I'm on the train headed north. Just left DC. On my way to New York.
This afternoon, we will finally able to nail down an interview with the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Amidst all the controlled chaos that was Monrovia the past couple weeks, I actually neglected to give her (or her PR person) a call for the first couple days I was there. I had, however, left a message at the U.S. Embassy shortly before I left to Liberia to let them know that an American TV crew was there. I'm not sure that message ever made it across.
It was simply fortuitous that I happen to get in touch with the Embassy. The Embassy spokeswoman just happened to be taking a walk when we were emerging from our hotel, moments away from our second shoot with the Liberian Crusaders of Peace. You see our hotel, the Cape, sits in the shadow of the Embassy -- a mere 500 feet away. She heard English and knew something was going on. I told her what we were there for and apologized that I had not been in touch. Attempting to seize the opportunity, I then requested an interview with the Ambassador. We exchanged cards. My instructions were to email. She'd see if the Ambassador could fit us in.
Turns out she couldn't. Understandably, we weren't as important as the visiting AFRICOM General or the opening of the National Elections Commission in Monrovia. We were assured, however, that the Ambassador was travelling back to the states, and it was in DC that we'd have our best chance.
So here we are.
And it was worth the wait.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield first visited Liberia in 1978. Seeing the destruction and devastation now in in 2010 has always led me to wonder what Monrovia was like pre-civil war. My only image came at the top of the Ducor Hotel, a once-five star spot that overlooks the city. We shot scenics from the roof and even an interview, as you may recall. One of the 'tour guides' of this abandoned building showed us a brochure of the place from the seventies. Monrovia looked peaceful. The hotel looked glamorous. As the Ambassador explained, it was all that.
"Like a small American southern city."
"Savannah?" I asked.
"Yeah, but not that nice."
She told me that even though it was very provincial, Monrovia was sowing seeds of conflict. The divide between the haves and have nots was widening. It was becoming increasingly tense. Soon, she said, there would be murders on the beach. The situation sprialled out of control. It would be less than a decade later before the country was fully engulfed in civil war. One that make Monrovia hell on earth. One that would go nearly uninterrupted for 14 years.
The Ambassador, like the Minister of Youth and Sport who we interviewed on our last day in Monrovia, was certainly critical of the amputees. The Ambassador has had contact with amputees. She works very closely with them, in fact. She told me how she implores the amputees to not think of themselves as ex-combatants. They need to move on. In meeting with students at a Liberian university, she met a young man who said that he was an ex-combatant, to which she replied, "What are you doing here at the university?"
He said, "I'm a student."