The lady in the check-in counter is doing an excellent job. I am going to fly from Freetown in Sierra Leone to Monrovia in Liberia. I have already checked in online but lacking my own printer I simply need the lady to print me a boarding pass. I travel cabin luggage only, so I should be fairly easy to check in. I am dizzy and have nausea. Known side effects of taking the antibiotics called ciprofaxacin. A few hours ago I have eaten half a gram and my stomach is already feeling much better.
My two boarding passes and my business lounge pass seem to be issued to a certain John Stenzel. And ok, I’ve also got another seat than the one that I have chosen. And I have obtained boarding passes for both Freetown-Monrovia and Monrovia-Brussels, despite the fact that I’m only going to Monrovia. And my name is not Stenzel. But apart from these small discrepancies the lady in the check-in desk performs her job really well.
At the airport, I’m picked up by “Prince” who drives me for half an hour to my cheap USD 45 per night, Ms Emily’s guesthouse at the center. It’s dark on the whole trip. Prince drives with a speed of maximum 60 kilometers per hour, although in the beginning we are on good road and there are no other cars in sight. Every time we pass a car Prince reduces the speed to 30 km/h by hitting the brake and then he turns the car abruptly towards the shoulder as to avoid collision. When we pass a motorcycle he idiotically does the same. He randomly applies the long light which every other car on the road are trying to tell him by flashing their lights but to no avail. In English I try to explain how to operate the long lights but he seems to not understand. He replies in some incredibly strange Liberian-English of which I understand absolutely nothing.
Abrupt is by no means a strong enough word to describe the way he drives. I’m thrown back and forth in my seat, which does not do anything good for my nausea. Some may think I’m exaggerating here but I seriously think that I was able to handle a vehicle better than Prince the very first time I did so (in a car with a stick shift – Princes car is an automatic). I cannot remember having ridden with a driver driving anywhere near this bad. When we finally reach my guesthouse I take another half gram of antibiotics and crash on my bed.
Liberia has, as you probably know, a troubled history. Here is a quick recap: Until 1980, Liberia was led by the so-called “Americo-Liberians”. Descendants of the Americans who returned to Liberia with the released slaves in the 19th century. They were on a mission to convert the locals to Christianity (and they succeeded – today the majority of the population is Christian). The native indigenous peoples were treated with brutality, which they did not think was the most amazing thing in the world. So a local Sergeant named Samuel Doe sneaked into the palace on a night in 1980 killed the Americo-Liberian president while he was in his pajamas (known as’ Death in the pajamas coup ‘). Unfortunately, the good Samuel Doe did not administer the country’s finances very well and corruption also exploded. The civil war between the various tribes broke out and from 1989 to 1991 forces under the leadership of Charles Taylor (initially from a base in Côte d’Ivoire) attacked the government troops and eventually took power. Samuel Doe was executed, an event that was recorded on video and it has later been discovered that a guy named Prince Johnson – who later came in third place in the 2012 presidential election – on the 1991 video sits and drinks beer while commanding his soldiers to kill Samuel Doe. Charles Taylor, who had come to power by military invasion, was in fact legally elected President in 1996. His election slogan was: “He killed my mother, he killed my father. I’ll vote for him “(!?). Charles Taylor’s rule lasted until 2003 when different groups of rebels took over power. Taylor went into Nigerian exile and a transitional government was formed. It led to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005 becoming Africa’s first elected female president. She is still the head of the country and has received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Aside from the fact that the country has a very bloody past, I have also heard a few gruesome stories about the present. A guy wrote on Tripadvisor (last year I think) that a man broke into his room at his central guesthouse, beat the shit out of him and then threatened him with a gun and stole everything he had. And Eric T Nguyen, who recently aged 24, became the youngest in the world who has visited all world countries (read my interview with Eric here: http://www.expedition-everywhere.com/travel-writing/#eric ) also was robbed at gunpoint here (when couchsurfing in the slums).
Fortunately, there are guards and high walls with barbed wire around the building at Miss Emilys Guesthouse. And my room has both a normal door with a normal lock and a solid steel door behind it that looks like something from a bank vault. Annette, the sweet lady who runs the guesthouse tells me that I shouldn’t bring my camera or mobile phone when I walk around the capital. But I bring them anyway. Fortunately, in Monrovia I have no trouble photographing. I visit the newly renovated National Museum, which already has a section telling the sad story of the recent Ebola epidemic. In the middle of the day I’m taking a tuk tuk – here it is called a kekeh – to the Mamba Point Hotel – one of the city’s finest hotels where the UN staff and NGOs allegedly hang out. I leave my GPS at home. A big mistake because unfortunately (and mysteriously) the driver has a hard time finding the hotel even though it is the most famous one in his own city.
On my way home, the engine on my second tuk tuk of the day keeps setting out. The driver has a special trick to get the old two stroke engine running again. The sixth time the engine sets out, he keeps trying his trick but to no avail. At the very same time, of course, a rainstorm of biblical proportions begins. I’m sighing loudly from my back seat. The driver turns around and with a melancholic expression he stares me right in the eyes. “This is Africa” he simply says. Yes, I think. This is as Africa as it gets. As he finally gets the engine running of course he cannot find the junction between Johnson Rd and Warren St right in the most central Monrovia where I live. Several times he asks for direction. Ihave no idea what he is saying or even in what language he is speaking. Probably it is Kreyol or Merico (both of which are pidgin-slave-English with lots of other stuff – including French words – mixed in). Eventually I recognize a street where I have walked before and lead him the last way to the guesthouse.
After a few days in Monrovia, it is time to move on. On my last day all I have to do is go to the airport and I cannot think of anything that could possibly go wrong. It’s Sunday so the girl who cooks has her day off. When I come down for breakfast Annette is doing the cooking herself but she looks like a hung cat. “I am sick. I think I have malaria, “she says. She has just had her head halfway into my scrambled eggs. “But do not worry, it’s not contagious”. “Well I suppose it is if we get stung by the same mosquito,” I say. “Well yes,” she says. Then she tells me that the only available driver who can take me to the airport is – yeah you guessed it – Prince. Prince who drives worse than a kid at the first day of driving school after chewing a kilo of khat. “I think I will just find my own taxi,” I tell her. I hail down Mohammed and his cab on the street. He is a nice guy who speaks a little bit slower than all the other drivers so I am actually able to understand a bit of what he is saying.
“Road small car da plenty” he says pretty accurately when describing the traffic out of Monrovia (where there is only one road connecting the city and many cars). “Me da black man ca marry won, too, thre, foar woma. U da white ma only won!”. He says when I ask for his family relationship. He has five boys, he tells. Three with his first wife and two with the other. However, he does not have both wives at the same time, despite the fact that he has just told me that the black man Is allowed up to four wives at the same time.
Instead I ask him about the weather. It is rainy season and the last two days it has been raining violently and almost uninterrupted in Monrovia. He tells me that in August it’s sometimes rains non-stop for an entire week. “Rain ca come heavy,” After the last two very hard countries – detained in Guinea and dealing with amoebic dysentery in Sierra Leone and after a few days in Liberia with various minor challenges I am somewhat tired. And quite ready to leave this most hardcore part of West Africa. Soon I will return to comparatively speaking civilized and well-functioning Dakar. – and then home to my dear family in Denmark.
Next post: Senegal (where I end my journey hence I have saved it for last even though the majority of our Senegal tour was in the beginning of the trip)
PS Many thanks to Eleonore of Schaumburg -Lippe for issuing my visa