... and snails bigger than your fist.
On saturday morning, in a market directly across from the former army barracks on UN drive hundreds of vendors gather to sell fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, meat, fish, and a variety of other items. I went this morning with coworkers and couple Liberian friends to find produce and see what the local market had to offer.
There are a few men who trade American and Liberian dollars, but they typically offer a worse exchange rate than you would find elsewhere (maybe 50 LD to every USD). I saw a handful of men selling fish as well, but majority of those “behind the counter”, so to speak, were women of varying ages. The “uma” (an affectionate term for older ladies) are more than willing to offer advice on how to prepare the food. A coworker and I bought two dozen crawfish for 200 LD and were told that they were best if boiled and dropped into a peppery soup. The range of seafood is impressive - there are lots of snapper, what look like string ray (scuttlefish, maybe), and eel, among others. The meats are equally diverse - and at times, difficult to distinguish. Tens of people hurried through the market with trays of pigs feet and a range of chicken parts. I can’t vouch for when exactly the meat is chopped - I did see one pile of chicken wilting on a scale that had a greenish hue to it. In some case, there is still animal hair on the bones. Most notably, we passed a small stand of what I hope were monkey arms. Meats are available both fresh and dried. In preparing either form I was told to clean the meat and either fry it or boil it thoroughly before including it in any recipe.
The fruits are fantastic - more specifically, plantains may be a staple of my diet over the next few months. The grilled plantains and cassava (which tastes a bit like a potato grilled) off the side of the road that are delicious if cooked all the way through. I’ve seen fresh bananas consistently and pineapples and papayas the size of small watermelons. There are tiny eggplants, large squash, and greens of all kinds. I’m also looking forward to the freshly ground peanut butter which is mixed is a 10+ gallon bucket and spooned into small plastic bags for individual purchase (I’ve heard it’s best to bring your own bag). In short, I’m looking forward to experimenting with different dishes.
Outside of roadside stands and these downtown markets, the majority of commercial activity seems to be done by Lebanese companies though I’ve noticed a few Liberian brands on the shelf (I just purchase Mamie’s Peanut Butter, which is at least packed in Monrovia). There is a large Lebanese merchant population in Monrovia which owns a number of the more prominent apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants, office buildings (including a J-Mart), and grocery stores. Other West African countries have a solid presence as well, such as West African Telecom; as does the Danish shipping industry, Maersk. There are, of course, a myriad of oddities (french ice cream mix, for example) and the ubiquitous international brands, such as Coca Cola.
I think commerce in Monrovia is particularly dynamic because is serves two very distinct markets (local versus international) and has a vibrant supply chain - the size of the shipping industry keeps the ports actively complementing the already rich the natural resources.