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!
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…
This week I was back in the field again and will write in more detail soon about my restful visit to Rivercess County.
On the 4 – 5 hour road journey to Buchanan and Cestos, we were dusted by the numerous logging trucks. We must have seen more than 20 in our drive which amounts to quite a number of trees cut down. Liberia is blessed with natural resources including amazing forests. Unfortunately its easy to cut down the trees, but sustaining the forests is more challenging. I haven’t seen any managed forestry or replanting of the hardwoods although I do hope it is happening somewhere, or it is planned for the future! The bush we passed on the road has all been cleared and there are very few of the original tall trees visible along the main roads.
When you see Liberia from the air you see that there are trees everywhere, but a lot of that is bush, palm trees, and regrowth. The taller trees are being removed quite fast with little regard for the future generations.
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 🙂
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!!
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 🙂