My apartment is, literally, merely yards from the Atlantic Ocean, close enough to feel the waves breaking on the beach. The sand is yellow-orange, medium-to coarse-grained with small pebbles, and in places there are rounded gunmetal rocks, looking soft enough to stroke. I tried to find some information on the geology of the coast here, and think that these might be basalt, but that’s just a (barely) educated guess. There are some shells, but not many; some sandpipers, but not many, and though I’ve seen plenty of people fishing I’ve yet to see a single fish. Nor have I seen any whales, though I do spend time looking for them several days each week! Palms dot the edge of what in most places is civilization rather than forest, and immediately beyond them are the businesses and residences of Monrovia. Supposedly there are strong rip tides here, and I have yet to see anyone do more than play or bathe right at the water’s edge. Since I don’t know anyone who ventures out in the ocean to tell me where it is or isn’t safe to enter, I have elected not to experiment deeper than ankle-height.
It all sounds idyllic, and the beach is beautiful, so long as you use your distant vision. Near vision will show you the inevitable garbage – the discarded fishing gear, the ubiquitous plastic bags tangled and snarled around bits of wood and rubber and glass; even the occasional needle or syringe. Tempting though it is, I don’t go barefoot.
I’ve heard mixed things about the safety of the beach: It’s not safe. It’s safe if you stay near the hotels. It’s not safe if you’re alone. It’s not safe if you’re a female. It’s safe if you’re a white female. It’s not safe after dark. I have so far limited my solo excursions to daylight hours, stopping at the edge of the “hotel district,” such as it is. I’ve seen many people jogging, playing soccer or just strolling and have stopped briefly to chat with several of them. Truthfully, they have stopped to chat with me, to ask why I am picking dead grasshoppers and beetles off the beach or collecting rocks in a bucket. I imagine they must think me the local equivalent of the crazy cat lady.
Limpets on rocks, Monrovia, Liberia, Mar 2019
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Limpets on rocks, Monrovia, Liberia, Mar 2019
I’ve now had two whole weeks to explore my new environs! That may sound like loads of time to explore, but the combination of standard work days, short daylight hours and the propensity for crime in certain parts of Monrovia, especially during hours of darkness has left me with limited opportunity for exploration. So far I have spent a considerable amount of time on Tubman Boulevard, United Nations Drive, Somalia Drive, SKD Boulevard and Police Academy Drive, and I’m starting to recognize the different shops, billboards, open air markets and other “landmarks.” Traffic is of course nowhere near as orderly as it as back home – lines on the road are merely suggestions, as are stop signs, turn signals and traffic cops – but it’s not too bad so long as nobody with flashing lights is trying to make their way through traffic – that part’s a little bit frightening. Last week, coming back from the police academy, we came upon a parade, complete with a small marching band. We stopped briefly to ask what the parade was for, but I was driving and could not hear what the man, who was at the passenger window, said except that it was a school event.
Last weekend one of our office staff took my colleague Cindy and I out for a visit to several open-air markets, specifically an art market near the old US Embassy, and another one that I think was called Waterside but really, I’m not sure. It had loads of used clothing. Loads. Pauline said that many of the higher-end consignment stores come to this market to get dirt cheap name brand clothing, which they then dry clean and mark up for sale in their own venues. She also took us by the port, which is called the Freeport of Monrovia. There was not much to see from the roadway, just high cement walls topped with concertina wire, but it appears to be a vast operation based on what little we could see.
I woke up late for the second day in a row, at nearly 0900! It must still be the time zone adjustment, or perhaps the lack of strong morning light in my room. Fortunately today is, really, a day of rest for me rather than a work day. I made a cup of coffee and decided to drink it poolside. It’s already 80F and the humidity is… well, high, whatever it is. The Atlantic is booming only a 100 feet away, and I can see splashes occasionally when the waves hit two big rocks that jut out of the water at low tide.
I was starting to write that I’d seen very few birds since I arrived, which is perhaps not surprising but is still disappointing, when a brown dove and a pied crow came to the pool, and overhead something fast, white and medium-sized flew by (not a bird of prey, not a heron, maybe a large tern?). The crow perched on a fence post for several minutes. It’s call is very similar in pattern to that of our ravens, but is softer and has a soft, hollow rattling character to it. Each time the pied crow called, it dipped down in a parody of a courtly bow: body almost parallel to the ground, head forward and “crest” feathers erect, wings partially outstretched but held toward the ground so that the tips were perhaps six to eight inches lower than the body.
As I walked back toward my apartment, past blooming bougainvillea and into my air-conditioned domicile, I thought to myself that this is definitely going to be a different experience from that of Peace Corps in Cameroon. I mean, I have someone doing my laundry for me three times a week! I don’t even do laundry for myself that frequently. I’m sure I will enjoy the comforts of the slightly more affluent urban life, but I think I shall miss the less hectic and closer to nature aspect of being in a rural area.