Out of Liberia

Hi ya!

Yes I’m still alive and thinking about my blog and everyone who drops by to read it!! I can see that its still attracting readers even though my last post was in October, just after I left Liberia!

My goodbye cake was pretty delicious!

My goodbye cake was pretty delicious!

These photos were taken at my farewell from the mission in Liberia and when I look at the faces again, I know how much I miss my African brothers and sisters and all my colleagues. I served the section there for 4 days short of 4 years! I learned a lot and that is helping me in my new role in Cyprus. I know I gave a long speech that day, but what touched me during the farewell was how people spoke about my work. I can’t claim to have had a huge impact but I do hope that our staff in the county offices knew there was some hope of help in HQ when they needed it. In the end I think we had a good time at the farewell and there were plenty of jokes and laughter. Even though mission life is about transition and comings and goings, hellos and goodbyes, the lessons and memories of time with good friends can be taken with you wherever you go. Everyone contributes into my life and I hope I contributed into others lives too. I certainly do miss my friends from Liberia and I thank them for expanding my life experience.

There always has to be a group photo!

There always has to be a group photo!

The medal cum reward for my service! Handshake with the Chief!

The medal cum reward for my service! Handshake with the Chief!

There’s absolutely no way to compare Liberia and Cyprus! But the UN is the UN whatever peace-keeping mission you’re in and so the adventures continue in a new setting with new challenges and new colleagues.

As for this blog. I will continue to talk about Liberia but I’ll expand it to include photos and stories of my travel throughout the African continent. I still have 10,000+ photos that need to edited and shared!!!

Another birthday, another chance to reset my direction

I’m in a reflective mood brought on by the fact that its my birthday! So allow me to ramble a little as I sit in Addis Ababa looking out over a green flowery garden, listening to the birds twitter. This is paradise for me at the moment, because it is beautiful and because it is not Monrovia. I have to admit that my main objective seems to be to ensure that the 19th June is not spent in Liberia! My first birthday since working in Liberia (2009) I flew back to Australia to escape, in 2010 I went to Senegal, 2011 to Durban RSA, and this year to Ethiopia! That’s a fun way to remember my birthdays! I wonder where I’ll celebrate next year! But, beyond the surface, I really like to get out of Liberia so that I can reset my thinking and direction.

I think when milestones come along, they should be celebrated – marked in a special way.  The birthday date serves as a marker and a milestone. Another year has passed by and what have I done with it? What do I want to see happen for the coming 12 months? At the moment, a big part of me would love to settle into a comfortable life in Liberia with good friends, a comfy house, and some semblance of normalcy – that is very attractive! It could almost be possible. Another part of me wants to see how far I can stretch the limits of my abilities and how much I can contribute to this planet. Its a dilemma to balance these two conflicting desires because I don’t know how to blend them together. I hope it is possible to push ahead with the career motivations but within a network of loving, supportive friends who encourage and give you the courage to give your best. I doubt that this international life will ever be normal, but I can see from my friend in Addis, that there are ways to create a loving, exciting, and challenging lifestyle within the constraints of the abnormal settings where we are temporarily located. That may not make sense to many readers, but its very real to me! I want to shake up my pathetic career and I want to live a more connected and real life with loving friends. It will be interesting to see how far I’ve moved towards that by June 19th, 2013!

Love ya!

I am alive, but silenced again by technical challenges!

It has been a long, long silence – far longer than intended. This time I will blame WordPress because the changes they seem to have made to their system have overwhelmed the Liberian internet service provider! I have been unable to log into my account and unable to access my dashboard. It maybe that the changes are good for the world of fast ISPs but it is not wise to assume that everyone enjoys such luxury!

During this dark period of silence, I have in fact been very busy! Work was more interesting and varied – I like that! Then I had a 3 night visit to Buchanan which also varied the pace a little. Now I am about to head off on a well-earned holiday – to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the first time. That will make my 14th country on the African continent which is not bad for my time here, especially when you consider that I’ve been to many places more than once.

Hmmm, I am not able to attach a photo due to the ISP incapacity. Sorry! But at least these few words let you know I’m still alive. One can hope that the ISPs will be faster in East Africa! Love & laughter!

 

 

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!

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…

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 🙂

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.

New Ship in Town! Greenville Port, Liberia

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For the longest time, the GreenvillePort in Sinoe County, Liberia, has been inactive due to inaccessibility to the dock – a vessel sank while at the berth about 2 years ago making rather a mess of things. About 2 months ago they managed to lift the wreck and drag it away from the dock, but they still need to dredge the bay as it is still too shallow for larger skips to come into the port. However, when I visited in November, the port was hosting 2 small boats which had managed to berth and unload much needed cargo and foodstuffs. I think they said they had delivered 3,000 tonnes of rice, maybe it was more than that, but anyway the new supplies will help reduce the high prices in the county and brings hope of more supplies to come. Here are a few fotos of the port and the new ships in town:

 

The port is still too shallow for the larger ships to enter to upload the timber from logging companies. Unfortunately the timber has been sitting here for many months and is starting to rot and lose its value.

Obviously the port is very important for the local economy and the forestry/timber industry should be a significant contributor to the national economy. There are four ports along the coast, and it is important that the Greenville port is dredged soon and becomes fully operational. The Freeport in Monrovia has been privatised so that it can be redeveloped, the Buchanan port is being reactivated mainly due to investment by the international mining companies, and the port in Maryland is open but also in need of investment and rehabilitation.
 
Note to self: Do not use captions on the fotos as they get jumbled together. I’ll try the slideshow instead. I spent hours uploading the fotos only to have the whoe thing messed up with crazy formatting. What’s up WP?
 
 

The Blue Lake and Tubmanburg, Bomi County, Liberia

I spent a day in Tubmanburg for work. At least its possible to go there and back in a day. The drive takes anywhere between 90 minutes and over 2 hours, depending on the congestion in Duala Market. The town doesn’t seem to have much going for it and lacks any character to speak of. Mind you, I just went straight to the UN office to see colleagues, so I haven’t really had a tour. Perhaps there’s a quaint town square somewhere which I haven’t seen – but somehow I doubt it!! The County Administration building is some distance out of the town which may also detract from that ‘sense of heart’ that I look for in a town with a town centre.

A sweet optimism in the Welcome sign!

These are some typical shots from the main road through the town. Nothing unusual here…

The main attraction in Tubmanburg is the Blue Lake which has been formed when the iron ore mine – open cut pit – found itself lower than the water-table level. Apparently the water suddenly started to fill the crater – so fast that the mining equipment is still in the lake – buried under the water and not likely to be retrieved. It makes for a refreshingly clean and scenic ‘getaway from it all’ location only about 10 minutes drive from Tubmanburg.

The lake used to be looked after by the UN mission and had a few gazebo structures for picnics and parties but now its left for the County Administration to manage and things have been ‘let go’. Its a beautiful location and quite an attractive lake. There’s also a small bottled water company here that sells ‘Blue Lake Bottled Water’. The water has been tested and found clean and pure.

So that’s the scoop on Tubmanburg. Next week I will travel further afield in Liberia, so more Liberian County photos to come.