Day 3 in Liberia – Sanniquellie

Friday Dec 2, 2016

Patrick, Tamba and I traveled up-country to Ganta last night, then this morning headed north towards the Ivory Coast border. After beautiful roads my first 2 days here, I took them for granted. Now we were back on the roads I remember. The road to Sanniquellie (S) was the red mud laterite I’d wrecked my 125 Honda on so many times 30 years ago. When wet, it’s like ice with snow on top. When liquid, like pudding. We traveled several hours to S, where we picked up Peter, a local official. We traveled perhaps another hour or more to a little village where we looked at a couple ponds that were mostly built but had not had fish.

The village welcomed us. When I shook hands with one child, all wanted to shake. When they appeared to want to hang around as the adults got to business, I told them once the meeting was over we would be giving out free injections to all of them. To that, they scattered. The village officials were gracious as always. A cup of water was passed with cola nuts in the water. I took one, split it in half with my fingernail, and bit off a tiny piece of the bitter caffeine nut. We then went across the street to see 2 ponds. I talked with the cooperative member about fish farming. We bid the village goodbye, and were gifted again with bunches of both large and small bananas. There’s nothing like the bananas here. They were my first staple 30 years ago in Sierra Leone until I adapted to the rice and sauce dishes I continue to love.

Much of the talk in the SUV during the day amongst my hosts started with “before the war” or “during the war” or “after the war”. I listened to the stories as I could. Ebola hit the country hard, it seems, but was much more isolated. As my late friend Francis said in Sierra Leone, there is no corner of the country that the war did not reach. Patrick made some very thoughtful statements that only civilians who’ve been in the middle of a war can understand. He said a dictator is better than a civil war. In a war between countries, your army will defend you. In a civil war, your best friend can become your enemy.  After hearing their first person stories of the war and just trying to survive, the hoopla over our president-elect’s courtesy phone call to the leader of Taiwan as some sort of international incident and dominating the CNN news as though it is cataclysmic is overwhelmingly trite. Tomorrow will be another insignificant event blown out of proportion and gone the day after.  I wonder how much the people care where the civil wars rage on in Syria. And Afghanistan. And Somolia. And Sudan. Wars fueled largely by arms and money from outside the countries. Undoubtedly by some of my taxes. War becomes a constant and people crave something different. Like a phone call that will be forgotten tomorrow.

I saw an article about a kid from Richburg who died in Vietnam and now has the road we take home named after him. The photo of his mother made it clear that once waged, war lasts forever for those who live through it, regardless of their role. It was a long time ago to some, but you could tell it was not for the Scott kid or his family. The generic words of praise from the politicians who took credit for naming of the road seem like they are profiting from Soldier Scott losing his life and his family mourning his death for 47 years. As if they are doing everyone in our part of Appalachia a favor. It’s their job, I guess.

I have to listen intently to Liberian English to understand. I often have to pause to determine if the language is a tribal language or Liberian English. Even then, I find myself often asking people to repeat themselves, and they asking me to do the same. There are many Sierra Leone Krio words in the language, which I understand better, but of course have not figured out which Krio words are part of the language and which are not. Liberian English is definitely it’s own language and something to learn.

We traveled another hour or 2 to a second site. We met a farmer who showed us a cooperative pond built by an NGO. The pond was a catchment pond, meaning it filled with rain and groundwater but did not have it’s own water supply from a creek. There were tilapia and catfish in the pond. The farmer said they harvested the pond once a year, and divided fish amongst the members and sold the rest in the village. They used a pump to empty the pond, pumping the water to a second smaller pond. After water, they pumped the water back and then ground and rainwater would refill it. I thought they were doing what they could at the pond and using it for what it was worth.

We headed back to Ganta, and started having Range Rover trouble. The fuel tank was low, and crap in the diesel was clogging the filter. I worked with Tamba the driver to asses things. Having a diesel fishing boat motor and now an old Ford diesel in my truck came in handy. We sent a passenger (Peter) to the nearest town for more fuel. Tamba cleaned the filters as best he could. It was hot in the late afternoon, and I drank about a gallon of water. Peter returned with the fuel on the back of a motorcycle taxi. Tamba and the taxi driver filled the tank after Tamba flushed the filters and put them back on. I cranked while Tamba used the manual pump to prime the fuel system. The engine finally caught, and Tamba said the pump piston was now solid and we were in good shape. I tipped the taxi driver well, and we were on our way. I had a hard time staying awake, drifting in and out of sleep on the way back over the poor road. We arrived late in the day in Ganta, where our original hotel was now booked, so we continued on to Gbarnga, where I will be for the week, as the schedule is for now. I expect that to change.

Rarely do these trips go as planned. That’s where the experience comes in. If you expect change, it’s not a surprise when it happens. If you don’t, then frustration is your best friend and you should stay where things are as you expect them.