[Again, a reminder: these posts are all one week old, and I’m putting them up in sequence, roughly corresponding to when they were written, to give a feel for my time in Liberia as it happened.]
I guess I kind of left everyone hanging about our accommodations. The morning after the earlier-described Night From Hell, Susan and I stumbled down to the breakfast area. We’d met LtCdrs Ketchum and Ketchum from the US Embassy in Monrovia the afternoon before (yes, they’re both Lieutenant Commanders – she’s with the Coast Guard, he’s with the Army). They were on their way to Harper, in the Southeast, estimating that they had another day and a half’s drive ahead of them, so they’d brought “hotel camping” gear along with them, and were making coffee and oatmeal on the camp stove they’d set up in their front room.
“You have a front room?!”
“Yeah – don’t you?” He showed me.
“You have air conditioning!?!?!”
He looked puzzled – “What, you don’t have air conditioning here? You’re braver than I thought.”
Try “less informed”. Our sullen innkeeper had given me and Susan the boiler room accommodations above the kitchen. Turns out that in the other rooms out back, for an extra $25 (twice the price of our rooms), you could get a lovely two-room suite with a separate sitting room, a real shower, a memory foam(ish) mattress and, valued beyond all price, electric air conditioning.
We bolted for the the office. Put on our best “good morning” smiles, gave our sweetest “How do you do”s, and asked if, just maybe, they might have a couple of empty rooms out back. Innkeeper was in a much more cheerful mood this morning and gave out that yes, they’d be happy to upgrade us to the executive accommodations. In fact, she thought they had a couple of rooms available right now, if we’d like to move our stuff over.
Last night was blissfully survivable. Enjoyable, even.
The town was alive as evening fell, practically generating electricity from the noise and motion. Campaigns trucks, stuffed to overflowing with singing, chanting teenagers clad in their party colors patrolled the streets blaring music and slogans from oversize roof-mounted speakers. Every candidate had their own theme song; the sidewalk sensation was one of slowly spinning the tuning dial of an enormous car radio cranked up to eleven.
Richard was tall and thin and quiet. Valentine was not, and exuded boyish mischief in a way few grown men can. You got the idea he and Ken would happily drink each other under the table if they didn’t have a job to do in the morning.
A block down the street there was some sort of ruckus: people were shouting and dense black smoke billowed into the air. We craned our necks from the safety of the veranda, but Valentine turned to Susan and said, urgently, “Quick – give me your camera!” A moment later, he was across the street, waving down a random passing motorcycle and hopping on its back toward the conflagration.
Ken nodded his head, unsurprised, and smiled. Ahyup – that’s Val for you.
Valentine returned ten minutes later, disappointed – it was just a trash fire that had gotten out of control. But he had gotten photos from up close.
Speaking of “Rick’s” and Casablanca, Hotel Alvino also has a nightclub, a long squat brown-tiled building across the small parking lot from the back rooms. Once the generator kicked in for the night, it was lit with red light from behind its mirrored windows. Susan, Steve and I had our precinct map spread at our usual table in the open-air restaurant area when we were approached by three young women who had been camped out at another table, back in the corner. After a brief conversation with Steve they returned to their perch, occasionally looking over to glare at us. Steve explained that they were part of the local prostitute contingent, and wanted some info on the potential client he had at his table. He told them that Susan was my wife, and that, you know, she just wouldn’t approve.