We start our exploration of Monrovia at the monument to Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first president of Liberia who was elected to power in 1848. A tall man standing over a black frieze, and my guide explains the scenes on it: the arrival of settlers from the US, mostly Caribbean islands, who picked Liberia to start a new life as free people. They inevitably clashed with the original inhabitants: the seeds were sown for problems that would eventually give Liberia a lot of trouble. After also exploring the nearby Ducor Palace Hotel, we descend Broad Street, and criss-cross the streets, the markets, walk to West Point, a big slum on the tip of the peninsula. Narrow alleys lead to open squares where people smoke fish, where signs of European football clubs are painted on walls, and to fish markets on the sea shore where big sharks, including hammerheads, and manta rays are just being hauled ashore to be cut to pieces and sold to the women waiting with their tubs.
We zig-zag trough the neighbourhood again, young guys coming up to me to shake hands and chat, wanting to stay in touch, a link with the outside world. This entire slum has been closed during the Ebola period because of the poor hygienic conditions: people have to go to one of the few bath houses to be able to wash themselves. People are smiling at me, but I can feel everywhere that life is hard here. Life is a struggle, every day. Then, suddenly, we are out at the other side, where the slum stops at the top of the brilliant beach, just metres from the surf. We return to the city, visit the Centennial Pavilion which has images of all presidents of Liberia, and where new presidents are inaugurated; we also see the tomb of William VS Tubman, former president of Liberia. Just around the corner, we find the National Museum, where I get a small tour. The ground floor is mostly about the rich tribal diversity of the country, shown most notably by the impressive masks and cloths, while the next level shows pictures of Liberia. The top floor has an exhibition with harrowing paintings of the ebola period. Some of them take me directly by the throat.
We walk Broad Street, and walk towards the coast, past the prison, and on more quiet streets past the enormous US Embassy and to the Masonic Church which stands just below the JJ Roberts monument and the Ducor Palace Hotel where we started the day. Young men are using the sloping road as a running exercise. One of the more pleasant parts of the city: quiet, there is a pleasant breeze, there are nice views. The next day, we walk all the way from the city hall and the university campus, past Capitol Hill where parliament and ministries are located, to enter the beach and walk further west. It looks so pretty, but since we are just below the parliament buildings, I wonder: is this the same beach where Samuel Doe sent the ministers of the government he had just ousted in 1980 to be cold-bloodedly executed by his soldiers? I can only hope that after decades of civil war and violence, and the ebola outbreak, Monrovia will finally find peace and more prosperity for all of its inhabitants.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Monrovia (Liberia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Monrovia. Read more about this site.