The popcorn was sweet. Just like Sierra Leone.
I sprung out of bed at the unholy hour of 4am, because that’s when I heard that the bus left for Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. When I got to the ‘bus station’, there was no bus, but to be fair, there was no station either. So I paid for a spot in the bush taxi for the border (I was the first to arrive and so I bagged the front seat) and waited for the damn thing to fill up. It was after 9am before we left. I could have had a lie in. Ack! But none of that matters, because I bought some popcorn from a lady sitting at the side of the road. Homemade and in a polythene bag, joy of joys: IT WAS SWEET. And fresh. Oh yeah. I decided there and then, that Sierra Leone is going straight into my top ten countries of all time. Three cheers for Sierra Leone!
Although, I do have to tell you about the thoroughly BONKERS taxi ride to the border. So, there’s me and this cute American girl called Sharanya sharing the front passenger seat. Then there’s the driver, and he is also sharing his seat with another bloke, whom he has to reach over to in order to change gear. Then there are four people crammed into the middle row and another four crammed into the back row. In a standard Peugeot 407 sept-place, those seats carry three each. THEN there were two guys in the BOOT of the car and – get this – a further two sitting on the ROOF.
16 People. In a car designed for 8.
T. I. A. mate, T. I. A.
On top of all that, it was a right-hand drive car; in a country that drives on the right. Hmm… good luck with overtaking. POW!
We had been going for a couple of hours when we passed an accident on the road (not ours, thankfully!). A bush taxi and a motorbike had come to blows, leaving the bush taxi smashed at the side of the road and the poor motorcyclist covered in blood and a fair amount of broken bone sticking out of his wrist.
Our driver didn’t want to stop, but Sharanya (she’s training to be a human rights lawyer, no less) forced him to pull over. Medically, there wasn’t a lot we could do for the poor guy who had fallen off the bike (I don’t even have a first aid kit), but we could – and did – use our mobile phones to get in touch with Medicine San Frontiers to come and help.
Once we were assured that an ambulance was on the way, we jumped back into the taxi and continued on our way. About 5 minutes later, a MSF ambulance thundered past us, so with any luck the guy would get to keep his hand. I hope.
The road was good for the first few miles, but then it rapidly turned to bad. We weaved around the inevitable potholes and chickens. We soon reached a river, which – in a flashback to Guyana – was a wooden raft pulled over the water by a chain. We finally got to the border at about 5.30pm, after having spent nearly nine hours picking our way through the jungle in the bush taxi with 16 people crammed in (and on) it, that I was convinced would fall apart a-la the Bluesmobile when it reached Chicago.
So we did the usual stampy-stampy passport tomfoolery (Sharanaya was tapped for a bribe, they didn’t ask me for one). Then we were told to go and see the health inspector. He pulled Sharanaya and I into his office. He asked to see our passports. His eyes lit up. You’re British? He shook my hand, and kept shaking it beyond what would have otherwise been necessary. The British saved me. They came in my darkest days, I owe them my life. I will never forget what your people did for me. Please give them my thanks.
It would appear – pay attention The UN – that there are some times when a well-timed and well-planned military intervention into a warring country can work wonders.
Goodbye, Sierra Leone. I’ll be back one day to see how you’re getting on. I know somebody has to be bottom of the UN’s human development index, but I hope next time I come it’s not still you.
So, over the border and into country number 96 – Liberia. Sharanaya and I haggled for a taxi to Monrovia and after a TERRIFYINGLY FAST bit of driving, we arrived in the capital.
Mand – the legend that she is – managed to find me a CouchSurfer to stay with, in double-quick time. Good job too – Monrovia is EXPENSIVE. I met the guy, Shadi, in the Boulevard Café in the Sinkor area of town – where all the embassies are. Shadi is a journalist originally from Jordan, who is currently working for UN radio in Liberia. Before he landed this gig, he covered stuff in Lebanon and Iraq – at one point he was pulled aside by Hezbollah and was convinced they were going to kill him there and then.
And you think what I’m doing is risky!
We ate some yummy dinner in Boulevard before heading over to his pad – and guess what was on television when we got there? Blood Diamond! Of all the films to watch after just leaving Sierra Leone… Although like the nit-picker I am, I found myself muttering, “oh come on, that looks NOWT like the place…”.