Welcome to the tale of my first weekend explo to Monrovia. It was interesting to say the least. I arrived back at base on Friday afternoon and Marti (the attorney I met from PAE on the plane ride over from the states) suggested I come by her place. She has a swimming pool and tennis court at her residence compound and although she would be leaving for a lesson I could come and “just relax.” Obliviously this was a no brainer. I had been living simply in Bonga for two weeks: bucket showers, horrendous heat, no refrigeration, a break out of cold sores and uncomfortable wicker furniture suggested that sitting pool side with an ice cool beverage might be nice. Like any 4 star accommodations in a poor country (the 3rd poorest in the world to be exact), it was an uncomfortable break from the bush.
Did I deserve it? Probably not, but it was one of many moments of privilege no doubt. Later that night I went out for sushi with a few new friends and attended a birthday party for somebody I didn’t know – more clicks in the privilege category can be deduced. The only thing that made me feel better about eating some sweet pieces of sashimi was that I knew Momotu, my new friend in Bongo, would have been utterly disgusted by the cuisine and would have ran around the corner for some fufu and cassava had he been around to join us.
Liberia has the second largest UN presence in the world, second only to the Congo. This presence includes everything from peace keeping officers from Ireland, Bangladesh and Nigeria to development and programming representatives from NYC. It also means that the ex-pat community in Monrovia is massive and there are plenty of events on the weekends.
After an evening of good food and socializing, Marti offered to take me home because even though I have been forced to learn how to drive a stick since my arrival in Liberia, I was not about to take on the unlit streets of Monrovia at night. We arrived at my compound a few minutes later but a police car was blocking the driveway so she veered to the right to get around him. This was a huge mistake. There was a drainage system on both sides of the driveway and the right front wheel dropped of the ledge. We were stuck and we had no idea what we were going to do. Immediately after we got stuck the police officer ran across the street and began yelling at us for not simply asking him to move his vehicle – clearly a good point but not very helpful given our predicament. And then something amazing happened. 40 Chinese men, dressed in traditional Chinese attire, came out of no where and picked up Marti’s SUV, moved it over 4 feet and saved us. Like a surreal dream sequence – it happened and then it was over as quickly and quietly as it began. After helping they simply placed the vehicle on safe ground, said nothing and walked away. No bargaining for a tip or sarcastic comments about our driving abilities – they just slipped away into the night. It was like a page out of a comic book and these 40 plus men were the heroes. Where did they come from? What are they doing hanging out in Congo town at 1 in the morning? Where are they going? I had no idea but for that split second – sitting at a serious lean with nowhere to go, I was thankful these men were exactly where they were.
According to unsubstantiated sources this is their story -
These 40 plus Chinese men had been working for a shipping company and were picked up for improper licensing by Liberian authorities. They went to their Embassy for help and were simply not allowed in. Yes that is correct 40 plus Chinese nationals, who clearly were brought to Liberia by somebody as they didn’t swim here and they weren’t here on holiday, were being ignored by their very own embassy. For two weeks they had been eating, sleeping and taking care of their bodily issues just outside their embassy (which also happened to be directly across the street from our compound) and their embassy representatives had decided to pass by them everyday as if nobody was there.