UA-63899747-1 Back to Liberia Day 1 – Nzinga Harrison, MD
Addiction as a Brain Disease
December 19, 2013
Back to Liberia Day 2
January 11, 2014

Hey everybody! I am back to Liberia to teach a second cohort of nurses how to identify and treat substance use disorders as part of The Carter Center’s Liberia Mental Health Project. Whereas last time, I stayed the entire week in a hotel in the capital city of Monrovia, this time the course will be taught in Gbarnga (pronounced Bahn-ga) which is about 3 hours inland. About three days ago, I found out I will be staying in faculty housing that is comfortable, has 24 hour security, electricity for about an hour in the morning and several hours in the evening depending on need, and no hot water. So, needless to say, this is going to be a very different experience than last time.

You may remember that during the last trip, I was delayed on the tarmac at JFK for 2 hours because an experimental solar plan was landing resulting in a grounding of all flights. Well, we were delayed 2 hours again at the gate at JFK. This time, the pilot says because two people had checked bags, but had not gotten on the plane. His rationale was it was faster to wait for them to show up than to try to find their bags and take them off. So we waited…and waited…and waited. You should’ve seen when they got on—they had NO friends on that plane!

Anyhow, the rest of the trip was uneventful. We landed in Monrovia, and though I had been cold for the entire 19 hours I’d been either on a plane or in the airport, I immediately realized the error I’d made in wearing a long sleeve t-shirt under my sweater. I swear I stepped off the plane and it was 1 MILLION degrees outside. I lost about 5 pounds by the time I found my driver – and you know I DO NOT have 5 pounds to lose!

The driver was a new person – not one I’d met on the last trip. We drove through the city, and I was reminded how spectacularly talented Liberians are at carrying things on their heads. But, the streets were not as crowded (school was still in) and it was exponentially more dusty than I remembered. I’m guessing because 6 months ago was rainy season and the ground was wet. I only took one picture on the way to the apartment – of two men standing on top of bundled wood riding in the back of a pickup truck. I couldn’t help it—it was a pretty stunning sight. Of course, the picture doesn’t do it justice.

We arrived at the faculty apartment where I will be staying tonight and tomorrow night. It is AMAZING! A two bedroom, two bathroom with a huge living room, flat screen TV, patio, dining room table, full kitchen, washer/dryer, air conditioner in every room and wifi!* (*Note the asterisk). And here is where the adventure began. Remember I mentioned before that it is 1 MILLION degrees outside. So, I go around the apartment and try turning on the a/c. Not a single one of the three air conditioners work. There is no fan. So I put on a tank top and pajama shorts. I’m literally dizzy and dehydrated. So, I think to myself, at least I can connect to wifi. And then it says “enter password.” I scour the ENTIRE apartment. There is no password anywhere to be found. Now, I’m panicking. How am I supposed to let everyone know I made it?! How am I supposed to get on Skype with Joel and the kids?! So I say, ok, at least let me turn on the TV so it doesn’t seem so empty in here… the TV can’t find a signal, so there are no channels. I’m about to pass out from heat exhaustion and running around like a crazy person trying to get the electronics to work. I try all of the air conditioners again and thankfully, the one in the 2nd bedroom – which doubles as storage and is stacked up with boxes, and has two twin beds – one made, comes on. I lay in the twin bed basking in the glory of the lukewarm air.

Finally, I bit the bullet and call one of the Carter Center staff using the cell phone they gave me. My first question, of course, is the wifi password. He says it’s written on the router. I assure him it is not written anywhere in this whole apartment, since I have conducted a CIA level search of the place! Then I casually mention that none of the a/c or TV is working. He says something I didn’t understand and then hung up. I didn’t even have the energy to try to call back, and instead, retired to my a/c oasis of a twin bed. About 30 minutes later, I hear a knock on the door, and recognize Anthony’s voice. He comes in with 3 fans and a wifi password. And offers to take me out to get something to eat (which was a nice surprise, since I had resigned myself to a fruit cup, tuna pack and juice box for dinner).

When I went to put on my clothes, more than one roach crawled out of my suitcase. I think it is accurate to describe the number of roaches I have seen in this apartment as an infestation. I’m ok with it. I mean, what do you expect with all this heat and humidity? I’ll just be sure to shake out my clothes and shoes before I put them on tomorrow. When I get home, I will unpack outside and hope that the “harsh” Atlanta winter kills any roaches who try to set up shop.

I got dressed, and we went to the restaurant of the hotel where I stayed last time. My same waiter, Preston, was there. He even remembered me by name! I came home, ate delicious tomato and mozzarella with pita (which melted right before my eyes as I ate it), got connected to wifi, spent a little time with Joel and the kids on Skype (whew!) and am now typing this blog.

So, all is well in the land of Monrovia. See the pictures that accompany this blog at this link:

The real adventure will begin Sunday when I travel inland…

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