The cleavages that led to decades of war still run deep. But so too does the longing for reconciliation – a reconciliation defined not by political bargaining or by an artificial balance of power by tribe, region, religion or ethnicity but by the equality of opportunity and a better future for all Liberians.
(President Sirleaf – January 16, 2012 inauguration speech)
As President Sirleaf points out the scars of a 14 year civil war run deep with vivid reminders everywhere. Yet every time we return to Liberia, we see positive differences that give us hope of the change to come.
I wish that you could come with me to visit Liberia and meet the wonderful people. Because most of you will not be able to come, I decided to take you on a picture trek of my travel from Monrovia to Yekepa, which usually takes about 7-8 hours. This trip was one of the first times that I was able to sit in the front of the vehicle to capture pictures. I will warn you that the pictures are not the best, because I had to take them while I was driving on bumpy, hole-filled, dusty roads. This will be a two part trek so that my blog won’t be so long. The first part will be moving through the outskirts of Monrovia and my posting on the 15th will be traveling through the country side.
Monrovia is a sprawling city with taxicabs and motorbikes swarming everywhere. Cabs in partiuclar have no regard for the traffic behind them. They often stop in the middle of the road to pick-up passengers, slowing down traffic as multiple people exit the cab
clutching belongings. Then we wait as new passengers load. In actuality, filling up a cab with passengers seems to be an art form (and money maker). It is amazing to see how many people can get into one cab. Taxi cabs are everywhere because few people own vehicles in Liberia; I think that all of those that do own cars live in Monrovia. Imagine driving in heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic with no stop signs or stoplights and cabs stopping in the road. It can be an adventure if not “hair raising”.
Traffic was extremely congested the weekend we arrived because of additional checkpoints set up for the upcoming presidential inauguration. It was not particularly easy to get around Monrovia because streets were being shut down. The inauguration was on Monday, so we decided to leave early Sunday morning to drive to Yekepa; we wanted to get out of the chaos. Over 30 heads of states, including Hilary Clinton, were flying in to attend the inauguration, which meant even more security. On our way to Yekepa, we drove past the airport, where the U.N. was setting up additional checkpoints. Below is a picture of a U.N. tank with a top mounted machine gun. I surreptitiously took some pictures.
This particular tank stopped to set up a checkpoint by a river so no one could drive around the checkpoint. Interestingly enough, they also shut down the cell phone towers in this area on Sunday and the day of inauguration so there would be limited communication for someone that wanted to cause problems.
Even though we did not get to go to the inauguration, ABCU’s President had a special invitation to attend Sunday’s worship service, Monday’s inauguration, and the inaugural ball. He went to the Sunday service and inauguration, but not the ball. I was most disappointed in him. His wife was in Kenya and he didn’t want to go alone. Of course as a woman I wanted to hear all about the inaugural ball. It will be six years before there is another presidential inauguration.
All along the streets of Monrovia there are mom and pop businesses that are close to the side of the road. The downtown looks somewhat like a city with federal buildings being repaired and even a few new retail building sprinkled throughout. But in most places it still looks like a ghetto. Personally, I am always glad to leave Monrovia and head up to the cooler mountains of Yekepa. Most of our younger students think Monrovia is the place to be.
My last pictures that I want to share with you of the first stage of my trek is the new Total gas station. This is the third one that I have seen built in the last year. The normal gas station consists of a table loaded with old pop bottles or gallon jars filled with gas. When a car stops for gas a hose is placed in the bottle or jar, the attendant sucks on it to get the gas flowing and then siphons the gas from the jar to the car. Well this is a “brand new spanken” full service gas station. There is an attendant at every gas pump, dressed in a spiffy uniform pumping the gas. Do any of you remember the good old days when you use to get full service in the U.S.? I was so impressed with how clean and crisp the attendants uniforms were that I asked to take our attendants picture and he gladly let me.
Monrovia and all of Liberia is changing. With the re-election of President Sirleaf, it is my hope for the Liberian people that these positive changes will continue.
What is a Think Through? it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.
This week’s Think Through: President Sirleaf expressed in her inaugural speech that Liberians have a longing for reconciliation, which is not defined by political bargaining or artificial balance of power. As I thought about this, I wondered if we could say the same. What do you think that U.S. citizens are longing for?