Part II of “The Unpaved Road to the Future” by Adam Rosenberg, MA student in Liberia. Read Part I here.
I slept late/ish the following morning. In the early afternoon I decided to try walking through the city center of Zwedru, in an attempt to reach the LDI office, which I managed just fine. I asked my co-workers if there was anything worth seeing. I knew Zwedru had been the home of former-President Samuel Doe. Doe was President of Liberia from 1980-1990; he came to power by assassinating then-President William R. Tolbert, Jr., and he was later removed from power via assassination (to put it lightly). Doe’s removal ultimately paved the way for Charles Taylor’s presidency. So, a man offered to show me around Zwedru! We walked to the main street and, during this short walk, he told me about how he had sought refuge in Cote d’Ivoire during the conflict. He had worked closely with, and developed a great relationship with, a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer (and Hingham, MA-native) during those years. He told me this because he knew I had come from Massachusetts, but he had no idea that I had also served in the Peace Corps. He went on about his love and respect for the Peace Corps, and while I have had many encounters like this (both in the U.S. and abroad, even once at Mass Ave. Gulf in Cambridge’s Porter Square!) I always get equally thrilled and emotional. It will always mean so much to me that we mean so much to those we serve.
We made it to the street and this man proceeded to chat with one of the zillion former child-soldier-motorcycle-taxi-drivers. He asked me if I could spend $10USD, and I naturally assumed that either this kid was going to take me around or that my new friend was renting the motorcycle so that he could take me around. I was way off. He rented the motorcycle for me to drive! Firstly, I had not driven a motorcycle since 2008 when I found myself in the odd situation of having had to drive a Triumph Thruxton to Yom Kippur services in Westport, Connecticut. Secondly, I have never liked nor felt comfortable with passengers. (Note: this motorcycle was no British Triumph, rather, it was some small (but fun!) Chinese-made tourer/scrambler hybrid.) Perhaps the best part about this bike was that, oddly, every time I turned the key some hidden device began to play Bob Marley’s “One Love” and it only stopped once a passenger, my passenger, got on and sat down (this officially became the coolest bike ever, even trumping my old 1970 BMW R60/6). I proceeded to spend the next several hours tooling around Zwedru’s dirt-roads, while my friend pointed out sites of note, making occasional stops for closer
examination, and all while every child in the area stood by on the sidewalks gawking at what appeared to be the city’s newest (and whitest) taxi-driver. The most striking and memorable stop we made was at the home of the late President Samuel Doe. Doe had been constructing a massive compound for himself, which was left unfinished due to his untimely death. The compound had a shell of a mansion along with the shells of several other structures, the vegetation was severely overgrown and appeared to be reclaiming the space for Mother Nature herself. Behind the mansion was a large and empty swimming-pool, the entire floor of it was a mosaic of the Liberian flag. I jumped into the shallow-end of the pool and from there I could see the length of the pool and the mansion in the distance, it was one of the eeriest sites I have ever seen… and nothing short of post-apocalyptic.
The second-best stop on the tour was at the local air-strip, now fully under the control of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Specifically, the grounds are operated and protected by Pakistani UN Peacekeepers. Normally civilians are not permitted in but, oddly, I was saluted at the entrance and welcomed in with open arms! The highest-ranking person there (a 23yr-old) gave me a full tour, fully explaining his job to me, and allowed me a special look into the activities and life of a UN Peacekeeper in Liberia. Upon saying farewell and getting saluted once again, we jumped on the motorcycle, fired it up to the tune of ol’ Bob Marley, and proceeded to rally back to the LDI office, but, not before passing a massive compound controlled by Chinese UN Peacekeepers. Seeing large clusters of foreign soldiers is always going to seem surreal, but even more so in an African country that neither they nor me are from.
The next day we headed out to our final assignment, yet another three-hour drive but this time to River Gee County. We got in late and spent the night in Fish Town, the capital. That following morning we ran election proceedings on the grounds of a freshly built school. The goal was to elect one person to serve as a representative to the newly formed Community Forestry Development Committee (based in Monrovia). This position was an actual government role, and the people there knew this was a chance to capture some power.
After brief and mild debate, the election was held and, I must say, it was the most thoughtful and transparent election I have ever seen! I was selected to count the ballots by reading them aloud in front of everyone — I was both nervous and honored. With the conclusion of the election, we hopped back in our truck and made the three-hour trek back to Zwedru for one final night before
heading back to Monrovia. We spent our final night in Zwedru, and then headed out the next morning for Monrovia… I felt as though I’d been away from Monrovia for a month! While I was happy to get back, I was also a bit bummed. The counties I had seen were beautiful and the people were terrific, and I knew I had not even scratched the surface (I could return at some point but it would be difficult). The ride back took fourteen hours — the truck had to stay behind for a few days so the bunch of us that were going home had to do so in a small taxi, and we experienced torrential down-pours for the last quarter of the ride. A fourteen hour car-ride on a dirt-road was a new record for me, I must add! I walked into my apartment at 9:30pm, plopped down on a chair (despite being soaked and covered head-to-toe in mud), and just thought for a moment how fortunate I am… before taking an inappropriately long shower!
M.A. Candidate, Sustainable International Development/Coexistence & Conflict