Welcome to Liberia: My First Week in War’s Aftermath

We are cooped up in a hotel room full of A plus refrigerated air. It’s a remodeled room with a view of a cement wall. Next to that window hangs another curtain covering a windowless wall.

The Cape Hotel sits on Mamba Point overlooking the Atlantic ocean. There are a couple fancy neighboring hotels, a casino and the type of bars you’d expect on a beach under palm trees. These bars sell 3 dollar bottles of beer and 20 dollar salads. Liberia is of the more expensive African capitals — expensive for foreigners looking for clean food with fresh ingredients that are least likely to result in bouts of typhoid and cholera.

Liberia appears to be an older version of a rundown Panama, a tropical country wracked by broken asphalt and behemoth government buildings. In Liberia, most of these were built before the civil war in various corners of the city, each an empty concrete shell that may have housed bloated government sea creatures. The exception is the Ministry of Defense which the Israelis started and was never finished, interrupted by a 14 year civil war. Today it looks like the postmodern temple of Grayskull. I’m unsure what will happen to all that cement.

Like most Africa, townspeople stick to the paved roads and there’s plenty of idling. Here, we’ve got the shared taxis (and warnings not to get in one) and the pim-pims (motorcylce gangs who will take you anywhere) and big white Landcruisers with security and development types flitting from hotel to home, home to beach, beach to bar.

I took my wife to a party on Friday night. A Lebanese guy with lots of friends — Lebanese own a disproportionate amount of business — threw a monsoon pool party on a UN-approved compound. The regular characters such as the young diplos, over-idealistic volunteers, peace corps hippies, plenty of Lebanese who love Bon Jovi and jaded US embassy dependent spouses drunk on post conflict sorrow.

The next day our hotel owners (also of the Lebanese ilk) took us to their beach house outside of town. These guys were born in Liberia and their families go back to the 20’s, when ambitious traders left Lebanon in search of riches and Brazil. Some Lebanese even got off the boat in Monrovia thinking it was Brazil. It would be difficult to make the same mistake today.

Over time, the Lebanese amassed fortunes and real estate, lost most of it during the Liberian wars and recently came back to get it back. Among the beach house crowd was a former Liberian soccer player who played for FC Lyon, some US-Liberian security experts and a gray skinned UN chieftan with a tick whose jokes, although delivered with great skill, lacked effective punchlines.

We were sitting on a beach watching a soccer game. All the boys had shoes and socks, and there was a referee. The goal posts were cemented in the ground, all around people cheered, fouls were called and the ocean breeze blew relentless. A girl with purple hair told me she was “cooo” which I took to mean cold by the crossed arms and theatrical shivering. It’s at least 90 degrees out, but the ocean kept us cooo.

Ignacia told me that this is what ‘Africa is supposed to be. Ethiopia is just different from what you think Africa is supposed to be.’ Ethiopia is Ethiopia. I didn’t want to think about it because I missed Ethiopia.


  • Ken

    Sounds like a crazy strange place. Stay coo man.

  • C Tagle

    “plenty of lebanese who love bon jovi” hahaahaa buena nico! suena bien loco, un abrazo weon ! Y Felicidades por tu matrimonio!!!!!!!!!
    Que es de mino???

  • Nancy

    Very good observations-keep it up. Contrasts between rest of Africa and Ethiopia are huge. Good that you have a fresh perspective.

  • shaun

    Fun read, Nico. I love the stories….keep ’em coming. Stay safe.