Liberia Impressions: We Aren’t in Ghana Anymore

I definitely like Liberia better than Ghana.

First and foremostly, the air is cleaner – no fishy, diesel, sewage smell from the port. No dust or grit. No black dust fallout from ship exhaust on the deck everywhere. Just clean air. There’s a constant, nice breeze from the seaward coming to us at the port. Its a green, lush place with green bladed grass growing in corners by walls, frogs chirping where there is water, and overcast, gray days.

And most of all, we have this amazing pier all to ourselves that we are docked in. Its secure and everyone uses it like an extension of the ship, its porch, front stoop or front yard. Kids play and ride bikes, people sit out and talk, others stroll, or walk, or run. The sunsets are wonderful here and the sunlight lasts a full hour later so we have that extra time after dinner to get some excercise or outdoor time. We play soccer or volleball with UN troops from Nepal or Bangladesh, who are based next to us at the port. We walk to their grounds after dinner, just like a small town and play.

The road we walk down alot in evenings
The weather here is hot and humid, hot like it is at home in DC in the summer. It actually rains and we have thunderstorms, too. There are swallows that dart and play around our pier each evening. and later on, as the light is fading, large bats come from the mainland area and head due north, no doubt in search of happy hunting. There are doves and even a few songbirds that perch on the razor wire atop the walled road we walk down.
playing soccer at UN field with Nepalese troops

The city of Monrovia is rough shape, but not as bad as I thought it would be. All over, there are signs of people getting back to their normal lives. At the end of our access road to the port, you see people walking on the main road, bicycling, cars and trucks going by. Very ordinary and normal. Crew who were here a year ago say that the people here seem to be slowly losing their war fatigue: starting now to be convinced that the 20 years of civil war and unrest are finally over. Becoming optimistic and hopeful in rebuilding their nation. I hope so.

There is no electricity in Liberia. Think about that. None. When you see any lights, they come from generators. Americans fall into a panic when the power goes out for a day. The Ghanaians were really mad when they had to endure rolling, planned blackouts for 12 hours once a week due to low water in the Volta Dam. But here, there is, and will not be, any electricity for a long time to come. Again this is because of the war and its damage.

There also is almost no running water to individual houses. There is water through water mains, (see below) but most connections to individual houses and buildings no longer exist. People must go to area wells.

However, driving down the street at night, I wonder at the fact that I see almost as many lights as I did in Tema. These are powered by generators. I see people dressed as cleanly as they can. I see law and order despite the fact that four years ago, society was broken into two bloody sides of government versus rebels, with children soldiers were firing automatic weapons indiscriminately at anyone, in disorganized, uncoordinated attacks. Rape was and is still a common violent act that occurs.

This capsized ship has been in harbor for years. Twice officials in the port have been given money to have it removed, and twice they have fled with it. It has not been an issue of taking up a valuable space in the port until now: with the economy slightly creeping upward, more cargo ships are now arriving and have made this berth more valuable because of the loss of income to the port.
The UN is here at both sides’ request and all in all have successfully (so far) orchestrated a stand down of conflict and de-armament and rehabilitation of soldiers, many of whom were abducted as children and never learned to read. Some are now, as adults, in public schools, in classes for the first time. They see the UN and all the other NGOs that are here as interested in the welfare of the country, not as occupiers. They really do not want them to leave. Some say they want them to do the work of rebuilding the country for them. Time is running out on these NGOs here, and there is still so much to do.

We have been here three times in as many years. When we returned we were greeted personally by the vice president of Liberia. People on the street and in UN say, ‘welcome back’. Its a great feeling to be known as Mercy Ships and not just thought of as a tourist. We have a history here and relationship. The place also feels smaller and more closer.

The last time we were here, we did major things that affected Monrovia: our ship’s engineers, who normally must tackle the problems of the Anastasis (not a mean feat) tackled an entire water treatment system for Monrovia, repairing it, so that it could bring water to the ship, and the city at the same time.

When we returned, the ship’s engineers wondered if their work would be completely undone by neglect and went back to the treatment plant to see how it was functioning. It still was, but not at the capacity of when they left. One of the water towers can’t be used because it still has bullet holes in it. They will be repairing that this time, and getting the plant back up and running. No where else has our crew made such a difference, both on and off the ship.

As in Ghana, we will be doing our own little thing: Maxillo Facial surgeries, dental and eye care, community health education, HIV/AIDs training, and community develoment projects like building wells and clinics, but we will be doing so much more that impacts Liberians recovery from the war.

People say we bring them hope by just being here. People say they see the love of God in us in coming. They say they don’t feel forgotten when they see our ship arrive.

I hope so.

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