We’re at 1000′ feet, southbound along the Liberian coast in the back of a UNMIL helicopter, and I’ve got China Cat Sunflower stuck in my mind (thank you, Jill). Elbow cocked into the breeze on the open porthole, the throbbing of the ancient Russian MI-8’s five enormous blades is a visceral reminder of machinery driving us along. Below, the carpet of coastal marsh, sand, and tropical jungle swirl together in fractal combinations that would drive Mandelbrot mad.
We’ve got two hours to go this way to get to Harper City in the Southeast Counties, former capital of what was once the independent country of Maryland. Maryland was also established by repatriated American slaves, and like their northern neighbors, they also managed to piss off the indigenous tribes who were already living there by establishing discriminatory land laws and excluding locals from the political process. Unlike their northern neighbors, they didn’t have the firepower to back up their plans, so when war came, they had to plead for protection by the north and became a part of Liberia proper. Ah, the constancy of human nature, blooming whereever it is planted.
Our little aerial convoy is in esteemed company; the president and most of her cabinet are making the trip as well, though in other helicopters. Dark though crosses my mind: maybe we’re being sent ahead as a decoy? It would be a convenient opportunity for a coup (Mom – don’t worry. If you’re reading this, it means we’ve landed and I’ve found a place to upload my post [and gotten back to Monrovia]).
Anyhow. We’re all headed down as part of a stream of folks to mark the re-opening of Tubman University. Doubling it up with the chance to skip out to a nearby village where the Carter Center is going to show us how they work on their “rule of law” program. Have I mentioned how amazing the Carter Center is? This particular initiative uses – I kid you not – a roving theater troupe to educate villages and their chiefs about Liberian civil law. Entertainment is a bit sparse out in the bush where you’ve got no electricity, so they always draw a big crowd.
Today, we’re going to see them perform skit about the rights of women and legal process in cases of gender-based violence (GBV – yet another TLA) to the village of Little Wlebo. GBV is a huge problem that Liberia’s trying to confront head-on. During the war, traditional social norms got chucked out the window as rape and sexual slavery became standard tools of war for both sides. The capital is plastered with posters and billboards proclaiming “Rape is a crime”, “Woman is precious – not for beating” and “Don’t bribe a police!” (note: this isn’t bad grammar; Liberian English is not American English). The powers that be think this is working, but there’s so much more to be done.