So, he left me a week ago today… And at the end begins the story that almost wasn’t…
No, I have no idea what that means, but, it sounded appropriately dramatic. Okay, onto the real entry devoted entirely to Zeyn’s visit. Last Wednesday (19 March) Zeyn flew Brussels airlines down to Monrovia out of Brussels. He was supposed to get in at 1850 but was delayed by at least an hour. Now, let me tell you what it means for the person waiting to have first the airline delayed and then the passenger. When I arrived at the airport (30 minutes early if any of you can believe that and my penchant for not being on time) I muscled my way into the parking lot right by the terminal. Okay, “muscled” might be a bit of an exaggeration… They wouldn’t let me in the first time so I circled and by the time I came back I was able to follow another car into the parking lot. <sarcasm> a nice young man showed me to a spot. <end sarcasm> What that really means is some guy pointed to a spot and was then going to charge me at the end of my stay for “showing me the spot and watching my vehicle.” Before heading out, I decided that rather then get into civilian clothes, I would wear my uniform complete with blue beret so that Zeyn could see me in it (I wasn’t planning on putting it on again while he was here) and because I thought it would give me more of an air of officialdom. (Maybe that helped in my quest for a parking spot) Not to mention, there are tons of scams where locals will hit a UN vehicle and then try to blame the UN vehicle driver. My uniform, in my head, provided me a sense of security, however false it may have been.
Once in the parking lot I had a decision to make. I could stay in the car and wait (it would be at least an hour between the plane landing and him going through immigration) or brave the world outside the vehicle. I should throw in here as well that there isn’t a way to check online if the plane is coming on-time, or, even at all. You just go to the airport and wait. I decided to wait outside vice sitting in the car. And, as I knew I would be, I was immediately approached by a guy selling fairly ugly woodcarvings. “No thanks, really, not interested.” “But this is just a sample, I can make you anything, you want souvenir?” etc etc… He followed me to the back of the vehicle (where I considered waiting) to continue his spiel. He had just turned away when another guy, selling the exact same crap, came up to me. Well, seller #1 started in on him (no idea what he was saying, I’m sure it was something like “excuse me sir, this woman has already declined my offerings, I do not think it appropriate for you to bother her”) just louder, with more arm waving, and incomprehensible to the normal ear. I took that opportunity to bring out my phone to make a “very important call.” I was in uniform, how could it not be important? Well, I finally got ahold of someone, smiled at the two guys still discussing whose customer I was, and proceeded to scan the parking lot for a safe haven. And then I saw it. There, off in the distance was a place where people were waiting and not being harassed. So, I trotted off to it, saw I was safe, ditched the phone call and proceeded to wait for my darling boy to arrive.
And wait I did… the plane was about 45 mins to an hour delayed. Not a big deal, I was still bright eyed and bushy tailed that after 2 months, the love of my life was arriving. And I knew that he’d walk out of that door at any minute… so I continued to wait expectantly… wait… wait… look… wait… And, finally 45 minutes later, he walked out of the door looking around. I expected him to spot me immediately (everyone else was pretty much gone) and have that movie wave, eyes locking, slow motion recognition… Well, all that kind of happened after he came out looking a little lost (but cute nonetheless), then scanning looking everywhere but at me until I raised my arm, (ah, recognition), and quick greeting as I ushered him to the vehicle sans hugs or kisses. (I was in uniform and we were going back to the harassment zone) I quickly paid the “nice gentleman” who looked after the car and then got us outta there.
In the car I explained that we’d have a proper greeting at home. The goal was to get out of the area quickly and to begin the drive home soonest. It was already dusk and would be dark in the first 10 minutes of our hour drive back to the apartment. The problem with driving in the dark here (well, the problem for me) is that there are not street lights, anywhere. What there are, are people walking… where? I don’t know… but along the sides of the road, running across the road, and taxi drivers who randomly pull over without telling you they’re going to. To me driving requires my complete concentration. So, after a quick kiss we were off on our adventure home. Although the drive itself was fairly uneventful it was entertaining to say to Zeyn, “hey, you should check out the rape sign!” “The what? Oh my god are you kidding me?” This said as we passed by one of the numerous graphic images of a sign that says “Stop Rape” with pictures that show a woman laying on the ground, her skirt up, with a man on top of her with his fist up, and a big “X” over it to show that it’s wrong. Hi honey, welcome to my host country…
It was during that time that Zeyn told me why he was so late coming out of the terminal. Upon arriving, he had his passport and visa stamped by one guy but the next guy stopped him to have a closer look at his visa. He called over some other immigration officers who then asked him where he got his visa. “Germany” was his response. “Well, your visa says it was issued in Berlin. We don’t have an embassy in Berlin. Our embassy is in Bonn. Bonn. Bonn. Bonn. All visas are issued in Bonn.” Zeyn explained that he had hired a visa service through his travel agent who got the visa for him. After some discussion, his passport was confiscated but he was given a “Good Note” which allowed him in the country for a specific amount of time while his visa issue was sorted out. (This was a good thing as the guy ahead of him was put back on the plane to Abidjan.) He was told to report to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) the next day around 11. Really, I don’t think there could have been a better introduction to Liberia…
So, on Thursday morning we headed to the BIN. “Why did you come to Liberia without a visa” Zeyn was asked innumerable times. “I have a visa, there’s just some discussion regarding its place of issuance.” “Ah…” Well, after being there for a few minutes they told us to “check back” at 2:30. I took Zeyn first to the Heineken store to which his response to the prices (if you’ll recall, this is the most expensive store ever) was “can I take a picture?” I mean, doesn’t Tide cost 38 USD everywhere for a big bottle and isn’t cereal always $8-10 a box? He actually did ask me what currency the prices were in. Ah yes, to experience sticker shock again. After our shopping adventure we went to a Lebanese restaurant in town called Diana’s and then went to the shopping area outside of the Embassy where we were able to get a few souvenirs. I was actually a little trepidatious about going because the last time I had been there (granted with a big group) sellers came out of everywhere trying to get us into their shops. This time though, all was quiet…mostly. We still had more time to kill so I took him on a driving tour of Monrovia. We went up and by poopoo beach so Zeyn could get the full sights of the area (and the smells). He missed the human poopoo on a little edge because he was distracted by the open sewage somewhere else… We left poopoo beach and headed back to the BIN.
On this trip they told us they had the passport but they needed to confirm where the embassy was in Germany, who the person was who signed the visa, and then the minister needed to clear it. All of this would take a few days so he wouldn’t be able to get it back until, at the earliest, Monday. Whoa… not possible. The next day (Friday) was a holiday, they don’t work weekends, and Zeyn was leaving on Monday. His passport was going to need some expediting. I asked if we should go to our embassy to help things along. The response was, “no, we don’t need to get diplomats involved…” So, we were told to return in another 1 1/2 hours. Okay. So, we went back to the apartment.
Now, there is nothing quite like walking into your apartment to see your maid, on the floor working, topless. Zeyn, bless his heart, just thought, “so that’s how they do it here.” I’m beginning to think so as this was the second time that I’ve heard this type of thing happening. A little awkward for all involved I believe. As she was in the hallway by my room we ended up hanging out in the living room. As we sat down we noticed her bra on one of the chairs in the living room, odd because the rest of her clothes were on a chair in the kitchen… I’ve long since stopped asking questions about what happens here. After another hour at home we made our 3rd and final venture to the BIN.
When we arrived, we were told that the Chief was working on the case and shown to a room to wait. After about 30 minutes the Chief returned and…. and Zeyn’s passport was returned to him. Apparently the Liberian embassy in Germany moved from Bonn to Berlin and nobody told the BIN in Liberia… I mean, why would they? What we were most impressed by is the number of people at the airport who caught that the visa was issued in Berlin and knew that that was incorrect.
On Friday we headed to Bomi lake with Adams. Friday night we did the obligatory Sajj House (another Lebanese restaurant with great chicken bread) followed by Garden Club with the live music and “Coca Cola Girls” (because they’re shaped like a Coca Cola bottle…). On Saturday we spent the day relaxing before heading out to a Chinese dinner and New Jacks. The music at New Jacks was random, as always, but it was great when they played your favorite and mine, “Eye of the Tiger.” Ayup, had to get Z out on the dance floor for that one. Sunday we went to the Pakistani Force Quick Reaction Force (FQRF) for brunch. Of course it was wonderful. We left there for a relaxing day out on Cece beach. He loved it. Well, really, how could you not? White sandy beaches, tables with palm umbrellas, and beer. Really, it’s a little paradise here and my Sunday home away from home. On Monday we relaxed and prepared for Zeyn to abandon me.
We had an amazing time. Although I got a lot of raised eyebrows that my husband was coming to Monrovia, I think many people were actually impressed. It was, of course, wonderful to have him here. The only down side I think is seeing Monrovia through his eyes… again. I’ve had two months to become accustomed to all of the sights and smells that are Monrovia and Liberia. I have learned how to ignore the beggars, to not notice the smell of the sewer when at New Jacks, and not see the trash heaps everywhere but in the trash bins. Things which were new and bizarre and crazy for me have since, over the past couple of months become the norm. Seeing those things woke my dulled senses up again. However, on the flip side, I was able to laugh anew at the educational signs promoting good health (like the diarrhea one that is actually a cartoon drawing of a guy with diarrhea squatting over a toilet), at the taxis with their motivational messages, and to appreciate again how much natural beauty there is here. I think the best part was that he can now truly picture me in these environs and have more reason to spoil me when I return home in May. 🙂