Monthly Update

A Ride to Remember

“I’m down at parking and the guy here says car is the way to go, should be 5 hours the way the road’s looking,” I relayed to Dan, a former US Marine who disarmed IEDs for a half-dozen years. “Alright. Coming there now” replied Dan, betraying little reluctance. For Dan, now meant now. For our driver, now meant “I don’t have a sure answer, for now.” Thus it was for 2 hours, as we waited for our car roster to fill with players who had already signed on for the long haul. Once we found ourselves in the same place at the same time, we packed into the dugout that was the 5-seat car steered by “One-time Sammy”. Perhaps his name was the subtlest of hints, but there was no time for speculation… We raced down the road graded by Chinese Aid at a turbo-turtle’s pace – and within 5 minutes we were huddled around the car waiting for the real “Sammy”. His outstanding ticket for an outdated license prevented his free (in the most financially literal sense) passage through the outbound city’s checkpoint. We only had to wait for another half an hour there for some passenger trades with another team headed to Monrovia. All settled, our roster of 13 loaded up. 3 in front – the County Education Officer (CEO) and I sharing shotgun. 7 in the back-seats, 4 adults and 3 children. 3 bringing up the rear in the flatteringly titled “VIP” trunk. Our mascot, the Goat, was tied atop the roof with our cargo. The engine turned over after some encouragement, and we were off to Zwedru.

The family dynamic unfolded soon thereafter. Up front, I mediated between the bickering couple Sammy and the CEO. In the back, the children rocked to sleep on their parents. Dan was working to hold his wedge next to the door, realizing bump by bump that his earlier reluctance was wisdom. Everything seemed to be going in the right direction, however chaotic the cabin conversations may have been. Before getting too uncomfortable, the car began to offer myriad chances to stretch our legs at every hill. One-time Sammy failed to mention his failing fuel pump, so we scurried on up the hills by foot as he inched his car by lead-foot up the hill. We journeyed to the midpoint in this fashion – and upon arrival there waited for two hours as he haggled around town for a cheap replacement. Off we went, again.

The sun fell in our dust as we picked up northward momentum. Town after village after town could be spotted from inside the dugout. Our stops were not excessive – only two. One in a gold mining town where 1970s country music echoed like a call-to-prayer. The other, a rite of passage here, was for a prospective bush-meat vendor. Sammy and the CEO came back sharing frustrations on the rising price of groundhog. They grew to thrive off of each other, and this was just the beginning of their voyage to Monrovia. Luckily, we only signed up for Zwedru. And we got there – 13 hours later.

Fellow volunteer Jeff simply dreaming of a paved Liberia.

At Mount Nimba

With one more day of travel, this time by way of the two-wheeler motorbike, we reached Yekepa. This town is steeped in iron ore mining history (not to mention, steep) and the base for hiking Mount Nimba, the tallest mountain in Liberia at ~1400m above sea level. Prior to Liberia’s decimating civil war in the 1990s, the Liberia-American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO) built a 360km railroad from the town to the coast to ship the crude ore. Their open pit mining took advantage of the easily fractured rock, and in the 30-odd years of extraction, they inverted one of the mountains into a deep, ridged lake. When the war prevented outgoing shipments from the port of Buchanan, LAMCO ceased operations. The drastic relief in the land is not the only mark the company left. The town of Yekepa was developed by a Swedish planner as evidenced by its rowed houses and public park veiled with Christmas lights. In 2007, ArcelorMital, the world’s largest steel producer, reopened the mining site. The laterite deposits (iron and aluminum-rich tropically weathered rocks and soils) are enriched with detrital iron from uphill erosion – some 62% Fe by mass with an estimated bulk of 54 million tons, which the company plans to export over 25-odd years.

Layers of laterites exhibiting an open, angular fold.

Our crew of 9 volunteers set to the mountain with a different end-goal – to summit the roof of Liberia. The single thing we knew about the hike was that we had to go up. Sparse information kept us guessing. “Where is the top? That side looks taller,” and “Who’s down to try this shortcut?” We found ourselves coiling up the terraced mountain, kinking our path for craggy passages in the overgrown cliffs. Our accordion of paces added an element of tracking to the hike; trampled grasses and shouts kept us strung together. The last leg of the ascent was up a horribly steep gravel-path of our choosing. Getting up was simple enough: lean forward, stay low, and keep on. We reached a local high point marked by a concrete post – let’s call it the peak. High-fives all around. Atop the peak, we saw into the lands of Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Liberia in one fell swivel. With some cloud cover… at least a full moon was on the rise. Getting down offered little room for error, and to minimize any injury we figured to commence in the fallen position. Sitting with our feet under us and arms spread like paddles stabilizing a row-boat, we began our controlled slide. Unfortunately, we did suffer one casualty. Likely the most cherished member of our trip, the distal joint of the Adventure Strap on my left Croc was fractured beyond recognition. The loss was tragic, but the winnowing daylight prevented mourning. We based at Blue Lake.

Looking into the pit of Blue Lake. The wrapping terraces around it were access roads for trucks to carry the mined iron ore to the nearby train.

My friend from site warned that the lake’s beauty was only that. A thing for looking. He claimed one could not swim there, and that if one threw towards it a rock, the rock would bounce away. He held back a laugh of pity when I mentioned our plan to try and submerge there. When we first arrived to the site we stopped the edge of a brief plateau. Tip-toe peering over, we saw Blue Lake, wrapped on all sides by cliffs. Loose pebbles tempted a toss– and sure enough, we saw no ripple in the still water. Perhaps this was the hand-me-down tale’s source. We further investigated Blue Lake base level when we set our camp there. This time – we busted the myth by soaking our strained muscles in the fabled waters and roasting char-dogs till the coals blew gray.

Culinary Adventures

Round 1 – In the culinary corner, weighing in at 1 pound 12 inches, the most cliched crustacean in the ocean, the heavily armored Rock Lobster! Accompanied by his loyal henchman, Mr. Slipknot, the Slipper Lobster. To enter the ring with these decadent Decapods takes a pot of boiling water and a big pair of tongs. And once you have them buttered up, they’re no match for a set of 28 teeth.

The Slipper Lobster atop a bed of parboiled.

Round 2 – Squid tentacle. Expect a 30-minute duel trying to separate the suckers from the inner muscle when in retrospect there may be no distinction. After a paring cross-cut, the seasoned limb can be finished in the frying pan. Call it magic, or calamari.

Dangling squid tentacles alongside their fallen aquatic army.

Round 3 – 2 Feet of Wild Okra. This slimy opponent grows and weaves among the bush, climbing its way to the top. A slice-and-dice tactic works best against its sweet-pepperish skin. Once finished chopping it to pieces, take it out back and toss it with the fried rice. That’ll show ’em.

Super Blood Wolf Moon How Can I Possibly Make That Name Longer

During one evening meal with my counterpart S Cotee, I foretold the coming of the Super Blood Wolf. Around 6N 8W we were just within the realm of visibility, with the sun rising on the vast majority of the African continent. Before I went to bed, the moon cast defined shadow’s on the ground. At 4:52AM on January 21st, 2019 S Cotee called me, “The moon has changed”. I was minutes late, alarm set for P.M. When I stepped outside, I couldn’t see a thing save the stars. I used a light to navigate to S Cotee’s. There, I tracked his gaze and laid my eyes upon the feral wolf. A true sight. Few were awake at that hour, and even fewer looked up to see the moon. The next day, as we came back from school to take in (v. – consume) some cola nut pieces, an older man named Alaska stopped by. His name was taken from an American textbook his father saw around the time of the state’s incorporation in 1959. Alaska told us that in the morning when canoeing the river to cross his daughter, he saw the water go dark. He looked to the moon and all he saw was its red hue. His heart started racing with fear – he thought to hide under one of the large rocks until 2019 passed. Only after light came back on the moon and the sun rose did he feel at ease. Much to his relief, we described the phenomenon and assuaged his doubts. The whole event reminded S Cotee of the story of the Little Darkness, during which the whole town turned dark for a couple minutes and people expected the world to end. A brief internet perusing shows the most recent total solar eclipse to fall on my town was on May 29, 1919 – the Little Darkness.

Ying-yang train. Edited sunset photo from atop the Ducor in Monrovia. Not an eclipse. Or the moon.

On the Scholastic Front

The first semester of the 2018-19 school year drew to a close in February. It was a time of where I learned as much, if not more, than my students. Each success was greeted with a new challenge, encouraging me to rework lessons, experiments, and even my mentality towards the classroom. I am growing closer to many of my students, better tuning my ears to their advice and encouraging them to rise to any challenge. Through their own trials and tribulations, three students earned the coveted title of Dux (n. – top scoring student in a class) and deserve recognition.

10th Grade Biology – Josiah Weay – Curious, appreciative, quick.

11th Grade Physics – Jefferson Dorbor – Assertive, forward-looking, adaptive.

10th Grade Physics – Benedict Weah – Committed, honest, hardworking.

Class Dux. From Left to Right: Josiah, Jefferson, Benedict.

Happy Daylight Savings Time… from the land of the chrono-logical.

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