So I’ve made it to (and past) the halfway point. I am on my vacation in Ghana and I thought I would give you all an update of what it islike to go from a post-conflict context to one of the richest countries in West Africa in 24 hours. In a few words, culture shock!
The culture shock started as we drove out of Nimba. I had been out as far as Phebe Hospital, where the two cars meet when we do a “kiss movement” which is where one car leaves from Monrovia and one from Nimba at the same time, then they both meet in the middle. I rode out to Phebe hospital with our normal driver, Elijah, and read my Lonely Planet for West Africa on the way. I played with a kid in the car (a patient with a broken leg, who I coincidently mett while riding in the car weeks ago), giving him my little Altoids container with a rock inside it to rattle, and also making a paper airplane for him. Then we tranferred into the car from Monrovia, and that’s when the culture shock started to set in.
First, I was in a car I hadn’t been in for three months, not one of “my” cars. When it had a minor problem with water in the fuel, I felt curiously detached. I felt like a passenger, mildly annoyed that the taxi was broken, but trusting that the driver would get us back on the road quickly. (The mechanic happened to be along, and drained the water from the fuel filter and bled the fuel line, so we were in fact back on the road quickly.) I also felt a strange relief to be out of Nimba, but a much stronger yearning to be back with my teammates. As I willed myself to relax and just be on vacation, I actually came to tears, and I don’t know why. Certainly part of it was being proud of what all was finished, which shouldn’t be tearful, but it was all my overloaded mind could think of to do. Strange feeling, but this is a strange job. I can only imagine how powerful and upsetting the feelings would be during an evacuation, when you had to leave people and jobs behind. Or worse, during an evacuation resulting from witnessing something really terrifying. I’ve read about what causes critical incident stress, but to feel the emotions from a normal, simple, scheduled departure from the project was way more powerful and confusing than I expected.
Luckily, that was relatively over in a few hours, and I switched into starry eyed country hick let loose in the big city. I marveled at the streetlights (which were not even on yet, as it was 3 pm). The driver got a kick out of the fact that I thought streetlights were remarkable… but I could tell he was actually still proud of them, as his city had been without them for 15 years until just this August. I also finally got a better feel for the city, as this time I was able to pay attention to the city layout, instead of being distracted by all the new experiences of being an MSFer (riding in the Land Cruiser, hearing the radio, seeing the MSF flag, etc). This time I was just a passenger with a good driver, and I could actually learn about Monrovia.
I had a nice afternoon in Monrovia, but experienced a problem I’ve noticed before. Life in the capital team is much different than in little Nimba. People have friends outside of the team, and team members have spouses (or significant others) and don’t really pay attention to you as a guest. Instead, you are like a customer in a hotel, and left to yourself. In my somewhat fragile state having just left Nimba, it was unsettling, but I know why life is that way in the capital team, and I would never demand that they drop everything and pay attention to me. Well, ok, I did a little. I told several people that I wanted to go out to dinner, and laid a bit of a guilt trip on them about how it was my first night in Monrovia in 3 months, and that I shouldn’t have to go out to dinner alone. I got my boss and his wife to take me out to a great pizza place which happened to have live music that was not totally offensive and really great pizza. I flew out the next morning (this morning) at 11 am.
Arriving in Ghana was fun, because it is like Mexico. Halfway between Liberia and Europe. I dealt with the crazy taxi people at the airport with some amount of dignity, getting a fair price into my hotel. I walked directly to my hotel, and as a nice bonus met a nice girl from England on the way. Then the hotel gave me a discount because I work for MSF. I went out in search of food, and found a nice fast food place. We will see tonight if it was serving safe food or not!
The girl, Rosalind, and I had a nice evening together. This is her first time in Africa, so I took her on a walk and then took her to a pub. I got to play the experienced Africa expat card, which was kinda fun. She’s a smart cookie and will figure it all out soon enough. She certainly appreciated having someone to learn from.
OK, out of time, so I have to send this. Tomorrow I have no plans, but will figure it out over breakfast.