Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part III
10.10.2016 - 17.10.2016 29 °C
(…) As the truck is dragged out of the way, we continue. Not fast, mind you, the mudbath we are driving through is still worsening. At least we have company now and are driving in convoy. During the wait, a pick-up truck, a bush taxi and two Landcruisers from the Red Cross have shown up. To my surprise, Jungle Law is actually what’s being following here in the jungle. It’s every car for itself (the two Red Cross cars naturally stuck together). We only get help when we have gotten stuck in a place where we’re blocking the road for the other vehicles. This results in a race. Our driver is constantly trying to be ahead of the other cars. The other drivers have the same idea: Get in front and hope the cars behind can’t pass once we get to tough bits.
Somewhat different what I have encountered elsewhere. And particularly contrary to what I have experienced in the Arab World, including North Africa, were hard conditions mean everybody help each other out in order to survive. But not here. Not here Liberia’s muddy jungle. Later afternoon's approaching, and we have now lost all our company. The bush taxi and pick-up are stuck far behind us, while the Red Cross trucks managed to slip by as our drive went for the wrong of two tracks and had to back up. NGO cars are in much better condition that the local vehicles – even the ones being driven by the immigration police. So we aren’t going to see them again.
The road is slowly becoming muddier, and as a result, we get stuck more frequently. At one such break, looking at the driver trying to rescue the stuck vehicle, Alex, my new friend and chief of the car turn to me: “You know why I have to take passengers?” he asks. I shrug. “Because my boss only gave me enough money for 30 gallons of gasoline. It takes at least 50 gallons to get from Monrovia to Harper.” The fact that there isn’t enough money, even for the immigration police, to move a car from one part of the country to another is mindboggling. Whether the district lacks money or the commanding officer simply decided he can’t be bothered to pay the full amount I don’t know. But what’s even more ridiculous is that Alex would get in trouble if his boss found out he takes passengers to cover the extra expense.
Otherwise, the day proceeds as slow as we do. I quickly take my eyes off dark jungle scenery. It’s 9 pm. As I look out the window again, I’m surprised to see concrete buildings, tarred roads and light poles. All of a sudden a town has simply grown out of the jungle. We have reached Zwedru. The half-way point (-ish) to Harper. Progress report: We’ve managed 114 km in 13 hours. Finishing the day with a cold beer and a bootleg version of Mission Impossible (hilariously, in a quality way too poor for the big flat screen TV it’s shown on) is nothing short of bliss.
After a proper night’s sleep, we set out again at 9 am. We won’t get far. At 2 pm, five hours later have we managed to get 30 km. The car has developed an ignition problem overnight, meaning that the motor won’t start unless we push the car to a roll. This quickly becomes important. As we hit a whole covered in mud, the engine stalls. We are now stuck with a car we can’t turn on. The driver sets out for a walk to the nearest village to see if they have a car that can pull us out. The rest of us wait. Of course, they don’t. Realising this takes no less than two hours. Frustrating. Finally, a mototaxi comes by, and the drive hitches a ride back to Zwedru to find someone who can rescue us. We rest of us wait some more. Eventually, we also walk into the village. What else is there to do?
I walk a little behind the others and just before the village I’m called to a house on the roadside. It’s the house of the village teacher, who is being visited by the teacher from the area’s main village, who’s responsible for the smaller schools. The coordinating teacher is touring the smaller schools to discuss how to get the village kids to attend schools. This is apparently a problem as they are busy helping their families in the fields. They invite me to come with suggestions. I’m pretty blank. The only thing I can come up with is to take some of the older, “cooler” kids from the main school, who like to study, on a tour to show the village kids how awesome learning is. They both like the idea, and maybe – just maybe – I have actually contributed something to the area.
The coordinating teacher drives off, while the local teacher’s family provides me with a late lunch. Rice, mashed pumpkin and “bush meat,” which they promise isn’t monkey. I’m grateful. As I eat and dusk arrives a few of the other passengers come back. The driver called. Help can’t get to us before tomorrow morning, so we’re spending the night on the road. Fan-fucking-tastic. Progress for Day 2 is five hours of driving, five hours of waiting, 30 km gained.
On the upside, I get to continue my talks with the teacher. He has 24 kids and doesn't even want to guess how many grandkids he has (so much for family planning). He’d managed to put two of his girls through high school, but it’s difficult due to the costs. Most of his other kids are living of sustainable farming, much like himself as the teacher’s pay isn’t enough to live off. Though his biggest concern is the village’s kids. Government public school costs the equivalent of 35 US dollars per semester. Most parents are struggling to finance that. Especially, those with many children. For high schoolers is it even worse. Most spend their time working, rather than studying, simply so they can afford tuition fees and test fees. Test fees!!
The teacher provides me with another meal, as well as one to some of my fellow passengers, who’ve shown up. I shortly go back to the car to fetch a few things. Including a postcard from Copenhagen as a gift to the teacher. The older passengers have already lit a fire. They’re settling in for the night, having found a relatively dry spot to lay out blankets. If it rains, I guess they can find shelter in the car. I, contrary to my fellow passengers, is living the good life on the simple notion that I’m foreign. The teacher has offered me a spot in his hut for the night. Again, I’m grateful! In order not to feel too bad about this, I offer my fellow passengers to put up my tent for them, but they are more confident with what they know and decline.
As I’m again sitting with Osman, the local teacher whose name I’d finally learned, he uses most of the evening to ask me questions on Europe. He doesn't want to go there he assures me; he is simply curious. I avoid being too specific and too accurate. I don’t want to tell how big difference in living standards are between the world’s poorest and the world’s richer. It would be embarrassing.
I go to bed in a mud hut in the middle of Liberia’s jungle, with the teacher by my side. I haven’t made much of progress towards Harper, but I’ve become immensely wiser on lives in rural Liberia...
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