|Gbarlin Agricultural Coop|
Out again into the tropical air holding the sign with my name on it high enough for my driver and guide to identify me with I went. A man grabbed me by the hand and led me to the large lot in front of the airport where seemingly thousands of people all shouting things I could't understand stood waiting for their opportunities. I asked the man "Are you Yougie?" to which he replied "No but there is a man with your name on a sign waiting for you out here and I will bring you to him." I slipped him a $5 for his help and he brought me through the throng shouting "move back" and then I saw Yougie. I recognized him from the photo I had been sent and he and his cousin Flomu each gave me a warm smile and embrace and said "We are here for you my friend, welcome to our country." At that point all the tension and anxiety I had been feeling dissolved into the dank tropical air and we drove off into the night talking excitedly about our mission as we drove the hour and a half to the guest house where I quickly crashed into a deep sleep.
|Red Light Market District|
"Great" I thought to myself, "I get here and the country is about to go berzerk again," but Yougie later explained to me that the situation was quelled peacefully and that people here are very careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. He assured me that there would be no furthur uprising over this issue and I believed him. We went back to my room to make calls, look at maps, prepare the soil sampling equipment and formalize our plan for the days ahead. Later we went to the ministry of agriculture to secure a formal permission document to do our work that is required of NGO's (Non-government organizations) performing work in this country. This proved to be a morass of hassles, red tape, and delays until finally Yougie's persistence paid off. They told us to come back Tuesday morning and we would get the document.
Today (Tuesday) Yougie, Flomu and our driver, Lewis arrived with the necessary document and we were off to scout the first potential location for our project. We had originally been offered the use of a four wheel drive vehicle through one of our NGO partners but Yougie informed me that this compact front wheel drive Toyota was the only vehicle they had for us today. When I got into the car and reached for the seatbet, l found that they had been removed from the vehicle. Yikes! i guess I will just have to keep trusting that I will be safe in spite of all these dangers I sense around me, I thought to myself. The first site we traveled to was a farm located in Kpor town, in Magribi county about an hour southeast of Monrovia. To get to this farm we had to pass through the notorious Red Light Market. This market was specifically mentioned in the report I received from the US state department that urged foreigners to avoid this area due to the "High likelihood of crime". Some humanitarian relief workers from Wisconsin staying at the guest house warned me to avoid this area at all costs. I asked Yougie if this area was as dangerous as people say it is. He replied "Leave your windows up and doors locked and don't take pictures of anyone and everything will be okay." I noticed that the Liberians I was with also rolled their windows up and locked their doors. I was extremely nervous but felt reassured by the fact that Flomu is a very large and imposing looking man and I figured if anyone tried to mess with us they would have to get through him first. Red light is a one mile stretch of the main road with vendors lined up on both sides of the road selling "Everything you can imagine," said Yougie with a smile which I interpreted to mean EVERYTHING. At times the traffic slowed down to a crawl and there seemed to be more motorcycles than cars here along with vehicles of every type imaginable, most of them jury-rigged hybrid versions of whatever pieces and parts could be cobbled together. The stench of exhaust mixed with the rotting garbage and filth in various piles along the market made my stomach turn but soon we had successfully run the gauntlet and were on our way.
|Esther harvesting cabbage leaves.|
|New friends looking at Jeff's pictures.|