Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Day of Rest for HOPE Volunteers

Today is Marley's Birthday and we have the day off so we are all had breakfast and a quick meeting then headed downtown to Broad Street to check out the local crafts. However, because of the holiday the streets were actually quite empty and the stores closed. It was very deserted. In the U.S. we never close anything for Good Friday or the census—the two big things going on today—and here even the UN Drive store was closed. We did find some folks open for business so we spent about an hour and half looking around. They make such beautiful stuff out of ebony wood and also really beautiful clothing items out of brightly printed material. I didn't buy a whole lot because I don't want to have too much to carry home and also I have over a thousand photos from this trip to remind me of it. I hope to make scrapbook when I get home.

I do believe I will be ready to get home to those I love by next Friday. I can't believe how quickly the time has flown by but I miss the small things. This is by far the most exciting assignment I have had and the most demanding. It is non-stop work, I follow people around all day in this crazy humidity and heat and then come back to the hotel and have to write about it, check my email, download pictures, try to send the writing and pictures back to USA via the internet that is really slow and then I can rest. I will be ready for a day or two off when I get back.

On our way back to the hotel from the market our driver took us up a hill to look at the ruins of hotel that will apparently be rebuilt. It was surrounded by the UN Peacekeepers. As we drove up the hill on the left I noticed a building that looked like a governmental building you would see in the Washington, DC except it was only a shell because the windows were all gone, the white of the building now had black smoke stains it was very haunting to see this beautiful building. You could imagine people probably coming and going at one time and now it just sat empty and probably unstable.

Once we got to the top of the hill there was an old hotel with a circular drive with a fabulous view. We didn't get out of the car but you could tell it was probably one a great hotel and now like the building I saw on the way up was just a ghost of what it once was. As you drive through Liberia you see a lot of these ghost buildings and mansions. Squatters live in some and some of them just sit empty all victims of the 14 years of civil war. I find myself wanting to take a photo tour around the city. I asked what weapons were used during the war because it was clear they had used some bombs and I was told the actual weapon of choice was the machete which just sounds so terrible.

The driver also took us to look at the beach. The beach in Liberia looks great from far away but if you get close you smell and see how gross it is because people actually use the bathroom on the beach which is why we call it "poo poo beach." An avid beach lover this is really hard for me to comprehend because the beach is a favorite place for me but people here due what they can because they don't have running water and sometimes bathrooms.

We drove past a giant building on the beach whose windows had all been blown out. It was another ghost hotel—the Hotel Africa. It looked like a hotel you would see on Miami Beach, right on the water with a lot of rooms, it was definitely the largest building I had seen in Liberia. Then we drove past some shanties. After driving past shanties we wound up at a beach resort type place. It wasn't as nice as the CoCo Beach Hotel in Ghana but it was nicer than poo poo beach because it was privately owned and maintained. There were tables under grass huts and waitresses to take your order. It was really beautiful on the beach but I wasn't sure how safe it was to get in the water because of the garbage and stuff on the coast in Liberia. Once you got passed the privacy fence you could see fishing canoes next door and some fishermen were on their way out to see. It is really weird to be on a nice privately owned beach when you have to drive through a shanty town to get there. You really began to see the imbalance. These places are set up for tourists because the local people can't afford to spend money in these resort beaches. And the resorts buy the beach property sometimes making it impossible for the locals to enjoy the beach. This really bothers Joy. Joy was born in Jamaica and lived there for many years before her family moved to the US. She says that in Jamaica many of these resorts have bought up all the beach land so the locals have to pay to use their own beach and they can't afford it and they can't afford to buy property on the beach because a house on the beach there is now going for about a million which only foreigners can afford. In the end the locals end up working at these places but unable to actually use them.

We headed back to our hotel and had lunch. I and a few others stayed behind while some went back to the beach. Later a couple of headed over to play soccer with the local kids or at least that is what we thought. I was just going to take pictures and hang out. We walked a couple blocks from our hotel down a neighborhood of ghost mansions. All the houses in the neighborhood were really big, and probably estates at some point. We arrived at the soccer field and it was actually in someone's huge back yard. A famous soccer player that played in Europe owns the house. His name I believe is Weah. He is away in the U.S. studying politics but lets the children play in the back yard which faces the ocean. You couldn't see the ocean because of the fence but you could hear it. However, today the kids weren't playing the teens were. Our guys right away seemed a little intimidated. This is a soccer culture so it seems everyone here plays really well even though they play barefoot or in socks because they can't afford shoes.

They let our guys join their teams. At the end of the game I think it was actually tied and everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. It is amazing catching a game of soccer on a camera because you can see the flexibility of the body. Also it was nice to see that even though we are from such different places those who love soccer are the same the world around. You don't have to talk or even know each other as long as you play soccer you're understood and in.

Earlier in the day we made up an excuse meet at 7:00 pm so we could surprise Marley and Caleb –his birthday is Sunday—with a birthday cake at the hotel restaurant. Once everyone gathered out came the cake with two giant sparklers and both their names on it. We all sang and had some really good cake.
--Marisol Euceda

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