Sunday, January 15, 2006



The city of Monrovia sits on a narrow peninsula between the Atlantic and the Mesurado River, and includes Bushrod Island on the north-east side of the river. The city stretches along this area, about five miles long and nowhere wider than a half mile. With the influx of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons-- refugees who stay in their home country), the population of Monrovia has swelled to around two million. The infrastructure is entirely destroyed, with no sewage or garbage system except open latrines. During a typical run along the beach, it is common to pass several people squatting, relieving themselves.

The majority of the city is large, concrete buildings that have been entirely reduced to their structural skeletons. People have squatted living establishments where ever possible, reinforcing the structure of five story buildings with wooden sticks. In between the previously built up town center and the water, surrounding us on all sides, shacks made of every imaginable material, scrap wood, metal and cloth have been errected and crammed in amongst each other. Two bridges connect Monrovia with Bushrod island, the Gabriel Tucker bridge and a second one which is the center of the city's open market, and is impassable today in a vehicle through the choke of shops and merchant carts.

During the civil wars, both in 1996, and again in 2003, the rebel groups had been able to take control of most of the country, driving down from the countryside and taking control Bushrod Island, but unable to cross the moat that effectivly protects the capital. With the secondary bridge destroyed, this led the the Gabriel Tucker bridge becoming the center of the most intensive fighting. The first photo is taken from the bridge today, looking at two prominent buildings in Monrovia from which government snipers were able to control the bridge and prevent the captial itself from being overrun. Note the bullet holes which riddle all the lampposts and pocket every visible wall.

The most notable thing about the country is how young it is. According to the CIA World Factbook, the median age is 18 and the life expectancy for a Liberian is not even 39. The people on the street look it. It is rare to find a Liberian who looks much over 35, and the average taxi driver looks 14. People swamp the street everywhere, and it is not uncommon to see 14 year old kids with missing limbs, begging on the street. The endemic poverty and unemployment is everywhere, but the area here is surprisingly robust. The CIA lists about 2000 cell phones in country, but that number is dated 2001, and I can tell you is is definately out of date. Prepaid cell phones are everywhere, even in the bush, and the little scratch off cards for $5 of service are practicly the national flower, they are laying everywhere.

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