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Dust and Devils but no Pineapple

December 26, 2011

My frist group of strange kids. “Quiepolu, where our Chri’mas?” The one day a year I allow myself to smile and say, “Right here!”

This morning I stood in the Ganta market, motorbikes zooming around me, dust swirling, hands grabbing, and suddenly saw myself as if in a movie.  High angle shot.  White woman shoves her way through the crowd somewhere in West Africa.  Internal monologue: “It’s the day after Christmas and I’m trying to buy a pineapple in the Ganta market.”  It was definitely one of those “Is this my life?” moments.

Rewind.

Yesterday was Christmas.  I spent the day cooking.  Pumpkin pie.  Cinnamon rolls.  Peanut butter cookies.  Potato soup.  Stuffing.  Krista spent the day working on a puzzle.  Everything was ready around 5:00 and we invited a friend to come over.  We all played Uno for awhile, decorated the paper tree I made Saturday night, and opened the presents underneath.  After our company left we colored some pictures out of a Sponge Bob holiday book and played Bananagrams.  We were both melancholy and exhausted but avoiding going to bed.

I didn’t want her to go.  I haven’t been separated from her for more than a day since we got to Sanniquellie.  I’ve never been here alone.  Everyone in town thinks we’re sisters.  As far as I’m concerned we are.

This morning I got up at 6:00, made coffee, and we caught the first car out of town.  I was going as far as Ganta with her because we were both hoping to bank since last week was a failure.  As we approached the parking stand, though, we both got a bad feeling.  There was no union man and everyone was insisting it was Christmas day: a holiday.  No, no, that was yesterday, we kept trying to tell people.  There was no time to flip-flop, though, because as soon as I texted the duty phone, “we are leaving will the bank be open?” the car filled and we left.

We got there at 8:30 and would you believe the bank was closed.  The duty phone called to tell me as much.  Um, yeah, thanks.  I’m standing outside it now.  I asked if he’d made any progress since I called from the bank last week.  “Remind me what the problem is?”  You have to be kidding me.  “I’m sure the bank will be open tomorrow, Rebekah.”  Merry Christmas.  I’ve now spent $1,000LD trying to get a bank statement to figure out if I’m getting paid.  Annoyed.

I walked Krista to Monrovia parking and waited with her until the car filled.  Half an hour later she was off.  We hugged and as I walked away I tried to draw up all my strength.  Men immediately started yelling at me, “Fine girl!” and “Come here, my jewel!”  “F yourself,” I muttered to myself as I stared straight ahead and shuffled down the dusty road in my long lappa skirt.

Last week there were plenty pineapples in the Ganta market so I decided to pick one up so the trip wasn’t a complete waste.  Maybe I’d get one for our favorite teacher, Brother Jackson, too.    Shoving through the crowd I felt alone for the first time since leaving Kakata.  “Here we go,” I thought.  “It’s going to be a long two weeks.”

I wound my way back to the food market and scoured the narrow aisles.  Onion, bitterball, cabbage… not a pineapple in sight.  I found my way out of the maze and decided to just go home.  All these trips to the bank and I’m somehow starting to run low on cash.  I took the back road to avoid all the pen-pen drivers and found the same driver who carried me from Sanni waiting at the parking stand.  “Hello, my man.  Reaching back?” I asked.  He nodded and I found a shady place to wait.  A small boy stood next to the car looking sad and hungry, carrying a bucket of homemade biscuits.  “Wha choo sellin’?” I asked.  “Cookies,” he replied hopefully.  I was getting hungry so I bought one then decided since, apparently, it was Christmas I’d get one for everyone.  “You want one too?” I asked.  He nodded and smiled.  I handed him $20LD.  “Merry Christmas.”

Half an hour later I was in the backseat with three large women who refused to squeeze together.  Somehow I got inside, sitting sideways in one of the middle seats.  It was oddly comfortable, some of the first human contact I’ve had in weeks.  Spooned between two women with my scarf over my head and my bandana over my face, I fell asleep almost immediately.  I woke up at the Sanni checkpoint when the car slowed and they made us all get out.

The driver let me out at Yekepa parking and I went across the street to Ronnie’s store.  Husain gave me a big discount (they’re too nice to us) and I decided to go down to the market.  We’re almost out of onion, garlic, all our staples.  As I climbed the steps, however, I looked up and thought, “Why is that man wearing a bag over his head?  And a grass skirt?  He’s very tall… Oh. No.”  I turned on my heels and walked away as quickly and calmly as I could, but they spotted me.  “Hey!  White woman!  You scared?  The devil wants your money.  Come back!”  Expecting to be chased I didn’t so much as glance back.

Crossing the street I took refuge at Winnie’s.  She’s so great.  She explained that today is the real children’s day for Christmas since yesterday fell on a Sunday.  Oooohkaaaay.  I told her that in that case I needed to get home.  I stopped into Mamie’s to see if she was cooking today and ended up staying for goat soup.  I had planned to come back later, but it was feeling like a day to stay home.

She sat down and we chatted about America.  Her daughter was the only one there when I came in and had given me a hard time.  “I sakay,” I said when she put down the soup.  “Don’t say that,” she snapped, “You don’t know what it means.”  “Yes I do!” I replied, “Thank you. I tow lee dein?”  “Chaa!” she clucked.  I told her in Mano that I was a teacher at Central High and her jaw literally dropped.  When Mamie came in the girl said, “White woman speaks Mano!” “Of course she does,” Mamie replied.  “White people are smart.”  I like her.   Something tells me we’re going to become good friends while Krista is gone.

I paid for my soup and headed back to Dahnlorpa.  But, of course, because the day is what it is, I got caught in the middle of a parade.  It was so slow moving I over took then passed it.  Small awkward, but I really wanted to get home and take a bath.  I hauled six more buckets of water then finally washed the dust out of my hair.  I put on the new shirt Margaret made me with my new orange slippers so I’d be bluffin’ like the kids.  And here I’ve sat, listening to the radio and waiting for them to come for their Christmas.  Reminds me of Halloween.

Grandpa and Daniel poked their heads in the door.  “RB!  Where ma Chri’mas?”  I smiled, “Where ma Christmas?  My Chri’mas on you, remember?”  Grandpa smiled shyly and handed me $5LD.  Talk about melting my heart.  “No, no,” I laughed.  “Keep your money.  Thank you.”  I handed out stick candy, stickers, and trading cards.  They went crazy.  Something tells me it doesn’t matter one bit what I gave them.  It’s just that I gave them anything.  “RB!  Thank you!  Thank you!” Daniel shrieked in his high voice as they ran home.

I needed this today

Radio Nimba cracks me up.  “Call in,” the DJ keeps interrupting to say.  “And tell us what you have eaten today, what you are going to eat, or what you are preparing.”  It’s almost as good as the Saturday night show “Call in and tell a joke or sing a song.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2012 3:09 pm

    This entry made me smile!
    But what was going on at this point? ” As I climbed the steps, however, I looked up and thought, “Why is that man wearing a bag over his head? And a grass skirt? He’s very tall… Oh. No.” ”

    Wha???

  2. George Vance permalink
    February 8, 2012 3:09 pm

    Thanks megas for this blog. I’m a RPCV Liberia I (1962-1964).
    You’re doing wonderful work in circumstances worse than when we were there
    50 years ago. Keep on!

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