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Students, Money, and Check Points

January 1, 2012

The view from our porch. The nights have been cold and the mornings foggy.
Loving it.

It was a very productive week.  I’ve rearranged and cleaned the entire house, literally scraping paint drips off the floor and walls.  I tacked a cover on the table and organized my bedroom.  Then Thursday I traveled to Ganta and managed to successfully bank.  I didn’t feel like going, but it’s a good thing I did.  They were closed the next five days for the New Year.

Trudging to the taxi stand I heard, “Ms. RB!” and Prince, once of my 12th graders, came running.  He walked me all the way to town and insisted on staying until I had a car.  It made me feel less alone and like this really is my home.  And really: it is.

The car was a riot.  When they called me to come get in there were already three ol’ mas in the back and two kids.  As I watched the twenty-some chickens tied to the top in a makeshift wooden box, I decided to break my own rule and ride up front.  An old pape slid in next to me and I sat on the edge of the bucket seat, squeezed between him and the gear shift.  Four days later I still have a knot in my back from that damn seat.  I wrapped myself in my dust gear and we had an uneventful trip.

Once in town I headed straight to the bank and was delighted to find it both open and functioning.  I photocopied my documents and got at the end of the very long line.  No cutting today.  I needed to earn back some karma.  Besides, I had nothing to do at home but color pictures and scrape paint.  I quickly made friends with the people on either side of me and we helped each other pass the hour and a half long wait.  One worked for IRC and the RTTIs and promised to email me a picture of Sergeant Shriver visiting his house in the 1960s.  (If this ever materializes I’ll be shocked.  Good story, though.)  On the other side I had a fashionable young woman from Saclepea.  She’s a principal at one of the primary schools there and a graduate of Central High in Sanniquellie.  She was thrilled to hear a woman was there teaching math.  Just as I reached the front of the line the lights flashed and went out briefly.

You have to be kidding me!

Convinced it was over, I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry.  It was a false alarm, though, and fifteen minutes later I finally had money.  They sent me upstairs to get my statement from the bossman and I got in line outside his office.  Almost immediately an old pape called me in to sit, “yatan, my daughter.”  I was tired of sitting, but have learned not to argue when someone wants you to sit.  I watched him and his son do a very complicated looking money transfer and finally, 45 minutes later, it was my turn.  I had been trying to get to this moment for two months.  I wanted to jump and shout and beg.  But instead I stayed in my chair and smiled.  “How  you comin’ on, ma friend?” I drawled as if there weren’t people lined up outside.  He smiled and seemed to sigh in relief: I wouldn’t try to ruin his day.  “Ma bossman na payin’ me,” I said, “I beg you help me with a small statement.”  He pulled my record since September and five minutes later I was out the door.  Three trips and three hours actual wait time later I was finally done at the bank.

I only had small bread and coffee before leaving Sanni so I decided to celebrate with a big plate of jolof rice.  I pulled up a chair by the door where some friends and I had sat for lunch about a month earlier.  I missed them.  I destroyed the rice then went in search of pineapple.  This time I scored two, one for me and one for Margaret who I had to visit when I got home.  A trip to the Total for some jam and I was ready to go.

The car filled quick but was an extremely tight fit.  I got one of the back middle seats and rested more fully on my fellow passengers than on the seat.  We drove around town in the heat for about 15 minutes while the driver tried to buy gas.  Even the Total wasn’t selling.  Motorbikes and cars swarmed around a stand next to Monrovia parking.  It sure seemed like this was the last gas in town and things were about to get ugly.  Our driver aggressively cut everyone off and a few minutes later we were miraculously moving… until we had to stop and rearrange seats.  The two people up front wouldn’t stop screaming at each other so it was decided the old pape would come sit by me.  Fine.

I fell asleep quickly again and woke up when we stopped to buy small fish from a boy on a bridge.  We reached the check point outside Sanni and, for the first time, they tried to shake me down, probably in honor of the holiday.  They waved all the other passengers on, but kept me.  “What are you doing here?” the bossman demanded.  This was my sixth time passing through the check point in so many days so I was dying to laugh, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”  But instead I smiled.  “Oh, we haven’t met yet?”  I held out my hand.  He just stared at me.  “Where are you papers?”  I handed him my Peace Corps ID.  “Where are your papers?” he repeated.  I dug my immigration paperwork out of my bag and handed it to him.  He inspected it closely.  “How long have you been here?”  Again, I wanted to laugh, but kept it to a smile.  “August, but we came through in July with Mr. Demy.”  He grunted.  “I remember, but you didn’t have your papers yet.”  He reluctantly handed them back to me.  “I’ve seen you dancing at the club,” he said.  “We love African music,” I said, trying another smile.  He forced one back this time and excused me.  I squeezed back into the car, apologized for the delay, and we tore into town.

Home sweet Sanni.

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