It doesn’t matter how carefully we pack, how tightly we seal things away: after a rainy season, it always seems to take a full week to get the truck ready for the road. Even though, thanks to Sean’s vacuum bags, I was able to just air the clothes out this time and not have to wash them all, it still took seven days. The kids and I had to scrub Big Reg from top to bottom to clean the mould off every single surface, every single item. In 28˚ heat and 85% humidity. Shoo.
After the last day with my head deep in a mildewed storage cupboard, my ear infection swelling came back. It was the weekend, so Sampson emailed a doctor in SA and was told I probably should have done 7-10 days of the antibiotics, not 5, so needed to take another dose. Not surprisingly, with my medical history, the second course knocked me back far harder than the first.
Thankfully, Big Reg was finally ready to roll, so on Sunday we bid Sean a fond farewell and headed back to RLJ Kendeja Resort and Villas, half an hour’s drive from the capital. It was like returning to paradise. South African Operations Manager Theo Vermaak had even arranged for us to park inside the grounds this time.
General Manager Rod Peck and his team have been working extremely hard since we were last here in March. The flower beds are fuller and prettier, the lawns now roll all the way down to the sea, the staff seem to glide almost effortlessly and the Sunday buffet is even more popular – it’s like Kendeja just gained another star.
Ruby is very impressed. This is the perfect place for her to readjust to trucklife, and I am so grateful to Kendeja for gifting us this time. The pool has been such a blessing, helping her to acclimatise. In the two weeks we’ve been here, Zola has surfed nearly every morning, and if Ruby’s not swimming she’s in the gym, working off those pizzas from Hotel Pike!
Ruby craves company, and it is touching, in the absence of her school friends, how I am now the happy recipient of her daily chatter about life, love, the universe and which way she should style her fringe. I am cherishing it, knowing how limited this time will be. Zola’s shoulders have grown a couple of inches outwards since we were last here. He now patiently tolerates my cuddles. I’m pleased to report that, bang on time for a child of 11 and a half, he is increasingly defiant; I’m mostly relieved to know he’s got it in him. (However stroppy he gets, it’s still nothing compared to what his sister put us through…) We’ve done 6 weeks of term, Ruby is about to start her exams and I’m back to teaching them French. Ruby hasn’t done any for nearly a year, as she had to study Afrikaans at school, so we’ve been whipping through a book of revision.
Drugs affect people with a compromised immune system due to M.E. far more intensely than others. The first week on the second lot of antibiotics, I was battling dizziness and nausea, and was often rushing so much after my morning pill, that the wooden slats of Kendeja’s deck seemed to float in front of my eyes. Last week we found an affordable ENT specialist, Pakistani Dr Mumtaz Umar at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Clinic in Monrovia, who inserted a dressing in one ear and relieved me from being deaf in the other. Many thanks also to EMT Emily Lounds from US Army 14th: 30th Engineers from Michigan (here building a barracks) who recommended nasal saline rinsing, which helped a lot.
On 7th November, a month after we left Cape Town, the WHO declared Sierra Leone Ebola-free after successfully completing the quarantine period. On 17th November, Guinea’s last case was sent home from hospital – so now there were 42 days to wait for their all-clear. It was all looking good and we were praying that our plans for moving on safely through West Africa were coming to fruition.
There was more unusually uplifting news, both national and international, with #FeesMustFall and Myanmar. The peaceful power of student demonstrations across the country made me feel proud to be South African for the first time in a long time; and the calm delivery of Aung San Suu Kyi’s landslide election victory produced the most unalloyed joy I have felt about politics since 1994.
But listening to the World Service reports from Paris on the night of Friday 13th, I felt the same sickening foreboding in the pit of my stomach that I had while cradling 7 week-old baby Ruby in front of the TV on the morning of Sept 11th, 2001. I knew from that moment her world was going to be very different. Not for her generation the Superpower stand-off and ominous but ultimately unlikely Soviet nuclear threat that loomed over my childhood.
Some of the incendiary language employed by European leaders in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks set alarm bells ringing for me, as did the Bavarian Premier’s irresponsible conflation of refugees and terrorists, and the French Prime Minister’s suggestion that there was also a threat from biological or chemical weapons, on the day Parliament voted for a three month extension of the state of emergency and suspension of civil liberties. Surely, in a crisis, a leader’s job is to reassure, not enflame?
At last the rains are beginning to rein in here in Monrovia. Sometimes we can go three days between showers now, but the subsequent downpours are spectacular. I’m finding it interesting how often the tension in the air before a thunderstorm reflects tension we’re feeling – or does the one cause the other?
We last had a blasting hot day on 18th November. We drove into town at the tail end of the morning traffic to apply for visas at the Sierra Leonean embassy. I’d filled in the forms in advance but was asked to write an additional letter to accompany the application forms asking permission to apply for visas. We then had to drive into the CBD to deposit the fees of $100 each at a bank and return the slip to the embassy. I declined to give the official another $100 cash for a ‘vehicle clearance certificate’, although apparently we risk being turned back at the border; I reassured him that our AA international carnet has covered all eventualities up till now.
While waiting in the bank, I watched a distressed schoolgirl of about 15 pleading with a manager. It seems she had been victim of a fraud whereby someone posing as a bank employee had persuaded her to deposit her school fees directly with him, rather than queuing for a clerk. She was holding a genuine deposit slip, but there was nothing showing in the school’s account. It seems there are con artists everywhere.
But Monrovia is the only capital city we have travelled through where street traders selling snacks, drink, irons (for real!) or airtime stand for hours in the middle of the highway holding massive wads of Liberian dollar notes in their hands, apparently unbothered at the prospect of thievery.
Walking in to the Café Royal at The Royal Grand Hotel from the simmering heat of the pavements of downtown Monrovia was like stepping into another world. It was more like a New York bistro – the décor is all cool cream and black understated elegance. Oh, and chandeliers. As well as giving us a couple of hundred litres of used oil, CEO Wael Hariz had offered us a free lunch.
The children were thrilled by the surprise. We were treated to grilled steaks or chicken with buckets of Caesar salad, and a selection of chocolate desserts to die for. I’m convinced that I can date my full recovery from the antibiotic fog to the two fresh pineapple and ginger juices I gulped gratefully from the smoothie bar.
The meal was the perfect prep for Sampson’s show that night arranged by our dear friend Adam’s friend Chris Masurenko, a geologist involved in iron ore mining. He’s been organising a regular cultural evening at the German embassy for the last 18 months. Chris opened the evening with a minute’s silence for the victims of the Paris attacks. Wednesday’s entertainment also featured a showing of the Estonian/Georgian film Mandariinid about the futility of war and was attended by crowd of over 100 ex-pats from 20 different countries, including the Brazilian, UK and German ambassadors.
Chris kindly put the hat round for us after Sampson’s comic power-point presentation and managed to raise exactly the right amount to cover four Sierra Leonean visas plus one dodgy vehicle clearance certificate and still have enough left over for ice creams – result! Our heartfelt thanks to all who contributed.
We drove back to Kendeja through night time streets thronged with people, marvelling that there could still be such heat and heavy traffic at 9pm. Our great relief to be ‘home’ after such a long hot day seemed expressed in the explosive storms overnight, which released not so much ‘rain’ as cascades of water pouring over the truck. We three were all worried for Sampson, temporarily banished outside to the tent – Ruby’s currently on his bed as she’s too tall to sleep in the nose cone – but he was fine and dry, if deafened.
The next morning was mercifully cloudy and cool, and felt like a respite. On my beach walk, I found myself humming a sticky MC Solaar tune Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo and realised my subconscious brain was trying to tell me something. While driving my Mom’s old car around Cape Town through the winter I had been able to listen to the much loved French rapper’s 1991 album and many others from a nostalgic boxful of cassettes. The title is a pun on the proverbial phrase “Qui sème le vent récolte le tempête” i.e. “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind” which comes from the Book of Hosea in the Hebrew Bible.
While checking I had my facts straight, I found the phrase was famously used by Arthur “Bomber” Harris in response to the Blitz of 1940 when he said:
“The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put that rather naïve theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”
It’s tragic how you can substitute Bush or Blair or even Hollande for ‘The Nazis’, the so-called ‘War on Terror’ for World War II, and Afganistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria for the cities, and the phrase still holds true.
Coincidentally, MC Solaar, a.k.a. Claude M’Barali, was born in Dakar, Senegal, of parents from Chad who emigrated to France when he was 6 months old and settled in Saint Denis – the northern suburb of Paris where the alleged ringleader of the attacks of Friday 13th, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian, was killed in a police ‘raid’ in a devastating rain of 5000 bullets on Wednesday.
When we are all so connected, our roots so entwined, how can there be an ‘us’ and a ‘them’?