The roads in Liberia, or at least Bong and Lofa county are…abysmal? Not the right word, but by western standards, yeah, they’re pretty awful. Again ingenious humans strike again. Not only do drivers mysteriously know where the worst pot holes are and cleverly avoid them, there’s one lane. One lane that weaves from side to side over what was presumably meant to be a two lane road. This means that head on collisions seem imminent any time two vehicles pass. Especially given the size of most UN and NGO trucks. We’re talking semi’s. And then there’re these little yellow cars that look like American cabs but with hatchbacks and then there’re the motorcycles. God help the motorcycles. Especially when it rains.
Anyway, we drove along one road for a while, here are some pictures.
Then we stopped for dinner. At this point I thought we’d been on the road a good 3 hours, the time I was told it would take us to get to Goyola. Nope. We had three more hours to go. Hours in Liberia may be relative.
Zar Zar, the town we stopped in, of which the cook at DEN-L is a native, had at one time been headquarters for one of the many rebel movements in Liberia. In fact, explained the driver, “Lar Rebel,”* who was the leader of the Mandingo affiliated movement, drove Charles Taylor out of Lofa, or at least out of Zar Zar. And it shows. I tried to get some shots of the bullet holes because I think it’s telling about the war. Remember, 14-15 year war, 2-3 year spurts, country wide. That means every single building built before the end of the war has bullet holes in it. Some of these buildings are still in use, some are burnt out shells, some have been gracefully repainted to hide the tiny indents. The devastation that must have been commonplace until the final ceasefire is hard for me to imagine. But maybe I don’t want to. Despite what I can only imagine traumatized the nation, people are hopeful. They’re rebuilding, constantly, and using what’s left in some instances to build off of and in some to remember. People on the streets wave at passing cars, not because they know someone in it, and not because there’s a white woman in it, but because they made eye contact with the driver or a passenger. There’s also a habit of, if you see a problem, fix it, because the government sure won’t. For instance, the timber industry leaves a lot of people waiting for their pick up at the side of the road. At these points, people have constructed lean to’s as a kind of bus stop. These structures are solid, even if they aren’t made with two by fours but branches.
Zar Zar also showed some of the western influences in small town Liberia. There was a poster celebrating Obama where we drank our Maltas (which was our dinner).** Right next to it was one for Manchester United. Both posters were worn but obviously hung with care. Across the street I saw a man wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey, I’ve seen a child wearing one as well. The Steelers jersey seems less intentional here, where American football is thought of as a joke. Though it’s interesting that this is where Steelers jerseys end up…Side note: I’ve also seen people wearing polos that were circuit city employees work shirts. Shirts that in the US, men would never wear outside of work are worn here as business casual. Isn’t globalization grand? It’s all about being born in the right place at the right time I guess.
The language barrier between the driver, the organizer and myself was pretty awful. Then, when we got to Lofa,*** the barrier became much worse. The further you get into the bush here, the thicker the dialect. Plus the village we were in was of the tribe Mandingo, so they have a dialect/language all on their own, and the other people we were meeting were of the Loma, who speak…Loma.
*May not have understood that name and am typing this without internet, so I can’t verify the name of the rebel leader.
**Malta, for those who are unfamiliar, is a thick stout like drink that contains no alcohol but lots of vitamins…allegedly. There’s no label explaining which vitamins though there is
***Goyala is the town, Lofa is the county