Entrepreneurs, government employees, and investors alike all face common frustrations and challenges in their pursuit to help Liberia return to its former status as one of the most prosperous in Africa. In spite of these difficulties, people prevail and the rewards and laughter are great. In this two-part post, let us welcome you into a typically a-typical day for team TEM Lab Liberia.
Wednesday, June 6, 7am: Rise and shine. Some team members go out to jog before traffic gets too crazy; sometimes the security guards join them. Plug in the laptops and charge phones before the power gets cut off at 8. Boil water for coffee while the electric starter on the stove is still functioning. Try to shower; discover that the water is out (again). Get dressed and go downstairs to ask the guards to “send more water up”. Wait. Wait. Still no water. Finally give in to a bucket bath using the leftover boiled water on the stove. Remark on the irony that though this is the rainiest country on earth, and rainy season has flooded the streets, there is no water for showering nor is the water safe to drink. Some of the businesses we’ve met here are trying to remedy that very situation.
8am: Attempt to connect to internet. No dice. Unplug. Replug. Nope. Repeat. Repeat 10 more times. Ask around to see if anyone else’s USB sticks are working. No. Check to see if internet is working at the Royal Hotel, our de-facto office-away-from-home. No. Rain has knocked out the internet. To pass the time, check in on slow death process of writhing cockroach discovered under the bednet and smacked down in the middle of the night. Not dead yet. Apologize to cockroach, but leave him there as a warning to those who may attempt to follow. Depart for two separate morning appointments.
10am: Two Thunderbird students arrive with two University of Liberia students at the Freeport to meet with a business contact. First step: Gain access to the port, which is controlled by immigration. An officer approaches; decline offer to give up passports in order to gain entry (specifically, one of our Liberian colleagues told us to roll up the window in the face of the officer, who may have been looking for a little something extra). Second security guard approaches asking for other official IDs. Sacrifice Thunderbird and UL identity cards to the immigration officials but discover that one UL student has no ID on them today. No problem- after unsuccessfully arguing her case with the officer, she calls a family member, who happens to be someone important at the port, who gets on the phone with the immigration guys and instruct them to let her in. After a stern lecture from immigration, we are issued four entry passes, with instructions to return for our IDs later.
Two hundred meters into the port, and we are stopped at another checkpoint, where we have to exchange our “general” port entry passes for client-specific passes. Half an hour after arriving at the port, we finally arrive at our destination. We did, after an inspiring meeting with a multinational trying to boost human resource capacity among Liberians, manage to regain all of our ID cards. On the way home, one of our Liberian teammates recounts the story of Samuel K. Doe’s bloody capture, which evidently took place in the building where our meeting was just held. One is never far from history in Liberia.
Noon: Return home to try to use internet. Still no dice. Call around and find out that one restaurant in town, which doubles as a Lebanese joint and karaoke bar, seems to have working internet. Will head there later. Check backup appointment calendar taped to wall to check tomorrow’s hectic schedule since Google calendar is not an option. Figure out where to get a new replacement cake mix to make a birthday cake for our awesome driver. Bug free, preferably, unlike last night’s cake mix, which contained unwelcome guests. Hunker down to work on meeting notes until we depart for the first set of afternoon meetings and de-brief the team on the morning’s findings. To be continued…