Ive never seen (in person) much less spoken with Joe Biden, but today we had the opportunity to meet with a high level senator with presidential aspirations as well as The Vice President of Liberia. This was all thanks to the members of Lutheran Relief Services who have connections in high places and pulled several strings to give us a sit down with two very powerful men.
We started this morning early and headed to the legislative building (about 10 minutes from our guest house). The Legislative House, Executive Mansion, and Judicial Building form a triangle and are just a hop, skip and a jump away from eachother. Their system of government is similar to ours. and a tour afforded us the ability to sneak into the Senate Chambers and the House which were both in session as well as see the join committee space, where the House and Senate meet with the President every January (like us!). We began the day by meeting with Senator Franklin Siakor, one of 2 senators from Bong County (each county has two). He's currently being pitched as a potential presidential candidate for the 2011 election and has recieved a lot of media attention. We read a full front page spread on him in the daily paper this morning, and he had to delay the start of our meeting due to a radio interview. He's seen as young, lacking experience, but filled with passion and committment to the wants and needs of the Liberian people. He was incredibly engaging and spoke with us for over an hour, joking about his Big Mouth and how it got him thrown off several committees, and then turning more serious as he reflected upon Liberia's transitional government and the ongoing need for complete transparency as well as eliminating corruption from the top down and the grassroots up. Senator Siakor went on to talk about education (the lack of jobs for the educated liberians) and his frustration that Liberia does not utlize the skills that it has (in tandem with the ongoing problem of educated Liberians leaving, coming to the US and staying in the US which he felt perpetuates the cycle that a 3rd world country goes through). All in all a fantastic meeting.
After our time with the senator we were shown around the building and then were finally directed to the Vice President's, Joseph Boakai, Office. Being used to US security, which puts metal detectors outside highschools, I was flabbergasted that they merely asked for our cell phones and cameras and then allowed us to walk in. It was bizarre. We waited until he was done with a meeting and then were able to speak with him for about 10 minutes. It was fantastic. He generously thanked us for visiting his a country, a country that many are still unwilling to visit and spoke about ongoing efforts to improve the country and maintain peace. He spoke to the fear that people were feeling and how they try to work with it. After some time we asked if we could get a picture and he casually joked "As long as I dont have to pay for it". It was surreal and was all thanks to the kindness of the people at the guest house.
Our day didnt end here, and while not as glamorous, our afternoon was equally satisfying. The boys headed to the HIV Outreach Resource Center and spent some time with some patients and the girls headed to the Council of Liberian Churches, a women's group. We spent the afternoon making crafts with their Tuesday Group (specifically notecards made out of tailorshop scraps as well as trivets that they will eventually sell). It was fun, tedious work. They told us we could keep our notecards, which may have been a polite way of saying that they werent good enough to sell.
The day ended with a trip to UN Drive, a craft market near the Embassy and a Chinese Restaurant. It was a very full day and sleep will surely come easy tonight.
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