A Travellerspoint blog

Driving through the Jungle Night with no Lights On

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part IV

semi-overcast 28 °C
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Part I, Part II and Part III here.

Post-flip

Post-flip

Spending the night in the village teacher’s house, I didn’t return to our car until it had already been pulled out from the mud. My fellow passengers were busy strapping all the luggage onto the roof. To my surprise as we didn’t take it down last night. What was up?
As the car was dragged free, it had apparently flipped over, landing on its side. No one got hurt; only the driver was inside the car. But all the luggage had to be taken off before they were able to push it upright again. The car had gotten some nasty scratches and the inside – where I thought my backpack was safe – had gotten a mudbath as mud and water entered through the open windows. Lovely.
Not that it matters. The important thing is that we are moving again. Everybody is pretty eager to get out of here. Though I am regretting not being able to say the teacher a proper goodbye as we race past his house.

Pulling out the lorry

Pulling out the lorry

Our next endurance is so typically Africa travel that it’s hard to describe: Rolling up to a bit of road too muddy for anyone to pass, a small diversion through the jungle has been made to get around the hard bit. Alas, yet another truck has gotten stuck in this deviation. Here are cars waiting in line on both sides of this mess. But as the truck is closest to our side, and we got the most capable vehicle this side of the mud pit, it’s up to us to pull it out. It’s a small lorry, so after a short struggle, we manage to get it out. We don’t even get the pull rope off before – out of nowhere – a second truck is blasting past the waiting cars opposite us, racing into the diversion and gets completely stuck. Totally unhelpable stuck.
The driver figured he better try his luck before all the powerful four-wheelers had gone past. If we all makes it nobody will be around to help him. Regardless, nobody can drag him out. Nobody wants to try. We’re letting the complaining driver cry about us not helping him. Most of us are relatively happy that he will now have to spend weeks sleeping here in his stupid truck. Instead, we’re beginning to chop down trees, building a new road around the lorry.

Building our own road

Building our own road

We’re actually forced to make a new road. It’s taking us most of the afternoon, but nonetheless, we’re able to chop enough trees down to pass. Leaving the driver and his truck behind; not without smug smiles on our faces. Karma – not that I believe in that bullocks – soon catches up to us, though. Rather suddenly, the cooler starts to leak from two small holes. Now we can’t drive any further because the engine keeps overheating. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Kilometres from the nearest village. Almost routinely now, we put our driver on a passing mototaxi and sends him to the nearest town to bring back help.

Motor Trouble

Motor Trouble

We would later learn that instead of getting help, the driver simply went home to his mistress in said town. Obviously, we wouldn’t be pleased.
On the road, dusk is coming. This close to the equator, twilight lasts for mere minutes. Not in the mood to spent another night in the jungle, I pop the hood. It is here worth to mention that I know nothing about cars – let alone anything about fixing engines. But I am the only person left with a driver’s license, so Alex and my fellow passengers cheer me on. Pouring more water on the cooler two clear sprays of water shoots out. Clearly, we’re not going anywhere like this. Thinking back to some stupid TV commercial about the sucking ability of tissue, and still not knowing what the hell I’m doing, I pluck the two holes with my emergency toilet paper.

It fucking works! Unbelievable!

Struggling

Struggling

We’re still leaking water, but only by a fraction of the speed. Alex and I agree to give it a go. No spending the night here. We are quickly figuring out that we’re able to drive for 10-12 minutes before all the water has leaked and the engine is getting too hot. Refilling the water and waiting for the engine to cool down again is taking another 10 minutes. But even by this speed, we should be able to reach the town to where we sent the driver in about two hours. So off we go. In a car, I’ve repaired with toilet paper…
Luckily the road condition is improving. But we have a new problem. The battery still isn’t charging. Driving with the headlights on I’m draining the battery quickly. The lights are slowly dimming. Finally, half an hour from the town they set out entirely. It’s pitch black around us now, and I’m still driving. The battery is so drained that I don’t even have light in the dashboard. With the exception of three red warning lights, that is, one of which is telling me that the battery’s power. Thanks.

View through the windshield

View through the windshield

We’re too close to town to give up now. Too damn close! Africans tend to be more innovative than Westerners, and Alex is quick to come up with the solution. We’ll simply put the teenage kid, who’s with us, on the roof with two small flashlights. It’s not enough light for me to see anything else than two small circles of light on the road, but at least other cars can see us (not that there are any other cars). Thus, I continue forward at a crawling pace. All I can see are the two small circles of light, nothing else, so we agree that the kid on the roof(!) will just keep the lights pointed on the middle of the road and I’ll try to drive wherever he point the lights.
Incredibly, we reach our destination a place called Fish Town, without too many mishaps, at 10 pm. Here’s no fish (we’re still in the middle of the jungle) and there’s barely a town. But we’ve made it. In a car, I repaired with toilet paper and drove through the jungle night with a teenager on the roof holding showing me the way with two flashlights. I feel genuinely proud of this achievement!

Harper!!

Harper!!

It takes the mechanics four hours to fix the car the next morning. Four hours to repair the wreck I drove into the town. The good news is that the road improves from here. Massively. A Chinese company is paving the road. They’ll supposedly be done at the beginning of the next decade, but the gravel is fresh and flat and here’s no mud. At some point, we even manage to drive 500 metres without hitting a pothole. A rarity on any West African gravel road! Almost unbelievable. On Day 4, we’re at the end of the road and reach Harper – the last town in southern Liberia. It’s 7 pm and dark, but Harper still feels like a treasure reached after a long adventure. And I’m pretty sure that it is. It is certainly a personal victory! I send one of the boys from the guesthouse out to get me a beer. Drink it in my room. Fall asleep.

The last thing I want to think about now is how the hell I get all the way back to Monrovia. I don’t want to spend another four days one these roads. But is there another way?

Progress reports: Day 3, 161 km in 15 hours. Day 4, 129 km in 9 hours after 4 hours of mechanical work.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 02:07 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road bush travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season fish_town Comments (0)

Spending a Night in the Jungle

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part III

sunny 29 °C
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If you haven't read this story from the beginning, go to Part I and Part II here.

First trouble of the day

First trouble of the day

(…) 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.

Convoy

Convoy

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.

Getting tired of mud

Getting tired of mud

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.

Zwedru

Zwedru

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.

Stuck

Stuck

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?

IMG_5782.jpg

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.

Village Kids

Village Kids

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.

Village Sunset

Village Sunset

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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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:29 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road bush travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season zwedru Comments (0)

Finding a Ride

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part II

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Commerce

Commerce

Arriving in Ganta on my way to Harper I had no plans to linger. Border towns are usually characterised by a lot of commerce and a lot of hassle for visitors like me. Ganta is no exception. At the main ‘garage’ (or bus station if you will – though there are no buses) tickets to different destinations are sold in small shacks. For most destinations at least. Not for the south-east where I’m heading. The poor state of the roads in that region means that drivers can charge whatever they feel like for transporting people there. The only car heading out today is a blue Toyota pickup. With a straight face, the driver demands 150 US$. He wasn’t even going all the way to Harper; he was only heading to Kahnwiekehn, 160 km short of Harper.

Too much money

Too much money

I did expect this journey to be less than cheap, but 150 dollars and a driver unwilling to negotiate? No way. I’d rather not go. He even claimed that a local woman paid him 300 dollars to have the front seat for herself. This might be true. It might also be a lie. I resorted to questioning how a local woman from rural Liberia had come up with 300 dollars when most families struggle to pay their kids public school fees at 35 dollars per semester. Not particularly smooth, I know. Not getting an answer to this, I continued by questioning the driver’s sanity. To my innate surprise, this didn’t make him more willing to negotiate…

Robertsport

Robertsport

Annoyed, mumbling curses about hustlers and white man prices, I walk away. The only thing to do now is to find a bar, buy a beer to cool down my hot temper and consider my options. I could just leave Liberia behind. I have my Guinea visa, and Ganta is right on the border. But then I would have to leave Liberia behind having only visited Monrovia and a surfer town called Robertsport. That would be a waste of country.
No. I would give Harper a change. Wait around for the next car towards the south-east. Maybe just go to Zwedru, the halfway town. Just like Harper, Zwedru is the home of a former Liberian president, who developed it beyond other upcountry towns. And a few mototaxis had already offered to take me there for 70 US$ - this could surely be negotiated further down.

The immigration truck

The immigration truck

The bar I’m cooling down also just happens to have rooms on the floor above the bar. Rather bordello-ish, but there’s one upside to this. Once I’ve mentioned that I consider staying the night, these places usually clean the room to spotlessness before they let me have a look at it. It’s a sure way to find a clean and cheap room in West Africa. The only other problem is the noise from the clientele in the neighbouring rooms, but today being Friday I gambled – correctly – the music from the bar would drown every other sound.
However, cheap rides don’t just show up by themselves. I better start spreading the word that I’m looking for a cheap ride south-east. Talking to the bar owner, as well as the guy who had initially shown me the place, they’re promising to speak with the different drivers they know. As the day begins to slip into night, a few of the touts from the garage are also showing up at the bar. Buying them a beer, one tells me that a car from Maryland’s immigration police is going to drive down there tomorrow. I might just be in luck.

My Ganta room

My Ganta room

Sleeping in Saturday, not getting up before noon, should prove to be a splendid idea. Walking back to the garage for a ‘breakfast sandwich’ (fried egg, mayonnaise and onion in a small baguette), I’m chatting up the ticket shack guy. Next car towards Harper would leave tomorrow. In general, I’m receiving a lot of contradicting information on rides, prices, forms of transport and destinations, which I’ll spare you from here. But the short story is that I’m settling in for another night in Ganta at this point. Especially because the tout who’d talked about the immigration car is nowhere to be found. This being Saturday I’m wasting the day away by watching Premier League and U17 Women’s World Cup (!) football in the bar.

That is until the tout suddenly reappears: “The Immigration Police’s car is leaving for Harper now!” Rather surprised I follow him around the block. 50 dollars for the drive down to Harper is a steal. However, stubborn as I am I want to negotiate. Finally, after much pondering, we settle on 40 US$. But I still need to go pack up. I hurry back to the bar, explain that I’m not going to stay another night, pack and run back to where I left the truck. It’s gone. The tout is still there and eagerly flags down a mototaxi, while mentioning something about me paying him for the help as the mototaxi starts pursuing the immigration police. They’re buying gas a little outside town, and I catch up quickly. The tout also jumped on a bike, and as I catch up to the car, there's a sudden frenzy of touts and mototaxi drivers who all want money.

Back of the truck

Back of the truck

Enter Alex, the immigration officer in charge for the car. He basically grabs me and shoves me into the car. I barely manage to throw a couple of dollars’ worth of notes out the window. We leave the ensuing brawl in the rear mirror, driving into the night.

Sitting in the darkness, I can’t help smiling. This is the parts of travelling I enjoy the most, the parts most foreign to home. It’s bumpy and unpleasant. Everybody’s tired and cramped in on too little space. But none of my fellow passengers seems to mind. This is rural Liberia and hardship is met with a Stoicism; it’s accepted as a part of daily life.

Lorry road block

Lorry road block

The smile should soon fade, though. The road is full of bogged down and stuck trucks. Large lorries too heavy to make it through the mud. I stop counting as we pass stuck truck number 32. We are only a few hours into the drive. It is here, stuck on the road, that all those provisions (including the beers for the bar in Harper) have stranded. Most of the drivers stay to guard their loads. Sleeping for weeks or months in their vehicles, surviving on rice bought or donated to them in the nearest village. At a point, more than ten trucks are completely blocking the road. We have no choice to turn around and try out luck on the smaller roads, zig-zagging through the rainforest. This backtracking means that we waste three hours of the night.

The Route

The Route

At 8 am we finally reach the first town en-route, Tapeta. We’ve been driving for 12 hours and have only made it 101 km out of Ganta (459 km to go). We make a short stop to get gas and breakfast before pushing on. However, we wouldn’t get far. A few kilometres outside Tapeta another truck is stuck in the mud, blocking the road. Luckily for us, this truck isn’t left to its own devices. The driver has already gone back into town to get an excavator – or “big yellow machine” as it’s called in Liberian English – that can pull it out, so we can pass.

It turns out to be a four-hour wait. Most of my fellow passengers decided to walk to the village up the road and wait there. I, instead, use the wait to catch some shut-eye, finally being able to rest as the car has come to a standstill and there’s now sufficient space to lie down.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 03:29 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road bush travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season tapeta Comments (0)

Maps Lie!

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part I

sunny 30 °C
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Its-about-..tfo4ufpz8n4.jpg

Lynn H. Hough, an American theologian, once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Today, travellers and pseudo-philosophers alike ignore the religious implication (where Heaven is the destination) and distort the quote to something like this: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Forgetting all the symbolism and metaphors for a moment that is, essentially, what long term travel is – one long journey. A string of destinations where we linger before moving on to the next. Eventually, to travel back home. Me, I have most often enjoyed the act of moving between destinations more than the destinations themselves. The expectations of arriving somewhere new and the feeling of going somewhere – anywhere – fits well with my restlessness.

Stuck

Stuck

On any journey, distances are of particular importance. And anyone travelling developing countries should be aware of one fundamental rule of thumb when it comes to distances: Maps lie! Maps suggest that 10 km in Liberia is the same as 10 km in, say, Germany. But it would be wrong to measure distances in the function of space when travelling in Africa. What matters is distance as a function of time. Ten hours of driving in Europe is enough to travel the 1,000 km from Berlin to Paris. Ten hours of driving in Liberia, or the Congo, might cover a tenth of that distance. If you’re lucky.
I got to experience this first hand on some of Liberia’s worst roads. Frequent readers might find my fascination with West Africa’s infrastructure boring. And I do apologise for writing so much about it. But imagine yourself in my seat, actually having to spend hundreds of hours on those roads. You would share this weird fascination with me.

Harber

Harber

Liberia’s south-eastern region, Maryland, is all but completely isolated from the rest of Liberia throughout the rainy season. It’s simply not possible for people or goods to get here in any significant numbers between June and October. It’s so far away that not even the Ebola Virus managed to infect this part of Liberia. A bar I frequented here had been without beers for three months because supplies kept stranding en-route. A bar. Three months. Without beer. I cannot express my relief at the fact that they finally received a load of those precious golden drops just days before I arrived. Maryland’s provisional capital is named Harper. It was the birthplace of Liberia’s president between 1944 and 1971, William Tubman, who plastered the city with grand architecture. Though it is now all in a state of disrepair. Tubman, a Freemason, even build a Morning Star Masonic Lodge here. Harper is probably Liberia’s second most attractive destination. It’s just so damn out-of-the-way.

Hahahaha, 9 hours...

Hahahaha, 9 hours...

Getting here initially involves a drive from Monrovia to Ganta, a border town just before Guinea. Ganta is about three hours driving northeast of Monrovia. While it does seem counter-intuitive to drive three hours to the northeast to get to a place in the south-east, there’s a simple explanation. The road is paved. That being the only paved road in eastern Liberia, it’s simply the fasted way. From Ganta, it’s a mere 560 km to Harper. Approximately the distance between Rome and Milan. Or just 50 km (30 miles) short of the drive between San Francisco to Los Angeles.

But maps lie! So in the coming week, I’ll post a few blog entries from those four (!) days it took to reach Harper from Ganta. Needless to say, it didn’t help that my travels in Liberia correspond with the last month of the rainy season. It’s the absolute worst time to attempt this journey. Nonetheless, any four-day road trip is an adventure, and this no less so when the drive is through some of West Africa’s most dense jungle.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:15 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season Comments (0)

White Man Money

Money works differently here in West Africa. A friend, who’d been here previously warned me: “There’s money between friends in West Africa.” Back then, I didn’t understand.

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White guy in Africa

White guy in Africa

As a white guy in Africa, skin colour clearly makes me stand out. So does more or less notable things, like the way I dress, walk, etc. (dressing like a local would mostly look ridiculous.) And skin colour matters down here. No matter how annoying it is, I primarily addressed as "white guy." Down here that's neither racist nor bad form as it would be in Europe.

Typically on the road, my money concerns are limited to a limited fear of being robbed or certainty of overcharged. I’m definitely being cheated on markets and by taxi drivers, but this is to be expected. I’ve never been robbed, but for a sole pickpocketing in Madagascar. Suddenly, here in West Africa, I’ve run into a new concern. That “my money” is no longer considered mine alone. Money is for many in West Africa a community asset, rather than individually owned. It shows clearly in the rural and more conservative villages, where the village chief is responsible for negotiating a fee, on behalf of the village as a whole, with visitors who wants to pass through, sleep or eat in the village. This makes sense, so far that communities and villages – rather than families – often constitutes society’s social security. Money is relatively rare and used for the village or community as a whole. For everybody’s good. If the chief is a good chief, that is, who does share the wealth.

Loaded

Loaded

The fact that I’m white makes many assume that I have money. Something I certainly don't have compared to most of my peers in the West. I’m blowing all my savings on this trip and owe an average annual Danish income in student debts. It is, however, an entirely correct assumption by West African standards – blowing €12,000 in a year travelling West Africa makes me far richer than most locals. Mainly, because I can always return to Europe and earn more money. As one guy told me, after he had casually asked if he could have my smartphone: “You come from a part of the world where there’s money. Here’s no money.” Somehow, there is an expectation that I share, simply because I have money. This notion would seem delusional back home, in our highly individualised Western society.

Kid not asking anything

Kid not asking anything

The fact that I’m here, in their country, appears to make a lot of people expect that I share my wealth. With them, that is. I’m daily asked for donations by strangers on the street. Not by beggars, homeless people or the like, but by ordinary citizens. (Here are actually very few people begging on the streets.) Children are of cause awfully often asking for money, but somehow it seems that they keep doing so when they grow up. One thing is asking for money, but many people also ask for my possessions. For my phone. My laptop. Even for the teddy bears, given to me by friends back home, hanging on the outside of my backpack. People have even asked Dan, the Jeep-overlander, if they could have his car. All with the assumption that we can easily buy new stuff when we get home.

The truth is that we easily can buy new stuff when we get back home. At least compare to how good locals' chances to buy an expensive Western phone/laptop/car are.

Me, not helping

Me, not helping

The fact is also that travelling essentially is a very selfish undertaking. I travel so I get new experience, so I get a better understanding of the world because I enjoy travelling. Constantly being reminded is frustrating – frustrating because it is not particularly pleasant to be reminded of my privileged place in this world. It is also frustration because they’re right and they shouldn’t be right. There’s enough money in the world to go around! But it’s especially frustrating because I can’t help. Even if I spend all my money giving them away, I wouldn’t have enough. Further, should I only give money to the people who ask for money? They aren’t necessarily the ones who need them most. I shouldn’t encourage begging either, nor that white people can simply fund Africa. I’m reminded by an African politician that noticed that Africa doesn’t need aid, Africa needs fair trade. Africa does also need less corrupt leaders, but that is an entirely different story.

I have a principle of donating to NGO’s in every country I visit based who I think are in the most desperate need. Mauritania lacks social security, and many homeless persons are elders, who have no family to care for them. In Senegal, it was children forced to beg by religious schools. In Sierra Leone, it was amputees from the civil war. This won’t stop people asking. The frustration isn’t personal or due to a guilty conscience for not helping (at all). It’s frustrations over the current realities of the world. But it’s part of travelling here, and I will have to deal with it.

NGO Party

NGO Party

I do often wonder if the wealthy elite of locals experiences the same. The hometowns of presidents and politicians are always more developed than other towns and villages. Sometimes to tragicomically extend, where a single village in the middle of nowhere is the only place with paved roads, electricity, etc. in an entire region. Only because the president was born there. Again, money is a mutual thing. I also wonder, what effects are due to the fact that most foreigners in the region are NGO workers, embassy staff or Pease Corps volunteers. All people who to some extent aid the countries. Remembering the African politician’s quote, it might not be exclusively good for Africa. But until the world comes around – and give Africa (and the rest of the developing world) fair trade, equal opportunities and stop exploiting their natural resources – people will die by the tens of thousands if we do not provide aid. Stopping it is simply not an option.

And by the way, when I say ‘the world,’ I am not solely talking about Western elites, local politicians and big corporations. I’m talking about all of us, mostly as consumers. You, for example, could start by buying a FairPhone instead of the new iPhone the next time you need a new phone…
(Disclaimer: I get no royalties from this last remark – which I probably should, though.)

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:41 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel travelling money aid liberia trade west_africa begging wealth costs ngo sierra_leone Comments (0)

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