Traveling around Ohio is slightly different

Liberia is about the size of Ohio. Let me assure the reader that it takes much longer to travel around Liberia than Ohio. I’ll take a small tangent at this point. The infrastructure here relates to the country’s post-conflict environment, evidenced by the deficiencies in infrastructure. Take roads. Many African nations have poor roads – this is true in Uganda and Liberia, less so in Rwanda. Whereas Uganda has a well-developed road network – albeit with many roads in dire need of update – Liberia has neither adequate roads to get around the country nor well-paved roads. Most African nations have taxi/motorbus/bus services to get around the country at locally affordable rates. Liberia has none – that really made an impression upon me. Not only is private transport expensive, it is often difficult to arrange timely. In order to get to the southeastern towns and villages in Liberia, one has to go on the road to Zwedru from Monrovia. This is completely out of the way, but no roads exist connecting Monrovia to other coastal towns of the southeast.

The drive was often beautiful. Amos, a TH driver, provided much entertainment. He is affectionately known as “the director of smiles.” Occasionally we’d see what I thought might be primary rainforest but mostly we saw secondary rainforest growth. Rubber trees are an important crop here, and we could easily see where they had been harvested and replanted from the road side. Less village/town activity appeared the closer we came to Zwedru. In one town, an impaled monkey sat atop a stick at the road check. At another road check, a live monkey attached to a rope hung out with market vendors. No other animals crossed our path. The bumps, the dust, the unpredictable events of the day kept my excitement up, but the womb-like lull of the bumps put me to sleep for a bit of the 10 hours. That is, of course, until a big bump threw me off the bench into the aisle of the back of the vehicle!

We passed a number of UN bases along the way organized by country. Bangladesh, India, others. Of the many sights and smells we came across two struck me: the river separating Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties and a gleaming, large Chinese-funded hospital under construction. I plan to take a picture of the river on the way back. To make a simplistic generalization, when China wants to exploit another country’s resources, it usually pays in part with road development and infrastructure improvements. China won’t staff the hospital, and most likely won’t supply it, but the building itself definitely contains potential for area people. Given the health worker shortage in Liberia, the hospital has a lot of work ahead of it once it is completed. I noticed one more thing of note: a church named the “Lovable Lutheran Church.” Those Liberian Lutherans – they’re so lovable.

Chinese hospital in Nimba county

We arrived late afternoon to Zwedru with a number of TH people awaiting our arrival. We met some of the security guards, some of whom I’ll write about in more details later. We settled and went into “town” with Ana and Kerry.

Zwedru has an interesting history. The home town of former president Samuel Doe, he paved some of the main roads in the town when running for president back in the 1980s. His abandoned palace, now inhabited by squatters, sits near the entrance of the town. Road lights dot the roadside, and there is even a water tower. A city of 20,000 some plus people, it has a small town feel. But only this town which appears as a town may be more similar to a village. There is no grid electricity in the town – only generators for those who have the luxury of having one. There is no running water in the entire town. Not only no running water, one cannot buy bottled water here either. Well water or bust. But let me tell you what we can – and did – get: pizza.

One of the only 3 bar/restaurants in town – Florida – recently started serving pizza recently. And it is decent. So Ana, Kerry, Roona, and I headed there for informal orientation over pizza and drinks. Ana ran into a woman, who I will call “Dee” for the sake of privacy, that she met when she was here in January. Dee offered hilarious company for a little bit during dinner. Her story is interesting. She came to the US with her family during Liberia’s civil war. She’s hopped around a number of US cities. And hopped into a bit of trouble as well. She ended up in jail a number of times for crimes related to sex work, drug use/dealing, and other things. She stood out among local Liberians, mainly for her American English (versus Liberian English), her level of gregariousness, and because she was well-nourished (not overweight, but not as skinny as most Liberian women are). Dee didn’t really meet any stereotypes I could have thought up about a deported Liberian national from the U.S. She told us how she’s moved on, about her boyfriend on the flight of deported people, her business aspirations, and a little bit about her religious beliefs. I found out that she lived in Chicago in a pretty rough Westside neighborhood. Her father is ill and in Evanston, IL so I intend to bring back a letter from her to him. She also gave Ana a phone to give me since my mobile phone wasn’t working. Not something I was expecting, a mobile phone to borrow from a deported Liberian woman from Chicago who is now in rural Liberia. (The phone ended up not working either, but the gesture was very gracious.)

Roona and I went back to the guesthouse and got ready to call it a night. Until las cucarachas. The cockroaches. Yes, they are big and plentiful. In terms of yuck factor, mine was the lowest among Raj and Roona. It is not because I’m tough – it is just that they were in my otherwise very clean Ugandan apartment, and I just had to get used to them. Even the occasion when a large one crawled on my neck while I was on the phone, I was surprisingly calm. (Subsequently I ended its life and it was my Facebook profile picture for a while back in 2008.) All this brings me to the TH guesthouse…

(More pictures to be posted when I come across better bandwidth.)

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