Sunday, November 16, 2008

The bush? No, it's a farm. Yes, a farm

In Liberia, farms look a lot like the surrounding bush. Why? There are at least a few reasons. First, Liberia's climate is perfect for growing things--not only crops, but weeds. Second, farmers here do not have a tradition of fully clearing land before planting, nor of keeping land clear while crops are growing. Third, farmers use elbow grease to eliminate brush, not chemicals and pesticides. Hence weeds often overtake crops. The result is a patchwork of rice paddies that mix and mingle with the local flora. See the pictures below.
Above: 8 acres of rice and plantains, somewhere amidst the weeds and trees.
Proud farm owner Guzeh Subah smiles in front of his Lofa county farm.

Pictures of typical Liberian cityscapes

Trash strewn in the streets, people walking in the road, "marketers" sprawled out on the sidewalks--this is what urban Liberia looks like, from Monrovia to Zorzor City.
Roadside Liberia: this strip of tarmac and businesses, in Paynesville near Monrovia, bears a striking resemblance to other towns on the highways ("main roads") of Liberia.
Schoolgirls walking in Sarclepea, a town in Nimba that looks a little like the Liberian wild west, a large dusty center street and buslting commerce left and right for those transiting through town.

Living spaces in Liberia

How "middle-class" live. Notice the tin roofs, common coverings even for the relatively rich; the backyard trash heap, a gaseous garbage disposal; the decaying apartment complex, drooping from years of disrepair and several seasons of Liberia's diluvian downpours.

How the urban poor live. The urban poor live in one of two structures: either in stand-alone shacks or in single-story apartments. The shacks are makeshift structures with wooden walls and mixed-material roofs, most often of rusty tin and tarpaulin patches. The apartments are made more solidly, with concrete walls and newer tin roofing, but the squalor is the same. The urban poor share a lone toilet, or a stretch of bush or beach, with most of their neighbors. They use the local handpump, which is often untreated, to get water for drinking, cooking, and bathing.

How the rural poor live. The rural poor live in mud-daub or mud-brick huts which have rusty tin roofs or palm thatch. They have earthen floors and outdoor kitchens. They draw water from the creek as often as they do from a well. They have no bathrooms. They relieve themselves in town or in the bush. Where urban streets are strewn with litter, rural villages are encumbered by extrement, both human and animal. The potential for health problems is patent.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Everything is branded

At LISGIS, everything is branded. Cars? Branded. (USAID, UNFPA) Surveys? Branded. (USAID, UNMIL, UNFPA) My desk? Branded. (UNDP) My shirt? Not branded yet. But I did see a sign yesterday advertising UNMIL souvenirs. So there is hope.

More on Liberia's general branding bonanza later. For now meditate on the absurdity.

Palm trees and poverty

Here is the view from my hotel: palm trees on high, poverty down below. More on my neighbors, these makeshift shelters, later.

My new home

This is where I have spent the better part of my week, at LISGIS, Liberia's national statistics office.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Traffic accident? Nothing the Ministry of Transport can't fix (or cause)

Some traffic accidents are more memorable than others. This one, which apparently involves a Ministry of Transportation vehicle, takes the cake. There is no evidence that the Ministry's vehicle (white van in the upper-right) caused the problems. Still, the thought that it might have been the culprit is pretty funny, even if everything points to a tanker with failing brakes (left-hand portion of the frame).