Kevin in Liberia

Its Purpose: to raise awareness of current social, political, ethical, and spiritual issues within a relief and development context in Liberia. Its effectiveness is simple: It relies on me, the author, to provide insightful, and often debate-sparking material that will encourage you, the reader to get engaged through comment contributions, emails, and promoting others to read, re-think, and respond to the important issues discussed.

I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom. ~ a prayer by Blaise Pascal

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Political Action in Monrovia


One day closer to the elections and today had to have been the most visible day for both Ellen Sirleaf Johnson’s supporters as well as the Swedish Quick Reponse Team (aka UN Soldiers ready to stomp anything that gets out of control). On the way into work today the traffic was horrific! We noticed up ahead in the road that the disturbance (embarrassment) was caused by a massive crowd of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson (one of the prime candidates to win the election) supporters. Word on the street was that it was her first day of campaigning which seems like a pretty good strategy to follow at the moment. The crowd was blocking the entire boulevard and it wasn’t until the crowd saw the 10+ vehicle caravan of Swedish soldiers and tanks that they proceeded to move to the side of the road and wave their banners and shout their jibber jabber. Some of the tanks were on the back of flatbed trucks being transported to some other place besides downtown Monrovia. There were other tanks which were actually mobile and tearing up the road with their metal chains and what-have-you. Instead of transporting them all on the backs of trucks I guess its always good to show some muscle just in case things get out of hand and you have to lob a little “convincer” into the air. I think you get my drift. The intimidation factor is pretty large. Downtown Monrovia was also quite the circus. You could visibly see tanks on major intersections. I know they’re only there to make sure people are using the proper left-hand turn lane but they’re doing their job don’t get me wrong!  If today is any sign of who is voting for who it looks like Ellen has a large group behind her. There was even one guy today who was wearing a sticker for another candidate but when he saw Ellen’s group giving out free t-shirts he proceeded to rip the sticker of the opposing candidate off his shirt and get in line for a t-shirt of the person he’s “truly” voting for. I’ll make a prediction about who will win the election. The candidate who will win the election is the candidate who hasn’t spent all their campaign money and who still has a small budget for some gimmick to hand out to people who are standing in line for the ballot box. I don’t want to sound sarcastic but that is EXACTLY how I see it.

I have also heard that George Weah is holding a similar like campaign on Saturday. I think Saturday may become a little more unsettled than today. Ellen Sirleaf Johnson has a majority of women and older folk behind her where as Weah has primarily young kids, more specifically ex-combatants. If any day is a good day to get out of Monrovia for the day I think Saturday may be the day just in case some things get a little hairy. Either that or it might be a good day to be a roving photographer and get in and take some candid shots, pictures that is.

During this final week before the elections it is my intention to make daily posts to the blog site to keep everybody informed on what I see from my standpoint as a development worker in Monrovia.

Keep posted.


Questions Around the Elections


Another day in Liberia and the last couple weeks has been the hardest on me by far. Questions surrounding “should I stay or should I go” abound. I have raised certain issues and it may mean that I will not stay for the full one year as originally thought. These things have created a whirlwind of thought that often makes it hard for me to concentrate on my work. I can’t possibly imagine things staying like this for another 8 months. That would just be too much. I’m asking for prayer to rectify the problems that are present here in Liberia.

Elections are only 6 days away and already the violence has seemed to take a turn for the worse. At a security meeting yesterday there was word of five armed robberies in Monrovia. These have taken place within the past week or so. In a couple of the armed robberies the Nigerian soldiers exchanged fire with the perpetrators. One person was killed in the exchanges. Two of the five armed robberies were also home invasion style robberies. Ann, a lady from Tearfund, told me that one of her friends was involved in one of these home invasion robberies. Luckily she escaped without any bodily harm. I can only imagine things getting worse as we get closer to election day. I feel a bit better about us having a security guard at our house now but I’m very sceptical whether he would be able to do anything about a group of armed bandits. I can only hope that they’ll be deterred by the amount of razor wire on the top of our fence.

From October 9 – 26 I am scheduled to house sit for Ryan and Gareth on the ELWA campus, about a 5 min walk from our house at Silver Beach. The only thing about their house is that it is wide open in the middle of this long grass and just a prime target for rogues. I’m kind of leery of staying in that house by myself but it also might be nice to have a house all to myself for three weeks or so as well. I’ll just have to keep my double-edged sword under my bed at all times!

Please pray for Liberia, and all Liberians, not just myself that all the election process goes through without the extreme violence that, at some times, seems inevitable. The whole election process most likely won’t be over until mid-November because there is most likely going to be a run-off (second election) for the presidency. For a candidate to win they need 50% +1 vote to be named the winner. Now with 22+ candidates how do you think its possible for one candidate to register 50% +1 of the votes!?! The October 11 election date is only the beginning of a tumultuous attempt at ‘democracy’.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Treasure Hunting in the Bong Mines

Last Sunday Ryan and I, intentionally waking up early to get a headstart on the day, got out the door at about 11am on route to our geocaching adventure at the Bong Mines, approximately 2 hours Northeast of Monrovia. The ride up to the mines was pretty smooth until we reached Kakata where we proceeded to drive an hour along a dirt/mud road up to the mines. For the most part we had no problems. Its hard to have many problems when you're riding in such a smooth ride ('88 Toyota Tacoma - quite the piece). Actually we had one minor delay/embarrasment when we proceeded to drive into a quite inviting area of mud. Needless to say, our wheels were completely submerged in mud and even our 4x4 function didn't do much to remedy the fact that we had a lot of work ahead of us. Luckily for us there were a bunch of UNMIL guys in a truck behind us, from Ghana I believe, who decided to actually do something for a change...pretty surprising for a group of UN workers! For having the largest UN presence in the world, they seem very inactive a lot of the time..except for the odd caravan or muscle-flexing exercise here and there. My personal take on the UN presence here is that a lot of aspects of it are VERY inefficient and unnecessary. That being said, I think that some of their other functions here are necessary. Anyways, these nice men helped dig us out and after a 20 minute fiasco we were well on our way.

A little background information on this one geocache...

This geocache located in a mineshaft somewhere in the Bong Mines is one of two geocaches in Liberia (the other being at the War & Peace statue on Broad Street in downtown Monrovia). It was rated both 5 (out of 5) for difficulty and location. For my first geocaching adventure maybe this was a little overboard. The contents included a Sweden patch, a mug, and a gold watch. Sounded like fun loot. After convincing a Liberian police officer that we'd "talk to the manager of the mines" about checking out the mines we drove through the checkpoint and proceeded to get lost on a long windy road the went to this top of this lookout/plateau that overlooked the mining facilities which looked like they really did something back in the days of production. Currently the mining facilities are being dismembered by a group from India and the scrap metal is being shipped back to India for other uses I'm assuming.

We walked up this dirt road, following the GPS, past this graveyard of huge monster truck sized dump trucks, to the top of this spiril-sort of staircase that led down into this dark abyss...the start of a real Indiana Jones adventure. As we walked down these damp stairs you could hear the creaks here and the creaks there. The information on the website said that there were a possibility of snakes and whatnot so were were on our guard for sure. To tell you the truth, Ryan and I were pretty freaked out as we made our way into this mineshaft. I think the craziest thing was after Ryan warning me about the crazy bats in Liberia having a number of bats fly right past my head. I didn't know if they were coming for my neck or what. Pretty insane if you ask me. We followed the directions and looked everywhere it seemed in that abandoned mineshaft but after hearing what we thought were voices and footsteps we booked it out of the long mineshaft into the inviting scenery of the outdoors. Well, no success finding the loot but we figured with all the dismantling of the scrap metal that someone must have found the ammo box and stole all the goods. Either that or it was just a super hard geocache to find. If the latter is the case I give props to the people who actually hid that thing in the first place. Unless I knew something was, or might, be down there I definately wouldn't go wandering there unless I had a "purposeful" reason for going down there in the first place.

The scenery at the Bong mines was pretty awesome. Its a lot different than Monrovia thats for sure. After suffering defeat, we both opened up a can of salmon each and ate it plain in the back of the Toyota pickup while getting rained on. I don't know if Jen (Ryan's girlfriend)will still love him after finding out that he drank the salmon juice from the can before actually eating the salmon. It must be something that he only does when he's with the boys. The pictures from inside the actual mineshaft don't do any justice so I'm only keeping with the actual quality pictures for the blog site. The other ones will have to come later when we all sit down and view the thousands of pictures that I hope to bring home.