Thursday, November 19, 2009

HRUSA Blogs from Liberia, Day 3: Opinions, Copyright, and Oil Rice in Monrovia.

We continued making good progress on the case today and arrangements for travel in December. I’ll be meeting with more clients tomorrow and continuing to gather documentation from facilities in Monrovia. I can focus more on that progress in a later blog - for now, I’d like to answer some of the questions I’ve received about impressions of the country here and about the food. While I can speak from (limited) personal experience as to the latter, I’ll simply share the opinions of others who have been here longer on the former.

There’s something fun about an expat community where everyone shares a bond of coming from another country and exploring the same new one. Similar to the quote about learning another language to truly understand your own, I think it is when you see life in another country that you begin to understand your own…. And, at the same time, you may see things in a new country that those who were raised there don’t. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people who live here or visit regularly - including a fun family of missionaries, Embassy employees, NGO employees, visiting doctors and academics. (I'll share interesting things I've learned from locals in a later blog.) And, not surprisingly I suppose, there are as many opinions as people. Many note marked improvement since 2006, when President Sirleaf took office. Some look at particular issues and say the administration isn’t doing enough. For example, some lament the relative lack of programs for child soldiers, while others argue resources are too limited and the child soldiers who survived shouldn’t get the resources that could go to the next generation of children who need to be in school. Schools, by the way, are not free in Monrovia and, if you can believe it, children can be turned away despite paying tuition if they don’t arrive in the proper uniform, down to the right shoes. (Ok, I must interject my own opinion here: While I see a benefit in requiring clean, respectful clothing, I have a hard time thinking about children being denied the opportunity to learn for not having the right shoes in a country where some have none at all.) Some here say that while many “talk the talk” of a religious life, they don’t live the teachings of their respective churches, which others collaborate from a more secular perspective saying that no one cares about the person next to them. Some see consistent, gradual progress while others lament the amount of money that is siphoned out of the reconstruction process by corruption and greed. Many question what will happen surrounding the 2011 presidential elections - will Sirleaf run again? Will the football star who lost last time have enough sway this time with young voters? (Which makes a huge difference in a country where around half of the population is under 18.) Will peace continue to grow or will some event be the catalyst for more fighting? Right now most have questions and not answers, but the vast majority of those with whom I’ve spoken have hope for a stable, peaceful country .

And on the legal side of things, here’s an interesting read about the status of the laws in Liberia - in short, determining the relevant laws damages is not as easy as finding good search terms on Westlaw. Word on the street is that President Sirleaf would like to address this issue but already has a considerable amount on her plate. Some would like to see the laws widely distributed, such that Banks has to either accept their distribution or bring suit - and have this matter settled once and for all.

On a happier note, there are groups that are generously furthering the availability of legal texts (and books in general) in Liberia. For example, Books for Africa has provided an entire “law module” to the law school here. In a country without publishing houses, bringing in books is critical. I encourage any law students reading this to consider an alternative to selling back those horribly large texts for a few cents on the dollar. Fore more info, click here. (You can mail domestically via media mail to Minnesota.)

Lastly, to answer questions about food: We made great progress on the case today and, to celebrate, “R” and I had a proper lunch (which was around $5 USD) - where I learned another Liberian expression. I’d ordered fufu, a dumpling-type bread made from cassava and was excited to try it. (see: - I’ll note that my peanut soup had a more generous serving of meat and fish) But then the server returned and said, “Fufu finish.” There was a pause for me to process this - I hadn’t finished my fufu, since I hadn’t gotten it yet…and then I realized, finish = out. They were out of fufu! Sigh. I had the peanut soup and rice instead which was spicy and delicious - and happily I have several other days to try some fufu. Rice is a common part of meals here and, when served without a soup, is called “dry rice.” As opposed to “oil rice” which, with a Liberian accent, sounds a bit like “allright.” So when someone asks you how you are doing (“how da body?”), they might ask if you are “dry rice or oil rice.” I’m looking forward to asking my clients tomorrow if they dry rice or oil rice.

More on legal progress, culinary adventures and other matters tomorrow…Hope you readers are all oil rice!

Check back in regularly for updates from Piper as she's in the field. Also - be sure to mark your calendars for November 30th at 4pm, when Piper will host a conference call to talk about her trip to Liberia and the upcoming trial against Chuckie Taylor. Be sure to post any questions you have for Piper in advance!

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