Harper is really pretty and laid back compared to Monrovia. While it has less in the way of amenities and stuff – being at the far end of the country getting things there just isn’t as easy – it does have some very good seafood and an easy going style. Several prominent men in Liberian history are from Harper so several of the buildings are, or were before the war, really pretty. There are no traffic jams in harper; it’s safer, and you can walk anywhere. They had motorcycle taxis, so if you needed to get from one end to the other it’d cost you 50 cents with little waiting, which is nice. In Monrovia it’s pretty cheap for a cab too, but it’ll take all day for an empty one to come by. I stayed with my good friend Jeff Austin at the Carter Center compound. Much thanks to Jeff and the Carter Center for their hospitality.
Day 1: The Carter Center compound had an outdoor, bamboo enclosed, shower. This was probably my favorite thing about the compound. I don’t know what it is, but something about showering outside was super nice – The cold water, the sun, the chickens walking by (Jeff had chickens and goats), or a nice shower under the stars. So relaxing, so nice. I also rented a scooter my first day in Harper. That was super nice. I miss the freedom of going where I want when I want.
Day 2: A local guy saw my TRC shirt and said I “brought war.” I asked him what he meant and he said that when he hears the stories in the hearings it makes his “blood boil” and makes him want to do harm to those who have harmed him and others. I appreciated his thoughts. I’m glad he has the self control to abstain from the hearings if they’ll cause such a reaction in him. It does seem hard to convey to the average Liberian the importance of addressing the underlying causes of the conflict and make sure they don’t come again. The current conflict in Kenya is an example of what happens when the underlying causes aren’t dealt with. Though it may be painful, it’s better to dig it up now, than to have it erupt later.
Jeff took us to the only night club in Harper, Black and White. There we met DJ Bob. Bob was great. We were the only people there so he played classic rock songs for us. Dire Straights, The Eagles, 80s rock bands whose names I can’t remember. It was wonderful. I also found out that there is a Jacksonville, Liberia in Maryland Co.
Day 3: A woman gave one of the most horrifying testimonies I’ve heard at the hearings. She told how her mother was shot in the mouth at point blank range, and that a pregnant woman was cut open by the rebels. She would have given birth to twins. The woman giving the testimony became quite emotional. A lot of times at the hearings witnesses talk about terrible things, but this was the first one that really made me respond emotionally. Dede Delopi , Vice Chair of the TRC, got up and comforted the women as she began to cry. I thought that was a really kind gesture from the commissioner.
Even though we had already come to an agreement in Monrovia, UNMIL wasn’t sharing it’s internet with us to update the website. We met with a guy from UNMIL who came from Monrovia about the issue. He made some calls and then told us that since we were “IT professionals,” there was a fear that we would hack into UNMIL’s computers and get sensitive information. He said this was ridiculous (as it is), and they should let us use their facilities. So that was nice to get resolved.
Day 4: We had a Valentine’s Day moment at the TRC. I couldn’t really understand the Liberian English of the witness, but from what the commissioners asked her, I gathered that she was from one tribe and her husband another. When the rebels came, they didn’t like her tribe and tried to kill her. Her husband stuck by her and saved her from them. Inspired by this tale of love triumphing over hate and war, Commissioner Bull noted that this was an appropriate account to be heard on Valentine’s Day. She told the woman to go home and tell her husband she loves him and “Happy Valentine’s Day.” I don’t think the woman knows what Valentine’s Day is.
I was also impressed with Commissioner Stewart at the hearings today because of his resolve to understand the causes and current state of a land dispute that had led to killings during the war. It was getting close to 8pm at the hearings and I wanted to leave, but Stewart kept asking the witness about the dispute: was it ever solved? what was the government doing? what more could be done? what could the TRC do? Witnesses often give very little information if they’re not asked very specific question several times. I’m told it’s a coping mechanism. So Stewart spent like 30 minutes talking to the witness to get at the heart of the issue. I just wanted to go home and shower, so I was impressed that Stewart was willing to drag the hearings out to get to the bottom of this.
Day 5: I got to fly in an UNMIL flight from Harper to Monrovia. We flew in an MI-8. It was awesome. We flew at 1000 feet with the windows open, slowly cruising up the Liberian coastline. It’s the only way to fly, and the Liberian coastline is beautiful. Any other country and there’d be resorts, condos, and hotels all along the rivers, beaches, and lagoons that populate the coast. I also really liked landing vertically. That was way cool. I did feel very “blood diamondish” flying around like this. It was way sweet.