1/3 to 1/2 (depending on who you talk to) of the population of Liberia lives in Monrovia. I think that alone describes the cramped feeling that the city provides. Everyone we've spoken to has said we really need to get out of the city to see the beauty of Liberia. We finally got our chance these past 5 days.
We headed out of the hustle and bustle last Friday and were immediately confronted with the beautiful countryside. Lush and tropical it reaffirms my initial feelings that Liberia feels very much like an island. We saw rice patties (y? ddies?) fields, rubber tree forests smelling of latex (rubber is one of Liberia's primary exports), mud houses, colorful lapas, and fewer and fewer people. Our final destination was Phebe. Phebe is a very large hospital compound located in SuakoKo (Bong County). Centrally located, many Liberians lobbyied for Phebe/Suakoko to become the capital but Monrovia was chosen instead. All staff for the hospital live on campus and we stayed in a large white and blue guest house surrounded by yellow and red hibiscus like flowers. The house was ostensibly nicer then our previous location but lacked electricity, functioning toilets, running water and came equipped with several roosters that insisted on crowing at 5am until 5pm. Nevertheless it was a breathe of fresh air.
We did several things during our stay: We visited Gbarnga (pronouced "Banga"), a small town nearby which hosted the Gbarnga Theological Seminary; The Carter Center for Social Services, founded by Jimmy Carter and that deals primarily with Domestic Abuse and violence; The Cuttingham School of Nursing; an agricultural school; a local church and elementary school; a tremendously beautiful waterfall and much more.
As you might imagine (as we were staying in a Hospital Compound), we also visited the hospital. The Phebe Hospital was co-founded by the Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist Church. During the war, the Hospital was invaded (if thats the right term) and a horrific massacre occured. We spoke with the Hospital Administrator (A Lutheran Pastor) who happened to be there the day it happened and was fortunate enough to survive. 3 people atttempted to prevent the onslaught and were shot down almost immediately. They are now buried beneath a tree next to the hospital. Nearby, a mass grave holds over a hundred others that died that day. Clearly, as the hospital shows, noplace was safe during the war. Phebe has rebuilt itself post war, but it is still drastically underfunded. The only hospital within the surounding area (the other being 4 hours away in Monrovia), it struggles to stay afloat because of its importance to the surrounding peoples. it doesnt have enough money to keep its electricity on all day and thus is restricted to evening only power. I couldnt even imagine a hospital functioning without electricity. Moreover it lacks basic supplies (latex gloves/bleach/bandages); We spent an hour or two cleaning windows and waiting rooms (cobwebs and dirt were everywhere) and we were only allocated a rag each. We also met with a medical team from England that came to work with the Nursing students at Phebe (It also functions as a Nursing School). The night before we left we joined them in an evening soccer game agaisnt their students (winning 3-0!!).
We drove back to Monrovia Tuesday morning. On our way back we stopped at a Youth Farm. A 30 minute hike off a dirt road, through dense forest opened up to several acres of land being farmed by local lutheran youth. A project in sustainability, the farm was growing kasava (sp?), peanuts and corn, the youth will attempt to sell all they grow, and the proceeds will go back into the farm and the area. Pastor King (Head of Lutheran Youth Ministry in Liberia) has dreams of a Youth Retreat House and Center.
We drove back to Monrovia during rush hour with the rain pouring and trash whirling across the road. Fortunately we knew we were coming home to flushing toilets.
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