Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Cleaning Up the City

-Ganta, Nimba County

A terrible thing was happening as I prepared to leave Monrovia today for a trip to Ganta, Nimba County. Groups of policemen were going around the city ordering street vendors to break down their booths. In large letters, they painted on the condemned structures “Move by order of MCC”. Apparently this is City Hall’s way of cleaning up the city for the January 16 Presidential Inauguration. But what about the livelihoods of these people? Some of them, like Elsie Boley who sells clothes on Broad and Johnson, have had their colorful booths for many years. Elsie has worked at hers for four.

These tiny shops are not eyesores. Sure, they get dirty after a while, but they should not be broken down for the sake of international visitors. Oh…now that I think of it, perhaps the booths are considered a security risk, being illegally on the sidewalks or too close to the main roads as they are. (Sigh) I suppose that would be justification for what is happening…

Still. While some people are commending City Hall for cleaning up, I wish the booths could stay. They are some of the things that make Monrovia a unique capital city—our capital city. The booths and shops are used to sell phone cards, lottery tickets, stationery, or other items. Some are forex bureaus where you can change USD to Liberian Dollars. Some are barbershops (or “barbing” shops, as they say on their signs). Occasionally you will find one sporting an old manual typewriter and a man who will type your letter for $20LD. Sometimes you even find one with an old photocopier hooked up to a small Tiger generator (2 unbelievably poor-quality copies for $5LD). Most of the booths are made of wood. The shops made with cement blocks are usually right by the sidewalk, not on it. All of them have colorful pictures painted on them by local artists. Elsie’s is made of blocks and has royal blue iron doors. There is a small veranda-like area in front of it where she sits, almost hidden by the clothes that hang from wooden rods.

Elsie showed me the citation she received to attend a meeting at City Hall. She said it was delivered just five minutes before the group of policemen arrived at her place with their can of yellow paint. The meeting is scheduled, but the place has been condemned without the vendors having a chance to appeal for exclusion or suggest compromises. New paintjobs and cute Secret Service men hanging around for a week might have been nice. Hhmmm…I may even have stayed and built me an illegal booth right quick!

Oh well. I suppose I’m worrying too much. City Hall can’t possibly tear down all the booths in Monrovia. I’m sure when I go back ten days from now I’ll find most of them still standing. I only hope that by then, Elsie and the other unfortunate vendors who were in the wrong place at the wrong time will be on the way to standing on their own two feet again. They are the life of our vibrant city, and proof that Liberians are experts at making a way out of “no way”.


Vision said...

Can City Hall designate an area in the city where the vendors can go to sell their goods? Or at least have a criteria of how the stations should look? I guess these are some of the tiny little questions that will come up in making our country move forward and helping business people.

t.weefur said...

I agree that "cleaning up" the city doesn't have to mean removing all signs of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Liberian people.