The Love of Liberty Brought “U.S.” Here

Most of Africa is a patchwork of European colonization, with pieces of the continent having been divided up between France, England, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and Spain. In the middle of West Africa, there is a little slice of America.

The funny thing is that the people we meet in Liberia don’t seem to consider their history as one of colonization. The motto of the country is “The love of liberty brought us here”, and the coat of arms shows a ship arriving on the African shore, with the sun rising on the water representing the birth of a nation (although this makes no sense geographically on the west coast of Africa). Our guide at the National Museum refers to the arrival of the American freed slaves – who constitute only about 5% of the Liberian population – as the start of Liberia’s “independence”. When we question him further, he admits that “the settlers marginalized us, because they were educated and we were not”. It is a rather gentle way to describe Liberia’s history.

our guide at the National Museum, in front of the Liberian motto and coat of arms

eating fried chicken and johnnycakes in Monrovia

the Liberian flag: star and stripes

Perhaps for this reason, Liberia is surprisingly American. Who knew that we’d be eating fried chicken, johnnycakes, and hamburgers? The US dollar and Liberian dollar are used interchangeably (in fact, many hotels and restaurants only accept US dollars), and US dollars can even be withdrawn directly from the ATM. People speak with a funny African-American style accent. The power outlets are in the North American shape. And just take a look at the Liberian flag!

We arrive in Monrovia in the early afternoon, after a relatively smooth journey over the tarred road from the border (only a few potholes break up the ride). It is raining heavily, and it continues to do so for most of the next few days. We catch a taxi to the Lutheran Church compound, which we have read about on an online trip report, and we are not disappointed – the room is basic, but it is clean, the bathroom doesn’t smell, and there is wifi. After a shower, we feel like we are born again and gone to heaven – especially after our previous day’s journey and our night at the grungy border hotel. The Lutheran guesthouse hosts a few other guests from America, including a guest speaker in one of the church’s educational programs. There seems to be a proliferation of American missionaries in Liberia. The most common sight on the road in Monrovia (after UN vehicles) seems to be Christian churches.

The next day, we head out for a tour of the city. We catch a shared taxi downtown, and walk down Broad Street. We pay a visit to the National Museum, which is being slowly rebuilt. The three floors of the old building, which used to serve as the Supreme Court, contain a few cultural objects and relics that survived the civil war. There are some stunning masks from different tribes of Liberia, an exhibition of striking photographs taken by a Peace Corps volunteers in the 1970s before the war broke out, and a few dusty artefacts of historical importance.

view of downtown Monrovia, looking towards the Atlantic Ocean

masks at the National Museum

photos of Liberia from the 1970s, including pictures of an old settler house

dusty artefacts of former Presidents

After our visit of the museum, we take a stroll around town, and eat an egg sandwich at a sidewalk food stall. There is not too much to see, and our tour of downtown Monrovia is over by about midday.

We are ready to depart Monrovia, but we feel reluctant to get back on the road just yet. We know that the coming journey will be another long one, crossing the border into Cote d’Ivoire. It seems that we will have to make the trip in stages, and we are also concerned about the security situation in the northwestern part of Cote d’Ivoire where we will enter the country. That evening, we succumb to our laziness and fatigue. We decide to stay in Monrovia for one more day, just hanging out at the Lutheran Church compound, doing research on the internet about the upcoming journey, and perhaps doing some laundry if there is a lull in the rain.

The following day, the sun comes out. We sleep in, do laundry, and surf the internet, looking for trip reports and news about the journey into Cote d’Ivoire. Suddenly, we come across an alarming news article entitled “Liberia-Ivorian Border Partially Reopened”. WHAT?!?? The border is/was closed???

We immediately walk to the nearby Cote d’Ivoire embassy to enquire. Indeed, the embassy staff confirms that the land borders are closed (save for a limited reopening of the Harper border for persons who need to cross for humanitarian reasons), due to attacks in Cote d’Ivoire which are thought to have been carried out by people crossing the border from Liberia. He suggests that we cross into Cote d’Ivoire by detouring through Guinea.

We return to the Lutheran Church compound and start planning our new route through Guinea for our departure the next morning. Luckily we have dual-entry visas, so should have no problem entering the country again. We map out our detour and it doesn’t look too bad – probably just an extra day on the road. But in Guinea, you never know.