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

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

AFL Widows’ Protest

On Friday, January 6, a day where we expected to pick Suzi up from the airport, unexpected protests/disturbances by widows of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) caused traffic all over Monrovia to come to an absolute standstill. All over the city, at every major intersection, these women who were promised compensation from the government for their lost husbands sat, for the most part, peacefully while hundreds of cars sat in a standstill for hours. Most of these ladies were generally peaceful but I did run up against one group of ladies at an intersection that weren’t too friendly to say the least. I was sitting at the office for most of the day doing my day-in/day-out thing knowing that I had to get to an internet café in town to print some colour pages for a report that had to be handed in to UNICEF. When I heard about that protests and disturbances I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to get downtown into some of the action and get some worthwhile media for the blog. To actually get into town I had to ride motorcycle (only because motorcycles can fit between parked cars and up onto curbs).

After weaving in and out of parked cars and through a small community in the middle of Monrovia that I didn’t even know existed (between Randall and Center Street for all you people who know the layout of downtown Monrovia) I finally arrived at my internet café after carving a line of dust through a few coal pots of potato greens on the way to my destination. I ended up having to cut through this community because of this one intersection where apparently ladies had bricks and rocks in their hands, taking aim at the brave men and women who tried to invade their territory. I promptly turned my bike around when the started coming towards me yelling and screaming. No harm, no foul I guess!

It was on the way back from the internet café that I decided it was time to get serious and get some pictures to actually document the happenings. For those who know Monrovia, I parked my bike on the corner of the Capital and Jallah Town Bypasses and decided to get into the action. There was one other reporter, a little more official than my freelancing skills could claim, but he turned out to add to the backdrop for some of my pictures. There was a ton of Syrian UN Military officers on the scene, probably 30 or so, but they didn’t seem to mind me gallivanting through the chaos and snapping random pictures here and there…even if they were the ones being photographed. Maybe it was because they couldn’t see beyond their flak jackets and full out riot gear.

I heard that later in the day Ellen Johnson Sirleaf went out onto the streets to personally talk to these ladies and their grievances. I’m sure her words mentioned something about how justified her gianormous presidential inauguration budget is and the ensuing benefits to these ladies. Actually I really don’t know what she had to say to these ladies, whether there was any promise of compensation or not, but traffic was back to normal the following day so either what she said actually meant something or these ladies are just scheming about their next plan of action. Only time will tell…

The “Suzi” Has Landed

Suzi, the long-awaited and much anticipated teacher of the Waines’ kids, arrived safely at the Robertsfield International Airport on the 6th of January after a two-day overbooking debacle in Brussels. The airlines are just going crazy with people coming to Liberia for the presidential inauguration ceremony of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president in African history…a ceremony that I am on the list of potential attendees. That should be quite the highlight, barring any assassination attempts or rogue infiltrations. Word on the street in Monrovia is that Opera, Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton will be in attendance. That might be a bit interesting. I’ll keep you guys posted on what happens with it all.

I don’t want to detract from Suzi actually arriving in person too much but with her came a long-awaited care package that I was supposed to receive in October. Among the many personal items included in the package were two signed cards from the folks back at Creekside Community Church. I would now like to personally thank every single person who took the time to sign the cards even though some of you would still like to think I’m in Libya, but regardless I’d like to thank you anyways. All your prayers and support are appreciated immensely. I believe these cards should have made it here in October but now is always better than never:

1. Inez
2. Taelor
3. Natashya
4. Sarah Diamond
5. Jenn
6. Coreena & Jayson
7. Aileen
8. Ivonna
9. Rose Jane
10. the “bottomfeedah”
11. Robert Goedhart
12. Rick Kettner
13. Jonathan & Teresa Penner
14. Dave Gifford
15. Christina and Will Anderson
16. Randy
17. Jon
18. Tammy
19. Sherman
20. Josh
21. Shad
22. Kevin Castillo

Another item within the care package was the inclusion of Touching The Void (Wide Screen),a heroic mountaineering documentary film. The story is about two mountaineers who set out on the climb of their lives to scale Siula Grande, a 20,000ft+ never-been-climbed-before peak in the Andes. After a successful summit and bone-shattering leg injury on the descent, an often-questioned decision by one of the climbers to cut the rope on his fellow climber to save his own life led to a hair-raising story about survival and will-to-live by a severely injured human being. This story has become folklore in the climbing community and not surprisingly more popular in the mainstream avenues of life as well thanks in part to this great film. For anyone who has not seen it before, I would highly recommend checking it out. It definitely fits into my Top Five favourite films.

New Years at Robertsport

After a delightful Christmas season and not a whole lot of work for the few days afterwards we decided to spend the New Years in Robertsport, a world-renowned surf hotspot known for the amazing size and form of its waves. Well, that description might be a bit premature but give this place five or ten years of development and I’ll throw down a personal guarantee of 5 or 10 Liberian Dollars (LD) that this place is going to be a surf and tourist getaway. The views are amazing, waves unmerciful, and water warm and full of colourful and playful wildlife. Robertsport may be one of the only places in Liberia where you might be able to find a “C”assava Snake, “C”assava Fish, and “C”assava Root all in a .5 km radius of each other. Well that might be a lie. I’m sure anywhere you look in the water on the coast you could find a “C”assava Fish, anywhere in the long grass you could find a “C”assava Snake, and anywhere in the ground you could find a “C”assava Root (just ask a certain someone who takes giant behemoth cassava roots to UN coordination meetings). For all those Samaritan’s Purse people reading this…yes, that’s “C” as in Cassava.

So, back to the New Years in Robertsport. Someone must have told the moon to stop its gravitational pull because the waves in Robertsport were atrocious. I think the largest wave I rode that weekend had to be about a three footer. What I can say is that I officially did ride the smallest wave so far here in Liberia. It had to be about one foot or so…maybe even 6 inches. It had the perfect curl and the break was amazing. This one did take me by surprise and it took quite the push to get into but once one drops into a six inch wave they know it! I’m sorry the surfing picture isn’t a very spectacular shot but it’s a very realistic depiction of the goings on. I'll have to get Mark, the one who actually took this shot, to snap the camera when I'm actually standing up next time! Nice work Marky Mark.

So besides the hair raising surf, the highlight of the weekend had to have been singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” at the top of our lungs around the campfire at about 11pm New Years Eve with Marcel and Peter. Man, we were sure “blastin’ it!” I must have been so light-headed from the previous night of singing our heads off that I ended up losing my glasses and leaving my shorts and rash guard behind when we left. Being the lucky character that I am, Sam, a Lebanese surfer and ex-MSF employee who we camped with on the beach ended up bring my shorts and rash guard back but until today I still haven’t seen my glasses. I think they were inside my tent when I turned it upside down to shake all the sand out of it on the beach. Oh well, they’re only a piece of metal with some glass in between. I’m sure I can find a lot of metal and glass on the streets here in Monrovia. That's my next homework project.