True reconciliation means a process of national healing. It means learning the lessons of the past to perfect our democracy. But above all it means economic justice for our citizens and the spread of progress to all our people. It means creating jobs, opportunities and giving our young people the skills they need to prosper and create the life they choose. (President Sirleaf – January 16, 2012 inauguration speech)
Roll up your windows, turn on the air conditioning, and fasten your seat belts as you get ready to travel over the dusty red dirt roads to Yekepa. You will see pictures of a country trying to survive economically, while yearning for opportunities to prosper.
A SOCIETY CANNOT GROW WITHOUT JOBS
Firestone has been one of the steady job providers and currently employees 6,000+ Liberians. It is located on the outskirts of Greater Monrovia and consists of thousands of acres of rubber trees. The rubber trees are tapped at certain times of the year and sap (latex) drips from them into small buckets. It is a smelly process.
Firestone provides housing, a supermarket (though the locals may not be able to afford the items), schools, and a good hospital. After Firestone drops off its cargo in the U.S., it allows non-profit organizations such as ABCU to ship containers back to Liberia for free.
The estimate of Liberia’s unemployment rate is still set at 85%, which may be high based on how you define the term. Seventy percent of the work done in Liberia is agriculture based. So it won’t surprise you that every little village we drive through on our way to Yekpa has its own roadside stands. It is an arduous way to make a “small small” living.
We stopped at one roadside stand to buy cabbages. The stop was a bit unusual because the lead driver of our two-car caravan didn’t notice that he pulled up next to a man relieving himself by the side of the road. No offense to the man who was heeding the call of nature, but it wasn’t something that we women were enthralled in observing, especially since it was close to the food stand. We are thankful that he was not the one handling the cabbage when they were sold to us.
THE ROADS IMPROVING – KIND OF
For a short period outside of Monrovia we were on freshly paved roads, then pothole filled paved roads, and then rutted, hole-filled, dusty roads. The condition of the red dirt roads are the result of the deep ruts and holes left over from the rainy season combined with the dry season’s red dust. Foolishly at first, I kept talking about how much better the road seemed to be and then we hit the dirt roads, which were worse than usual. It usually takes us 7-8 hours to get to Yekepa and this time it took us 9.5 hours. It didn’t help that my husband was driving and he mused that he had always wanted to drive a Land Cruiser through Africa. Well that was what he was driving, so we took almost every big hole straight on to see if the Land Cruiser could make it.
A VERSION OF A LIBERIAN LEMONADE STAND
There is always a way to try to make money as these young entrepreneurs demonstrated. Children often fill holes in the road with brush and rocks and then place a string across the road as a checkpoint or we might better understand it as a tollbooth. The idea is for drivers to stop and give them money for filling in the hole (it is the Liberian version of a child’s lemonade stand). You usually see this a few times as you drive to Yekepa.
DUST DUST EVERYWHERE
In the picture look at the red dust that has settled on the trees. The zinc roofs of houses are turning red instead of silver because they are covered with the dust.
I have great concern for the health of the children and adults that build their homes right by the road, because of the incessant red dust they must breathe. By the time I made it to Yekepa, I had a sore throat and was losing my voice because of the dust, even though I was in an air-conditioned car with the windows rolled up. I have been asking why don’t the people build their homes a bit further away from the road – is there a reason? No one can give me an answer.
THE MACDONALDS OF LIBERIA
The ride is long from Monrovia to Yekepa. I have learned to drink very little water on the way because there are very few places to stop and use the bathroom. The one place we do stop is at the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is almost half way to Yekepa. You go into the nonworking bathroom (no water hook-up, the flushing handle is broken off the toilet anyway) and hope that there is some water in a barrel in the bathroom with a dipper so that you can manually use the water to flush the toilet. By the way, you don’t want to forget to take along some tissue and hand sanitizer wipes. The bathroom may not be pretty to look at or fully functional, but it does serve the purpose.
CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS OR PERHAPS IT SHOULD BE
Like many third world countries, Liberia is not a clean country. I keep trying to tell my students that cleanliness is a discipline, and it is important to maintain the resources that God has given to them. However, when you are trying to survive picking-up trash
is not the top priority. This is one thing that I so appreciate about ABCU; it is a very clean and well maintained. I do have to admit that things are constantly breaking; we are at the mercy of being able to only buy cheap Chinese building products unless they are shipped from the States.
If you remember from my last blog, we drove up on a Sunday. Saturday and Sunday are laundry and car washing days, which usually takes place down at the river. I still can’t get over how clean their clothes look after washing them in the rivers, especially in the rainy season when the river runs red in color.
We know that we are almost there when we reach the orphanage. It is a welcome site. The orphanage is ran by Pastor and Mrs. Jonah and also has a school. Good things are happening there, and we are thankful that children who have lost parents or whose parents cannot take care of them have a loving place to go.
P.S. I thought I would show you two pictures of the Harmattan. It is a trade wind that blows across the Sahara desert. It can contain a heavy amount of dust (sand), and already has blocked visibility of some incoming flights into Liberia. Believe it or not when it blows into Liberia it brings cool winds. I like that part, but my allergies are not particularly fond of the sand particles in the air. This is the heaviest and longest I have seen it.
This week’s Think Through: We are use to the western conveniences of life. I am not necessarily saying that it is the end all and be all, but it does make life easier. Of the pictures that I just showed you, what do you think would be the most difficult thing for you to adjust to and why?