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? 

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