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

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Just Another Day in Liberia


Well here it is, almost three weeks after elections (and my last entry) and what a three weeks it has been. Where do I possibly begin? Well lets just say that Ryan and Gareth have arrived safely back in Liberia and I am migrating back to the house at Silver Beach. As far as work is concerned there isn’t much to say about work. The whole basis of this entry is going to be to describe a few stories that happened to either myself or some of my friends…because a year in Liberia is just basically made up of a bunch of stories; one after another. There are three stories that I’m going to report on and, as harsh as some of the stories are, I believe they are a fairly accurate representation and account of what it is like in Liberia on a day-in/day-out basis.

The first story is about my friend Kaitrin, an Aussie girl, who works for World Vision. She told me some of the details about her being held hostage by a group of the ex-combatants. World Vision’s project with the ex-combatants is the same project that JIU wanted us to implement. Thankfully we turned that offer down. There is a reason some donors are desperate for you to implement their projects. This story serves as a perfect example of why. So, basically, under my understanding, the project is one where the goal of the project is to reintegrate these ex-combatants back into society by providing skills training; things such as carpentry skills, animal husbandry, masonry, and the like. By going through the program, the ex-combatants acquire the skills necessary to earn themselves an income to support their families. While in the program, they are paid a stipend of sorts in order to continue earning something while studying and learning their newly acquired skills. Rumour has it that JIU, as a donor, is extremely slow in giving the adequate funds to support these types of projects therefore when the implementing partner such as World Vision is supposed to pay these ex-combatants, and there is no money to pay them, things can get a little out of control. So the story I have from Kaitrin is that her and a few other World Vision people were held hostage by these ex-combatants for a few hours while they demanded their money. She said she was pretty calm through everything but her story still blew me away.

The second story is the one that REALLY blew me away. Kaitrin herself said that she though her story was bad until she heard the story that Lauren went through. I still can’t believe this happened to her and that she can actually talk about it. Anyways, Lauren was on her way back from Gbarnga and was just outside of Kakata (if my memory serves me correctly) when the truck she was in drove upon a brutal accident between a taxi and a bus. She was telling me that there were limbs and bodies all over the road. They hopped out to see if they could help and a bunch of the people at the scene wanted them to carry all the dead bodies into town. Knowing the potential legal implications of doing such a thing they turned down the offer. Instead, they carried five bloody casualties in the back of their flat-bed truck. Their goal was JFK Hosptial in Monrovia, just over an hour away. One minor issue was that they had to go through Redlight (a fairly dangerous market area on the outskirts of Monrovia). All the casualties were lying down in the back of their truck as they swerved around the random pothole on their way back into Monrovia. As they got into Redlight, the streets packed with vendors and customers alike, one of the ladies in the back of the truck, bloodied head and all, sits up in the back of the truck and screams something to the effect of “Who took my baby!? Where is my baby?!” Its definitely not something you really want to hear/see when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of market onlookers around you and its not like you’re driving fast through the market either. A car usually proceeds through Redlight at about 5km/hr. So they get back into Monrovia and drive the accident victims to the JFK emergency room where they find out that there is no doctor on duty. They then proceeded to haul all five of the people on stretchers into the emergency room and waited for someone to call a doctor to come in. After it was all said and done, if I have my stories straight, four out of the five people survived and one of them died. The even more twisted part of the story is that one of the guys she was with videotaped the whole accident scene. She said the video is pretty gruesome but I’m going to have to get a copy of it and check it out. Is that bad?

The last story is something that I encountered yesterday on the way back from Robertsport. We took a trip up to Robertsport to bask in the sun and do a little surfing and, let me tell you, the waves were ginormous. The spot we usually surf had waves that were about double the height that they usually are. They were a solid 8 feet ALL day. Marcel got pummelled a few times there by the huge beasts. I was wishing I had a short board to surf because it sure isn’t fun dropping into an eight footer when you’re surfing a long board. Unfortunately there were definitely a few submarine moves in there. That being said, I did catch a number of waves that were just spectacular. Surfing at Robertsport makes you not want to surf where the waves are even borderline decent. It was probably the best surfing I’ve seen while I’ve been here. Wait a second, it WAS the best surfing I’ve seen out here. Anyways, on our way out of Robertsport we drove past a group of people who were motioning for us to stop. Thinking that they just wanted a ride we continued driving until someone said that there was someone bleeding. We turned around and drove back to see what the matter was. It ended up being a situation where a Liberian man was riding down this steep hill on his motorcycle and the brakes failed and he slammed into a tree. One thing to note was that he wasn’t wearing a helmet. When we loaded him into the back of the Land Cruiser he had a bloody bandage/shirt wrapped around his head. He was moaning and screaming and kicking. It ended up that he had what looked like a table spoon size chunk missing from his head. We quickly drove off down the road to where a UN base was set up. We honked and honked and told them to open the gate quickly. The classic example of UN bureaucracy just had to present itself when we had an emergency on hand. The lady at the gate refused to open their gate before we signed her logbook. After Marcel, a friend of mine from Samaritan’s Purse, actually got out of the vehicle and told her to open the gate and that we’d sign her book later she proceeded to open the gate and let us in, meanwhile, this guy in the back of our truck bleeding, scream, moaning, and kicking. We drive up to the clinic building and Marcel and myself jump out of the truck. I ran into the building calling for a doctor of some sort. I ended up getting a stretcher and ran back outside with it while the UN guys just continued to watch their football game. I really question the work that the UN is doing over here. They seriously need some help. So Marcel and I haul this guy on this stretcher into this medical building where we had to tilt the stretcher at various angles just to get this guy through the doors. He almost fell off the stretcher a couple times. You could tell that the building wasn’t designed to be a hospital that’s for sure. Another thing that just killed me was when I ran into the building calling for a nurse, besides the guys not lifting a toe to help but rather continuing to watch their football game, was the fact that when I actually found someone who was supposed to be a nurse or doctor or what-have-you instead of coming out to help get the victim or see how the victim was doing, the first thing he did was go get his white t-shirt that said “paramedic” or something to that effect. When it really comes down to life or death does a shirt that shows everyone that you’re the doctor on duty really matter when a guy is bleeding with a tablespoon sized chunk taken out of his head?

The UN just kills me. I do admit they’re doing some things that are helpful but for the amount of money they are getting paid and the bureaucracy and inefficiency they bring to the table I often wonder if they are doing more harm than good. I think a lot of these UN characters need a serious reality check and need to re-evaluated what their purpose is for being here because I think a lot of them have it all wrong.

Until the next bureaucratic moment in Liberia…