I finally made it out to the field here in Liberia! All my previous trips have been limited to Monrovia and the surrounding areas – like any capital city, it can’t begin to represent all the diversity of the outlying areas. It’s so nice to to get out and see the country a bit!
Historically, the area on the coast around Monrovia was the center of all the development in the country. The settlers from America set up home here, and because of the difficulty of traveling and communicating with the ‘interior’ of the country, didn’t move much beyond the coast. Lofa, which is one of the largest counties along the Sierra Leonean and Guinean borders in the northwest of the country, was also probably the most devastated by the war. Some estimates say that as much as 95% of the population were displaced – forced to flee from their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries. Many more people here speak French from the time they spent in Guinea.
I’m staying in Voinjama, the county headquarters and the biggest town in Lofa. It’s a bit like the wild west here, as one of my colleagues said. The main street is full of colorfully painted wooden shops selling the usual phone scratch cards, gasoline (of a dubious quality) out of glass bottles, bread, some canned food and other basic provisions. The terrain is really rocky, and the dirt roads are rutted and hilly. Most of the government buildings are still in complete disrepair – no windows or doors, just shells really. We drove past one fenced compound where you could imagine a tumbleweed was going to blow by at any minute!
I’m staying at a small guesthouse called the Lofa Lodge. It’s quite nice, really – just a small house with a porch where you can sit outside and have a cup of tea, a little bar which pumps music on the weekends but doesn’t attract much of a crowd, beds with decent mattresses. Electricity almost all night. No running water, but at least they bring you warm water in the mornings for bucket showers! Our office isn’t far from here, and is really nice – painted bright yellow, with colorful flowers and landscaping. It’s all just so much more quiet and relaxed than Monrovia.
I’m here to work on a proposal with some of the staff, so I haven’t had too much time to see the surrounding area. There isn’t much of a nightlife it seems, but the people seem fun. The only place to eat in town is PakBat – the Pakistani UN Peacekeeper’s battalion. They charge a small amount for really great food.
Just a little glimpse into Lofa. I’m hoping I get a chance to come up here more often – it’s such a great break after Monrovia. It feels so much more relaxing…