Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yaron Deskalo Liberia Journal Day 2

It was hot this morning. But at least it wasn't raining.
This is Liberia. 90 degrees in the shade. Hot.
We spent the first part of the day in downtown Monrovia. Our audio guy, a son of a Cuban mother, said Monrovia reminded him of Havana. Just minus the smiles and the music.
We are here to cover the Liberian amputee soccer team - the champions of Africa. When we stepped out of our van, onto Broad St, we were welcomed by one of the many beggars we would meet downtown. This one reminded us why we were here. He was a double amputee. As our security personnel reminded us, in the last two decades, Liberia had two choices: short sleeve or long sleeve. It wasn't about the shirt length, but where you wanted your arm amputated during the 14-year civil conflict. He was long-sleeve: without wrists.

When the afternoon sun was at its hottest, we went to watch the amputee soccer team practice. Liberia has many amputees - so many they have six amputee soccer teams, a full league. Today, the 18 finest assembled for a practice across the street from the President's mansion on a sandy pitch that is a sorry excuse for a soccer field. They are trying. And so are there coaches. A lack of funds prohibits them from practicing more than a couple times per month. Lack of funds also deems most of them homeless.

It is a sad state of affairs, but tremendously uplifting. These athletes have nothing. Less than nothing. But they still play, and fans show up to watch them. Able-bodied fans.

With an unemployment and poverty rate so high, everybody needs something. Even with nothing, these amputees provide that something. Even if it is for just a couple hours per month. It's a testament to the country's resilience seven years after a civil war. This country is behind, way behind. This team helps them remember their past while moving forward.

More on why that is tomorrow.

We ended the night at the Ducor Hotel. Wherever you live, imagine that five-star hotel turning into a catacomb, full of squatters, urine, and rubble. It's a symbol of Monrovia, but still is beautiful.


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