Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rainy season

The last month has been spent more or less on the road, and the last two days were spent in finding my way from Freetown in Sierra Leone to Monrovia in Liberia. With no direct flights between the two cities even though they are adjoining countries I had no option but to take the land route, an interesting trip I was told

The drive from Freetown to Bo, SL's second city with a population of 150,000 was uneventful and would have been singularly boring if not for the landscape along the way. This trip by the way was done in a Mahindra Bolero, a vehicle that seemed to have been built sans a suspension - the seats reminiscent of those little wooden chairs we see in pre school class rooms. Bo is a commercial town, spotted with diamond merchants who buy rough stones and then sell them on to clients in Europe and Dubai.

                                                      From Freetown to Bo, Sierra Leone

                                         Everyone works, irrespective of age -  Sierra Leone

                                                 Colored bolts of clothe - Bo, Sierra Leone

From Bo the next morning we set off for Kenema, a 30mt drive from Bo, where we needed to take a ferry across a river. But this being the rainy season the ferry was grounded forcing us to take an alternate route through a 'lightly' populated part of the countryside and jungle.

For the next 8hrs we rocked back and forth, left and right as Alfa battled the Bolero and the muddy road that meandered its way through a lush green countryside, thickets of forests, paddy fields and neat little villages along the way. These little plots of habitation, many miles from anywhere struck me most for their cleanliness, neatly cleaned yards, swept paths, smiling people and children absorbed in their own little worlds as they played under watchful eyes. These are little kids with big responsibilities, carrying water, minding livestock, planting crops, taking care if even smaller kids. They carry knifes and axes with a dexterity that even I dont posses!

                                                        The road to Liberia - Sierra Leone

At Sierra Leone's immigration & emigration facilities 28km short of the actual border, we were greeted with smiles from everyone including a barefoot man in the traditional grab of a Muslim carrying an infant in his arms. As the officers flicked through my passport this amiable man strolled across to jest with me about my name. It was only then that it began to dawn upon me that this man was in fact the senior office of this post!

The actual crossing was over a bridge and a river that had broken its banks to flood the adjoining areas, including the Sierra Leone police post on the border! On the Liberian side were met by 'Big Dada' the immigration officer dressed in desert battle fatigues a patch with the Liberian flag sawn on the sleeve of his right arm - this made an impression upon me as it was so similar to a US flag barring the fact that it bore one lone star as opposed to fifty

                                                  Border crossing Sierra Leone to Liberia

                                             The Liberian flag at  Bo Waterside - Liberia

The drive to Monrovia Liberia's capital was on a well built tarred road, our journey interrupted only by frequet 'check points' which offered the officials manning them an opportunity to make a pass for gifts. This is something to be expected in a country where the population is supposedly getting by on an average of US$ 1.30 a day. And the economy is the USD, the most used form of currently everything is priced in US$ in spite fo the fact that Liberia has its own 'Liberty' dollar.

The effect of the civil war that raged across this country from 1989 to 2003 devastated the population and cities, refugees streamed into adjoining countries, US warships anchored off the coast, an ECOWAS Peace keeping force tried to keep the warring factions apart. Charles Taylor ironically is being tried not for what happened here but for his role in Sierra Leone's civil war even though it was his 1989 Christmas Eve invasion of Nimba Country with a few hundred rebels that tore this country apart.

The UN's military force (UNMIL) and a number of NGO's still manage a large part of the country, though Liberia's government is headed by Africa's first elected female president - Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who came to head the nation in 2005.

There are still bullet holes to be seen in the facade of many buildings, abandoned buildings sit along side occupied ones, not much a difference between one or the other really except for a fresh coat of paint. Last night after dinner I stood by my hotel's door watching a torrent of water rage down along the street under the weight of a rain storm which lasted for three hours.

All said and done, there is yet a sense of liveliness in the people, smiles and animated chatter fills the streets, kids commandeer side streets for games of footie, like in the rest of Africa, the people still laugh and smile and face each day as a new one

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