by Farzana Rasheed
I've taken up another day job these days at an international NGO (the last time was with Mercy Corps Liberia in 2015). I was recently away to an induction and training trip to the UK and, Haresh, the head of operations at NATC, also joined me for the last few days.
Although I've lived in Liberia for so long, coming back to Monrovia can be culture shock or an emotional shock. Coming back from a highly developed country where infrastructure is very good can make one feel very inadequate. Likewise, when one goes to a place where consumerism is entrenched and reinforced everywhere, one feels like a kid in a candy shop in a more developed place. And, of course, leaving one's family and friends behind to come back to one's life in Monrovia can have an emotional impact, too.
This time around, after being away from Monrovia for about a month, I came back to an apartment where LEC was out for weeks and our back up generator had also failed. So, the family spent the night in a hotel on the first night back because it was asking too much to sleep in heat and mosquitos, coming from cold London where it was still required to wear a light sweater.
The LEC did not come back on for weeks afterwards!
Meanwhile, the generator was repaired the next day and we were able to move back to the apartment the next day.
Towards the end of the first day back (4 May) when I thought I would finally be able to relax at home, start unpacking and so on, we were faced with an unbelievable disaster! One of our technicians rammed our office car into 2 parked cars on Randall Street while reversing. A passenger was still seated in one car which he collided into. The damage to one of the cars was pretty significant: the door was dented, it looks like a crushed aluminium can.
How and why someone who does not know how to drive well decided to drive to take home a few small bags which are normally carried by hand at the urging of the office manager is what makes the disaster so frustrating. I had asked one of the staff at the office to take home some hand bags (which I had at the hotel the previous night). Normally, the bags are taken home by hand as we only live a couple of minutes away. In fact, I had walked home only to hear the news the car had had an accident. The office manager had asked the technician to drive and take the bags home. She took the keys from Haresh's desk (without his knowledge) and, as the technician was reversing from the drive way, he struck 2 cars. He must have hit the accelerator full on because the impact was so hard.
There was a terrific commotion of course and our car was taken away by the police. Thankfully, we managed to not have our technician (who is non-Liberian) taken away. It turned out that our car hit Monroe Chicken's vehicle (he was quite understanding) and a vehicle owned by a member of the Cooper clan. The lady in the vehicle who was sitting in the car when the collision happened did not get hurt but a little shook up.
The next couple of weeks were excruciatingly stressful, all handled by Haresh, of course. The wounded party was extremely difficult to deal with. The owner of the car (who later we learned was not the actual owner) demanded a vehicle rental every day (one that would cost us at least $ 80 or $ 100 per day). Haresh was also asked to pay for the medical fees for the lady's sister who was sitting in the car when the accident happened. Haresh got an estimate for the total repairs of the car but then changed strategy. He decided to make an offer for the purchase of the vehicle. Our NATC4 constantly needed repairs and, would probably give up any day. Haresh made a deal with the lady's husband who turned out to be someone we knew. The deal was made and the car was purchased. It took several days for our car to be released from the Police and then our 'new vehicle' to be turned over to us. Some more twists and turns took place, of course. We bought the car for $ 10,000. Although we got a brand new car, the purchase caused a serious dent in our cash flow, no pun intended.
What was the lesson here? Our staff should stick to the stated and simple rules. The car is to be driven only by the driver and the keys are turned over to Haresh every day. No one should pick up the keys without his permission. I asked my office assistant to take the bags home by hand. A mature man should not have driven the car if he is not used to automatic cars, does not have a driving license and is a foreigner. Despite these simple rules and instructions, our staff decided to act on its own and, used a rather foolish common sense. Thank God, no one was killed.
A couple of weeks later, our generator broke down again. LEC still had not been restored and our generator was being used every evening for more than 12 hours. On a Saturday, our generator was serviced. The generator was serviced by the mechanic