Friday, January 20, 2006

Away Again

Heading to Lofa County (Foya and Voinjama) for two weeks!

While I'm gone, catch up with my archives and go to for great articles, stories, poems, essays, and photographs by Liberian writers & artists.


Monday, January 16, 2006

My Own Little "Ovation"

For those of you who don't know, Ovation is an African society magazine that covers people and events across the continent and in the Diaspora. The glossy magazine is known for its posed pictures of movers & shakers with their fans and guests. These pictures were taken at the Red Carpet Charity Ball at Krystal Oceanview Hotel in honor of Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (oh, I just love saying that!)

Marcia Shaw of Image Africa, Chief Dele Momodu, Publisher of Ovation, and media & PR consultant Elma Shaw

Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Shaun Skelton, Director of Visions in Action, and Elma Shaw

Comfort Peabody and City Mayor Ophelia Hoff Saytumah

Jemima Baker and Denise Tubman

Marcia and Elma Shaw

Annie and Seward Cooper with Dawn and Nat Barnes

Inauguration Day

The view from where we sat on the grounds of the Capitol Building. Those are security people on the dome -- not pigeons (-:

Heading to the Executive Mansion for a reception on the South Lawn

Many people wore "Ellen lappas"

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Chris Brownell, Wood Carver

-Ganta, Nimba County

Chris Brownell has lived at the Grace United Methodist Rehab Center since 1973 when his family sent him here after he contracted leprosy. At the time, he says, his family could not deal with the stigma surrounding the disease. The Rehab Center offers medical care and vocational training for people with challenging conditions. Trades include mat-making and carpentry. Mr. Brownell is a wood carver—an excellent one, despite the loss of all his fingers. He makes decorative wall pieces out of camwood—a heavy, sienna-colored wood found here in Liberia’s forests. He is making “a woman kneeling down” now, and says it will take him about five days to carve the piece. His workbench is a tree stump, and he uses a spear to shape the wood. The spear is a tool that resembles a crowbar but is razor sharp at the tip. Five days at several hours a day, and he will charge US$15 for the piece. Some of the carvings are sold to visitors who come to the Center, and some of them are sent to Monrovia where we—having no clue and no concern about the amount of work the laborer put in—often bargain the price down as low as we can go.

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”.