25 December 2013

Late afternoon soccer on the Monrovia beach

After Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, and Sierra Leone, Liberia is my last country to visit in this corner of Africa. You may already know the basics:

  • Founded by freed American slaves
  • English is the official language
  • Flag and government modeled on the U.S.
  • Capital Monrovia (after U.S. President James Monroe)
  • Run by "Americo-Liberian" minority until Sam Doe's bloody military coup in 1980
  • Then came:  two brutal civil wars, unspeakable violence, hundreds of thousands of deaths, blood diamonds, drugged child soldiers, destroyed businesses.
  • Now extremely poor after decades of bloodshed.
  • Peace in 2005. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf elected (the first woman president in Africa). 
On Christmas eve, enjoying the waves and chatting with former colleague Paul

Liberia has the world's largest rubber plantation: an incredible 400 square miles of 2 million rubber trees run by Firestone and employing over 6,000 Liberians. Paul gave me a tour.

Firestone's dam generates hydroelectric power to run most of its operations.

Left: Many items were stolen from the National Museum during the civil wars, but this beauty remains.
Right: Downtown Monrovia, Benson Street, midday December 24, 2013.

Opened in the late 1960s when Monrovia was the booming, the Ducor Intercontinental Hotel was one of the first five-star hotels in Africa. Its ten stories were built on the highest point in the city overlooking both the Atlantic Ocean and Monrovia. Few photos are online, but I found these from its glory days:

The hotel shut its doors in 1989 as the Liberian civil war loomed. It's been thoroughly looted, and is now an eerie, intriguing shell, and a destination for curious travelers.

Top: Ducor Intercontinental Hotel (circa 1970)
Bottom: My photo from December 2013
On the roof of the abandoned Ducor Intercontinental Hotel that towers over Monrovia.

Paul and Laura drove me down to Marshall to see what everybody calls "Monkey Island," but are actually six islands that are home to chimpanzees used decades ago in medical research.

We joined three Liberians who go daily to feed them milk, peanuts, papaya, cornbread, and bananas. We got to toss them bananas. It was a blast.

Boats at a nearby fishing village
Kids at the village on the Farmington River.
Hope their next decades are better than the past few decades in Liberia.

Thanks to the hospitality of old friends (who have been doing aid work here for the past two years) visiting Liberia was an especially enjoyable several days.