Healthy Soul

Inauguration Weekend, Monrovia

There is a bevy of activity as Monday, January 16, 2012 approaches. Public buildings are being cleaned. Sidewalks are being swept and washed. Rumors of possible demonstrations are being counteracted by the increased presence of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Helicopters are circling the city. Up and down Tubman Boulevard convoys of tanks with armed soldiers standing in the turrets are patrolling. I want to take pictures but I’m not sure if my camera will be seized.

Unable to sit still I go out to explore more historical sites and attend a wedding. First, the wedding! My new friends, Catherine and John Woods, courtesy of Roberta Brown Cooper, president of the Marylanders for Progress, Inc., invite me to the wedding of John’s brother. Held at the Providence Baptist Church, one of Monrovia’s oldest churches, they wear traditional Western attire and incorporate the African traditions.

Catherine and John Woods, my newly made friends in Liberia. Catherine hails from Harper, Maryland County.

Catherine and John Woods, my newly made friends in Liberia. Catherine hails from Harper, Maryland County.

Like many Liberians, James and Musu, the groom and bride, had biological parents but were adopted by Americo-Liberian families. Both sets of parents were acknowledged and represented. Dance played a huge role. The bridesmaids danced down the aisle in the church and at the reception hall a different African tune was played for each pair of bridesmaid and groomsman to dance to when introduced.

James and Musu with their bridal pary lead the Grand Dance at the reception.

James and Musu with their bridal pary lead the Grand Dance at the reception.

My colleague Tim Nevins introduced me to Emmanuel, a high school student and part-time tour guide. Born in Monrovia, his father was killed during the 2003 war and his mother has returned to the village. We start at the National Museum of Liberia. There are artifacts from each of the 16 indigenous groups, an entire floor of civil war interpretations, and paintings by traditional and contemporary artists.

Mending the nation: Amos Sawyer's Challenge by D. W. D. Bestman hangs in the National Museum telling the story of Liberia being pulled apart by Samuel K. Doe (left) and Charles Taylor (right)  with the former presidents looking down from the sky. Amos Sawyer is attempting to unify the nation.

Mending the nation: Amos Sawyer's Challenge by D. W. D. Bestman hangs in the National Museum telling the story of Liberia being pulled apart by Samuel K. Doe (left) and Charles Taylor (right) with the former presidents looking down from the sky. Amos Sawyer is attempting to unify the nation.

From there we head to the E. J. Roye building, erected during the Tubman administration and named in honor of Liberia’s fifth president. It served as the headquarters of the True Whig Party for several years before being destroyed by the Doe regime.

True Whig Party headquartered in the E. J. Roye building designed by Liberian architect Winston D. Richards.

True Whig Party headquartered in the E. J. Roye building designed by Liberian architect Winston D. Richards.

Adorning the front of the building, and still intact are seven panels depicting Liberian life sculpted by R. Vanjah Richards who was killed in May 1990 by troops mistaking him for his brother.

African masks - one of the seven panels of public art sculpted in 1970 by R. Vanjah Richards for the E. J. Roye building.

African masks - one of the seven panels of public art sculpted in 1970 by R. Vanjah Richards for the E. J. Roye building.

One block away from the E. J. Roye building is the Centennial Pavilion, also erected during the Tubman administration, honoring the pioneers. Tubman is interred there, and President Johnson Sirleaf’s Thanksgiving and Intercessory Service is held in the Centennial Hall. Several pieces of public art adorn the grounds but there is little information about the artists. This article in the Sea Breeze Journal of Contemporary Liberian Writings mentions several artists.

Monument to J. J. Roberts, first president of Liberia. The sculpture at the base of the monument is titled the Slave Trade.

Monument to J. J. Roberts, first president of Liberia. The sculpture at the base of the monument is titled the Slave Trade.

Snapper Hill is the highest point in Monrovia, offering a panoramic view of the city, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mesurado River, and Providence Island. Here we see the J. J. Roberts memorial. J. J. Roberts served as both the first and the sixth presidents of the country.

Ducor Palace Hotel, Snapper Hill, Monrovia, Liberia.

Ducor Palace Hotel, Snapper Hill, Monrovia, Liberia.

Facing the memorial and looking to the right is the shell of the nine-story Ducor Palace Hotel. We are allowed onto the compound by Pauline, the security guard. Built by the Intercontinental Hotel Chain in 1959 and closed in 1989, it was the first hotel built in Liberia and one of few five-star hotels on the continent. Stripped of its fancy chandeliers, bathroom fixtures, lighting, and tiles it was occupied by squatters until an agreement was made with the Libyan government for its refurbishment. That agreement bit the dust with the demise of the Kaddafi government.

West Point with its prominent football field, is the home of local politician George Weah

West Point with its prominent football field, is the home of local politician George Weah.

Pauline guides us through the building. She points out the huge reservoir that provided running water to the hotel and the local community that provided many of its employees. Since its closure 23 years ago that community has not had any running water. Large tanks are filled by trucks transporting water then each family takes buckets to get water for personal use.

Panoramic view of Monrovia from the Ducor Hotel.

Panoramic view of Monrovia from the Ducor Hotel.

We climb as far as the sixth floor of the hotel before I am out of breath. From there we see West Point, a community marked by poverty, birthplace of local football star turned politician, George Weah. His coalition party with Winston Tubman, son of former president Tubman, placed second in both the 2005 and 2011 presidential elections.

Red Cross monument in observance of the Geneva Convention on Providence Island.

Red Cross monument in observance of the Geneva Convention on Providence Island.

Providence Island is at the other end of the city and getting a taxi is challenging. Emmanuel is doing the negotiations for a private taxi, but my presence raises the price astronomically. Eventually we jump in the back seat with three other people and do the fifteen minute ride to Providence Island for a combined fare of Liberian $20.00 compared to the private taxi’s request for $200.00. Things that make you go Hmm!

Executive Pavilion, Broad and Randall Streets, Monrovia.

Executive Pavilion, Broad and Randall Streets, Monrovia.

The first settlers, also referred to as the pioneers, landed at Providence Island. We walk end to end in about 20 minutes, looking out onto Bushrod Island, and seeing Monrovia’s second monument to the 1949 Geneva Convention. The other was directly in front of the National Museum. This monument emphasizes three symbols of the International Red Cross. I didn’t know about the crescent or the crystal. We also see a religious sect having a baptism service in the Mesurado River.

Centennial Pavilion, created in 1947 by President Tubman, in an effort to unify the country. President Tubman is interred here.

Centennial Pavilion, created in 1947 by President Tubman, in an effort to unify the country. President Tubman is interred here.

We end the day at the Palm Hotel’s rooftop Bamboo Bar. At the intersection of Broad and Randall Streets it is across from the Executive Pavilion where there will be inaugural activities. Works are toiling into the night ensuring the finishing touches are all in place.

Monrovia is on the Monsurado River which empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Monrovia is on the Monsurado River which empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

I’m looking forward to the inaugural festivities. Without a formal invitation I’ll be hanging out with the thousands milling around hoping to catch a glimpse of dignitaries both local and international.

What are your plans for today?

 

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