Friday, 21 November 2008

Liberian License Plates

It’s always a delight to find in every city something that clearly distinguishes it from the next and if there’s one thing you should look out for in Monrovia, it’s the license plates. I don’t have the current figures but I think more than 60% of cars in Monrovia have customized license plates. They are as diverse as the many cars on the streets.
Each is unique in its own way clearly identifying a person better than any ID card or passport possibly could. Each telling us a different story, depicting status, gender, age, earning power, job function, marital status, position, even dates of birth.

I’ve seen all manner of license plates like ‘4 my wife’, ‘husband no2’, ‘4 me’, ‘rush 2’, ‘manager 3’, ‘baby 1’, ‘big boy 5’, ‘Emily 1’ ‘Psalm 23’, to mention but a few.
We couldn’t get to the bottom of the reason for these diverse plates so we decided to play a game to tell the stories behind each customized license plates.
So here are some of our ideas:

4 Me: This plate was on a Volkswagen golf car and it was driven by a young woman. So we figured that she probably worked so hard and suffered a lot to buy the car that she had to stake her claim by making sure everybody knows the car is ‘4’her.

Husband 2: This is self explanatory, he’s a second husband and wants to be identified by that.

Big boy 1: He’s so obese that he couldn’t think of any other thing but his weight when he was getting the plates made. Guess his next car would be ‘gym boy’ for when he starts using the gym.

4 My wife: The 'Oga' probably bought the same car for his girlfriend, so he just wanted to be able to differentiate one from the other.

Psalm 23: I think that’s the only Bible verse this owner really knows or can remember from his childhood.

Bro 419: His brother is probably a ‘419er’, the car was bought from the proceeds and they wanted everybody to rejoice with them.

The funny thing was that the ‘big’ cars didn’t have customised plates, they just had regular plates. I’m thinking of getting my own car soon and I would welcome ‘name’ suggestions for customized plates.
Whenever you are in Monrovia, you can check out the license plates and come up with your own stories.

Taxi Talks…

The Taxi driver kept complaining, “I’ve been in this country for 6months and the people here are no good. They treat you like aliens and no body wants to be nice to you”.
And then he narrated his ordeal from the border. How after he had been harassed and exploited, they got stranded and he had to help his fellow passengers (from this same country) with transportation, feeding and clothes.
He went on to conclude that after his experience in the country, he’ll never be good to anyone from this country again. In fact, when he goes back to his own country (another West African country), he’ll make the people from this country pay dearly for everything that he has gone through.

We asked him if he had met any good people in this country, if anyone had been nice to him and if anyone had gone out of their way to try to help him, and he answered yes to all of these. If yes, why would he then decide to punish a whole people for the errors of a few of their countrymen? We asked him what his own attitude towards these people was and he said he had to defend himself.

I felt bad because I realised that this is the way a lot of us think and behave, gearing to mete out punishment on someone for the sins of his brothers or her people.
Why can’t we all just try and get along? Why can’t we all just hold hands and hum, hug trees and wear ‘Jesus’ sandals? Why can’t we look beyond the today and think of the bigger picture? Why can’t we all try to broker peace rather than tearing one another to pieces?

We pleaded with our Taxi driver to change his attitude towards these people and expect them to treat him nicely. Like my sister always says, ‘If you expect something, you’ll get it’.

Quick Relaxation Motel

After spending more than 12 hours on the road from Bo town in Sierra Leone to Monrovia, Liberia, we arrived around 9:30pm and for some reason we couldn’t get in touch with our host. Apparently she had misplaced her phone and there was no way for us to reach her. So, we decide to check into a motel in the suburbs of Monrovia for the night. As I walked up to the receptionist for a room she looked at me weirdly and asked ‘is it for sleeping?’ The question seemed a little dumb and I laughed sarcastically, ‘of course it’s for sleeping’ I said. I later found out that the joke was on me.

As we checked into the room, the first thing I noticed was the pile of condoms on the side table, the second thing was the porter switching off the TV set. Curious as to why he switched off the TV, immediately he left the room, Oluchi switched it on and switched it off the next second. Then we burst out in laughter.

It dawned on us that we had just checked into what we call a ‘short-time’ motel or ‘slaughter-house’ in Nigeria. That is, a motel designed strictly for quick discreet sexual escapades. To set the mood, the motel had graciously provided some light entertainment on TV by way of a fully dedicated pornography channel and a dozen pack of condoms. Also the only identification needed to check-in is your money. Talk about being discreet.

We had a good laugh and we had to acknowledge that someone has to provide these services and it looked like they were doing a good job. As we left the next morning, we noticed the motel sign – Y Motel, for quick relaxation- that had us laughing all over again. If you’re ever looking for ‘quick’ relaxation in Monrovia, check out Y motel.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

National Dishes


Cassava-leaf soup; potato-leaf soup, roasted cassava and raw cassava. People were asking if we had tried these dishes and I kept wondering if it was some kind of joke. What are these guys talking about??!
Back home in Nigeria, cassava leave is goat feed, roasted cassava is unheard of and you only eat raw cassava when you are suicidal. I don’t have the statistics but I know that the cyanide in raw cassava will kill you faster than a loaded gun (I don’t know where that came from). Here in Sierra Leone (Salone) these dishes are national delicacies.

In naija, we eat roasted yam/ corn and we have to take the raw cassava through various processes (which I know nothing about) before it’s edible enough to make garri, fufu or African salad popularly called abacha. I didn’t even know that potato had leaves.
Our caretaker, S, convinced us that this specie of cassava was different from the one we eat where I come from but did we want to take any chances?

Never let it be said that we African celebrators were too afraid to taste a national dish. So with trepidation we asked S to make the cassava leaves soup for us and I had my Andrews liver salt nearby, and my phone ready to dial 911 just in case.

We were pleasantly surprised. It was tasty!! I really, really liked it! I think it was the best tasting ‘African’ soup I’d had in a while (apart from the egusi I ate the other day and the okro of 2weeks ago). Best of all we are still alive and very well, so I guess that means S was right and this specie is different.
Anyway, I’m recommending that whenever you decide to visit Free town, drink in the beautiful hills and mountains, swim in the Atlantic ocean and eat some cassava-leaf soup.

Guinea gini*??


“The country side smells of fresh curry leaves, the air is crisp & inviting and birds are busy chirping away”. This isn’t some unknown foreign land; it’s the ‘path’ leading from Bissau to Conakry. I say path because we veered off the road shortly after the first border patrol and headed straight into the bushes. Why some countries will not merge and become one is beyond me. Apologies to all the Guineans reading this but I’m only trying to speak the truth here.

Dear readers, another reason why we are doing this trip is so that we can have fun on your behalf and make your mistakes for you so that when you decide to take this trip you will not make the same mistakes we did. (And of course to celebrate)

Now I would suggest to you against my better judgement and against everything celebratory about this trip, if choose to go to Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry, please do it by air!!!

The countries in themselves were not bad but the journey to the country nko? Another matter. I saw the best looking statures in Conakry, right in the middle of the road and the sunset was lovely. Bissau reminded me a bit of Brazil with their Old Portuguese style buildings and the people looked like they were having fun just being there.

I just didn’t like that it took us 2days from The Gambia to get to Guinea Bissau, a journey that should have been 8hours. Also the fact that we spent another 24hrs on the road for a 12-15hours journey from Bissau to Conakry. (Literally sleeping on cold hard tar, on the road)

Now, my advice is pretty simple. If you must go on these 2 roads, prepare your self for the best or worst (depending on how you look at it) camping experience of your life, except of course without the fire. Arm yourself with a blanket, flash lights and a towel because you’ll paddle a ‘ferry’ and sleep on the road in the middle of nowhere with only the stars and your fellow passengers to watch over you.

However, there is much to celebrate and that is the unbreakable spirit of our co-travellers on the journey from Bissau to Conakry. These people were in high spirits throughout the 24-hour journey, chattering loudly, sharing their food, even offering their shoulders as support for the next person who needed to rest. It was absolutely amazing and the most surprising part for me was that many of the passengers travel this route constantly for trade purposes. As one passenger told me, there is money to be made and even if the governments of these two countries don’t provide a road, the travellers will find a bush-path.

*what?? in my local language