Friday, February 24, 2006

Kitten birth in my room

Bravo Zero already nursing Bravos One, Two and Three. (Bravo four yet to be born.)
Buchanan, Liberia
February 24, 2006 (Bloody early in the morning)

I was awoken four times last night to squeaks emanating from my cupboard, where I had hopefully installed a birthing nest for Bravo Zero. I understood it is traditional for cats to disdain designated nests but B.Z. had very few comfy options. The "Beck's Feline Obstetrics Ward" is a happy place. Friend Katherine is bringing milk (not available in Buchanan) later today - and to select her kitten. Another will be employed, like Zero on snake detection and rat deterrence duties - probably deployed to the office. That leaves two more currently unallocated.

Rat deterrence is critical because of the risk in this region of Lassa Fever - transmitted by rats and potentially deadly. Two people have recently died of Lassa Fever in Tubmansberg. We are instructing Bravo Zero and her offspring to implement a Zero Rat Tolerance policy.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Miss Ellen's inauguration speech

Andrew Martin, Merlin Project Coordinator for Harper, Liberia
Buchanan, Liberia, January 22, 2006

As my dear friend Betsy sweetly suggested, I should report my views of the recent presidential inauguration here in Liberia and the even more recent Canadian general election.

OK, as has been very widely reported, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was inaugurated on January 16 here in Liberia as Africa's first female head of state. Here is her
inauguration speech. My manager, Sophia, was at the ceremony in Monrovia but I just listened to the speech on the radio. I don't know a lot about Ms Ellen or the politics so I'll only write about my own impressions.

First, she spoke very charismatically. She made a lot of good promises and I don't think she would have done so without knowledge of international support.

The international press made so much about her being female (and Africa's first female head of state). I never heard any Liberian mentioning this. They compared her education (Harvard) to that of her rival's (Grade 11) and her experience (World Bank) to her rival's (football) but her gender never seemed to come up. Liberia has many very serious gender issues (such as tolerance of gender violence) but simple participation in social roles seems less of an issue here than in any other country I've lived in. (Perhaps it is equaled by Eritrea.)

Ms Ellen might have displayed a slip of judgment the other day. We heard that she had walked into the Ministry of Finance and sacked everybody, encouraging them to reapply for their jobs in a new corruption-free replacement ministry. The next day it was 'clarified' that only the top 14 bureaucrats had been dismissed. I think people may question the change of approach as much as the admirable goal. Time will tell.

I don't have much to say either about the Canadian election. I didn't vote because I couldn't. I did vote in 2003 from Kabul but it wasn't possible here. (I have checked the results in my own riding and confirmed that if I'd been able to vote I would have changed my life-time 100% record of never voting for a winner.)

I can't feel very sorry for the departure of the Liberals. We New Democrats like to say that 'Liberals are Tories too' but I'm not sure that the Conservatives (who now lead their own minority government) won't be less corrupt. I am waiting to learn how the opposition parties will align themselves. Minority governments can be very effective when there are interesting coalitions.

I was woken this morning by an excited group of Merlin drivers and guards who had found a deadly black snake in our office. They'd also (surprisingly quickly?) located a pair of snake killers who wanted $10 to do the deed. I authorized the contract immediately and they went in to the office to do their work. A minute later the guards ran out of the office screaming (I assure you I hadn't gone in) - something had gone slightly wrong. But there were more whacking noises and then they brought the snake out on a stick - head flattened but tail still wriggling.

Sorry my picture is a bit blurred - it was taken from behind the safety of a LandCruiser.

The snake had had a nest behind a bookshelf about a metre from where my colleague Ruphine sits. She's at church now but won't be happy when we tell her.
Here's the snake's current resting place:

I'd been blocking out all thoughts of snakes as a self-protective measure. Now I'll be worrying about whether to poke behind furniture or carry on in denial. (And I'll be researching snake deterrence - the guards are talking about sprinkling gasoline on our floors?)