Wow, I can’t believe it is already August! After three months here in Liberia, I will conclude my time on the 29th… my departure-date will be a sad day for me. While I miss many people and places in the United States, I love being in Africa and I have especially developed a particular love for Liberia. The country and its people have taken good care of me and have provided me with many special opportunities. Just this morning I was telling a Liberian friend that I came here to learn about one thing and, to date, I’ve been taught at least a thousand things! I do not think it is possible to visit any new country and learn just one new thing, and I now realize that it was never going to be possible to learn just one thing in this special and complicated West African nation. I hope students from Brandeis will continue to come to Liberia and experience all the beautiful and exciting things that it has to offer and, additionally, I hope Brandeis will continue to attract Liberians to our student-body. On that note, so far, I have identified one incoming Liberian grad-student and two Brandeis alums… one of which happens to be Liberia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (Olubanke King Akerele ’67)!
Since my last blog-posting (in July), I have: attended Liberian Congressional sessions, visited the famous Robertsport beach, as well as the infamous West Point slum. I went to a classical-music recital at the historic Providence Baptist Church, watched a professional soccer-match featuring the Liberian and Guinean National teams, and discovered some cool new restaurants and hang-outs. Of course, this is all on top of the work and research that I have continued to do at the Liberia Democratic Institute (LDI). Regarding the weather, the rainy-season continues but, as of a few weeks ago, there are now occasional days of sunshine! I have been most thankful for this — the sunshine has made for some fun days and, in all honesty, Monrovia does look a bit better when there are some rays shining upon it. On the flip-side, now when it rains the rain is heavier and lasts longer… like, 3-6 days.
Liberia’s legislative-branch of government is modeled after that of the United States. Being able to visit both Houses of Congress (a privilege afforded to me via a specific project that LDI is working on) gave me an awesome opportunity that few foreigners have had and, sadly, few Liberians as well. Very little of what I witnessed was reminiscent of the U.S. Congress and, in all honesty, the little work done (by Senators and Representatives) and the lack of transparency was nothing short of disheartening. I have the ability to go back now each week, for the Tuesday/Thursday sessions and, I must say, it has become addictive purely based on the characters (a bit of this and a bit of that… and a smattering of former rebel leaders) involved and their special style of “professional” behavior.
On a brighter note, I seized an opportunity on July 18th to visit the church in which Liberia’s Declaration of Independence was signed in 1847. As it turned out, a Liberian that had been trained at universities in America was returning for a classical-music recital in Monrovia (at Providence Baptist Church). Not only was it great to spend a Sunday afternoon inside the chapel, but it was very special to hear the vocalist’s interesting selection of songs. After several classical offerings, he performed four African-American ‘slave songs.’ He sang them in a beautiful and haunting baritone, but the real intense sensation came from knowing that both he and many in attendance that day were direct descendants of freed-American slaves! Liberia was colonized by these ex-slaves (I still am not clear on exactly who declared independence from what), and to many of the these former slaves Liberia was upheld as something of a Promised Land. It was an amazing occasion, and it was a special occasion.
On the weekend of July 23rd (and to my amazement) there was a “tri-nation” soccer tournament featuring the Liberian, Guinean, and Ghanaian National teams. This was going to be a big deal because Liberia has not had a team in years, they have just recently assembled a new one, and this was going to be there first (and second) official match. I attended the Liberia vs. Guinea game and it was a lot of fun, with Liberia even winning 1-0, though they lost to Ghana two days later. But, there was much more going on than just soccer. Firstly, the stadium (S.K. Doe Stadium, and Liberia’s largest) had been used as a shelter during the last war, which entailed people both sleeping on the field as well as entire families living in the storage closets. Secondly, the turnout for the game appeared to fill about 5% of the seats, and the security-to-spectator ratio looked like 10:1! There was a U.N. Peacekeeping force (many in full riot-gear), Liberian Police (all in full riot-gear), stadium security-guards, and even young men in Tae- Kwon-Do uniforms (which was intended to send the message that if you got past the tear-gas and batons, then the ninjas would stop you!). These protective forces guarded the stadium both inside and out, and at half-time the Police (in their riot-gear) actually marched onto the field and escorted the referees off… every bit of it looked terrifying! I turned to my roommates and asked “where else in the world would a soccer game be guarded by U.N. Peacekeepers?!” It was the most intimidating environment I have ever been in.
I finally rallied out to Robertsport with my two roommates (a South African and a German), the occasion was an Independence Day celebration! For your information, Liberia’s Independence Day is on July 26th and, while I still am not clear on exactly who declared independence from what, I will happily take a 3-day weekend wherever I can get one! Robertsport is a beautiful beach area (in Grand Cape Mount County) about 2hrs north of Monrovia and in the direction of Sierra Leone. Also, it is known as both an expat and surfer Mecca. While we only spent one night there, it was awesome and much needed. The area truly was beautiful, it was fun to drink from freshly harvested coconuts and eat freshly caught fish (and one lobster!), it was cool to observe some extremely talented surfers, and it was simply nice to meet and compare notes with some Americans and Europeans… which included MANY other summer-interns. There is not much to do at Robertsport, which contributes strongly to its appeal, but we managed to have loads of fun and even party by the light of a full moon.
In my third and final month I have begun to discover some cool places to both dine and chill. This has meant that I have met many more young expats, the upside being that I now have places to go and people to be with on the weekends… with the downside being that I have spent more money (and will continue to spend more money) than I did during my first two months in Liberia. I can now confidently recommend both a great Chinese and Ethiopian restaurant, I can tell you where to find traditional Liberian palm-butter on Thursdays, and I promise you that I know where the best falafel in Monrovia is to be found! As for straight-up late-night young-adult socializing on the weekends there is no place better than Tides, a mellow and beautiful open-air spot perched right over the ocean in Monrovia’s Rock Town neighborhood. It is owned and operated by two young Americans, they’re doing an awesome job and, should you swing by, tell Nate & Ellie that Adam sent you!