Healthy Soul

Inauguration Day for President-Elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Along the 35 miles of Tubman Boulevard between the Roberts International Airport and Monrovia’s City Hall there were only United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) vehicles and Liberia National Police (LNP) on motorcycles escorting local and international dignitaries to the Inaugural Ceremony.

Unable to take a taxi into town I decided to walk the mile to the Capitol Building, across from the University of Liberia, where Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would be sworn in as Liberia’s 24th president. No one was sure how much of a crowd there would be, or if the promised protests of the opposition party, Congress for Democratic Change, would be a reality. Caution was the operative word. So I packed my camera case with LD$40.00, my camera and cell phone and set off alone.

Police escorting dignitaries from the Roberts International Airport to the Inaugural Ceremony at the Capitol Building.

Police escorting dignitaries from the Roberts International Airport to the Inaugural Ceremony at the Capitol Building.

I expected to see throngs of Liberians along the way waving flags and dressed in the country’s red, white and blue. Instead I saw small groupings of people gathered in open doors watching the events on televison, and felt, rather than saw, the escorts and cars zipping by.

City Hall checkpoint.

City Hall checkpoint.

When I got to the City Hall, a few feet from the Capitol Building, I was stopped and asked for my invitation. After explaining that I did not have one the guard suggested that I use the street running behind the City Hall to get to the other side of the Capitol Building.

Slum Dwellers Association of Liberia.

Slum Dwellers Association of Liberia.

I made the about face and turned left as he instructed. He neglected to tell me that the road was not directly behind the City Hall. It was a good ten minutes of walking on a dirt path that twisted and turned through a community. I passed people selling street food: fried plantains with Liberian pepper sauce, grilled cassava, and peeled oranges. I saw clothes hung out to dry waving in the small breeze. Finally I got to the road where I made another left.

Women's groups from across the nation came out to support President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Many of them wore lappas from cloths with her picture and the date of the this inauguration.

Women's groups from across the nation came out to support President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Many of them wore lappas from cloths with her picture and the date of the this inauguration.

I started walking but realized that this road, Jallah Town Road, curved outward, away from the now distant City Hall. I would need a taxi. With the day declared a holiday and the UNMIL warnings to stay off the streets, it was easy to get a taxi, and one that had only one other passenger in the back seat. I must say that I make every effort NOT to take pictures depicting poverty without there being some other context, but I had to take the sign announcing the Slum Dwellers Association of Liberia. Things that make you go Hmmm!

The University of Liberia's choir performed two numbers.

The University of Liberia's choir performed two numbers.

When I got the University of Liberia gates the white tank parked on the sidewalk along with the huge number of UNMIL personnel and LNP in riot gear made me wonder if I’d made the right decision. Watching the proceedings for a while I decided to stand with the groups of women wearing national attire and the special cloth commemorating the event. When they crossed the street heading to the gates I followed. The guard let us all in. Whoa! What a gift!

Performers from Bong County.

Performers from Bong County.

Once inside I walked towards the back of the tents where invited guests were seated. Row 66, the last row of seated guests, was a few steps from the gates of the Capitol Building heading toward the Executive Mansion.

The Bassa County choir sang the national anthem in one of the native languages.

The Bassa County choir sang the national anthem in one of the native languages.

There, on the street between the buildings were the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, and Navy branches of the military in formation behind the marching band, getting ready for the parade. When I saw the program I thought the parade would include various community groups and different organizations.

Lunch was provided on the grounds of the Capitol Building for invited guests. Special guests of the President enjoyed their lunch in the Rotunda

Lunch was provided on the grounds of the Capitol Building for invited guests. Special guests of the President enjoyed their lunch in the Rotunda.

On both sides of the seating tents were huge food stations where lunch would be provided for those with invitations. I continued past the gates to the other side of the seating tents.

After the ceremony many groups started performing in different locations on the grounds of the . Capitol Building. Traditionally the men play the drums and the women play the sasa. The sasa shares similarities with the shekere.

After the ceremony many groups started performing in different locations on the grounds of the . Capitol Building. Traditionally the men play the drums and the women play the sasa. The sasa shares similarities with the shekere.

The Kru choir was performing. I got close enough to the action getting pictures of members of the military band, some of the performers from Lofa County, and the choirs from the University of Liberia and Bassa County.

The Inaugural Ceremony was held on the grounds of the Capitol Building.

The Inaugural Ceremony was held on the grounds of the Capitol Building.

Finally with only the very tall journalists standing between me and the dignitaries on stage, I squirreled my way into a space between two of them and snapped a picture of the President-Elect just before she was sworn in. That was good luck on my part because it was impossible to see her once she got up to take the oath of office.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 24th President of Liberia, leader of the Unity Party.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 24th President of Liberia, leader of the Unity Party.

When the program was over different groups of entertainers simply did their thing on the grounds while President Johnson Sirleaf ushered her special guests into the Rotunda for lunch. Hot and sweaty I retraced my steps to the Royal Hotel, hungry but oh so elated and grateful for today’s special gift.

I Be Liberia is a slogan seen on many billboards depicting Liberians in different walks of life. This lady, who didn't give me her name, personifies that slogan.

"I Be Liberia" is a slogan seen on many billboards depicting Liberians in different walks of life. This lady, who didn't give me her name, personifies that slogan.

What gifts did you receive or give today?

 

8 Comments

  1. What an interesting experience,politics aside ( as someone mentioned in another post) I enjoyed your sharing of this experience and your hard won pictures! A neat moment in time for you Jen, and thanks for sharing!

    • I also learned an interesting fact – the Liberian constitution requires the President to be sworn in at exactly noon – not a minute before. I have to investigate to find out why that is so. I don’t know if there are any similar time limitations in other countries.

  2. My gift came from you; because of the wonderful job you did chronicling your experiences at the inauguration. You are the original ‘Super Woman”, because that’s what it took to maneuver the daunting obstacles to achieve your objective.

    Jennifer, take care and thanks.

    David

  3. Simply fascinating! I’m so thrilled that you had the opportunity to witness another historical event! I’m certain that there will be many more wonderful experiences while in Liberia! God bless and keep you, my dear friend.

    • Hey Danielle – Being in Liberia is so much more than I could have ever imagined. There are high moments and there are low moments. One of the best bonuses is being able to meet and talk with so many people who have lived and worked in many countries so their world views are so expansive that I too have to stretch. Thanks for reading and I do appreciate the comments. It reminds me that my friends are still there with me even though we don’t have our regular conversations and visits.

  4. Enjoyed your article.
    Keep them coming.

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