetuating this narrative of Africa?" 
We managed to be quite articulate and composed while making our complaints. The lady on the hotline referred us to the head office number somewhere in London and, we were explained that the parents had given consent to which we retorted, "Of course they had!" The person on the phone explained that not only did they have consent of the parents but these ads were made in consultation by marketing companies and were, all legal. Moreover, they managed to collect quite a lot of money through these ads and, also targeted corporations. 
"These images are haunting. How can this possibly be dignified? Why can't you collect donations through appeals? Why do you have to resort to this? Why does your public have to be stunned into shock, a momentary moment of morality or charity, a lapse in individual, consumerist lives?""We are sick and tired of seeing Africa as a starving, conflict ridden basket case." 
Since then, we chatted to folks about our telephone call and, we did find resonance with some. One comment was that the impact of these images is that people become completely apathetic. 
There you go, seeing these ads over and over again makes you think this is normal. So much for the 2 pounds per person per month this ad is trying to collect.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

HEAT Training

The end of the 4-day HEAT (Hostile Environment Awareness Training) involved a 3-hour simulation where our team was detained in 2 checkpoints by folks from a Muslim country, forced to go on a field trip in a country affected by every known disaster (flooding, mines, rebel insurgency, government corruption, helpless and manipulative refugees, and then hostage taking). The training was provided by ex UN folks, ex British military and some consultants. I was already quite resisting the training in my mind - and not because I don't want to be trained in practical approaches to safety and security but I knew it was going to be loaded - I was not surprised by the careless remarks made by the trainers. For instance, one of our trainers explained: "This may sound racist but the African male ego is truly the worst or something to reckon with." A fellow trainee quipped "but that is the male ego everywhere." Then, a lady who had spent 3 years in Pakistan said, "men's favourite pastime in Pakistan is ogling at women and this is accepted." At this I couldn't stay quiet and, said, no, it's not accepted. After all, Pakistani women bear the brunt of the ogling and, some men must be equally offended. There were of course harmless jokes about how poor the systems are everywhere except in the modern Western world. There were harmless jokes about how poor countries are just basket cases. It wasn't the quips as much as how poor and rich countries are framed. That the British or American military were stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan was glossed over for their invasions but emphasised for their humanitarian work and for fighting extreme groups. And, the careless and inappropriate remarks shape the minds of young, impressionable aid workers who hail from the UK surely because one encounters these folks in Liberia who are there to "save it." I couldn't help but feel this was a training for a Western audience. Folks have to be taught 'cultural context,' reminded about different and challenging conditions, and to be always careful. There is a methodological, logical, rationale approach to the work in poor countries riddled with violence and conflict: that if we provide solutions in a planned and organised way, things will eventually turn around. And thinking about security - around the phenomenon of violent Islamic groups - prepares these interventions. One of my fellow trainees was rolling the same types of eyes like me and, said Western NGOs are really cleaning up the mess of Western governments, hand in hand. I was then astonished to see how deeply linked the British military is to aid organisations. He was a little annoyed at how our trainer casually mentioned being in Belfast and he was reminded of how he and his father were stopped and humiliated by the Army. The most appalling moment of the training was when one scenario involved Arab looking people shooting at each other and uttering Arabic-like gibberish and, we were then to provide first aid to the casualties. The second appalling moment was when during the debrief one trainee said she would have left the peasant women to die and rather jump in the car than provide first aid, to which the trainers said that was also a legitimate response. In the end, I learned a lot. (no pun intended) My favourite parts were the first aid trainings. And, it was good to know what kind of security challenges aid work is concerned with and how it approaches them.
This photograph is at a check point. While our team was being detained and questioned, the soldiers went through our bags in the car, brought out my camera and then, they took this photo. They really acted their roles in the simulation.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Family portraits

Kavita often hangs out at my International Alert office after school. She's been making some nice family portraits as an after school activity. 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Embassy of the Republic of Cuba πŸ‡¨πŸ‡Ί

Embassy of the Republic of Cuba πŸ‡¨πŸ‡Ί, right next to Kavita's school in Congo Town. How fortunate!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The school of education

Now that I've started a new day job at International Alert, I finally decided to start Kavita's educational career. 

For quite a while, I've been resisting school. One never gives these things much thought until one is faced with the situation itself. I remember when Kavita was hardly a year old, some ladies I met with children the same age as Kavita were looking for day care centres. I suppose I was a little judgement al with these ladies because they were "housewives" and I thought if they aren't out of the house, then the child should stay with the mother. Their rationale wasn't clear but at least one person I met said she wanted her child to learn socialisation which I found rather odd. 

I've also heard that because the zamana is so different and "fast" that children need to start early. This was the most irritating rationale for starting school early. What the heck can a 1 year old child learn that you think will help them win the human rat race? 

Kavita has grown up at the office. She used to sleep right on my desk next to my calculator at NATC. She has grown up going every day to the office and, coming back home with me in the evening. I baby-fied my office and, kept adapting my space to her: crib, toys, a special dresser for extra clothes and nappies, crayons, and even a tent. 

I did not realise how confident, well spoken and mature a child Kavita was until I would meet other children who were terrified of strangers. Kavita has been so easy around adults although she's very shy of kids.

And, since I had the privilege of running my own company, Kavita and I have been inseparable. This hasn't forced me to think about the challenges working women face in bearing children and then coming back to work. Putting Kavita in school wasn't my priority until she was of an age I remembered I was at when I started kindergarten.

Kavita has briefly experienced a formal school setting: while I was at Mercy Corps Liberia in 2015, she was in a day care for a couple of months. Then last year in 2016 she attended the month-long summer camp at the Cachelle Arts Center.

Most times I've been busy reacting haughtily to children with iPads and phones and, preaching about my idyllic and simple childhood. Mostly, I go on and on about how schooling is so commercialised. That there aren't any good public schools (either in Pakistan or Liberia) and there's class issue when it comes to equal and good education. That because private schools are just out there to make money, upper middle classes have no problem in increasingly reducing the age in which a baby is dumped in day care or pre school. Then, I would vaguely reference articles I had read about how fantastic the Finn school system is and, in fact, they are so progressive and have learned that children should start school at 7 and, should learn by play rather than rote.

I was quite smug in my little world where Kavita was learning about life, the world through her time at our family business, her life in Monrovia, and, my attention.

When I started my new stint at International Alert, Haresh and I decided to start Kavita's school at Kid's Nest, which is 2 minutes away from my office in Congo Town.

So, Kavita started school and guess what, she loves it? Children want to be with other children. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Good evening 🌜

A warm sunny evening walk. The first photographs were taken by Haresh from the car as he was driving home from the office (opposite Harbel Supermarket) to the house (above Auto Run). 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A collection of vintage Mercedes cars in Congo Town

It's been a month and a half since I started my new stint at International Alert. It's even further away than the former Mercy Corps office I worked at in 2015 for six months. 

I travel from Randall Street to Congo Town every morning. The International Alert office is located within the Finn Church Aid compound. Thankfully, the trip is against the traffic. There is only one main road connecting the suburbs and other parts of Monrovia to central Monrovia. It's the famous 2-lane Tubman Boulevard which stretches from 1st Street Sinkor to the furthest reaches of Congo Town, all the way to ELWA junction from where you can branch out to Robertsfield Highway and Paynesville. 

So, there I am being driven by International Alert's driver to Congo Town on the empty side of the lane while incoming traffic is moving at a snail's speed, the great daily migration of Landcruisers, taxis, vans, and trucks. 

Kavita finally started school. She gets dropped at Kid's Nest (2 minutes away from my office) en route to my day job. She, then, often spends the afternoon at my office at Alert. A kid who's grown up at the office, she's very comfortable at my other office. She makes impressive murals on my Whiteboard, erasing all my carefully marked Things to Do. She's made friends with my colleagues and the security guards. She's planned a garden party in the compound. Often times, I've put on cartoons on YouTube for her, after we run out of things for her to do. 

This day, I went for a short walk with her to the Total gas station next door to buy a chocolate and on the way we stopped at Classic Rental to check out an astounding collection of vintage Mercedes Benz. I've noticed the collection before but never stopped to take a look. We entered the parking lot of Classic Rental. 

I looked around for someone in charge and noticed a man sitting on a chair in between one of the cars writing some notes in a notebook. I told him I wanted to see and photograph the beautiful cars. He didn't mind. He was a mechanic and, apparently had been hired to fix these cars for rental. The business idea was to rent out the cars. I asked how the owner acquired such a magnificent collection but he didn't seem to know. 

I don't know anything about cars or models but one could see that so many different decades were represented in the collection, starting at least from the 50s. And, there are some beautiful colours too: red, maroon, cream, metallic grey, blue and black. 

I really enjoyed looking at these cars and, wondering about the history of each one. I imagined state officials and glamorous types driving them.