Final Days in Liberia

We couldn’t quite remember where we left off, but we think it was yesterday morning. We headed downtown to Broad Street to take care of some business, including a special pick up from Western Union from a special man, Mr. Daniel Musisi. He wrote a message with the money transfer which the Western Union agent is supposed to read, which read, “How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck would”. Disappointingly, the agent only handed us a paper with the message written on it.

We had some time to kill downtown, so we stopped by the National Museum to have a look. Liberia has a very interesting history, so if you don’t know much about it, give the Wikipedia page a read (at least). Among other things, we saw some Vai script (Vai is Eddie’s native tongue). It’s not really a written language, the script come much later than the language, and it’s not widely circulated. But people do study it at the University of Liberia. Our favorite piece at the museum was the fertility mask, for which we do not have a picture, as they were not allowed. The museum was torn up pretty badly during the civil war, so it was nice to come support it as it moves forward.

The next stop was the University of Liberia for a meeting with the Cape Mount Students University Association, which is a group of students from Grand Cape Mount County, where we are building the new school, and where Robertsport is. We were a bit delayed, because a water line in the engine kept busting, so we did a little street-side mechanical work. Once at the University, we had a meeting under a tree. There was a group of about 25+ students who welcomed us. (**It’s interesting to note that the average age of the college student is probably closer to 30 than 20). The point was really to welcome us and talk about the activities that FUEL Youth supported in Cape Mount last year, namely, the tutoring program to help students pass their high school exam. We’re really glad this meeting happened, as we learned a lot and it helped pave a positive way forward. All the Cape Mountonians had really thoughtful and insightful things to say and suggestions about how to make a tutoring program like ours work better.

After the meeting, some friends gave us a campus tour. The campus is bursting with students and energy. It has a law school and teachers college. But again, it was torn up badly during the war and is on a long road to recovery. They don’t even have a computer center for students to complete assignments, yet many professors require typed assignments, which leave students scrambling for facilities, and having to pay at Internet cafes. They NEED a computer facility for students. We hope they can make the right partnerships and the right moves to get themselves there.

We headed home next to shower and freshen up for our first evening out “on the town.” Our first stop was the Heartbreak Hotel, a fusion restaurant that serves Lebanese, Liberian, and Western food (and has AC!!) for a meeting with the man who heads up the administrative section of the Peace Corps here in Liberia. A friend of one of Sean’s friends, he was quite helpful in discussing the realities of Liberia’s development situation. Peace Corps itself withdrew all of its volunteers in 1990 when Liberia’s Civil Wars began and only just recently started placing volunteers in Liberia this past October 2008. Even still, Peace Corps has only sent 13 education focused volunteers, all of whom have previously served successful tours in Peace Corps , to help contribute to Liberia’s redevelopment. Liberia has quite a road ahead of her, though it seems like the majority of strong international development organizations like the Peace Corps are ready to step back up to the plate. And the majority of Liberians seem willing to accept the help.

Next, Kula took us to a place very near the beach in Sinkor called The Garden Cafe.  On Wednesday and Friday nights they have live bands there, so we were very anxious to hear some great Liberian music.  It was a beautiful evening, so it was perfect that the seating and music was out on the patio.  We ordered a round of Clubs (Monrovian brewed beer) and sat back and enjoyed.  So many surprises surfaced over the next few hours.  It began when three american men entered and they can really only be described as…..well, rednecks.  Incredibly unexpected.  The band started up shortly after and to our amazement, their first song was Enrique Iglasias’s “Hero.”  Songs that followed include: Red Red Wine, Sexy Thing, and other delightful surprises.  They also played some great Liberian and Ghanaian songs as well.  At one point, a song was dedicated to our table so Christine danced up to add some money to the tip jar, only to be coaxed into dancing with the lead singer.  No worries, we’ve got great pictures of this.  Later, the two back up dancers got the table (sans Sean and Vivien) up dancing.  The last and final surprise of the evening might just have been the best.  Never ever in our lives would we think we’d come across a MULLET in Liberia, but nonetheless we did.  It was exciting to be able to teach Vivien and Kula a new vocabulary word.  Mullet: noun. Business in the front. Party in the back.  They caught on quickly.  The group was pretty wiped after that, so we headed back to Vivien’s.  Vivien managed to convince Ali to check out a couple of the night clubs Liberia has to offer (as if it was that difficult), so they headed out for a little while more.

The next morning (Thursday), we visited Love International Elementary School, which was built by and is overseen by a really great couple. The wife serves as Principal to the School, while the husband serves as District Representative to Grand Cape Mount county (which encompasses Messima and Robertsport where we visited last weekend). It was an incredibly informative meeting – to hear their story of opening the school in 1997 (as so many children had no school to attend), their successes and challenges, etc.  The school itself was a great example of what we want UCA to be (self-sustaining, meal program, appropriate class curriculums, and an internet cafe!), so it was a productive visit. Not to mention that we were able to establish contact with an elected official from Cape Mount, which will prove to be helpful in future efforts.

From the school, we headed to P.A.’s Ribhouse to get a few cokes and biscuits and say goodbye to Fatumata, our favorite server.  From P.A.’s, we headed into the chaos and thick smog of central Monrovia to the Brussels Airline’s office where we checked into tomorrow evening’s flight, and then we decided a final trip to the beach was in order. Have we told you how beautiful the beaches in Liberia are? They’re pretty amazing – the water is warm, the waves are strong, and the UN guys in speedos are slightly out of control.  We enjoyed our final swim and documented the occasion with some poses by a very picturesque palm tree.

We’re closing the evening out with some delicious -though rather expensive- food and drink at a Lebanese-owned restaurant around the corner from where we’re staying.

Its unbelievable that tomorrow is our final day here in Liberia.  We can’t even begin to articulate how amazing this journey has been – so I won’t try to here.  But I cannot wait to get back stateside and go through our photos, update our website with everything we’ve documented and learned on this trip, and do what we can to move the vision of FUEL Youth forward.

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