A couple weeks ago I toured three counties with Georgia Tech’s MObile Story Exchange System (MOSES). I was accompanied by my colleague Dickson Fully, IT Manager at the TRC. We went to Sinoe, River Cess, and Grand Bassa counties. Obviously I had a great time driving on some of these roads. The road from Monrovia to Grand Bassa is paved, but has so many pot holes that you have to drive really, really slow. To me this is the worse. The road from Grand Bassa to River Cess was good. USAID is paying for a road renovation project, so it was a lot of nice rolling dirt roads. Thanks, this is your tax dollars hard at work in Africa. The road from River Cess to Sinoe was a mess. Lots of mud and dirt. Some times it was pretty fast and some times we were down in 4L trying to not get stuck. Of course this was my favorite part.
I definitely found myself wondering why I went to school for so many years, when driving through the mud is all I want to do. At one point I kept to the right side of the road to avoid an oncoming motorcycle and just kept driving straight. Straight into a hole that held fast to our front left tire. I should have stopped, let the bike pass, then drove to the left side of the road where all the tire tracks were to indicate that, that is where I should have gone. Fully and I tried digging out the dirt around the tire so we could jack it up, put something under it, and then drive away. Every so often Fully would, stop, look at a rock, throw it aside and keep digging. I asked him what he was doing. He said, “They might be diamonds.” He also informed me that if it was a diamond we would be going straight to the airport. I never had to deal with this when stuck in the mud in Florida. We never found any diamonds. After an hour of pushing, digging, and shortening the life of the transmission, some very nice Liberians came along and pushed us out. They only asked that I give them $10USD in exchange for their services. Seemed fair to me, I wasn’t going to argue with them. Fully told me this was a good jungle experience for me. I agreed. I think we both bonded. I also learned that the 4Runner’s 4WD is more of a, “don’t get stuck driving on the beach” or “keep from spinning out when driving on snow” 4WD than a “drive through anything” 4WD. I had the car in 4L and where did all the might of the 3.4L V-6 go? To the one tire that wasn’t getting any traction. Some sort of limited slip or locking differential would have freed us in no time. Should have bought a Land Cruiser.
We also encountered several other stuck vehicles. Some we could help, and some we couldn’t. We used our tow rope to pull this truck out on the left. We scraped our selves up a little when we passed this lorry, on the right, that was stuck on a bridge. They had laid some wooden planks on the side of the bridge so you could drive around the side of the lorry and get on the bridge. We slid latterly in the mud and had a rubbed up against the lory. And finally we came across this SUV that was stuck at the bottom of a hill. We thought about pulling them out, but there was nothing but mud in front of them, and I was afraid we’d just slide right into their bumper. So we drove around them on the high ground.
On the right here is what GATECH-1 looked like after arriving in Sinoe, eight hours after we left Monrovia. As you can see the new shocks and springs make the 4Runner look pretty nice. And we never hit the frame once the entire time. Of course I was driving carefully, but some of the roads here were pretty rough on our ramblin wreck. She still came through shinning. So much so that Fully insisted that we have her washed at every stop. He pointed out that no one would want to crowd around a dirty car to a see a cutting edge piece of reconciliation technology. So we drove out into a stream and had someone wash the car. We even had a little dirt on the license plate that needed to be scrubbed off.
Over all our research work went well. We had large crowds most of everywhere we went, and people were excited to see what we were doing and be apart of it. I have a video of some of the best of from the trip, both driving and users here. As you can see in the picture on the left we had lots of people checking out what we were doing. This picture is from Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. Some of our best interactions came from a group of guys in Greenville, Sinoe. We setup in front of a tea shop where all the local men come to “lecture.” That’s what Liberians say, the don’t say discuss or talk, they say “lecture.” These guys gave some fairly insightful and well educated thoughts on the causes of Liberia’s problems going all the way back to its American settlers.
I also found a Shell station in Greenville, Sinoe County. The sign seemed a little shot up, but there was a boy with mayonnaise jars of gasoline and a hand panted sign that said “Shell” behind him so I figured it must be legit. There was a also a Texaco in town, but it didn’t seem to be doing so well. The picture on the left is a sunset over a grave yard in Cestos, River Cess county. My camera didn’t do a very good job of getting both the sunset and the tombstone. Trust me, it looked really cool in person.
In other news the TRC summer interns, Zoey and Kara left to go back to school. The TRC staff had a going away party for them at the Garden Cafe. Garden is one of my favorite night spots in Liberia. Lately the ratio of regular girls to commercial sex workers(not to be confused with faith based or non-profit sex workers) has been a little low. Even still, with a large enough group of people it can be a really good time. Just be sure that you bring enough friends to achieve critical mass.
Every Friday Garden has the GML band playing everyone’s favorite Liberian, reggae, pop, and rock hits. The band is led by this guy. I have no idea who he is, most of us call him the “old guy.” The best is when the band sings Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. It’s a great song to dance to and the old guy can bust it out. This particular night out I learned that one of the TRC’s drivers sings back-up for the band. Here we are adding to the overall vocal harmony.
Finally, the TRC’s public hearings have been in full swing. They’ve had some of the major players in the civil conflicts come forward and speak about their involvement. As you can see from this picture of the Centennial Pavilion in downtown Monrovia, the house is packed.