This past week the TRC started its tour of all 15 counties. They’ll be holding public hearings on the past civil conflict in each county seat. I was able to tag along to help coordinate the updating of the website on the road. Check out this short video I made of the trip. And thanks to UNHCR for the speedy VSAT connection to upload such a file.
As the trip approached, the TRC started stock piling fuel and provisions in the office. I was a little blown away by all the stuff they were taking. In a country devoid of McDonalds, BPs, and Best Western’s, anything you’re going to want along the road you better bring with you. They brought a lot of stuff. I asked someone how they were going to get it there and they said, “in the back of a pick-up.” And I was like, “you’re going to need 20 pick-ups, and not these little 4 door Toyota Helixes (Tacomas).” But when I arrived the day of departure they had a military style flat bed truck, which was able to carry everything in one trip. So I was glad to see that work out.
So at 4pm on Saturday we depart for Harper in Maryland county. I was in the “thin” car. This meant they could put 4 of us in the back seat of the pick-up, and that’s what they did, so it was a little tight. As we drove out of Monrovia we kept stopping to buy things. At first I was a little annoyed that we weren’t making any progress with all these stops. But then I realized that they had all received their per diem for 35 days and were buying all sorts of things. It reminded me of Jr. high church trips, that at the first gas station stop everyone bought tons of candy and soft drinks. It also alleviated my fear that I had over packed. All these Liberians who were going to be on the road for the next month had brought only one small bag, and I had brought this huge camping backpack for a week. But after all the stops we made they were bringing about as much stuff as I was.
Harper is in the south east corner of Liberia on the coast, while Monrovia is much closer to the north west corner. Even though both cities are on the coast there’s no direct road, so you have to drive all the way into the interior and then back out. So it was like driving from Chicago to LA, but swinging through New Orleans first. This makes the trip quite long. The roads were paved all the way to Zwedru, which would be the New Orleans of the trip. Now even though the roads were paved, they weren’t like an interstate, they were more like a drive way that was paved 30 years ago that had since fallen into disrepair. It was a bumpy ride at times, so having the ground clearance of the truck certainly helped us. We spent the night in Ganta. This would be the Memphis, TN of the trip.
I had a great time with the guys in my car. Donzo was the driver, Gabby and Amara from the media outreach team were with us, and to ensure that God was with us, we had Pastor Teayah and Sheik Mohammed, and so He was. So, unlike the other car in our caravan, we experienced no car trouble. As you would expect from any good road trip, we all bonded. So at 6am we headed out from Ganta to continue our journey. We stopped in Zwedru where the big flatbed had broken down and tried to figure out what to do about that. Then we hit the unpaved road. For a while the unpaved road was really good. A Chinese UN team had done a lot of work to smooth things out for us, but we quickly hit some rough riding. This caused the brush guard of the other truck in our convoy to fall off. The top fasteners broke, but the bottom one held fast, so the truck was pushing the brush guard over the ground. They ended up tying the brush guard to the roll bar in the back of the truck to solve the problem until we got to Fish Town where a local with some tools took off the brush guard.
The roads were really rough at times and very dusty. We were the chase car, and we didn’t have AC, so we either had windows down, or stayed dust free with windows up – not the kind of trade off you want.
After Fish Town the road got really bad. It had rained a few times, and this had caused huge mud/water pits to form in the middle of the road. I was told that a big part of the problem was that flat beds that drive on the road push it down when it gets wet causing these huge gullies to form. So the shoulders of the road would be at the standard height, but the middle of the road would be 4 feet down with water in it. It was crazy. And it was now 11pm, so we were fording rivers in the dark. I was really impressed with how well the trucks handled it. We did a lot of driving in 2×4. Donzo was the man, fearlessly plowing through everything (I mean, with a name like Donzo how could you not be). We did use 4×4 at times. One time the water even came up over the hood for a second, which the last time I was in a car and this happened it wasn’t good.
The guys in the car were all apologizing about how hard the ride was and about the four-wheeling and I was like, “guys, there are roads like this in America too.” (Granted I didn’t tell them that mostly we drive on them for fun just to see if we can, not because we actually want to go somewhere). They couldn’t believe that a country as rich as America had dirt roads. I mean, I grew up on one, and in hurricane season (our rainy season), it could become impassible to non 4×4 vehicles. But we wanted it to be a dirt road to ensure a quite neighborhood. They asked why all roads weren’t paved and I was like, “if you have some small road in nowhere America no one wants to pay for that.” And they were like, “but you spend billions of dollars a month in Iraq.” I was like, “exactly, you can’t afford wars and smooth roads.” They also told me they were impressed that I didn’t complain about the trip. Again, I didn’t tell them that this was sort of my idea of fun, and why I wanted to come out here in the first place – that and to help people.
Finally, a little after 12:00am we pulled into Harper. I stayed with Jeff Austin from the Carter Center, who was a most gracious host. I was glad I experienced driving for a total of 22 hours through 7 counties. It was a lot of fun, but I don’t think I’d want to do it again – at least not 4 deep in the back seat.