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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Shelves Full of American Goodness

Old mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to fetch her poor dog a bone.
But when she got there, 
the cupboard was bare...

Well not in the Faber household! Due to limited food choices and high food costs here in Liberia, we are allowed a consumables shipment consisting of 2,500# of stuff. It sounds wonderful and like a little bit of Heaven, but the reality of putting together a consumables shipment was an exhausting challenge.

I began the process on Jan. 1 with sticky notes all over the house. Every time someone changed a roll of toilet paper they put a slash. New bag of flour? Slash. New container of laundry soap? Slash. Do you know how much stuff you go through in two years? I certainly don't and it added a bit of a challenge going from a five person household to just the two of us in a few short years. That change turned all my shopping and cooking expertise upside down. By May I was able to get some scientific estimates on what we used and how much we would need for the two years.
I began my shopping in Taipei. I checked on the weight of our household shipment when we arrived three years earlier, factored in the pieces we had bought and deduced that I had about 1,500# of extra weight that I could use. I made several trips to Costco in Taipei and bought all the toilet paper, laundry soap and other non-food items that I could. My household goods shipment was underweight by 50#. I patted myself on the back for this extreme success. :)

Back home I tried to find a balance between shopping and enjoying the home leave time with my friends and family. Not an easy thing to do when your running to a different store with an extensive list between every visit because you're on the right side of town or only 5 minutes out of the way. Our focus was liquids because we can't have them mailed to us. Some amazing friends let us continually drop loads of food off in their garage for a month. We all watched the pile grow and made bets on what the weight was the day the movers came to pack it all up. Just before we left America our food was loaded on a truck to be shipped to Monrovia.
Our consumables shipment arrived about 6 weeks after I arrived in Africa. Until it came I had moments of complete melt-down where the only solution was to once again go get an overpriced pizza at the hotel down the street. Cooking was a challenge. I won't go into the miserable details, because well, after all, we didn't starve to death. Life is happier now that I can make our comfort foods or at least foods that are familiar to us and that we enjoy!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Plants, Boundaries, and Squatters

I'm trying to wrap my mind around some of the mindsets here in Liberia. Life is looked at differently and what may seem completely non-understandable and outrageous makes perfect sense to people here. One of those issues is boundaries. For example, this morning I was sitting on the back porch at 6:30 a.m. eating breakfast and reading my Bible. I was really enjoying the quiet as the sun was coming up. The dog was wandering around the walled in backyard. I heard a rattle and suddenly some strange man was standing there. There I was, thinking I was in my private space and a random man was there. I was shocked speechless. He started talking about how the plants looked watered and good. I had wondered where those plants had come from and now I knew. I heard there was a gardener who had a side business helping people with plants for their houses. I had made it clear that we didn't want help with the plants because the yard is all torn-up right now for construction, but here he was wandering around my backyard in the early morning. I really don't think that to him there was any boundary he crossed when he opened the gate and walked in without permission. Living seems to be much more community oriented here.
Let me give you a little glimpse about where I live. We're on the Old Embassy Compound which basically means that this is a little American Community with housing and some recreational spaces. There's a big wall around the compound with barbed wire on top. To enter the compound you have to come in through one of the gates where you must show your badge to prove you are an embassy employee. So people can't wander in off the street onto the compound. It's a busy place during the day because there are several major construction projects going on as well as the normal maintenance, so there's always some local staff around.
But this next story is one I still haven't been able to rationalize or wrap my mind around. Because I'm at work all day, I'm not really aware of the business going on at the compound. We get in our 40 hours of work by 1:00 on Friday so we have the afternoon free. I had noticed a lot of people wandering around the side of our house on Friday afternoons, then I was home one day to take care of a few things and was really contentious of all the people lingering around my yard. On my way back to work, I noticed the door to the crawl space under our house was ajar. I cautiously took a peek inside and couldn't believe what I saw. A full break room had been set up, complete with a water cooler and microwave wired into the house's electrical. I was flabbergasted. There's no way to really explain the mental battle of how to grasp and feel comfortable with people hanging out under my living space. That night I noticed lights on under the house. Because I'm an absolute 'fraidy cat, I got a friend to check things out for me the next day. She claimed that there were no squatters living in there. I hope not! A few conversations with the right people at work got the situation quickly under control. By Monday afternoon the crawl space was completely empty and swept out. I've noticed that a table has crept back in but right now I'm turning a blind eye to the squatters. I'll give it a bit of time then we can check it out again.

The entrance to the crawl space
A water cooler for breaks. 
Some chairs to hangout in and look, a microwave that they wired into our house wiring.
An outlet - what a convenient place to charge a cell phone while working.
And why not dry out the clothes overnight?

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Wallet Full of Cash

Every time we move to a new country we have to get used to new money and new exchange rates. It's a bit of a challenge at first, but after awhile you sort of know that something priced 30NT in Taiwan is only $1.00. Liberia has simplified things and made them more complicated all at once.

Where to begin... One US dollar is equal to about 150 Liberian dollars. That's a crazy big multiplication problem every time I want to buy something! I exchanged a $20 bill and got the wad of cash above. I tried to shove it in my purse and not make a display out of counting the money. I then stopped at a table to buy a head of garlic and had to rummage through my money to find a 10. It was a lot to manage!

Here's where things get sort of crazy. Liberia uses two currencies: The US Dollar and the Liberian Dollar. I'm starting to get the hang of where I use what. If I go to an actual grocery store the prices will be in US dollars and I pay in US dollars. If I go to the street market the prices will be in Liberian dollars and I pay in Liberian dollars. But they don't use any coins here so if I go to the grocery store and my bill comes to $50.75 and I give them $60 US dollars then they will give me $8.00 US and 38 Taiwan dollars in change.

This brought up the question of where do the US dollars come from? Does Liberia buy them from the US Treasury? I asked around a bit and from what I gather from the people who should know is that they   rely on money being brought into the country. I came off the plane with a suitcase full of dollars so now they have come into circulation here. From the looks of the money, none ever get taken out of circulation. There's no way they could do that because there's nothing backing that money. So I use my overly worn, dirty, floppy dollars here that would never be used back home. I might begin looking at dates on the money and see what the oldest one I can find is.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The New Joy of Cooking

The other day I decided to make some poppyseed bread, my first baking attempt here in Monrovia. I started sending the kids pictures of the things I was running into but it became beyond comical by the time the bread was in the oven. All's well that ends well and we enjoyed some amazing bread!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Little Adjustments to be Made

The conveniences in life have pretty much remained the same for me most places I go. I may have dealt with one or two of these things before but never all at once. We don't think about all the little things that we have in America that make life just a touch easier.


No dishwasher. This completely threw me for a loop. I honestly had expected to have a dishwasher (besides my own two hands). No one mentioned to me that there wouldn't be one so don't buy dishwasher soap for your consumables shipment. Yeah, I have two years worth coming with me. What else can you do with it?

While we're looking at the sink I'll mention that no one else in the world has a garbage disposal. They are the most convenient thing but only found in America (maybe Canada??). It is gross trying to catch all the food stuff in a strainer or mesh basket but I was a bit pampered with always having water just simply whisk food scraps away with the flip of a switch. In Taipei they had even invented disposable plastic netted baggie things to put in your drain so you could just throw the whole thing out. 

Monrovia does not have city water. The women go daily to a place (I'll learn more about this later and pass it on.), collect water for the day and carry it on their heads to their homes. I've learned that buildings like ours have a tank that is filled regularly from a large truck that comes by. Although they keep the tank and lines clean, we aren't supposed to drink the water from the tap. 

For our clean water supply we have a water distiller on the counter that continually fills up with water (and leaks on the counter) and somehow takes the bad stuff out. We drink it, clean fruits and veggies with it and cook with it. I suppose if I boiled the tap water long enough I could cook with it, but it's easier to just get it from the distiller.

While we're talking about not drinking the water, that means we can't brush our teeth with the water either. So we have a bottle of the distilled water by the sink along with a cup. When our stuff comes I have some great little pitchers that will be perfect for this use! It's hard to change habits at this point in life. I've caught myself several times bending over to rinse my mouth from the tap. 

We have 220v here so we use have to have a transformer to plug our electrical items into. We had them in Moscow as well. I found it surprising that Bogota and Taipei used the same standard electrical outlets that we have in America. It made life so much easier to not have wires and electrical strips running everywhere. Things that turn often don't do too well on transformers. Fingers crossed that we don't loose too many appliances this tour!

It's been a long time since I had the luxury of reaching into my freezer and grabbing a handful of ice without having to crack a tray and refill. An ice cube maker seems to be the norm at home but it's one of those things we've gotten used to doing without. 

Due to the high humidity in Monrovia we've been issued 4 dehumidifiers. We had them in Taipei as well, but our apartment must have been well built because I gave up using them all together. They didn't collect enough water to justify the electrical usage. On the other hand, we are emptying these buckets every single day.

Most electricity here is run from generators. There is some sort of city electricity that powers the street lamps, but I'm not sure if it's consistent or why we aren't tied into it. Each large building has a large generator (think semi truck container size) that powers it. As far as I can tell one week in, the electricity is consistent. There are many problems with this type of system including the cost to run them and the noise they produce. When I go out on the balcony all I can hear is the generators running. I'm sure it will turn into background noise at some point in time, but right now they are overwhelmingly loud. Another issue is at around 5:00 pm and sometime in the morning they switch from one generator to another so the power goes off for a minute. It doesn't affect most things that are plugged in because they just pop back on. Clocks on appliances are useless unless you want to reset them two times every day. I learned all this the hard way. I put a roast in the oven, went to exercise and do a few things expecting the house to smell delicious when I walked in. I was surprised to see the oven off and the roast not cooked at all. So much for dinner that night!

After a week of living here these things are becoming normal. In a month I won't even think about them, but at first it's a bit overwhelming to realize that all of these conveniences and more are things that I don't realize how easy I've had it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

First Glimpses of Africa

The journey from Grand Rapids to Monrovia was a long one. Grand Rapids - New York - Brussels - Amsterdam - Freetown - and finally, Monrovia. I read books and binge watched movies on the Europe to Africa section. When I was tired of it all I tuned into the flight status channel. We were almost to the boarder of Spain and Morocco. Africa at last! I watched out the window as we crossed the Alboran Sea.  The terrain change from green to brown as we flew over the Sahara Dessert, then back to the lush green jungles of the coastal countries of West Africa. Finally, I stepped off the plane into pitch darkness. There was a light rain. I was not surprised as we are in the midst of rainy season. The only light coming from the small building of the "airport." I was greeted by a woman holding a sign with my name. She could pretty much pick me out from the 20 people entering Liberia. She hustled me through immigration to the luggage room where my bags were already waiting for me. I was happy they had made the long journey successfully despite rerouting and tight connections.

The drive from the airport into the city takes 1 1/2 hours. It was dark so I couldn't see too much. What I noticed were the street lamps providing the only light. I could see rough cement buildings with tin roofs but they didn't have any light. People congregated in the areas where the street lights shed their beams. Beyond that was pure darkness. Something that stuck out to me were the pool tables under awnings. I didn't expect that, it didn't fit into my picture of Africa.

We pulled up to our apartment and tumbled into bed. The trip was exhausting, I was so glad to be in my new home.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

California: San Francisco & Redwoods

On the way back from China and Taiwan, we had a layover in San Francisco, so we stretched it out a few days. We had never visited before, but now finally understand why people love it.

We stayed two days in Fisherman’s Wharf, which was a great location. Every morning we walked over to Boudin—a quite well-known bakery, famous for their sourdough—for breakfast. They did not disappoint! Along with eating the delicious sourdough, it is fun to watch it made through the window. At one point we saw them shape a giant crocodile out of dough, and later we came back and saw it all golden brown and baked.

The first day we took the cable car down to Union Square. It felt like a scene from a movie as we hung off the side of the cable car and rolled up and down the steep streets. At Union Square, we stopped in a few stores, most notably, the Apple Store! I walked out with a new phone :) After shopping, we had an early dinner at Sears Fine Foods. I had heard about this restaurant before in all my reading of food-related things, and I thought it sounded so cool and old-timey—but didn’t realize there was one still around. I was so excited to find one at Union Square! Just like I had expected, it was old-fashioned and so cute. The food was absolutely delicious. After dinner, they gave each of us a token to play their antique slot machine. None of us won, but it was fun to pull the crank and cross our fingers! We rode the cable car back in the direction we had come from, and hopped off at Lombard Street, one of the curviest streets in San Francisco. It’s amusing to watch the cars twist and turn painfully slow down the steep street. From there, we were exhausted, and headed back to the hotel for the night. That was definitely my favorite day.

Our second day in California was the Fourth of July. We started out by going to see the sea lions at Pier 39, which we didn’t realize go south for the summer. We only saw two, and were a little disappointed. We then walked back to Fisherman’s Wharf to visit The Musée Mécanique. This was very entertaining! Elena and I knew what it was from Princess Diaries, and had fun playing all of the games from the movie. Surprise, surprise, the wrestling arm was much harder than I had expected…I lost. From among the tons of antique arcade games, we tried out some pinball, racing games, and a photo booth. We left grinning. That afternoon we eagerly went to see The Incredibles 2, which was so good! Later that night, we headed out to watch fireworks from the beach near Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a great fireworks show, and so much fun with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

The next morning, we set out for the Redwoods. On the way, we did the last thing on our San Francisco bucket list: The Golden Gate Bridge. We drove across it, and on the other side, stopped to snap a few photos. A good way to start the day! We chose the scenic—and very curvy—route up the coast of California to get to the Redwoods. We expected it to be a 5 hour trip, but 5 hours turned into 12. Sure, we stopped for lunch, dinner, and to drive through a 2,400 year old Redwood, but still, we were not pleased with that timing!

Thursday we woke up early and headed out for the grove. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many ginormous, ancient trees. They were around when Jesus walked the earth! After walking the trail for awhile, we stepped into the bushes to go on an adventure. We walked up a river, climbing over rocks, under branches, and through bushes to reach a particularly tall tree. Incredible. Later, heading back, we were thankful that the highway route was actually only 5 hours. A few hours after arriving, in the wee hours of the morning, we said goodbye to San Francisco and jetted off to Washington, D.C.!