In August 2004 I headed out to West Africa again.  This time to work
with Liberians who were recovering from a brutal civil conflict.  As can
be imagined after 15 years of on and off fighting and neglect by its
rulers, Liberia was a mess.  The capital Monrovia had no running water
or lights.  When Charles Taylor, the ousted Liberian President, was
asked by a reporter what he thinks about the lack of electricity he
pompously replied that "every Liberian has the right to buy a generator"  

Liberians were tired of war.  The question was were the belligerents
ready to put down their guns.  As Charles Taylor stepped on a
helicopter to exile in Nigeria, the largest deployment of UN Peace
Keepers began to arrive.  Their mission was to hold the peace as the
armed forces disarmed and the election process moved forward.  

Parts of the country were depopulated by ordinary citizens who had
either fled across the border, navigated their way to the camps outside
the capital or hid in the bush..   Ex-combatants still roamed and
controlled these areas in 2004.   Literally kids with rifles who at one
time forced people to call them general and act to their whims.   There
were adults of course but with names like General Peanut Butter and
Master General you weren't sure who was more childish.  All in all they
we were all dangerous..  It was uncertain what the security situation
was going to be in those areas.  Liberians who lived there all their lives
were spooked to go back.  So that's where my company sent me.  

Lofa County where I lived for a year was fascinating.  If for anything for
it's mud.  Flying over the county by helicopter the landscape looked like
hills under natty locks.  This was the remaining West African rain forest
and it was plush with animals and flora.  

Change was the word of the year.  If you closed your eyes ever so
slightly something new would appear.  When I first arrived there were
very few women and elderly in the town, mostly young men who
smoked hash opening in the streets.  There we absolutely no livestock
except for a white horse that owned the town because he had been
booty from Charles Taylor.  By the time I left, churches , mosques and
schools were rebuilt and families were coming home.  

Our office was built from scratch only days before I arrived.  Initially my
therma-rest/chair would be my office/dining area/couch/bed.  I shared a
six room office with 50 other staff.  It was so crowded that slept out in
the veranda the first two months.  There was no running water, just
sweet bucket baths. We had such a small generator that we had to
ration our electricity.   Basically it was like camping.  The staff would
eventually build their own housing and we got a large generator.  We
were dependent on radio to communicate with our head office in
Monrovia.  Months later we would get a refrigerator and a stove.  Finally
by the time I was leaving running water was about to piped through the
living quarters each department would get a computer and people
were tapped on to cell phones.  

Life was all that drastic though (besides I like camping out).  I met
good friend from a variety of different agencies and countries.  Across
the street was the ICRC (red Cross) house/office.  After being in Lofa
for more than a year they had a bit more of the emenities which they
shared with yours truely and the Pakistani Peace Keepers had the best
restaurant in the country hands down.  I loved when IRC management
visited.  I would have to introduce them to the Colnel who would invite
us to diner.   mmm- mmmm- mmmm,

When I left Liberia had moved quite a bit from the day I arrived.  Who
knows what will happen in the future.  I wish them the best because
there are alot of hurdle they need to surmount.  However today they are
all at the polls deciding their next President - an economist who's a
part of the old political class or the outsider - the best African soccer
player to play the sport but who never attended high school.