Though its civil war ended years ago, Liberia remains politically and economically unstable — and more may suffer as food and fuel prices rise around the world.
Glenna Gordon is a freelance writer and photographer currently based in Monrovia, Liberia. She has reported from Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Rwanda and writes at the “Scarlett Lion” blog about encountering a trio of problems in Liberia: food, money and transportation.
Before I came to Liberia, friends and colleagues warned me that it wouldn’t be easy. It isn’t. But in ways that are different than I expected.
Thomas is a nice young man who comes to our house about once a week to wash clothes. On Tuesday, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind picking up a few things for us at the vegetable market. I don’t have time to go and haggle over the price of an avocado every week, and it’s a way for him to earn a little extra money.
He brought three moldy heads of cabbage, tiny onions (not the shallot kind, the picked-before-they-were-fully-mature kind), mushy potatoes already gone bad, instead of a pound of fresh tomatoes about a dozen small jars of tomato paste, and four avocados that won’t be ripe for at least a few weeks.
The best part was when I asked Thomas why he didn’t bring fresh tomatoes, he looked confused, and then asked me if I was referring to the “bush fruit.”
Fifteen dollars later, I plan to give all guests who visit my house over the next few weeks a small jar of tomato paste as a parting gift.
There are no ATMs or banks linked to the international banking system in Liberia. That means no Visas, Master Card, Barclays, or any other bank card will get you cash if you stick the piece of plastic in a Liberian ATM. It’s all EcoBank, all the time.
I’ve been trying to get my bank at home to wire money to my EcoBank account. This isn’t easy. I have to fax them a form. There aren’t a lot of working fax machines in Liberia. Since that technology is based on land lines (which there aren’t) and became vogue in a tech era of yore (when Liberia was at war), this is difficult. My boyfriend found one, and faxed the form. The bank won’t accept it because it was a scan, and not a fax. I’m not sure how that happened.
Finally, through only slightly duplicitous means, we got money into our EcoBank account here. I went to the bank yesterday to withdraw. The bank’s computer system was down.
There isn’t really public transportation in Liberia in any sort of organized way. You can flag down a yellow taxi (literally a falling apart four door small vehicle), squeeze in the back where four people always sit, or in the front, where two people sit next to the driver, and pay about 5 LD for a ride (that’s Liberian Dollars equivalent to about eight American pennies). But, there aren’t enough taxis in town and you might wait up to an hour to catch a ride which may or may not take you where you need to go, since there are also no set taxi routes.
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