The road to Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County

The main thing everyone mentions in reference to Gbarpolu County is the road! Oh my goodness…the road!! We drove to Bopolu City in March and it wasn’t the worst road I’ve seen in Liberia, but it certainly is tedious. The things is that this road is repaired and cared for. Beyond the county HQ into the more rural areas, the roads are worse. Three of the six districts are inaccessible by 4×4 for most of the year. The UN military engineering unit was out repairing the road before the onset of the rainy season, so here are a few photos of them in action.

Personally for me, the main problem with Gbarpolu is not the road, it is the lack of food! If you don’t have contacts or people to care for you, then the constant drama of daily life will revolve around food and the never-ending question of “what am I going to eat for my next meal?” The UN staff there rely on each other to bring supplies every time they travel from Monrovia and that is what sustains them. We only saw small stalls such as you see here and there was no fresh produce to be found anywhere.

The oddest contrast of Gbarpolu is that it has the largest newest court building I have seen outside of Monrovia. It is almost completed but not yet connected to generators or operational. Why they need such an audacious building in a remote and humble county, defies my logic.

Just so you do not think that UN staff live in luxury – this is a photo of the guesthouse accommodation provided to us by the UN for a nightly fee of USD35! I had nightmares of imprisonment but cannot think what might have brought that on!!

So that’s Gbarpolu County. The HQ is only 3 – 4 hours driving up from Monrovia, but due to the bad road it feels as isolated as the counties in the south-east that take 10 hours+ to drive to. There really is nothing there to comment on and life is spent in the compound every evening and weekend just to enjoy the power and internet. It is not an easy life at all. As usual I admire all our staff who do good work and make it tough in rural Liberia!

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Welcome to Cestos City!

At the end of the dusty track is a small town on a peninsular between the Cestos River and the Atlantic Ocean. But you have to drive the 4+ hour journey yourself to fully appreciate the humour to the sign, “Welcome to Cestos City!”

We visited there recently and stayed in a local guesthouse which provided me with a far better sleep than I’ve had in UN guesthouses in other parts of the country. A clean simple room with a mosquito net, large bed, sea breeze, and a bucket of warm water to wash with in the morning – what else does a gal need for her US$25? If it were not for the generosity of the Ghanian peace-keepers who provided meals for us, it would be difficult to manage as a visitor. Food is not available on the streets and I don’t know how often there is a local market. The only way to make it for a long stay is to find a house/room to rent – you may have to find a partly constructed house and complete the building yourself – and set up a means to cook for yourself everyday with supplies brought in from Monrovia or Buchanan. You can get fresh or smoked fish which is the enormous benefit of living on the coast! Our staff spend most of the evenings and weekends in the office where there is 24-hour power and internet access most of the time. (Cestos does not have a functioning light or power grid nor running water as is the norm for all places outside of Monrovia.)

The County Superintendent (who has just been reappointed by the President for another term) is quite active. He moves everywhere with his iPad showing photos of building projects and he has quite a few plans to develop the county. He has started a new road and wants to encourage people to eventually move to a new part of the town as sea erosion will eventually inundate the current town centre. Unlike many Superintendents he spends most of his time in the county and he appears to enjoy the job and be competent to plan and manage the work well.

Somehow despite the difficulties, I quite like Cestos. It is a quiet village with a restful feel to it. Perhaps I like it better because it is on the coast I have an affinity for the beach),or perhaps the functional County Administration brings a different sense of hope, but whatever the reason, if you get posted to Cestos you should not be too despairing – there are many worse places to be!

These photos will illustrate some of the sights of Cestos City…

Logs in Liberia

Logs are murdered trees – cut down in their prime!!

Following from my last post…here are some photos of dead trees…logs stacked up at the Greenville Port ready for export. When you see them piled up there (put into perspective against the man in the photo) you realise that’s a lot of Liberian trees sacrificed for someone’s furniture or smooth floorboards.

At least you should replant what is cut down! REPLANT!!!

That would be responsible and sustainable natural resource management, wouldn’t it!?

2011: Every holiday was a safari!

Well I must say that the true genius of 2011 was my holiday planning!! On that score the year rocked! If anyone questions my planning and organising skills, I’ll just point them to my awesomely planned holiday schedule!! Aside from my annual journey down-under, in 2011 every holiday was a safari!!

I won’t gloat too much, but 2011 allowed me to enjoy safaris in 3 national parks in South Africa, plus a sublime month-long safari which took us through Botswana, Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania/Zanzibar!! I simply haven’t had time to edit the 15,000+ photos I took in that month!! What a blast that was…2011 was the ‘year of the safari!’

So, allow me to indulge in a few safari references to illustrate the year that was.

The 6 am rises for the morning game-drives quickly settle into the ‘safari rhythm’ and you start to appreciate the momentum of the morning dawn experienced while bumping across the savannah and the sundowners enjoyed to the fading light of the sunset. [2011 was my 3rd year in Liberia and life had developed a largely dull and unchallenging routine. I can’t say that I like it much, but I am grateful to be here and there are some enticing opportunities emerging on the horizon.]

The anticipation of the chase and the kill are definitely high adrenelin moments of any safari. You have to be alert and ready because even though the hunt can take time, the kill can be over in seconds. But after the kill, you do think of the victim – the sweet baby antelope that just happened to become the leopard’s dinner. [There were moments in 2011, when I felt like I was being hunted by a pack of nasties trying (and failing) to make me their victim! Lesson: stay alert and don’t become anyone’s ‘kill’!]

 

 

 

 

 

The safari experience is best enjoyed with like-minded friends and/or photography buffs. Sharing the vehicle with restless bores is definitely excruciating and I find I don’t have patience any more for difficult and complex people in my social life!  [In 2011, more friends left my social circle than entered it so I have ended up in a deficit of like-minded people around me…except that my new friends are outside my work-life and they’re pretty cool!]

Open spaces, rare opportunities, and splendid skies. Safaris always restore my sense that it is great to be alive and moving in god’s creation, spotting rare wild creatures under an enormous blue canvas sky. [Even though Liberia’s skies are often hazy and grey the wet season can bring some spectacular thunderstorms, enormous clouds, and beautiful sunsets. Whatever the weather, I am grateful to be here: alive, exploring, and ready for more!]

I hope that 2011 was a splendid journey for all my friends and readers.

I wish that 2012 will be a superb safari for you all!

A year of adventure, unexpected surprises, natural beauty, 

and wild possibilities!!!

Life is a safari!

Real Man helps his Wife in the Home

This is my favourite social awareness sign in Liberia! I pointed it out to the three Liberian men I was travelling with while in Voinjama recently. Two of them who drive past the sign daily, claimed to have never seen it! The billboard is part of the programme to stop Gender Based Violence and is a fabulous effort but I’m not sure if any Real Man is paying heed to the message!!

Real Man Helps His wife in the Home – I certainly hope so 🙂

Shy smiles

I don’t usually get a chance to get up close with people when I have my camera with me, so when I do I so wish I could capture more from the moment – but that’s my constant photographic cry. I have found that children are often uncertain how to react to the camera but after they see their image they usually put on a more dramatic performance.

When we were waiting for the heli the other day a small group of boys kept trying to get my attention from the other side of the airfield so I went to speak with them and “flash them” – take some photos. The first shot is of them from the distance – note the aggressive stance in the small boy on the left! Oh man, there’s trouble coming in that one! The second shot is the formal pose while the last shot is where we ended up just 4 shots later…all smiles and thumbs-up…well almost all!

Meanwhile this boy in Greenville hugged his blanket and tried to cover his face – the parents insisted I take the photo – but then after seeing the image he wanted another “flash” and this time a shy smile emerged in his eyes.

There was however no shyness from these girls who seemed to know instinctively how to synchronise their pose. I hope I get more people photo opportunities in 2012.

Historic Harper, Maryland County

The city of Harper, Maryland County, is an historic place. No, I am not referring to Maryland County, USA, but the Maryland that is tucked away in Liberia’s South-East. Of all the places outside of Monrovia that I have visited, Harper stands out as the most established and substantial in the sense of having paved roads, solid buildings, and even a lighthouse. In its heyday Harper must have really been something! Now, unfortunately most of its buildings are in ruins and the city is a shadow of its former self. It makes for great photographic opportunities though!!

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The city was the first part of the coastline which was settled and eventually came to be called Liberia. The Episcopal Church was first established in a town nearby, and the church in the slideshow was built in 1851. The County was originally independent with its own administration and port, but eventually it agreed to merge in Liberia in order to have access to better services and particularly access to Liberian military protection! Many of the buildings are abandoned and occupied by squatters, but they are reminiscent of the architecture of southern America (or so it seems to me). The history, port, nearby beaches and natural beauty would make this little town a viable and interesting destination if only it were not so remote and far from the attention of most tourists! If you happen to be in Liberia though, it is a great place to visit for a few days 🙂

On the road again… Travelling in Liberia

It is not easy to move around in Liberia. In the last month I visited 7 counties and survived because most of the trip was undertaken on the UNMIL helicopter. These photos are taken from the moving vehicle during our 6 hour road trip between  Zwedru and Sannequellie. 

The roads are paved and in reasonably good condition to the main towns in the two directions heading out of Monrovia, and then the bitumen ends and the red-brown dirt or mud begins. The UN military components try to keep the main supply routes maintained and open so for the most part they are okay but with patches of corregations and potholes. When you go off of the main routes onto the feeder roads and further from the County headquarters into the Districts, towns and villages, the road conditions quickly deteriorate. During the rainy season, many Districts are inaccessible.

If the photos above don’t convince you – try these – taken by colleagues in the field (Thank God I didn’t have to drive through these ‘critical spots’)

People tell me that I should enjoy the opportunity to travel by road to see the countryside and the different villages. I completely disagree. I’ve seen enough of the countryside from the ground and the air to know that it is consistently green (trees, rubber plantations, forests, and a rare patch of agriculture here and there), red-brown (dirt or mud roads, clay or mud structures) and grey-blue sky (heavy grey rain clouds, or haze and dust when the winds blows down from the Sahara). The scenery may change according to the season, the weather on the day, and the road conditions, but its always a variation of the same green, red-brown and grey-blue. I’m sorry but I’ll take a 2 hour heli ride over a 10 hour road journey any day!!

There’s no happier sight at the end of a field trip than to see these Ukrainian birds land! Oh and of course I have to acknowledge that as an expat I have the priviledge of a decent 4×4 vehicle or a heli to move me around, but that is unattainable for most Liberians.