Sunday, April 03, 2011

LIBERIAN ADVENTURES - PART 1

LIBERIAN ADVENTURES - PART 1

My coordinates for the next week are in Monrovia, Liberia. I am here with my good palKaillie Humphries doing a site visit with Right To Play.

I have been an ambassador for the organization for the past 6 years and have loved being able to spread the word about positive impact that sport for development has around the world. I know first hand the profound effect that sport and play can have on positively influencing lives and I am super psyched that I finally get a chance to be here and to see it up close and personal.

When we arrived today after a ridiculous amount of flying (Calgary-Toronto-Brussels-Monrovia), I experienced a bit of a shock. No matter how hard you try to believe that all of the world works with the same order, it's just not reality…and when you leave one part of the world where it is snowing and -6C, that doesn't mean that the weather will be frightful half way across the globe;)

That first waft of warm air hitting your face and penetrating your sneakers as you walk off the plane - all 30C of it - was not expected. Calgary has had what could perhaps be considered the coldest and snowiest winter in history. I forgot what heat like this felt like. It's pretty relentless.

Standing in the customs line reminded me that in some countries, there are unspoken rules about who gets the right of way. When you aren't from the land, you start to notice that people who were behind you before are mysteriously being ushered to the front of line. Fine, I get it. I'm white with blue eyes and blonde curly hair. I can't even begin to pretend that I'm from Liberia;)

At the baggage claim, I could not believe the pandemonium. I consider myself a good traveler with lots of "travel respect". I'm not pushy to get off the plane. I stand a far distance back from the baggage carosel until I see my bag on it's way - then I move in for the grab. Sure, I'll admit, sometimes I like to strategically swing my bag off the carosel so it 'accidentally' hits the person who's standing right next to it in my way, but you've gotta take a couple of shots when you can, right?

I have never experienced mayhem and complete disorder as I did at the Monrovia customs. There were 40 people with bags and carts trying to push their way through to the ONE lady who was checking bag tags to make sure they matched your little sticky bag tag thing-a-ma-bob. I almost had a panic attack…and my toes got run over on a few occasions.

Once through customs, we went outside to meet Robert, our driver. While Robert went to get the car, we were befriended by a gentleman who seemed like he was up to no good. You know how you get that feeling that someone is out to screw you over, but you don't act on the intuition because you aren't quite sure if you are being over cautious? I had that feeling. Once Robert pulled up the vehicle, the dude who was trying to be our friend demanded to wheel our bags. I can wheel my own bag thank you very much! Then he demanded $10 for his services. What do you do? Tell him to eff off? Probably not a great idea since you don't really know how that will go over in a country where civil wars have occurred. I wanted to tell him that, but Kaillie pulled out a $20 and demanded change! Smart girl.

Liberian Lesson Learned: Don't ever trust someone when they generously offer to help…they aren't just doing it from the kindness in their heart.

I hate it when something like that happens because it totally puts you on guard for the rest of the trip. It's hard to trust people moving forward because you kind of have to assume that they have ulterior motives. Nothing comes for free, baby.

After the initial "Urg" experience, we had an hour drive from the airport to our hotel. The drive was dark (and I had to pee SO bad the entire time!), but I could see that we are most definitely not in Kansas…er, Calgary…anymore. There were thousands of people walking along the sides of the roads. I couldn't quite figure out where they were going. There was little electricity. People were gathered in groups and I became very curious about what their conversations were about.

I started to wonder about what people say when you ask them their address. Do they receive mail? What is their main source of income? What is their reason for waking up in the morning? What do these people talk about, think about and dream about? What drives them? How many of them resent people like me who come to their country for 5 days and complain about being ripped off for $10?

I am both excited and nervous about this adventure we are embarking on. I have no idea what to expect, but I am looking forward to being able to find answers to some of my questions. Most importantly, I am looking forward to being able put an experience behind my stories and passion for Right To Play.

Kyle

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