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, March 16, 2006

Diamonds and "Bamboos"

For many years during the civil war in Liberia the exporting of diamonds funded the purchase of arms which in turn fuelled an already devastating civil war which claimed the lives of hundred of thousand helpless victims. In 2001, UN Sanctions banned all exports of diamonds in an attempt to stop the different atrocities from continuing. Currently, it is not illegal to mine for diamonds so long you have a permit from the government to do so, but it still is illegal to export them. Don’t kid yourself though, the exporting has been stopped on a macro level but the micro- black market is alive and well in Liberia.

On a trip up in Nimba County in search of baboons, or “bamboos” as the Liberians would call them, we ran upon one of these petty diamond mining sites, an always interesting high school field trip. There were maybe two dozen miners at this operation and what an operation.

Firstly, before I get into the story of the diamond miners I should mention about these baboons. The local Liberians in the area believe that their spirits actually enter the baboons and, in a sense, they become baboons. We picked up a local villager who was describing all of this to us as we motored along the rarely travelled on dirt road. He himself was “under the water”, as he described it. What he meant by that is that his spirit can transform and enter that of a fish. Some Liberians have interesting beliefs that’s for sure…troubling as well. A young girl, maybe 10 years old, ran back among the sugar cane as she saw the oncoming vehicle. I was told that some of these people have never seen a vehicle in their lives before. After driving village to village trying to track down the head “bossman’ of this baboon society we came up empty. All the local villagers were too scared to show us the baboons without consent of the head elder because of beliefs that punishment will follow if they don’t follow the proper protocol. So in the end we never saw any “bamboos” or any wildlife for that matter, just a good cultural experience.

Back to the diamond mining…

These two dozen or so men, a lot of them ex-fighters (I saw a few women and children but I’m sure they were mostly onlookers and moral supporters), were working like little ants in their intricately set up operation. What they basically did was dam up a certain part of this river so that the raised water level in the rainy season wouldn’t ruin their operation. They had a bunch of little stations, if you will, set up each doing their own task, and doing it well. From shovels and diggers to hand picking larger stones from the mix, all these Liberians were working together for one goal: Diamonds. I had them give me a demonstration on how they sift through the smaller stones to discover what their sharp eyes know as a good and potentially high-priced diamond on the black, yet open market. What I didn’t know is that all these stones, to the untrained eye, look the same, but to the miners, very different. There is a layer of dark black stones that are heavier than all the other stones and during the sifting of the diamonds and these black stones sink to the bottom, or to the top, when they flip their square screen filter over. Small scale diamond mining operations such as this one exist in many areas of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. I can say that maybe I’m a little bit better of a person for experiencing this…well, maybe not better, but a lot more educated.

Monday, March 13, 2006

My First Stab at Liberian Public Transportation
Posted by Kev-o-rama

Deep Sea Sport Fishing ~ who says Liberia isn't a tourist destination?
Posted by Kev-o-rama

Unfinished Business
Posted by Kev-o-rama

Wanted: Monrovia Garbage Picker-Uppers

Just when I thought I was getting acclimatized the level of poverty in Monrovia, a small ‘three hour tour’ with some amazing people from the Mercy Ships realigned my thinking once again. After waiting at a shanty little house, basically underneath the bridge to Vai Town, for 3+ hours, we were finally led into one of the most disgusting neighbourhoods of Monrovia that I’ve experienced. Down to the water we walked in between two closely constructed buildings until we arrived upon what looked like a garbage dump. Did I mention anything about a cross-dressing Liberian who shoves long nails up his nose? Well, if I failed to mention of the sort, I saw exactly that while waiting for our boat to arrive. Lets just say that he was a character. Our boat finally arrived, and what a boat it was. It would say it was probably 35-40 ft long, not a dugout canoe but a boat actually made of wooden planks. They unloaded their day’s catch and threw a plank down that we could walk up on our way to boarding this medieval vessel. A few African drums were brought aboard and the party started. Up and down the river we cruised, the odd person getting up to “shake what their momma gave them”.Kids ran up and down the bank doing a little jig to the best of their ability. It all seemed like a fairly festive event if it wasn’t for the fact that it seemed like everywhere was covered with garbage. There were areas where it looked like the physical landmass had actually increased because of so much garbage. Lets not forget about the masses of garbage that were just plainly floating around looking for a home on the bank of someone’s yard. Let me paint you a picture here. Just imagine a paradise land, silver lined beaches, palm trees and scorching sun. Now lets apply the Monrovia filter to the situation. Sand is nowhere to be seen – garbage replaces sand as the staple item to build castles. Any item that resembles a building supply is used to build a latrine that hangs over the water where people have for the past number of years defecated into what once was pristine water. Kids now play and swim in this water. Parents collect this water for drinking, cleaning, washing, and cooking. Its just disturbing. Recently I brainwashed myself to saying that Liberia “isn’t THAT bad” but after seeing the inhumane living conditions of these people the last thing it makes me feel like doing is “shaking what my momma gave me”. Garbage piled up around bridge structures and burnt and fully-destroyed automobiles provided a firm foundation of these fully rotten piles pieces of “earth”. It was quite a sobering tour to say the least.