After a busy morning, TEM Lab Liberia heads back out into the field…
2pm: The team splits up and departs for the day’s second set of simultaneous appointments. As is common, each meeting morphs into two when we’re introduced to people who stop by to say hello. It’s testament to the uniquely Liberian openness towards meeting any friend-of-a-friend that we’ve been able to pack in as many appointments as we have in only three weeks on the ground. Already, we’re running into people we’ve met nearly everywhere we go: The country is small and very close-knit!
Exhausted by the flood of new information, we retreat to a Lebanese café which is rumored to have working internet to try to download email, with limited success. Nevertheless, we’re here and it’s starting to rain, so we stay put and work on our meeting notes offline while texting our five collaborators from the University of Liberia the directions to all seven of our meetings tomorrow and coordinating with the two drivers to figure out the schedule so that traffic doesn’t keep us from making appointments. The vast majority of our meetings have started promptly and we can’t let the lack of traffic lights or rules of the road keep us from reaching our destinations on time.
4pm: After her laptop battery runs out, Susannah takes advantage of the gap in generator power to bake another birthday cake. This time, she’s not taking any chances, and she asks the grocery clerks if she can open the cake mix box in-store to ensure there aren’t any bugs. Though their expressions indicate she’s nuts, no one protests.
Meanwhile, the team working in our unofficial “office” at the Royal Hotel makes some “friends” who join them at their table and slowly edge them out in their quest to access an outlet of the correct variety. Outlets range from Chinese to EU to two- and three-pronged American, so the team has taken to traveling with our own power strip and converter so we can all share.
5pm: The team, along with the University of Liberia team lead Rudi, head to the Marketplace Incubator to meet with the businesses currently in residence. Though initially the meeting was intended to be a round robin, with teams of consultants meeting with two or three businesses, the Marketplace has been having power issues all day. So that we don’t end up stranded in the dark with no A/C, Oona, the dynamo who runs the incubator, proposes we hold simultaneous one-on-ones with the eight businesses present, which is what we do.
And you never know who you’ll meet. One of the incubatees we worked with, Flomo, is a cultural icon whose theatrical undertakings have won numerous awards in the United States and abroad. He was described as “famous to the level of Sesame Street” in the US: All Liberians know him and he has been integral in promoting peace through the telling of Liberia’s traditions and history through theater. Every incubatee had an inspiring story and great business, including a graphic designer, a children’s book publisher and animator, and an electrician who turned to couture footwear when his skills were no longer needed after the destruction of Liberia’s power plants during the wars.
8pm: Our Liberian teammates are juggling work, school, and family responsibilities along with the project. After leaving the Marketplace, we drop Rudi off at the University of Liberia for night class and head home. After a long day, it’s time to do a little more work before cooking some food and sitting down for family dinner. Before we do, though, we present Emmanuel with his birthday cake and sing him “Happy Birthday” in front of an audience of incredulous security guards and neighbors. He is thoroughly amused but seems pretty pleased, and we make plans to meet him bright and early the next morning to start another unpredictable but rewarding day in Liberia.