Still new to Liberia, I find myself trying to find a pattern to the people, the behavior. I continue to fight against what I knew to be true in South Africa because it is worlds away and does not apply here.

Everything here is a product of the war. Or at least that’s what humanitarian and development folks say. Locals too, but I can’t tell who says it first. If foreigners are echoing what locals say or locals have simply resigned themselves to our interpretation.

No one greets me here. I expect the staring but it feels sullen without any greeting to temper it. Even the children smile and wave less, although more than adults.

Given what I’ve always been told about West Africa, how warm and inviting, I find the silence jarring. In my head I “intellectualize” it. The easiest answer is the war. Of course.

But is it?

It could be foreigner fatigue. We continue to stream in, living in homes removed from the village at large,  range rovers with whatever logo painted to the side barreling recklessly down roads and kicking up dust and puddles. We tend to speak quickly, our strange accents obscuring what we’re saying. And we are usually telling people that what they are doing is wrong. It may not be the war at all…maybe they are just tired. War is the easy rationale .

Beyond the Monrovia roads into the bush are less roads, more packed clay- red and pitted, with trenches where the rainy season has had its way and won. Homes are often dilapidated. Mud bricks beginning to erode with rusted tin roofs barely peeking over the edges.

And the war raged everywhere. Just up the road from where I am now was a Charles Taylor stronghold. The fighting eventually made its way into the capital but it began in the bush. The rural areas endured the looting, destruction, and injury first. The war wreaked havoc.

So when people say the bad roads, lack of electricity, and poor education are the product of the war, who am I to argue – I wasn’t here.

I researched Liberia before coming here and most of what I read or watched centered on pre-war Monrovia. Monrovia, with her paved roads and single stoplight, her tall buildings and societied urban sheen…She was a trophy wife. Now she is a battered one.

I heard and read little about anywhere else – everywhere else. What I inferred, between the lines and in the silence of what wasn’t said or written, was that the rest of Liberia didn’t fare nearly as well – even before the wars. My guess is there were pockets. Bustling urban centers, maybe one or two in each of the 15 counties, but I never had the impression that the country at large was part of a systematic highway connecting rural to urban or that there was a substantial investment into schools and hospitals in the bush. So I wonder…with all the work being done, needing to be done, is the damage all the product of war?

I remember riding with someone through post-Katrina New Orleans and listening to the disbelief in her voice as she shook her head and lamented, “look what the storm did, l can’t believe all this devastation.”

Only it wasn’t storm derived devastation she was looking at, it was poverty driven and had been there for years. But the visitors, the temporary workers, shook their heads, called it storm damage, and lamented the force of Mother Nature.

And maybe it doesn’t matter. Or maybe it is best to leave war and storm preconceived notions where they ferment in peoples imaginations and draw them to action drunk with possibility, because there was little help and less attention before. And if I am right, if the roads people speak of as being destroyed in the war actually never existed, at least now, in the name of unity and recovery they will exist.

Of course, today BushDiva came home fresh from the market with a local midwife trainer. Freed from the pack of foreigners we make up when the volunteers are all together, she was told that before the war chickens were only 4LD (Liberty dollars) and now they are 400LD…war has its price.

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1 Comment on product of war

  1. Lizzie says:

    Linnea, they way you weave your words always makes me feel as though I am there. This should be published!

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