livin”nliberia #5 – fishtown bush camp!

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i tell u, livin”nliberian bush is tuff!! especially when u have a lightning strike blow up the UN generator that provides all power for the A/C, computers, and office equipment, as well as running the 3 houses where UN staff live. it took over 3 days before a replacement generator was provided. i’ve never been so happy to see the arrival of the old Ukranian helicopters to extract me back to Monrovia!

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i went to Fishtown in River Gee county in mid-May, and everything was looking good until that fateful lightning strike turned the official field visit into the ‘fishtown bush camp’…with conditions more basic that our childhood camps to the Grampians, River Murray or Flinders Ranges!

2.5 days in humid conditions without the relief of a cup of T, cooked food, A/C, or even an electric fan. we couldn’t do any reporting or emails and it was too hot to sit in offices without A/C, food in fridges started to go off, no-one had a gas cooker to heat water or cook, so by the end of the time people just milled around wondering when Engineering would act. one morning i went to the remote districts to see village life and UN projects. beautiful countryside! to add to the camping adventure…when we returned we blew a tyre! thank god it didn’t happen too far from fishtown so we were rescued in reasonable time.

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7 litres of rehydration salts managed to keep me stabilised – barely – but it was a true feat of endurance! the humidity just sucks the salt & sweat from every pore. it only takes a couple of hours of that before i start suffering from dehydration – no laughing matter in this place. but hey, i’m proud of myself for surviving it with greater flexibility and humour than other african colleagues who were demanding hot water to bathe in and moaning about the lack of TV. really!

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so wot to say about Fishtown? population of about 67,000 in the remote south-east of liberia. access by road is possible if you have a decent 4-wheel drive and the patience for 12 hours bumping thru potholes and over rickety bridges. most people take the 2-hour UN heli flight to get in or out. the usual issues of lack of infrastructure, weak local administration, corruption, mis-use of development funds and political fighting prevail, together with woefully inadequate police and law, use of traditional justice methods (where accused drink sassywood poison and if they survive they are declared innocent), prevalent rape and domestic violence, rumours of ritual killings, secret societies, and so forth. sad to say, the local dynamics change but the broader problems are repeated in each area of the country. The foto above, of the Fishtown Central Prison, says in graphics wot i’m trying to convey in wordz…

i try to focus on the beauty of the country and the survival instinct of the people. the fotoz included here and on the Flickr site give u an idea of how it is… except that u have to imagine it all with 80% humidity and 35 degrees temp.

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each trip i make to the field, the more impressed i am with the resiliance of all those who live & work in the bush for years and years. there have, unfortunately, been cases of people who could not cope with the isolation and hard conditions, either turning to alcohol, or needing a stretch in a mental institution to recover. others have died from malaria or other tropical diseases.

livin”nliberian bush is a bit like a camping trip, but it is defintely no picnic!

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