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Genius Arrives in Liberia, West Africa!

July 5, 2021
AUTHOR: COLIN TAUFER

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Welcome to Liberia! This is a country of five million, located in West Africa.

In the photo above, you see my man Jay, our new friend Sammar, fearless Tim, and me, the author, at Kaldi’s Coffee in Monrovia, the nation’s capital and largest city. Jay, Tim, and I stopped there this morning. And, as is always the case in every place we go in Liberia, Jay ran into and introduced us to one of his friends. In this case, the friend was Sammar.

A lot happened between my flight out of Tampa and the three of us meeting Sammar in this cozy coffee and pastry shop.

My trip began two days earlier when I was dropped off at Tampa International Airport around noon on Saturday. It was me alone with a backpack full of food and entertainment and two suitcases, one very heavy and one very big. I was scheduled for a 2:15 departure.

Check-in was smooth enough… until the flashing red lights told the nice man at the check-in counter that I was going to Liberia. Proof of a negative COVID test, a yellow card showing proper immunizations, a passport, and a Liberian visa were all required to proceed.

Quick pass through security and to my gate. Whoosh! There I waited and waited and watched the storm outside the tall floor-to-ceiling airport windows. Four hours (!) later I boarded my flight scheduled for 2:15 at around 4:15. Chances of making the connecting flight in DC, very slim. As luck would have it, the flight from DC to Brussels was also very delayed, so I made this flight.

In DC, I met up with Tim, we boarded our cross-Atlantic flight, and seven hours later, we arrived in Brussels as the sun was rising.

My trip began two days earlier when I was dropped off at Tampa International Airport around noon on Saturday. It was me alone with a backpack full of food and entertainment and two suitcases, one very heavy and one very big. I was scheduled for a 2:15 departure.

We found our way to Starbucks, caught up, and drank tasty teas.

The next flight, which also ended up leaving late, was the Brussels-Freetown, Sierra Leone-Monrovia, Liberia flight.

We flew over the Sahara for much of the flight.

And finally made it to the West African coast around sundown.

Our feet hit the Liberian runway (literally) at Roberts International Airport at around 8:00 pm local time. We were the only plane on the runway and the only passengers who had to make their way through the six-step arrival process through their one gate in their little airport:

(Stand in long line and wait)

1. Contact tracing verified with our Liberia Travel app

(Stand in long line and wait)

2. $75 payment made for an instant COVID test

(Stand in long line and wait)

3. COVID test stuck up your nose

(Stand in long line and wait)

4. Baggage gathered – or not

(Stand in long line and wait)

5. COVID results declared – on a megaphone so everyone can hear

(Stand in long line and wait)

6) Declaration form collected

(Stand in long line and leave)

We didn’t leave the airport until 11:00 pm because each of these six steps included standing in lines for a really, really long time. It goes without saying that the entire process was the exact opposite of streamlined.

Highlights (lowlights?):

All the chairs in the new Roberts International — opened in 2019, thank you, China! — have the Liberian crest molded into them. They come in the three colors of the Liberian flag, red, white, and blue.

If I worked at Roberts Field, I would want this guy’s job! He collected the $75 for the COVID tests for the hundreds of passengers filing past. There he sat at his school desk wearing his skinny jeans, Chuck Taylor shoes with white stars, and Michael Jordan t-shirt. He couldn’t have been more than 25 years old. He collected the cash and tossed it into the school desk cubby. When the bills started spilling out, he gathered them all and stacked them into a massive roll of cash. The guy behind the glass looked over your passport and collected your money. Then he handed the passport back to the traveler and handed the cash to skinny jeans who was OUTSIDE of the glass.

By the way, step #4 above, baggage gathered, did not go as planned for me. Let’s just say, as I type this blog late Monday night, I am wearing the same clothes I was wearing when I walked into Tampa International on Saturday. Shorts, t-shirt, hoodie, sandals.

Shortly after 11:00 pm, Tim and I followed Jay out the front doors of the airport and into a big white van that was there to take us to our hotel. For reasons we never fully understood but fully appreciated, our van was the fourth in a caravan of vehicles. Jay was driving the lead car, we brought up the rear, every vehicle flashed their emergency lights over the dark Liberian roads. We certainly felt safe. From what, we’ll never know.

Thirty-two hours after closing the front door of my Clearwater home behind me, I opened the door to my RLJ hotel room. Happy Fourth of July!

~

Monday, July 5

After Jay, Tim, and I ate breakfast at RLJ, we jumped into his car and headed for the city, downtown Monrovia. I could write page after page about the heart-stopping, thrilling adventure that is the Monrovian driving experience. I’ll simply highlight the brash and daring driving of Jay. The roads are lawless, crazy, and packed with all manner of travelers on all sorts of wheeled vehicles. Honking and yelling are expected. There is no such thing as being too close. Two highlights.

First, Jay driving us into the heart of a neighborhood crammed with people and cars and taxis and vendors and garbage and everything for sale and more people, people, people. After telling us to lock our doors, and reminding us again minutes later, we ended up stuck in traffic surrounded by humanity. “This wasn’t a good idea,” declared Jay. He was, for the first time I’ve ever seen, a touch nervous.

Second, we were pulled over by a pair of motorcycle police riding tandem on one bike. One was a woman, the other a man. Jay said we were a perfect target because two of us were clearly not from Liberia. Here, Jay was at his finest. We discovered we had violated a masking rule for not being masked in the car. The word “jail” seemed to fly out of the hard-to-follow conversation Jay was ramping up with them.

Jay was indignant and let them know it. He got out of the car and proceeded to give them a tongue-lashing that they will never forget. And, knowing Jay, he probably changed the cops’ lives for the better with his words. How dare they use their uniforms in such an undignified way. How could they be so selective. What policy could they show him that we had violated. What would their commander think of what they did? After it was clear they knew who was now in control of the matter, Jay slipped a few Liberian dollars and sent them on their way.

Here’s a photo of the roadside lesson in civics, humility, and honesty being taught by Professor Jay Yarsiah, esquire.

Goodnight from the RLJ hotel.

Tomorrow, July 6, our first of three literacy and genius workshops starts at 9:00. I’ll be presenting in my Tim Bowles fashion collection from head to toe.

Author: Colin Taufer

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