Late at night

It’s late, and we should all get back to our rooms for some sleep. But somehow, we know that, when this night ends, that magic thread of this crazy adventure will slip out our grip from the “now” into “remember when”. Where at that liminal point, like a waking sleeper whose dream is still close enough to hold, before the day intrudes and washes it away to faded memory.

A dozen of us are squeezed in around one of the long folding tables on the covered balcony of the Krystal Ocean Hotel, drinking beer, swapping photos and stories of our time in the field, while the rain comes down in torrents. It’s like the last night at camp, and we’re huddled around the campfire, not wanting it to end.

Susan’s been asked to stay on as an STO until the 18th. Cindy’s already agreed, and will be heading back out in the morning: Up country into Lofa and Bong Counties, further north than her last assignment. Another day out on the road, on those crazy roads. The rest of us have another day here to putter, catch up on hot showers, and contemplate our next move. For some, it’s back to the desk job; others are trying to squeeze a Skype call through the hotel’s trickling connection to interview for a short term spot doing logistics in Kabul, or further afield.

Ah, the roads. I’d thought our high speed blow-out on the way home would be noteworthy. Getting our hands greasy under the car, helping Steve change the tire roadside somewhere in rural Bong with the help of some passing kids and a man from the Bangladesh UN post up the hill. Jack wasn’t large enough, so a lot of improvisation and manual lifting: “Okay, on the side, up please. Yes, small more, small more. At good.”

A blowout? Heh – Eldrid and Viwemi had three different cars die on them on the way out. Took 36 hours before they reached Sinoe. The problem that plagued Nick and Cindy’s car (“Yeah, we had a few flats”) was failing windshield wipers. Seems like a small problem, but when you’re negotiating through ruts that put your car halfway up the door in mud precariously close to rolling the rest of the way over, it’s really nice to be able to see where you’re going. “We’d roll down the window and sort of slosh the wiper blade back and forth.”

We compared accommodations: Kim and Tereza “won”, with millipedes on the floor and rats getting territorial on their bed. No way to hang the mosquito net, and electricity to keep the fan going after 11 pm in the sweltering humid night up in Lofa County. They had good food, though: the Pakistani UN camp was legendary for its meals, and as international observers, they could get in.

Mary was down in Harper, the informal capital of the rural Southeast coast bordering on Cote D’Ivoire: “I’m on a constant dose of two Immodium per day. I also figure I’m bringing home at least three parasites.” Her partner was Jeff, who lived in Harper for three years. “I mean, he was drinking the local well water straight. And we had this leftover fish that we kept eating. No, I shouldn’t have done that, but Jeff ate it, and there’s no way I was going to let him be more badass than me!” At one point, she found “a worm” in the fish; the way she described it, she wasn’t talking about something you’d put on a hook. “I made some joke about it and kinda just pulled it out adn pushed it to the corner of the plate. What? Yes, of course I kept eating. I mean, remember: Jeff?”

Conversation turned to medical remedies. Not Cipro – what’s the stuff they give cattle in Europe for deworming? Someone explains that they’ve used Cipro so wantonly in Cambodia that it no longer works for normal intestinal bacterial infections. “They prescribed something that’s used to treat gonorrhea here. I was standing at the pharmacy, talking loud enough so that the other folks in line could hear me: Yes, Ha Ha Isn’t It Funny to be Taking This Medication For My Intestinal Problem When It’s Normally Used To Treat Gonorrhea, Which, Of Course, Isn’t What I Have, Ha Ha.”

We keep pinballing from topic to topic: Mary jumps in on this one too: “Cambodia? Yeah, tell me about Cambodia. I got flashed by a monk in saffron robes at Angkor Wat. I mean, what’s up with that?”

It was 1:00 a.m. and we all knew we really should turn in for the night. We kept saying so. And then Scott, or Kim, or Pete would say “Oh god, and when we stopped at the roadside stand for fried plantains, they were wrapped in Danish newspaper, and…”. And, and, and. And inexplicably, another hour washed away like red dirt in the rain on the street below.

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