July 6, 2011

Arriving in Liberia

Shatreen Masshoor, GHLI Student Fellow
June 2011

Arriving in Liberia is stunning. As the plane descended below wisps of clouds, I forced myself to peer out the window. Normally, I am an extremely nervous flyer, but I couldn’t resist seeing the landscape. Lush foliage and small, shimmering lakes stretched out below. The dull blue of the Atlantic Ocean drifted into view as the plane circled in for landing at Robertsport Airport, which is a 45-minute drive from Monrovia, the capitol. 

The city itself is packed: taxis negotiate space with white Toyota Land Cruisers stamped with various NGO insignias, while pedestrians dart in between cars and pem-pems (motorbike taxis). Women balance large plastic containers of sweets on their heads, such as pineapple slices and hot doughnuts, selling them for five Liberian dollars (roughly 7 U.S. cents). The Ministry of Health teems with the same level of activity as the rest of the city. An assistant to the deputy minister of health provided me with a tour of the building and numerous health divisions. The officials were consistently involved in policy meetings or briefings, but they were always pleasant and eager to offer a “Welcome to Liberia!” greeting. 
I encountered the same kindness at the TB Annex, the seat of the Montserrado County Health Team. The Montserrado County Health Team business official paused in the middle of signing checks in the dark – due to lack of electricity – to give me the Liberian handshake (similar to a handshake in the US, but you snap your fingers against each other’s at the end of it). 

Although Monrovia can be chaotic and daunting, the warmth and persistence of those I have met has drawn me in. Dr. Camara said it best: “Once you come to Liberia, it stays with you.” 

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