Day Five- the scariest day. ever.

So… today we started out as any other day- waiting around for “Liberian Time” to roll around. You see, if you’ve ever visited a Caribbean Island, you are familiar with “Island Time,” which is usually a SOLID 15-minutes after your appointed time to meet, have lunch, get a massage, etc.

Well in Liberia, TODAY at least… it was THREE HOURS behind the appointed time.

Hilarious.

SO we got up at 6:30a to leave at 7:30a for the Sierra Leone/Liberian border to pick up two of the 500 reformed child-soldiers working on the Greener Diamond (GOOGLE IT NOW!) rice field that was planted after the diamond mine used up the community and left the area. We got up early and had a quick breakfast and waited for our ride.

And waited.
And waited.

At around 10.30 they came by. There were some complications with communication with the Sierra Leone boys since there isn’t the best cell reception while bouncing through the unpaved Sierra Leone roads.. so it was understandable. Sorta.

Anyway, since we didn’t hear from them for three hours, we just decided to head out there ourselves. Meet them at the border, have a fun meeting, etc.

Or so we thought…

We headed out and left Monrovia, watching the concrete block huts give way to thatch huts, and mud walled huts… VERY National Geographic- what I expected to see in “Africa.” There were a few check points along the way- I”m unclear as to what the purpose of these are other than to get bribe money out of random passers by, but that’s beyond the point. We had our passports and were ready to show them…

.. until a big checkpoint asked for our documents… and then pulled Johnny from the car.

Anna and I are in the back, starting to worry. Robert, our AMAZING Liberian driver, hops out and says that he doesn’t think they know we’re in the car. We stay perfectly still, trying to hide behind the headrests or something, until we hear Johnny’s booming TV voice say: “Oh, they’re in the car…”

Shoot.

So we give them our passports, but refuse to get out of the car. (They don’t ask anyway- they can probably recognize that ‘deer in the headlights’ look from a mile away…) Meanwhile, Anna is checking her cell phone reception on both her US and newly bought Liberian phone (no reception to be found…) and slowly pocketing her mace/horn pen.

We were laughing nervously, but also locking doors and seeing if Robert the driver left his keys in the car…

FINALLY, we heard Johnny say jovially “Ok, thanks guys!” and we BOTH let out an audible SIGH of relief. Hilarious…

So we drive on, wary of any more checkpoints, when we come to a huge snarl of barbed wire crossing the road. Thinking it’s another check point, we pocket our passports, and slowly realize we have made it- THIS is the Sierra Leone/Liberian border.

There is a small town that has sprouted around the border office- tin roofed shacks, small restaurants, a one room ‘restaurant and club.’ We get out and have our papers looked at, and we decide to go a little ways into Sierra Leone to meet our boys and escort them over the border. The Liberian custom agents have no problem with this, and one man even offers to ride with us to help us though. (SO nice the Liberians…)

So we make our way across the Monroe River Bridge that separates the two countries. At the Sierra Leone side we stop, and an angry faced young man declares that we can go no farther. Actually, to be exact, he says that our OTHER car, with our other Liberian driver Bobo can go through, but, and I quote…

“The white people cannot go in.”

‘But,’ I thought to myself…. ‘I’m half Asian?!?’

I didn’t really feel like going in by myself, and only half of me, since I”m only HALF Asian, so we turned around and went back to Liberia.

BUT, for the record- we WERE in Sierra Leone.

For a minute…

Anyway, it turned out to be a great day- hanging out in this border town. The nice Liberian side let us film on the bridge (usually verboten in check points and borders to film or shoot pictures, these nice guards saw nothing wrong with it!) and then Johnny gave the kids a brand new soccer ball, which went over very well. He played soccer with them and kicked the ball about a bit. It was all great- until a random angry young man came over yelling at us about how these kids can’t EAT a soccer ball, and what us people need to bring is FOOD not balls… downer.

But we still had fun. And the kids were so happy that it really was amazing.

We sat and had a beer at one of the little restaurants while we waited for our other driver to come back with our Sierra Leone boys. We talked to some local Sierra Leonians about how the country has been doing since the war and what the Greener Diamond (GOOGLE IT- FOR REAL! IT’s AMAZING!) is doing in Sierra Leone, and they were genuinely impressed and thankful, which was a great feeling for Anna, who has worked so hard on this incredible project.

Finally, another three hours later or so, our boys drove across the bridge and we welcomed them with open arms. They were exhausted from their 10+ hour drive on unpaved roads, so we tried to leave a quickly as possible, but the locals had started to take over our caravan wanting candy and attention, so we had to take a quick detour to take one last picture.

One red eyed angry young man (the same one who yelled at us for giving soccer balls instead of food) demanded that Johnny take a picture next to a grave site near our cars. When asked what the site was, he said it was where a mass grave for Sierra Leone soldiers was found.

And it was also connected to the soccer field the children were playing on.

Chilling stuff.

We tried to high-tail it out of there as fast as we could, when we accidently rolled to far though the first check point and got pulled over by the guard. Robert, our driver, silently held his hand back to Anna and asked if we had any cash- a bribe was needed.

Scared, Anna handed over a huge wad of Liberian dollars- about $10 American. After about a 10 minute game of back and forth, the bribe worked, and Robert SPED off, worried that the guards would change their mind, and of the oncoming dark.

Now, we have been in some seemingly shady situations with Robert and he’s been as cool as a cucumber… but now, we saw nervousness in his eyes.

So we were nervous times 10.

What happens after dark, I wondered?

Well, I don’t know what happens to the people, but the potholes on the road, the axel-rattling, teeth jarring, head-bumping ones, become INVISIBLE. We bounced around for the next hour and a half, holding our breath at each check point, until we finally arrived in our hotel…

… at which time I know that Anna and I both considered kissing the floor.

It was a harrowing day, but what hit us the most, as we locked ourselves into the safety of our ‘posh’ hotel, was that what we went though today was not 1/10th of what these former child soldiers that we are interviewing tomorrow have experienced. The atrocities they’ve seen and been forced to participate in chill me to the core. We got a TINY sampling of that bone-numbing fear today. To extrapolate that to what these boys have been though- I can’t even begin to relate….

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3 Responses to “Day Five- the scariest day. ever.”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Wow! Glad you’re OK! We miss you here, but are happy to experience your adventures vicariously. Be safe!

  2. ML Says:

    I can’t comment…thanks for the post.

  3. Martha Kight Says:

    I am so glad that you got back safe, and are doing such good work there – including consciousness raising.

    I’ve know Johnny a very long time and I have seen him talk his way out a few situations 🙂 Though I was nervous when I reached your “They pulled Johnny out of the car” – I was not surprised at the “Ok, thanks, guys!” ending to that part of the story. 🙂
    Thank you, Selena. It is great to have the story to go with the pictures on FB.

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