Monday, June 02, 2008

Let's Play "Livin' Liberian"

Some of you, intrepid souls that you are, have expressed an interest in experiencing life in Liberia, or Africa in general, but haven’t had the means or opportunity to do so. Some of you have said it would be good to have your family experience the reality of living in a developing country, in part to add perspective to life in North America.

After churning it over a bit in our minds, we think we may have come up with a way to create a Liberian experience in a non African context. We call it Livin’ Liberian. It is actually nothing more than applying the living conditions of most Liberians to a set of instructions for you to follow. For some of you, just reading about it may be all the “experience” you want to absorb. For others, you may want to try it with some modifications. But for those radical ones out there, you may want to do the whole thing.

The full version of Livin’ Liberian should take place in the hottest, most humid time of the year. It should last for a week to get a richer sense of it (although longer would be even better). However, even a day or two will work toward an understanding. Of course, there can really never be a full understanding, because we have the option of stopping-- of buying the food we want, of going to the bank, of driving a car, of having running water. Nevertheless, in place of the real thing, this could be meaningful.

You ready? Here we go. Remember, this is the full version. You may modify.

Most statistics say that Liberians live on one US dollar per day per person. We’ll assume you live close to Monrovia. So, put aside $28 for the week to live on, assuming a family of four. If you need more, you will have to ask other people to loan you money, but not more than $1.00 at a time. (NOTE: In North America, some prices will be higher for some items than here. For instance, rice for a family of four may cost $.80 in Liberia, and perhaps $1.20 in NA. Go ahead and buy the food you need, but subtract the amounts listed below from your $1/day/person in your household. Remember, you will have to juggle and make tough choices if you want to eat and get to town and use a phone and use the internet and…)

Turn off the running water in your house. If you don’t do this, you will use the tap or flush the toilet without even thinking. Place a large, clean barrel, cooler, clean garbage pail, or something that can hold 20 gallons of water in one bathroom in your house and a larger receptacle your kitchen. Make an arrangement with a neighbor about a half a block away to buy water from them by the bucket. You can use their hose outside their house instead of drawing or pumping the water. The cost should be about $.05 per bucket. Water is usually drawn twice a day, although we draw it once per day and just do more at that time. You’ll have to carry the buckets of water back to your house and fill the barrels in your bathroom and kitchen. Boil it before drinking. You can cook and wash with it as is. (For an authentic experience, mix a little dirt in the water; most Liberians and Africans do not have clean water and you never really feel clean even after a shower.)

Unplug all your appliances, including refrigerator, lamps, stove (If gas, turn it off), fans, air conditioning (if central air, turn the thermostat off), clocks—anything that uses electricity. For light, use candles-- you can buy them for $.15 each. For cooking and food storage, see below. For relief from the heat, get used to it and pray for the rainy season.

If you have read our blog, you have seen typical Liberian food and have found recipes for various dishes. As a temporary Liberian, you will eat rice every day-- and love it-- for the two meals you eat (breakfast and dinner; it is usually only cooked once in a day, so either the breakfast is leftover or the dinner is leftover, depending on the you). The rice is served with a “soup” of some sort on top, with fish or dried meat boiled into the soup. The soup is often cooked from collard greens, squash, cabbage, or other vegetables that can boiled. Remember that you only have $3 per day and you have other expenses as well, so buy your food carefully. Some people just have bread for breakfast so you can opt for that if you prefer. Remember that you have no refrigerator or stove, so people often do their buying on a daily basis (they buy rice one time for the month, if they can afford it, and then the items for their soup daily, otherwise the rice is about $.15 a cup). Pots of rice and the soup should be cooked over coal, so if you have a grill, buy some charcoal and use that (don’t use propane—subtract $00.15 for coal for each meal. If you don’t have a grill, buy a cheap one that can last you for the week from the money that you will be saving on groceriesJ).

Bed Time
Sleep on the floor on a sleeping bag or foam mattress. Remember—candles only!

Toilet Duty
If you are one of the few Liberians with indoor plumbing fixtures, you will flush the toilet, by using a small bucket in the bigger barrel-- fill it with water, and dump it in the toilet and it will flush. If you are like the vast majority of Liberians, you do not have plumbing. Dig a hole in your back yard and use that as a latrine, with leaves for wiping. Not a very hygienic solution, we know, and it wouldn’t go over well in your city, but that’s what people do here, hence the many health issues like cholera.

Place a cup in your bucket of water, stand in your shower and dump it over your head. You will naturally use less water (either because it’s too cold or because you don’t want to draw too much water); we use about a gallon per day per person for a shower.

To wash your clothes, gather two big tubs and fill with water. Buy a bar of soap ($.10 here) and some bleach ($.10 – about two tablespoons). Wash by hand. Rinse. When you are done, spread on your lawn to dry (most people can’t afford to buy the rope or the clothespins to hang their clothes up.)

As you see everywhere in the world, the price of gas and diesel are high here as well - $4.05/gallon for gas; $4.70/gallon for diesel. But you will not be driving anyway— very few Liberians own one or can drive. But the prices have increased for public transportation here as well. Since you are earning $1/day/person in your household, we must assume you have a fulltime job. So, pay $.80 for transportation each way ($1.60 per day). In addition, the time spent to get a bus or a taxi can be hours both in the morning and the night. If you go anywhere this week, walk or take public transportation. Go to the bus stop and wait for one or two hours before getting on the bus to really get a feel of what it is like to move around in the city. You could also walk or you could rent a bicycle for $1.00 for the day. (You’ll only need to subtract the Liberian cost from your $1/day/person in household allowance. We know transportation in your town is higher.)

Most people do not have their own cell phone (there are no land lines), although that seems to be rapidly changing. For the sake of this experience, you may use your own phone but each call will cost $00.10 and should only last a few minutes. The good news is that it does not cost to receive calls here. So keep phone calls very short or call someone and tell them to call you back.

The cost for the use of the internet is $1.00 for thirty minutes. In addition, you need to take transportation to get there, so add an additional $.30 cents for that.

Summary List of Costs per week-- Budget wisely!
Rice (3-4 cups ) – $0.60, soup ($0.50), meat ($0.70) = $1.80/day x 7 days $12.60
Coal - .15/day x 7 days=$1.05
Water – 0.40/day (8 buckets/day x 7 days)=$2.80
Laundry (1 time per week)=$0.20
Candles – 1 @ 0.15 – 5 used in a week=$0.75
Transportation - $1.60/day for five days=$8.00
Phone – 5 calls @ $0.10 =$0.50
Internet – 1 use per week =$1.30

Although this may be tough for you to get through, the point to keep in mind is that hundreds of millions—perhaps multiple billions—of your fellow human beings do it every day for their entire lives. It gives one pause, does it not?

Hauling water-- they do it every day. The containers, called "gallons", actually 2.5 gallons, bigger ones hold 6 gallons.

Preparing cassava together.

Laundry day-- a main challenge is to keep the kids from stepping on it.

If your rubber boots tear, you may not throw them out and buy new-- you can't afford it. Find broken, discarded flip-flops, tear off the straps, and create a patch by melting the strap onto the rubber.

Hope you don't have any building to do this week, if so, you must make your own blocks.
And if your hut needs a new coat of mud, you gotta do that yourself too-- you can't afford a mud contractor.Hey, just be thankful you don't live in the bush on the other side of a broken road...

... during the rainy season.