Posted by torytolles | Filed under Honduras
NB: If you’re reading about the political chaos in Honduras going down, know that we’re safe and sound! Fear not!
So please forgive me for not updating our home-making section yet (and for skipping it entirely in Liberia), but please know that it is coming.
However, I just went through all 467 photos from our anniversary celebration weekends and really wanted to share them first. Chris (I’m speaking for him) will be doing his own version and I’m sure the marked discrepancies between what we each find important to share will prove to be hilarious. At least to us.
For those of you we have not told, we had two weekend adventures to celebrate our two years of marriage. Next year, I’m looking forward to three weekends : ) The first weekend we travelled to Copan, a small Honduran town made famous by 800-1200 year old Mayan ruins. The ruins were themselves unspeakably amazing, as was the horseback riding and natural hot springs, but I think that these pictures convey much more.
We made friends at Copan’s amazing bird sanctuary. All of the birds seemed really healthy, the staff really knowledgeable, and the birds friendly.
At least, the Great Green Macaw was. The Red Macaw, the Honduran national bird, just wanted Chris’s wedding ring.
And his hair.
I hereby issue a challenge: find a bird with more character than a toucan. Go ahead and try. Then look at this guy and not admit defeat.
And that about sums up Copan. Do you hear Chris’s good-natured, indignant exclamation over my claim that is the totality of our first weekend? I definitely do : ) But moving on…
We spent our second anniversary weekend hiking in La Tigra National Park. Yes, it is called the Tiger, but no, there are not any wild tigers in this hemisphere. ”Tiger” just refers to a large wild cat. Like the more populous jaguar.
Chris and I spent an incredible three days hiking. On Friday we hiked from the bus stop up this ridiculous dirt road to this tiny bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere, El Rosario, Honduras. The view was definitely worth the sweaty hike up. We hiked all day Saturday, exploring abandoned mines (like the one above), waterfalls, and wildlife. You should ask Chris about his encounter with a bat family.
During our hike down to the bus on Sunday, we happened upon this beetle. How did God create something that looks this cool?
Our anniversary celebration weekends reminded me of three important facts:
1. I am horrendously out of shape. I have not been this sore since I (stupidly) ran 15 miles the day after I returned from my weeks aboard the Cramer.
2. Animals are ridiculous. My favorite part of teaching science is that I always have an excuse for learning about really neat topics. Why do I subscribe to five different Scientific American weekly news feeds? It’s for my job, OBVIOUSLY…
3. [Drum roll, please]…Marriage is awesome! There is nothing more fun than adventuring with my best friend. Unless of course it is the eagerly anticipated setting up a long-term, year-long home with my best friend. We will be in Boston in less than two months - how is that possible that the year is almost over?!
Posted by christolles | Filed under Liberia
To those of you “in the know,” we’ve obviously moved on from Liberia. To those not, take a look at the header image. Before sharing anything about our new home in Tegucigalpa with you, let’s recap Liberia a little bit…
My photos will be entirely out of order. Mea culpa. Below, a pan of palm kernel oil. Take palm seed. Make oil. Take leftover palm kernel of death. Make oil again. Delicious. Yes, it’s that black stuff in the pan. The younger kid was about to cry. I don’t know if she’d ever seen a white person before.
This is my buddy Morlu (pronounced “Muh-loo”). He lives with Thelma, our host for the first month in Liberia, and came to the city to go to school. Because of the lack of education in the interior of Liberia, he’s 13, but only in 3rd grade. Morlu is really a bright guy, though - Tory and I would help him with his homework (he’s also learning English), and he was an exceptional student. He can also dig big holes for me to be buried in.
This is a “snack” I was given while we visited Buchanan (Liberia’s second largest “city”). It think it’s a fish part.
Currently Liberia is home to about 10,000 UN peacekeeping forces as part of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). During the war, these checkpoints were scenes of notoriously random beatings, rapes, and bribe-taking. Today, UN forces (mostly from Nigeria and Bangladesh, I think), somewhat casually man them as a deterrent to further rebel activity. There hasn’t been any substantial armed conflict since peace was brokered in 2004, and most authorities suggest it’s because of the threat of violence from UNMIL forces. There is a good deal of anxiety in Liberia as to what will happen when UNMIL leaves.
This guy is grating cassava, a potato-like root, into mush to make cassava flour, which is called farina. Later, the cassava mush will be dried and further ground into a rough flour-type texture, then cooked into fufu. It’s hard to see in the photo, but he’s got a repurposed car grating (?) laid over a cloth basic which he scrapes the raw cassava onto. Cassava is the main vegetable food staple of Liberia.
Below is a typical view from the front seat of a taxi. In Liberia, you pay for taxis by the seat. That means if you want the taxi all to yourself, you pay six times as much, because taxis regularly cram four adults into the back and two in the front. Everybody is always going some place different, so it takes forever, and it’s 95 frickin’ degrees out, and there isn’t even a hope for a seatbelt, and maybe this guy next to you has some exotic tropical disease, and… but I digress. You can see in the photo I’m holding on tightly. (NB: I have no clue what’s up with those plastic dinosaur toys glued to the dash).
The image below is a little tough to see, but look closely. It’s the view over a former gravel-making industry, now defunct. The industry, at least - the gravel is still made by the residents of the area as a way to make money. These people (hundreds of them) literally break rocks all day long by hand. If you look closely, the tiny dots down by the water pools are people harvesting stone from this rancid quarry. There’s even a guy fishing in the ponds…
The Tolles plus one of our guides, Matthew Garaway, resting on one of the limitless dusty jungle roads in Liberia.
And this is what it invariably looks like driving down those same roads. Because it’s about as hot as the center of the sun, the windows are always down, which mean you breathe tons of dust as each car passes. Pleasant.
In Liberia, MSG is used to flavor everything. Incidentally, it’s on the shelves here in Honduras, too.
A certain waterfront portion of Buchanan is a Ghanian fishing community. The build incredible boats like the one below, most of which feature an enormous dugout for the keel. Joel Wakeman, you’ve got some competition…
This is a picture of “dried” fish in the market. Due to the, shall we say, “generous” sanitary requirements of the Liberian meat industry, half-dried, half-rotten fish doesn’t raise any eyebrows. It tastes strangely like bad pork.
One frustrating aspect of our time in Liberia was that we were always treated like royalty. This is a photo of our friend John McIntosh speaking to a group of high school students in Buchanan. You can just see Tory up there at the front, hoping she won’t be expected to say anything. As it turns out, we were, but I covered for her.
Coconut is everywhere in Liberia, and it’s not a big deal for 6-year-olds to climb 40-foot trees to collect them for us. The water inside is slightly sweet, and the flesh is so creamy and delicious. Amazingly, cultures have shown coconut water to be 100% sterile, and it was used for emergency IV drips in WWII when proper glucose solutions weren’t available!
For those of you who haven’t heard, Tory got malaria in Liberia. She says they were literally the worst days of her entire life, and with good reason. Tory went to school with Joel, who grew up in Ghana, a few countries over from Liberia. We told him Tory had malaria, and he sort of scoffed. We asked him if he ever had it. He did. Three or four times a year for about 10 years. We felt wimpy. Below, if you look closely, ants are feasting on a tiny hole in Tory’s glucose drip in the clinic where she was diagnosed. If you want to see a really unflattering but amazing picture of Tory in the clinic, email me.
So here’s the big joke: anti-malarials don’t necessarily prevent you from getting malaria. Tory and I took doxycycline, which the CDC clearly recommends for quinine-resistant malaria. Due to what we though was immunity from the disease, we didn’t bother with a mosquito net. Mistake. Below, our post-malaria militant attention to tucking in the mosquito night when underneath.
The meat pan below is very convertible.
Tory took this photo for a “home-making” post that never happened. This is where were lived for the first month of Liberia, with Thelma Allen and Morlu. It’s a really nice house by Liberian standards, but since the war destroyed nearly all infrastructure, now lacks electricity or running water. However, note the fan on the right. Thelma would kindly run a generator for us a few hours each evening so we could fall asleep in the oppressive heat. Tory and I are now “bucket bathing” masters.
Tory at the beach in Buchanan. The waves were stinkin’ huge.
A rather artful display of various grains, beans, and rice at the market. Excellent use of post-war rubble!
John McIntosh stares down our new rooster. A village John works with in Bomi county gave us this rooster to thank us for visiting.
In Liberia they celebrate “Decoration Day,” where family members to go the cemetery to clean and decorate relatives’ graves. Thelma (in pink hat) has paid two guys to whitewash her husband’s tomb and repaint the inscription. Tory is trying (unsuccessfully) to blend in.
That’s it! Obviously I’ve got a million more photos that some day will end up on Flickr, but for the time being these will have to suffice. Stay tuned for Honduras… (some day).
Posted by christolles | Filed under Liberia
On the day we left Norway, the temperature was about 20ºF. When we arrived in Liberia around 11PM, it was 92ºF. The temperature has not changed since. Remember back in Science class when the teacher explained that the sun is most powerful at the equator because that’s where you are most physically close to the sun? It’s true!
Despite the sun’s best efforts to vaporize us, Tory and I have been having an exciting time in Liberia. This country suffered horribly during the 1990-2005 civil war, and the wanton destruction of property during that period has offered a unique challenge to those involved in rebuilding. I’m in Liberia to learn how humanitarian shelter work has adapted to this particular climate and culture. So far, I’ve been spending time with staff from the Norwegian Refugee Council, whom I was collaborating with in Norway until recently. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet other organizations working in Liberia, such as Everyday Ghandis, Architecture for Humanity, and Stop Firestone.
One must drive carefully! Below is the interior of a semi-permanent school built by NRC. The foundation and roof and designed to be upgradable if the need arises in the future. Just add permanent walls (plastered mud-brick), a ceiling, and you’re good to go.
Below is Sumo (real name), one of NRC’s construction managers. He’s standing in front of the pump all NGO is Liberia currently use. The standard British pump NRC used to use cost US$3000. The German pump, $1300. The new Indian standard? $350, people, and spare parts available on the open market. Wow. NRC now provides training to beneficiary communities so they can fix their own pumps when something goes wrong.
You may also notice I’ve updated Where Are We Now?, the site banner, and turned off those ridiculous snowflakes. It doesn’t snow in Liberia!
As a send off, please be entertained by the map below. As I’ve inserted it into this post, you can see satellite imagery of Monrovia is all it’s dusty quasi-urban glory. As Tory and I have traveled around, Google Maps has been absolutely indispensable for directions, public transportation, and finding new friends’ addresses. No longer. Click “Map” in the upper right of the map below to see what I mean…
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