Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Our Ten Most Valuable Little Things

I think one of the most common themes I’ve hit on in this blog is that life is not nearly as easy in Liberia as it is in America. I’ve referenced more than once the climate, the cost of living, and the limited availability of stuff we think we need. But we have made a life here, and we have made it more than tolerable, thanks in part to what we brought with us and can find in Monrovia. So I’ve come up with a list—“The 10 Little Things that Have Made the Most Difference in Our Liberian Lives.” These are the small items that have turned out to be big deals in the struggle to maintain perspective in an often surreal and uncomfortable place.

10 The Inverters—Without these little guys, we would have no power during the day to run a few electronics, most especially our laptops, CD player and battery chargers. They invert the DC power from our solar panels into AC. We brought a bigger, more expensive unit when we came to power the whole house, but the corrosive climate put it out of commission in 10 months. Happily, we have been able to make do with these smaller, less expensive units in a couple rooms. We use them every day.

9 Our First Aid bag—We go through lots of band aids, bandages, ointments and even antibiotic medicine. Without it, some of the kids around here— the Reeds too- would need to go to the hospital to deal with cuts, infestations and sores that otherwise all too easy turn nasty. We use it almost every day.

8 Popcorn—We need it. We pop it four nights a week while we watch a DVD movie or show. Its cheap and easy to get in Monrovia compared to other snacks. (Potato chips, for instance, might cost $3.00 for a 5 oz. bag while we can feed all four of us popcorn for about fifty cents.) I think we might go crazy without being able to crunch regularly.

7 Epoxy—We’ve used this stuff to affix everything from razor wire to mirrors and to repair everything from our cracked solar batteries to our ceramic bowls. We use it as needed, every couple of weeks.

6 Shower bags—This would be even higher if we figured out a way to increase the flow pressure, but as is, being able to take even a dribbling shower is something we certainly took for granted in the States. Without shower bags, we’d have to use cups of water poured overhead, wash, then pour another cup or three to rinse. We would end up using far more water that way, and its just not the same as a shower. Multiple uses a day.

5 Flashlights—Once the sun goes down, we get three hours of electricity from the generator, then its lights out until morning. Flashlights are simply the only way to see. We have the new LED type, which draw far less energy and last longer. We also use a 3,000,000 candle flood to light up the whole yard and scare away potential bad guys. Used every night by all of us.

4 Batteries— We’ve become semi-experts in the world of DC power, amps, voltage and batteries. Without batteries, not much would work around here—we run our refrigerator, fans, some lights, our music and daytime electronics from our big solar batteries, but also we use small rechargeable nickel metal hydride and even disposable batteries. We are charging and using all day every day.

3 Giant Ziploc bags/Zorb it— Electronics are just at the mercy of Liberia’s humidity and ocean air. Nothing electronic survives long left in the air. So every night, everything electronic we use that can fit—laptops, inverters, camera—go into bags. In each bag we put a product called Zorb-it, which is a high tech desiccant that does not need to be replaced. These two products have saved us thousands of dollars. Used every day.

2 Our front porch/yard—We are on the porch throughout the day, but certainly every morning around 7:00 we sit together with our coffee and plan the day, and every evening around 5:30 take our plastic chairs into the yard and catch a sea breeze while the boys play around us and Enoch chats with us from his tree perch. It is a ritual that has sustained us and centered us through our stay.

1 The DC Fans—I would not be in Liberia without these fans. None of us would. Because they run off our solar batteries, the fans can run virtually 24 hours a day, and we absolutely would not be willing to swelter in 85F heat with high humidity every night in the dry season without some relief. This house is not built for air conditioning—levered windows cannot be closed tight—and we could not afford the cost of air conditioning anyway. We could not even afford running regular AC fans all night. But the DC fans on a hot dripping body are just enough—and because these little Amish made wonders have made our stay here possible, they earn the number one spot as “The Little Thing that Makes the Most Difference” to our life in Liberia. Used all day, every day and all night, every honkin' night.


Anonymous said...

Even for me, an American who has lived in Liberia for years, the list is very good and helpful. I have been meaning to get the Zorb it - my camera lenses keep getting fungus....thanks for the info....the plastic bags are good - i was using containers and that was not going well.

Sharon said...

I love your perspective - it is the "little" things that make a big difference!