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Published: February 13th 2011
I'm currently at the airport in Ghana - waiting for my flight to German - been here for 4 and have 9 more to go - ugh! I'll be there in the morning just in time to catch my flight to Cairo. I was supposed to have returned back on the 1st but, as many of you already know, due to the political unrest (only 2 blocks from my house) I was unable to since all the flights were canceled. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend 2 additional weeks in Liberia (so ever thankful to my parents for providing the financial support for those 2 weeks - I know I've caused them quite a headache and lot of worries when they were determined to get back to come back home and I was adamant about sticking it out as long as possible so that I could return to Egypt)!
My time in Liberia was, of course, fabulous but then again I love Mama Africa so I didn't expect anything different. The first 2 weeks were busy as I conducted the research that I needed for my thesis - speaking with former Liberian refugees from Buduburam (Ghana) and their experiences with voluntary repatriation. I only needed to conduct 6 narratives but thanks to great friends and willing participants I got 11. The 2 weeks also included a lot of catching up - aka eating all the delicious Liberian food that I've missed so much. It also left me, on 2 separate occasions, unable to move from my hotel room but ohhh soo worth it! I also traveled to the city of Buchanan for a few days - a coastal town a few hours to the southeast of Monrovia - where I also got to do a little sight-seeing along with my interviews.
The past 2 weeks were filed with "relaxation" and enjoying Liberia. It was obviously filled with a lot of stressful, emotional and "on the edge of my seat" moments as I watched/heard about the events unfolding in Egypt. Many of my American friends were evacuated. Some chose to stay, including 2 of my roommates (1 still had yet to return from winter break) but were unable to stay at our apartment due to the proximity of all the "action". Looters tried to break into our apartment but thankfully were met with the local "neighborhood watch" group that had been formed to stop the looters. (I can't even tell you how relieved this made me since pretty much everything I own is in that apartment - including my laptop which includes ALL my current thesis research and paper). Unfortunately, one of my roommates was taken by Egypt's version of the "CIA" (she was just one of MANY) who were taken for hours and accused of being spies to overthrow the government. Fortunately, she was released a few hours later. Most importantly, my Egyptian "family" was thankfully safe - don't know what I would do if something had happened to them, especially the children and the rest of my Egyptian friends are all safe!
Back to Liberia - Liberia is still recovering from 13 years of civil war - even 8 years after a cease fire agreement was signed back in 2003. UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) can be seen throughout the country (planes, helicopters, cars, trucks, blue helmet soldiers, etc.). There mandate was supposed to end back in 2008 but continues to be extended. It is the largest peace-keeping force with over 15,000 personnel. Overall, even without them, I felt extremely safe. However, the people are struggling to survive from day to day and its apparent. I can say this now that I'm no longer there and my mom won't need to worry...The dams were completely destroyed during the conflicts so there is in electricity in the country. Everything is run on generators. The main downtown area and the main street leading into and out of the city is the only place where there is electricity but even its not always stable. Therefore, hotels are expensive -even for shabby lil places - plus they have to have security to watch the hotels. I found a "decent" enough place for 40 bucks a night (12 nights = $480 compared to what would have cost around $1200). At night, however, the place wasn't so decent. Married men with their mistresses or prostitutes and men would come and for $5 bucks an hour could get a room. Again, everyone is doing whatever it takes to survive. The number of women selling their bodies is absolutely astonishing - really made me so sad to see. The development since in the end of the civil war has been slow. The majority of Liberians are unemployed and must work in the informal sector - selling fruits, peanuts, water, etc. The average Liberian lives off of 50 US CENTS!!! a day! The woman who owned the "hotel" was left by her husband so again, was doing what it was that she needed to do to survive - renting out rooms to prostitutes and their men of the evening! Her sister also works there cooking and cleaning the rooms (along with a few young guys). However, I must admit that they were nothing but kind and protective of me! I'd play cards with the guys, play with the lil kids of the 2 sisters, spent one evening with the owner watching movies on the rebel groups from the civil war and the one sister even cooked food for me, out of the goodness of her own heart, on a few occasions.
I spent a few days at the beach and other days exploring Monrovia. The country and the people have so much potential. I just hope there is enough time, effort and $ to help them realize it. I can't wait until I'm able to return! Will update with pictures later this week!
I'm now leaving one world for another one and am still not quite sure what to expect when I arrive tomorrow into Cairo. Yes - Mubarak is gone (al humdillallah - thanks be to God) but whats next? The whole world and even the Egyptians themselves are asking this! Hopefully the Egyptian people will continue to maintain their, for the most part, solidarity and maintain the peace. Only the next few weeks will tell. Yesterday and today they came into downtown and have put in soo much effort to clean downtown back up - its such an amazing thing to see! However, I did just chat with one of my roommates who stated that earlier in the morning tear gas had overcome the streets surrounding our home and downtown. Apparently, police are protesting now and some people are trying to break into government buildings.
As for school - still not sure whats in store. Graduate classes are supposed to begin next week but we just received an email that they're not sure when or how its going to happen but to stay posted over the next few days. I still have 1 class left to take, along with the daunting task of writing my thesis. I'm also the President of STAR so have a lot of responsibilities to face when I return - most importantly ensuring that our programs and services will be able to be offered this semester - the whole downtown campus was recently significantly damaged so it is currently closed. If/when my classes begin they will be held out at the New campus. I also just recently found out that I received a fellowship from the University. I will have to work 10-15 hours per week doing research for one of my professors and in return all my tuition will be paid for by the school! 😊 I'm just hoping we'll be able to complete the semester and graduate come June!
Please continue to pray for a peaceful transition for whatever or whoever comes next in Egypt and pray for the people of Egypt - especially in the coming weeks!
Love to all,
ps. my friend just saw this on a guy's tshirt who was walking through Tahrir: "Dear Tourists, sorry for the temporary shutdown, Egypt was under necessary maintenance, we're happy to welcome you back in a much better Egypt now!" - Gotta love it! 😊
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