A TV chef-come-travel-writer called Anthony Bourdain has just been in Liberia, and wrote the article below. He has captured the feel and pace of the country perfectly. And to think, that we were based there for nearly 4 years; a year of it living ashore. God kept us safe and (relatively) well throughout that time. Olly
I've been to what? Eighty, ninety countries? I've seen a lot of things. But no place has so utterly confounded me, intimidated, horrified, amazed, sickened, depressed, inspired, exhausted and shown me--with every passing hour--how wrong I was about everything I might have thought only an hour previous. This is a country, founded by freed slaves from America--and intended to be very much in our image-- but recently emerged from civil wars so brutal, so surrealistically violent as to defy imagining, where drugged gunmen in wedding gowns and wigs once shot hacked (and frequently cannibalized) their way into power. It is also a place where mothers and grandmothers stripped off their clothes and naked and unarmed, confronted those same gunmen mid-massacres, getting them to stop. It is now the first African nation with a woman president. It's a country where you find 28 year olds proudly graduating from high school--the school system having evaporated during the many years of conflict. There's a church on nearly every corner--but underneath it all, traditional "masked societies" still rule the hearts and minds and behaviors of many...
Almost nothing is left of the functioning (but deeply corrupt and unjust) society that once was. But peeking through the dust and the ruined buildings--there's something that looks very much like hope. It is a place where everywhere you look there are stories of incredible heroism and determination. Where nearly everyone must fight to live every day. It's also a place where one is reminded every day of the evil that men can do. And where vengeance..and even justice..are luxuries few can afford. Forgiveness--amazingly--seems the order of the day.
I am well aware that I am fundamentally inadequate to the task of "explaining" Liberia. I do know that it's the most difficult show we've ever done.
It's hot here. And by hot, I mean really, really, really hot. An absolutely pitiless sun beats down constantly, its skin peeling intensity in no way mitigated by the occasional cloud cover. If anything its rays are refracted--diffused--so somehow they envelop you from all sides. The air doesn't move. A puff of wind is an event. The ground is baking hot and the spaces--whether in crowded traffic of Monrovia or the dense vegetation of the bush--are close. Everybody--everybody--is covered with a thick sheen of sweat. On those rare occasions when your room does have an air conditioner or a slow moving fan, you will leave it and within moments find your clothes wringing wet as if you've just emerged from a pool.
Red dust from the roads mixes with the sweat, creating almost a paste around your collar and under your arms--clinging to everything. Even the cameras are covered with it. The air smells of burning palm fronds and I've been eating palm butter and food cooked in palm oil and drinking palm wine--and when people sweat around here--in the close quarters of the "palava hut" in Nimba Province, for instance: the whole village jammed together, or the airless scrabble club in Monrovia, or the markets, our sweat has the sharp, aromatic tang of palm oil. In fact, I'm tasting palm now--as I crawl back from the bathroom for the 50th time--soon to return. I've spent the last 12 hours back and forth, never sure which end to point at the bowl first. Utter misery.
One is never so lonely as when sick to one's stomach and far from home. What I crave between moans and prayers to every known deity is someone I love to hold a cold washcloth to my forehead and tell me,
"It's alright, baby...everything's gonna be alright..." What I've got is one of our (much needed) ex-SAS security "consultants" , who gives me some antibiotics and an emergency number to call should my condition worsen. He's got to accompany the crew into town to shoot B-roll--as personal safety is still very much......a concern. Hugs are not exactly his specialty in any case.
Later, still weak as the proverbial kitten, I'll drive down to Robertsport for a "surfing scene". I doubt I'll have the strength to paddle out--much less get up on a board. We've lost nearly two days shooting .
The NGO's and aid workers who've spent YEARS here are an amazement to me. Our new friend Dave, with a group called EQUIP, who build and maintain wells, train villagers in water purification and waste disposal, distribute mosquito nets (which save untold lives in and of themselves), provide shelters for rape victims and other vital services--has been here 25 YEARS. He's survived multiple bouts of malaria, hookworm, 2 wars, 4 mock executions--and still tears up thinking about how many kids he's saved.Still working hard every day--his family along side him. Me? I'm ready to fold after a week.
I don't know what kind of show we're going to come back with. The food, in a place where the majority survive on a diet of mostly cassava and the occasional bushmeat, is..dodgy, by Western standards. But you're going to see something. There's a story to tell for sure. I just wonder if I'm the guy to tell it.
To see original article by Anthony Boudain and all 129 comments, click on http://anthony-bourdain-blog.travelchannel.com/read/red-dust.