Posted by: sean | April 3, 2008

Liberia Time

Is the vehicle ready? 

I just talked to my guy and he says it will be ready tomorrow. 

I have had this conversation for the past four days.  On Tuesday, I was supposed to head to Harper, a town in the southeast by the Ivorian border.  It’s about 120 miles away, but with the road conditions the journey takes about two days.  I’ve seen pictures and heard horror stories about the roads, poor to begin with, even worse after 14 years of civil war.  Trucks stuck for days in ditches.  In the rainy season it is impossible to journey by road to most parts of the country, it’s that bad.

I jumped at the opportunity to visit Harper for a week.  See the country?  Bump along country roads?  Meet rural Liberians?  See Harper, a town once renowned as the ‘Funk’ capital of Liberia?  Fly back in a UN helicopter?  Sign me up!  In fact, no need to bother, I’m backing the jeep up now, hop on in!!!  Let’s go!!! 

Is the vehicle ready yet?

These guys. I just talked to them and they say it will for sure be done by tomorrow.

You have to get used to Liberia Time, they say.  Last Saturday night I met up with Chara, a Liberian raised in Boston who went to go hear Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president, speak in the States, heard her passionate call for Liberians in America to return and help rebuild the country and said, “Sign me up! In fact, no need to bother, I’m backing the plane up now, hop on in!!!”  Because of the security situation, you have to drive around at night, which often involves coordinating rides.  If you coordinate with a Liberian that means succumbing to Liberian Time.  Chara had to have her cousin, firmly in Liberian Time, drive us.  Our 9:00pm departure time for beach-bonfire-expat party turned into 11:45pm departure time.  That’s Liberian Time.

Is the vehicle ready yet? 

I don’t understand, they said they would have the parts ready, but now they say tomorrow for sure.  You will be on your way tomorrow. 

Cookies.  So many cookies.  That’s what you get when you show up for a meeting on time.  No one else is around.  Yesterday I went to a meeting with different NGOs who are trying to coordinate their efforts.  Right, nobody pay a bribe to enter the port, agreed? Agreed.  I showed up at the agreed start time after tracking down the location with my driver.  There are no real addresses here, just vague guesstimations.  We were meeting somewhere in Congo Town near Catholic Junction (Catholic Junction, what’s your function?).  The room was empty save for the meeting coordinator and a huge tray of cookies.  So…..I did what anyone with any sense would do and sat down next to the meeting coordinator  hello, I’m Sean – and shoved cookies in my mouth for a solid 30 minutes before anyone else showed.  I made occasional small talk, but mostly I let fly with the eating of the cookies.  There are some upsides to Liberia Time. 

So, you know, I guess the vehicle isn’t ready yet. 

I don’t know what is wrong, seriously, we need to be on the roads before the rainy season. They say tomorrow.

Sometimes Liberian Time reverses itself.  The roads in Monrovia look as you would expect roads to look after 14 years of civil war.  The Chinese have come in to work on some roads, but their progress is still slow (Time with Chinese Characteristics, they call it).  Yet, when Bush visited Liberia earlier this year, the road from the airport to the American embassy was paved almost overnight.  It sparkles.  It shines.  It’s fit for a motorcade.  This makes you think two things: First, that Bush might be able to do some good by just rolling up to places so people will pave roads for him – “I’m the Repaver”; Second….. Actually, let’s just focus on that first part…It could be his legacy, man!!  JFK gets schools. King gets Boulevards.  Bush will get an asphalt company. 

Today I was in my office, typing away, when the sky darkened.  Days of no clouds and then, around 4pm, the sky grew dark.  I was intrigued.  I got up, checked my astrological calendar, tinkered with my barometer, consulted the Tarot.  Rainy season.  It began at 4pm on April 3rd.  Now, I was skeptical about ‘rainy season’  Oh, it’s coming, the only thing a Liberian is scared of is rainy season.  Suuuuure.  I’ve lived in the UK. I spent years with rain pelting the side of my face.  I have stylized wellies.  The rain that began at 4pm on April 3rd was different.  I was inside, but I’m pretty sure that I heard people screaming.  And it was different than the “Where have all the cookies gone/why does the new guy have crumbs all over him!!!” scream.  Rainy season.  Impassable roads, trucks abandoned in feet of mud.  It had arrived.


Yes, Vincent? 

I just heard from my guys, the vehicle is ready.  We leave tomorrow morning at 8am!  

Liberia Time also has a sense of humor. 


  1. 😉 have a safe trip!

  2. Sean –
    I am really enjoying reading about your Liberian adventures. I am glad you remembered to “take” your sense of humor with you, as it is much needed! Keep at it!

  3. Your familiy is hilarious.
    I think you should know that Christa had the baby and didn’t call her Sean….:-(
    take care man and send pics.

  4. You will be sad/happy to know that the Cheez-its made their way out of the house as a prize for Fletcher human rights project TRIVIA NIGHT last week. It’s so many Sean things all together–Cheez-its and trivia and human rights!

    p.s. Deng Xiaoping!!!

  5. I hope your hiking boots will hold out during rainy season 🙂 Enjoy and have a safe trip!

  6. Sarah, can you please come to the house and liberate Andrew’s box of Cheese-its from exile in his room….your Cheese-it cause sounds far nobler. Sean, pictures would be nice….We hope you made it to the ‘Funk’ Capital safely!

  7. The torch has been passed! Andrew now rules the Cheez-it roost! I could trade him for Sean’s tennis rackets…

    Also, Sean, here’s an interesting link for you about price discrimination and Monrovia:

  8. Mmmmmmmmmmm… cookies…

    The best part of this entry (besides leading me to want to stuff my face with cookies) is the part about Bush and the Asphalt. My mind is spinning while trying to attempt to come up with the perfect joke that joins those two words.

    Alas, there are just too many opportunities to make fun of that, so instead I will say, well done & enjoy your food, food, food.

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