I entered the convent.

Less by choice and more by necessity. It is the only place that will have me. Or rather the only place I can afford. So, for this week, I’m staying at the St. Theresa convent. Sparse digs but pretty clean and affordable ($20 a room…split between me and BushDiva) with two twin beds and not much else.

This is my first time venturing into Monrovia. I must admit, what I know of it so far, it is not my favorite city. Crowded and dirty as many cities are, it is also depressing. Again I am reminded of New Orleans, where poverty dances with opulence in the strangest ways.

We walked from the convent to a hotel with a restaurant. The few blocks are along a dirty pitted street that smells of urine, burning refuse, and burning cassava greens intermittently. The breeze never seems to shift enough to waft saltwater freshness to clear the air. Instead, snatches of the blue ocean dart in and out of view, hidden behind high walls with broken glass and razor wire tops and abandoned buildings with once colorful walls chipping and peeling.

The restaurant, of course, is built up. The outside seating terrace has an almost unbroken view of the ocean at just the right angle to catch the last of daylight as it slinks away behind a wash of clouds that eventually drench the entire city in a needed shower. But a few hours later and it the street still smells of urine. The street on one end houses the American embassy, in the middle holds MSF (Doctors Without Borders) and the Carter Center, and the other end…darkness.

Walking home at around 9pm, we were struck by the darkness. The few streetlights only heightened it as we walked away from them. People lingered in front of poorly lit buildings and languished on cars. The usual motorcycles revved past us – slowing occasionally to see if we were in search of a quick escape. Nearing the convent, the lights disappear completely. A man stepped out of the shadows, shaking himself free of urine before wandering off. A woman walked by me, almost grazing me, without every making eye contact or acknowledging my existence.

We were glad to be home.  Or rather…glad to be back to our respite for the night.

I haven’t decided if my feelings about Monrovia are because it is still new. Still a foreign place that has no meaning for me…no favorite spots to eat, no friendly faces or familiar routes. Time will tell me and I’m curious to see.

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