I am not an indigene of Lofa County—and I would never be in terms of ethnicity. My ancestral home is the Wedabo chiefdom in Grand Kru County in the southeastern part of Liberia. Before March 3, my knowledge of Lofa County (located in the northern part of Liberia) had two phases.
Phase One is of the County being Liberia’s Food Basket—supplying the entire country with enough fresh foods—especially vegetables. You remember the “Lofa’s Bitter Balls” (garden eggs)—strangely fat and shiny like those grown with “chemical” in some “food rich” Western nations—that flooded all market areas in many of Liberia’s 15 counties? This was before 1990, when Liberians decided on destroying their country through tribal war that lasted 14 years.
Phase Two is of bad (no asphalt) roads connecting the county to other parts of Liberia. Each of these routes would stretch a vehicle’s traveling period into/out of the county to three or more times beyond the time the operator of the vehicle would expect. Each traverse to/from Lofa engenders severe body pains (like one did to me in 2011 and 2016) to a person (especially the first-time traveler) into/from Lofa County. This knowledge began in March of 2011.
My first experience with Lofa’s roads was in March of 2011. I was returning from Nigeria, after spending a 10-year (2001-2011) refugee life. I entered the County through Guinea, one of four countries (including Mali and Burkina Faso) I passed through. During that time Guinea was the newly discovered by-pass route for returning Nigeria’s Liberians who didn’t want to be seen by any Ivorian armed person in Ivory Coast where any Liberian, or a person with Liberian accent, was being hunted for murder by Ivorian armed persons as retroaction of (some) Liberians’ connection with the rebel group of Ivorian rebel leader Laurene Gbagbo.
The Monrovia-bound truck that brought me and other passengers from Benin Republic broke down in Voinjama, so I joined the Monrovia-bound official vehicle (Pick up) of the then Lofa County Superintendent. I was placed at the back of the Pickup. The vehicle left the Superintendent’s compound (in Voinjama) around 6pm and reached the end of Lofa (St. Paul’s Bridge) 11pm. Five-hour journey! The driver told some passengers the journey would have been half of the distance covered if the road had been paved with asphalt. I became a ‘red man’, from the dust, and my buttocks became numb (insensitve) in two weeks from continuous bang (from the car’s continuous jumping into pot holes) of my buttocks with the metallic seat of the car.
The same vehicle spent almost the Lofa’s time for Bong and Margibi Counties.
My second experience with Lofa’s bad roads (no asphalt) was during my journey with Press Union of Liberia on its celebration of the 2016’s World Press Freedom Day in the County. I was with the batch of the PUL members that travelled on the National Transit Authority (NTA) bus on Saturday, April 30. The feature of Lofa’s road (connecting to Bong County) I saw during the World Press Freedom Daytrip is the same I saw five years ago—when I was returning from Nigeria!
On the World Press Freedom Day journey, the bus left the Lofa’s road (no asphalt), which begins from Gbarnga’s Central Business District, at 3:45 pm (the time on my mobile phone) and reached Voinjama 9:55pm. Subtract sixty minutes (from brief stops for passengers to attend to nature’s call and to buy food) from this time, and you will have six hours and five minutes. This was almost the time the bus spent on the Montserrado-Margibi-Bong route.
The bad road restricted the movement of our vehicle to between 40 and 50 KPH throughout the journey, down from between ‘80’ and ‘100’ when we were on Margibi’s road and Gbarnga’s. Through the trip, I monitored the vehicle’s speedometer. (We returned to Monrovia on the same speed limit)
I met another horrible feature (un-asphalt and bumpy road) of Lofa when I was going to Foya (Vice President Joseph native home) Tuesday (May 2) to record developmental successes and challenges in that part of the County, which was a plan (based on journalistic tradition) from the Kamara Abdullai Kamara-led PUL to each PUL member in Lofa for the World Press Freedom celebration. I was a member of the Foya Batch-2, led by comrade Alfred L.M. Gezaye of INSIGHT Newspaper. No part of the route—connecting Voinjama, Kolahun and other areas—had asphalt. The vehicle (Pickup) that took us from our base (Voinjama) to Foya spent more than two hours on the road. Along the road (on the Voinjama’s side) is a palm tree plantation owned by the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC), where Liberia’s current Vice President (H.E. Joseph Nyumah Boaka) occupied a top managerial post.
I saw a “modern road” (covered with asphalt) only in the center of Voinjama, the chosen political capital of Lofa County. I didn’t see similar modern-time route in Zorzor, which is next to Voinjama in terms of development and popularity.
With knowledge of the huge number of wealthy Lofans in government (remember: Liberia’s current Vice President is a native of Lofa County) and in the business community (in Liberia and abroad), I thought: All roads in this County should have been paved with asphalt.
At the Marjod Guest House (where I lodged on the PUL’s expense) in the Kiss Quarters in Voinjama, I voiced my disappointment of Lofa’s roads (I had travelled through) to the Guest House’s Manager, Emmanuel F.J. Cooper, and his colleague. “That Lofa’s road connecting to Gbarnga you’re talking about has always been like that in eighty years”, Emmanuel told me. “The other roads, with no asphalt, in other parts of the County, are closer in age to the one connecting us to Gbarnga or Monrovia, which you came through from Monrovia.” Then Emmanuel disclosed his political choice for the presidency come 2017: “Vice President Joseph Boakai will pave (put asphalt) on all these roads, when he is elected President.”
Phobia of Ebola
Lofa County served as the gateway (from March 3, 2014, according to government’s record) of the fast-killing Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) that killed four thousand-plus of my compatriots (including medical doctors), denied me my Rights of Association (in public areas), and slowed, to the point of inactivity, my nation’s economic life. First seen by scientists in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1976, EVD decided to migrate (flying over five countries, none of which it “touched”) to Liberia on the 3rd day of March of 2014, via Guinea.
My fear of Lofa County had come from journalists’ reports (some time relaying government’s reports) about Ebola’s epidemic in the County. The Press Union of Liberia’s leadership’s mention of “Lofa County” as celebration venue of the 2016’s World Press Freedom Day reawakened my fear of the County.
Then, I entered the County (on Saturday, April 30).
From the time (around 10pm) we disembarked from the bus, I avoided coming into contact with any “Lofan” who wasn’t a member the “PUL family” that came for the World Press Freedom Day anniversary; and I also avoided touching “anything” (animal or fruit) scientists tell me is the “host” or “transporter” of the Ebola virus.
Aware of mango being the “host” of Ebola virus—when nipped by a bat as a “transporter”— I suppressed the addictive urge of nipping—or touching—any of the hundreds of clean, ripe and full mangoes under each of dozens of mango trees along each road, abandoned by Lofans we met in the County. (In Monrovia, I had rushed several times for these same kinds of fruits, brought by traders from Lofa. But, as long as these mangoes were in Lofa, I won’t touch any!) Foolishly, I Ate One (called “German plum” in Liberia) – From my female colleague on the day (may 4) we were returning to Monrovia)
What I touched, however, was meat (I didn’t know from which animal it was extracted) in the Torborgee (native soup of the Lofa people) prepared by the cook (owner of Under The Tree Bar & Restaurant) hired by Mrs. Shirley Flomo, head of the PUL’s Food and Lodging Committee. From the way the restauranteur prepared and designed the Torborgee, I became a Falcao (Liberians’ new word for stubbornness or I-won’t-listen character, which had been coined from “I-can’t-listen” gesture of Columbian football star Radamel Falcao in celebration of his goal, or his character of ignoring the sound of a referee’s whistle for off-side just because he just wants to kick toward the net.
Also, the thought of Ebola in Lofa (the disease had been wiped out of the County nine to 10 months before I went there for the World Press Freedom Day) killed my desire for sex in the County. Occasionally the feeling came—especially when I stared at the beckoning ukwu (as Nigerian musician Timaya calls it in his song) of young Lofan girls passing near me—but I would imagined the Ebola virus in each girl’s huge buttocks (ukwu) and the feeling would quench instantly.
I met Lofans still ‘feeling’ the presence of Ebola—six or more months after WHO declared the entire Liberia Ebola-free. This consciousness was reflected in the presence of large anti-Ebola hand-wash bucket at each of the vehicle inspection points in the country and smaller sanitizer container at most of the houses and business centers I passed by while strolling about. I didn’t see such consciousness in most homes and business centers in Monrovia before I travelled to Lofa.
Lofans’ generosity toward me in Voinjama, from the first day I entered (Saturday, April 30) for the World Press Freedom Day to the last day (Wednesday, May 4), overshadowed all the pains I had against the County over bad roads, and my fear (phobia) of the Ebola virus that had long been wiped out of the Country.
Below are the major hospitable acts.
The first (Day One, April 30) was from Fatu Cooper, mother of four children, wife of Marjod Guest House’s Manager, who shared her hot bath water against the freezing weather in Voinjama. Beside this, she often instructed her senior son to fetch bath water from the Guest House’s well for me (and other PUL members anytime) anytime he saw me going toward the well. Neither the mother nor the son requested—by voice or action—any “thank you” token from me for the gesture. Her husband—Emmanuel Cooper—never read any “romantic” feeling in his wife’s “humanitarian gesture”, unlike many other men.
The second hospitable gesture (Day Two, Sunday, May 1) was a huge kitchen pan full with rice and Torborgee (inhabited by half dozens of meat and snails) and with a 10-liter gallon full with palm wine. These came from the family of Mr. Marvee T. Weallea, Deputy County Commander for Administration of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN), Lofa County Detachment. This to-burst-belly food was for me; female journalist Zoe Horace (relative to Mr. Weallea’s family); Willie Tokpa of FrontPage Africa; two other journalists (female); and Mr. Isaac Wredd, Director of Press of the House of Representatives. The hospitality took another form—pardon—the next day on our failure to honor the Weallea family’s plead for a “return match” (eating of another dish of plenty food and plenty palm wine).
The next person in the line of the Lofa Hospitality was a stranger (Sunday, May 1) who ordered a bike rider to take me to my Guest House and paid the bike’s fare (LD$20), after I told him to only give me direction to the way leading to Under the Tree. (The time was 9pm. I missed the way to Under the Tree, from where I would easily find the road leading to my lodging place, after watching the PUL’s ladies’ Kick Ball Team defeat the Voinjama’s Kick Ball team, and the PUL’s male team go down 1:0 to the Senator Stephen Zargo-led (captained) Voinjama’s Old Timers Football Club at the Voinjama’s football Pitch.
The next humanitarian action came from a bereaved man (he told me his brother died in a burning house few days before we met) who left his house to show me the road to my Guest House, after the bike rider (mentioned above) dropped me.
The next was Lofa County’s Development Superintendent, Madam Younger Sherman (Sunday, May 1), who begged me (with other members of the PUL) to force her breakfast (of stew with eddoes, plantain and fried fish) into my stomach already loaded with foods and drinks from the previous day. Later, she provided the “traditional water” (palm wine) to go with the natural water she had supplied with the food. Much of her lunch on Day Two (Monday, May 2), however, spoiled because my belly (as well as those of most other PUL members she prepared for) had been “locked” with plenty foods and drinks from other Lofans before her foods left the kitchen.
Honorable (Representative) Miriamu Fofana’s “Dinner” (Food & Drinks) were the next reception for me (Sunday, May 2).
Senator Steve Zargo’s ‘Cow meat soup’ with drinks (Wednesday, May 4) succeeded Representative Fofana’s “Dinner”.
Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai (the chief of hosts for the PUL family in Lofa for the World Press Freedom Day) ordered a cow butchered (Wednesday, May 4) for me, which would be served at the County Development Superintendent’s house. But the leadership of the PUL halted the slaughter of the animal and ordered its transfer to Monrovia to be cooked—or sold—there.
Back on the Lofa’s side of the Lofa-Gbarnga-Monrovia road on Wednesday, May 4, my involuntary gyration caused by the bus ((now taking me back to Monrovia) jerking, careening, and swerving nearly flushed Lofans’ incomparable reception from my mind. However, in the midst of my grumbling about my discomforts about the bad road (which was causing the driver continuously jerk, careen and swerve to prevent it jumping into a pothole), I prayed, “Lord, give these incomparably hospitable people leaders who would show practical prioritization of their county’s decades-old nightmarish roads into modern ones—with asphalt.”
About The Author:
Samuel Dweh, still below college education level, is a journalist (with special interest in Education); publisher of Edu-Diary (education newspaper); creative writer; Author of more than five books of fiction (the latest about free grades-related crimes in schools); member of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL); and member of the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW). +231 886 618 906/ +231 776 583 266/[email protected]/Dweh4lib@gmailcom