Friday, September 10, 2010

Its rough but memorable road.

While admittedly, my life is charmed - I get paid to fly around and make things happen - but in Africa, the travel itself is far from glamorous. Once I reach my destination, I love it. But until then, it is a test of will, attitude and patience. First of all Africa is enormous. Secondly, flights happen infrequently when they do take off and I am often forced onto less than reputable establishments like Arik, Eagle AIr Nigeria, and Air Uganda. 

Liberian Flag. Familiar? 
Two weeks ago, I traveled from Cape Town to Liberia via Nairobi, about 3000 miles out of the way. In the middle of this four leg journey, one plane was missing. My connection was not there to Accra, Ghana. Luckily, in a few hours it made an appearance and in a stroke of luck, my final flight from Accra to Monrovia was delayed by five hours, thus I would make the last connection.  
 
The mayor of Monrovia (lady right) and our team! 

My thoughts, perfect! I can run home in Accra, a place I have not been in 2 months, shower from 24 hours of traveling, re-pack clean clothes and be back on a plane. This plan was going amazingly until I got back to the Accra airport to check in. When I got there,  no Ethiopian Airlines flight to Liberia could be found.  I ran around, called my travel agent, called Ethiopian, and asked the 'not-so-helfpul desk. Finally, I was told the flight was still there, but even if the flight time is delayed, they still only open the check in counter when the flight WOULD have check in. Meaning, I was missing the flight even though it was still there on the tarmac un-boarded.  

Streets of Monrovia, Liberia 
One good thing about Africa is that even if everyone says it's not possible, it is. While rushing around the airport, I randomly ran into a friend I met in Senegal, named Cheick,  who now runs United Airlines security at the airport. He gave me some guys number to call and called some friends himself. Eventually, I was on the phone with a guy on the tarmac demanding to be let on the flight. After some sharp words and a hefty phone bill later, I was issued a fake ticket by another airline to get through immigration. When I reached the boarding gate, the passengers for my flight were still waiting and ten flight attendances who were sitting around asked  'Where were you, we have been looking for you."  Obvisouly they weren't looking hard. But regardless, you can bet that tarmac guy's number is stored in my phone.

Chris and our Google security
Finally,  Liberia. What a fascinating place. Poorest I have seen in Africa, war torn and oddly American, but I loved it.  I was in Liberia to organize and speak at tech training in a country with no electric power supply aside from generators, only satellite internet and not one university computer science department. This was a Google.org project and needless to say, I was a bit of a skeptic.  


While all the lack of infrastructure can't be ignored and undoubtably a huge barrier to such an impoverished country, if it is the people who determine the potential of a country, Liberia will be alright. Liberians are still quite guarded and don't smile first but they have an unmatched hunger to learn and an entrepreneurial spirit. I met a about 10 guys who were completely self taught programmers, one of who  at age 22, is starting an educational TV show to teach computer literacy. This same kid also works late at night when the internet connection is not so crowded to download university course lectures from Stanford and MIT, burns them on DVD and hands them out.  It is people like him who remind me of the potential of one person to have an impact, to make change. Lucky for Liberia, they have more than one. 



A few other things of note, met the mayer of Monrovia who reminded me of a fired up talk show host, listened to some great live reggae and enjoyed a series of Liberian down pours. My one day out of work, was  spent with a colleague Chris roaming around the streets and markets of Monrovia in the pouring rain. The colors and atmosphere were amazing. We watched as people came to gather their water from the central well, sold used and likely donated clothes, cars and bikes tried to navigate the flooded hazardous roads, young kids showered naked in the rain, and generally Liberians going about their business in a partially destroyed city. 

dancing for the butter. 















At one point, I was pulled from the crowd to danced in the with a musical group promoting Vita Butter.  Pretty hilarious (Chris, keep you videos to yourself :). Then Chris signed us up to eat some incredibly suspicious food that made haste in our systems.  All together, we did our best to absorb a place that to the Western eye, seems chaotic and run down, but for someone who lives there, it is mundane daily life.  For me, nothing about Liberia was mundane. I quite liked it.     More pics 



2 comments:

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