Posted by: sean | February 11, 2009

A Quality Worth Licking

Liberia is hot, shaded with palm trees, and has breathtaking beaches. If ever there was a place meant to be ground zero for ice cream consumption, Liberia would be it. Liberians should be hapless, obese diabetics, waddling hourly to the corner ice cream stand, wheezing and gesturing at a picture to indicate how many scoops they want to tower on their next cone. Alas, this is not the case. A handful of restaurants catering to foreigners or the Liberian middle-class serve frozen soft serve or a gloppy substance resembling play dough. On the streets one company dominates the Liberian ice cream market, Quench Your Thirst International. Vendors roam the streets with wooden wheelbarrows selling ice cream that is cheap, but not very creamful. Foreigners have maybe one or two experiences with Quench Your Thirst International, then shrug and write off Liberian ice cream.

“Have you guys heard of Sharks?” My colleague Jeff was in the office, up from Harper for a conference. We hadn’t heard. “I was coming back from the airport and this guy was selling ice cream on the street, it was really good! I asked him if he was with Quench Your Thirst International, he said no and smiled proudly ‘I’m with Sharks’”. That was how it began. Though no one realized it at the time, Jeff had found the elixir of life.

Weeks passed and I saw no signs of Sharks on the street. One day I was checking out John’s blog (Jeff had told him about Sharks) and lo and behold, John had recently found the location of its headquarters and had done a review. I was skeptical and joked that John was in the pocket of Big Ice Cream. I mean, seriously, how could Liberian ice cream be THAT good?

“No, it is amazing!” John defended Sharks and was adamant that I had to check it out and judge for myself. One night after Monrovia Trivia Night (Some friends and I started a trivia night on Thursdays that had a good following for some months, before the quality dipped and people got too busy to come every week), John gathered a group of people and we headed, in convoy, to Sharks. From the outside the only impressive thing about the building was its jaw-dropping, incredible slogan – Sharks: A Quality Worth Licking. And, dear god, I had never licked quality worth more. The ice cream was rich and thick, full of richy thickness and tasting richful (there’s a reason I’m not a food critic).

sharks1

The vanilla in particular was incredible. Recounting the experience to some friends later, my boss raised his arms, “Now, I’ll say this, not only is the vanilla ice cream good…it is world class, maybe the best vanilla I’ve had.” It was a bold statement. And true.

After our first few visits (so, a couple days later), I realized that we had a problem on our hands. I told those assembled I feared that if word got out about Sharks, the prices would sky rocket, we’d have to wait in line, and the quality would suffer as demand increased. We were going to lose our baby, our happy place, all because we were so proud of it. From then on, I staunchly believed that Sharks should remain a buried treasure.

My friends were giddy with Sharks and missed no opportunity to proselytize. John rented a Sharks vending cart and dressed for Halloween as a Sharks vendor, rolling into the party and scooping out ice cream. I became the village crazy waving my arms at the town meeting to tell the townspeople that if they did not change their ways, the country trolls would descend on the village and steal the children. Except that I was making sense. Sweet, mouth-watering, vanilla-ey, scoopy sense.

I decided to be a model for my message. No matter how much I wanted to shout from the rooftops about Sharks, I refrained as much as I could. I shared its secrets with people in town for the week – people who would soon be gone. I sat down many times to write about Sharks for this blog, but decided not to trumpet its glory. If people asked me where Sharks was located, I would gesture, over there, near Spriggs airport, it’s really hard to find. But there was something special about introducing people to Sharks. John no doubt felt it when he took us in his first convoy. Sharing Sharks with first-timers somehow made the ice cream taste better. You could watch their face light up as their initial skepticism gave way to the exclamations. Hot damn! Eventually, I let down my guard and decided to introduce a few people to Sharks.

One day in November, I received a call from John. “Sean, you’re not going to believe this. Guess what!” I was ready for epic news. “I’m on Broad Street and they opened up a second Sharks. Two Sharks! I’m going in right. now.” Broad Street is the main street downtown and the fact that Sharks had opened a second front signaled just how popular it was becoming. In five years, the ma and pa owners of the original Sharks would no doubt be forced out of control by a powerful, soulless board shortly after the company went public. I wanted to remain true to the original Sharks, but it was also impossible to resist the allure of the ‘second location’. What would it look like? Would they have new flavors? Would the quality be even more worth licking? I had to know.

That week my friend Kate was in town and staying at my house. She had left Liberia a few months earlier and was returning on her way to Cote D’Ivoire to write the Lonely Planet guide for the country. On Sunday, it was hot outside and my mouth was dry. I knew what had to be done. I turned to Kate. Do you want to have the best ice cream you will ever have? She did. So we walked to Broad Street and found the second Sharks and it was glorious and I watched her face light up with joy. I had given her the gift of Sharks.

In November and December, I kept a respectable ice cream schedule. I was happy to see that the increasing popularity of Sharks still hadn’t made the owners realize that they could up the profit-defying low prices. Despite the second store, Sharks remained a relative hidden treasure; foreigners who had written off Quench Your Thirst International had little initiative to try another Liberian ice cream parlor. The fools. But I was happy that they were so foolish.

I flew Brussels Airlines to Europe in December, the only airline that flies direct from Liberia to Europe. My flight left the Friday before Christmas, and the airport was packed with yuletide joy. And by yuletide joy, I mean everyone was getting sloshed at the airport bar. I have never been on a flight before where the queue for the bathroom jammed the aisles moments after the pilot turned off the fasten seat belt sign. Waiting my turn, I reached into the seat pocket in front of me and pulled out a copy of the Brussels Airlines magazine. I had heard that a review of Things To Do in Monrovia included a reference to the Trivia Night we had started. It was indeed there and I decided to snag a copy of the magazine for the scrapbook on my return flight.

One month later, I was back on the plane to Liberia, where I would soon be even further from the Most Miserable Girl in the World. I was parked next to a drunk Yorkshireman who funneled beers (even getting up to track down the stewardess on several occasions to get more beer) and became increasingly impossible to understand. I remembered to snag a copy of the Brussels Airlines magazine as a memento of the glory days of trivia night, but was surprised to find that the magazine in front of me was a new issue. I flipped to the Monrovia page to see if trivia night was still mentioned, it wasn’t. But then I saw this:

air-brussels1

“Their homemade vanilla ice cream tastes divine.” My heart sank. First, because ‘divine’ was a better description than the ice cream tasting ‘full of richy thickness’. Second, because the days of line-free, low-price Sharks are now numbered. There will be an Ice Cream Rush. 09ers will set up shacks around Sharks, sifting through flavors hoping to strike a rich taste. With student loans and a juice machine to operate at home, I won’t be able to compete for scoops with them.

I haven’t visited Sharks since I’ve come back from vacation. I’m nervous. Perhaps it will be the same. Perhaps it will be a Coldstone Creamery.

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Responses

  1. ah the simple pleasures in life…..

  2. Hey man,

    I am originally from Liberia and came across your blog from John’s and really enjoy reading you guys’ blogs. Especially when I am bold and my databases are running just fine. I am awaiting your next entry about Liberia and tell me more about SHARK. As a Liberian, I enjoyed SHARK and when I tell Chris (wife) about this, she will be like OOH:) I remember taking Chris over to SHARK and since then, she is still my wife.

    Have fun and still save.

    Albert Zaza

  3. sorry-o

  4. Yo, I am up from Harper for another, er, conference and I have spotted another ice cream trolley man from a place called Purple Rain. But I have not located the headquarters yet. Also, John and I were in Lofa and a far inferior outfit calling itself Mother Courage is sending trolleyman out on the streets. Don’t waste your time.


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