Not much is known about Liberia these days. For some reason, my friends think I came to Libya. Liberia/ Libya… you tell me!
I am not new to the country as I have been here before, and at this point I can consider myself a resident – I can shake hands Liberian style!
How to describe Liberia? For that, I seek assistance from Nathan, a fellow Liberian colleague. When I asked him to describe his country in simple words he starts to think, takes a minute, then grabs a chair, sits, smiles at me and tells me something that I already know… “It’s difficult”. Diligently enough, he passes on the question to his one hundred and eighty-something friends on Facebook. An hour later he tells me that three of his friends had commented on his “wall” and that they have described Liberia as: “Lively”, “Cynical” and “Interesting”. I agree in a way.
The first thing that I saw when I arrived in Liberia was children dancing in the streets. The music was loud and the West African rhythm was just contagious! Seeing children moving so freely to the music is what I love the most here! Every morning I wake up with the sound of a unique African song that comes from the school next to my house. Around one hundred kids sing this unique song out loud at 8am. That vibe of happiness makes my day!
People wear colorful outfits. I often wonder how women do their skirt-type outfit without it falling down! The neon colors are such a contrast from the grey and black I got used to in Melbourne!
The hot and humid weather reminds me of tropical holidays! It can get very hot here — but not complaining at all! Coconuts are everywhere to cool you down and if you feel like it then just check out the sunset from Mamba Point. Monrovia turns ‘sepia’ and a breeze of calmness takes over the city.
People’s humor is everywhere despite the shocking reality. The European development and cooperation agency (EUROAID) suggests that 76% of the population live below the poverty line of US$1 a day and 52% even live in extreme poverty of under US$0.50 a day. Life in this lively country is hard.
Access to basic services is limited in the capital Monrovia and nonexistent in remote areas. Around 50,000 people cannot work because of a disability and the fourteen-year war left a traumatized country with 40 per cent of the population suffering from depression. Education is a matter of luck, really, and food a constant reminder of ‘trying’ as they say here, trying just to survive. Are these facts enough to make you cynical?
This is the country of Nobel Peace Prize winners and a unique history of freedom. In this place I learned to co-habit with UN land cruisers, peacekeepers and check points. Stories of black magic and ‘Jujus’ that can make a human literally bullet-proof are just fascinating.
One of the most interesting things, though, is to see how, despite the odds, Lebanese, Indian and Russian investors find opportunities in the oil, construction and hospitality industries. Liberia is certainly not cheap for expatriates as the law of supply and demand applies.
The media plays an important role despite censorship. In the last two years some important radio stations were closed down for their political content. Television and the Internet are limited, therefore community radios are the sole source of information in remote areas, so I expect my role as trainer to be as plentiful as the field notes from this interesting corner of the earth.