The Techy Bit... - 4 Apr 2007

Running in Monrovia...

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 Running in Monrovia...

 I run... 4 or 5 times a week... for 4 to 8 miles. I started this early morning ritual as an attempt to ward off my otherwise sedentary lifestyle, but it's become so much more to me now. If I miss a day, that's OK - but if I miss a few days in a row, then I really start to feel the withdrawal effects. It's not just the exercise I miss, although I do miss that, but more than that.  I miss getting out to see the world. Especially now that I live aboard a ship and could easily spend all day, every day without setting foot on land. Sometimes it's a struggle to get up at 05:30 (OK - most of the time!) but it's my window to what's happening out there. And I'm almost always amazed at what I see...

Earlier this week, I ran a 5 mile route on Bushrod Island, outside of Monrovia, Liberia where Anastasis is docked. To the left is a satellite photo of the route (click for a larger version) Wanna see a closer view? Click here for the ability to zoom in and scan around.

So what do I see on my runs? I see alot... Mostly I see the people of Monrovia coming and going... going about their daily business.

The street is full of hustle and bustle: pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, hundreds of taxis, cars, trucks, even the occasional UN armored personnel carriers. Most of the vehicles I see would not be considered roadworthy at home. It seems like this is where cars go after they have lived a full life in Europe or America. I always chuckle to myself when I see one "crabbing" down the road - a car that has had it's frame so badly bent that it's back wheels don't follow the same track as the front wheels anymore. It looks a little like a crab that walks sideways... and I see alot of them.

I see men and women (but many more women) carrying heavy loads on their heads. Taking items to sell at the market or bringing items home from the market. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a man carrying seven queen-sized mattresses stacked on his head! YES, SEVEN - I counted! They were foam mattresses about 8 inches thick, with a cloth cover sewn over, so not the heaviest you can imagine, but the sheer bulk balanced on his head was a sight to be seen! It was one of so many moments when I wished I had my camera.

I see poverty and desperation... Liberia is filled with poor desperate people. How bad is it here?

Every year, the United Nations issues a report ranking the developmental status of the world's nations called the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI takes into account factors such as Life Expectancy, Adult Literacy, Gross Domestic Product per Capita, and School Enrollment. The 2006 HDI Ranking has Norway as #1 - the most developed nation in the world. The US is #8, just before Switzerland as #9. Mexico is #53... Iran is #95, and Pakistan is #134. At the very bottom of the list, at #177 is Niger, just below Sierra Leone at #176. Liberia (along with Iraq and Afghanistan) is not on the list - there is just not enough reliable current data. I don't know where Liberia will place when they do get the statistics together, but I was in Sierra Leone three months ago. It's much worse here. I was in Ghana (#136) a month ago... it doesn't even compare.

Back to my run... I saw a level of desperation and poverty on this particular day, that I've never seen before. It had rained 2 days earlier and there were puddles, just like this one, everywhere. As I chugged along at my 9:20 pace, I noticed a woman, standing ankle-deep in the middle of one of these large, muddy puddles. She bent at the waist, reaching to the water's surface with her hand... I wondered what she might be doing so I watched as I continued on my way. She skimmed the top of the water, pushing aside whatever rubbish and scum was floating on top... and then she raised her cupped hand to her lips and drank. I couldn't believe what I saw - that she, or anyone, would be so desperate for a drink, and so poor that she couldn't spend $0.12 on clean water (You can buy 500ml of clean water from a street vendor sealed in a plastic bag for 5 Liberian Dollars - about $0.12).

It was a powerful reminder of how desperate and poor people are, and conversely, how wealthy, relatively, I am. I carried on with my run, finishing back at the ship. The first thing I did was grab my one-liter water bottle, filled with clean, purified water, and down it. Before the workday had begun, I'd refilled and drank that too (It's hot and humid here... and I've had kidney stones... can't afford to get dehydrated!) But the contrast hit me... how desperate would I have to be before I would drink from that puddle...

I've never even been close to that desperate and I can't even imagine it.

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