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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yaron Deskalo Liberia Journal Day 1

Monrovia, 3-15-10, 7:30 p.m.

Monrovia is supposed to be hot. It's West Africa after all. Today, as we
concluded the second leg of our nearly 20 hour journey that began in
Washington DC, we were welcomed by rain. Not just the rain we see, but as
my cameraman, Gregg Hoerdemann described, "colors I've never seen before."
It was dark. Little contrast. Just black and white. We waited 10 minutes to
deplane. Looking out the window, it was a mere 40 foot walk to the
terminal. But we didn't walk that far. We walked down the slippery steps
to a sideways downpour only to board a bus, take off 2 minutes later, drive
close to the terminal, only to walk the final 10 feet in the downpour. The
whole operation made us wetter.

We were welcomed by one of the security personnel, who helped us skate
through security. Unlike the ubiquitious booths at any NYC area airport,
there were just two passport control booths here: Resident and Alien.
There's also only one baggage carousel. And you can see the bags being
loaded. So much for waiting at 11:45 p.m. at Miami's airport for 45 minutes
when you are the only flight... Here, the only flight arrives with the bags
moments later. Amazingly, our crew's 18 bags arrived... in one piece.
Always a good way to start a journey a half a world away.

I walked outside to a fog of humid air. Rain still dripping and the smell
of gasoline. We were finally in Monrovia. It'd been two years since I was
originally supposed to be here for the same story. Last time I was stranded
in Brussels with a missed flight. You see, flights to West Africa don't run
on the same frequency as NYC to DC. Twice a week, maybe three times a week.
I made my flight this time. I can't to tell the story of the Liberian
amputee soccer team -- the champions of Africa.

Our 2nd fixer was waiting for us. We had four baggage handlers eager to
await their payday from an American television crew. Mosquitos were
starting to swarm. I was only one pill deep of my Malarone at that point.
It is supposed to protect you from Malaria -- a disease even as I write now
scares the hell out of me. I saw these bugs flying, don't know if they were
mosquitos, but they were big. I ran to my bag next to one of our handlers,
and at the risk of looking 'Western' I grabbed a bottle of 'Off' and started
dousing my exposed frame that was now wet and unprotected below the elbows
and knees. I'm still itching right now, just at the thought of it.

By the time we hit the road, it was dark. Just after 7 p.m. I haven't been
everywhere, but I've been to Caracas, Santo Domingo, and Belgrade
among other places -- all brought back memories. But Liberia was
different. As we drove down one road, our security convoy leading us, it
was amazing to see how little light was with so many people around. People
were walking down the road, hiding in their shacks or simply staring -- in
pitch black. Liberia's Roberts Airport is not right in the center of town.
We came to learn it was about an hour away from downtown Monrovia, but it
was dark, and desolate and poor. So poor. Kids in the street without
shoes. People seeming to walk aimlessly. This is just a view from a car
window. I could be wrong. But it looked right.

It also looks a bit like I imagine a war zone. Even though the Liberian
civil conflict, which ran from 1989 to 2003 has been over for close to seven
years, it still felt like we were travelling through some undeveloped
country. And it is; Liberia has a long way to go. There seems to be
optimism, as we learned from our driver who pointed out such magnificent
government buildings and the 'big ass grocery store' that sits two miles
from our hotel.

It's hard to imagine what this place looks like during the day. I'll soon
find out.

-YD

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