Tuesday, July 22, 2008

'This too is Liberia'

I write from the lounge balcony of the Royal Hotel, sipping an unusually metallic tasting Lebanese coffee to the pulse of Daft Punk over the speakers. As I glance around, I see mostly internationals, tapping away at their characteristic laptops. Expat life here is comfortable, often disturbingly so.

I feel like I have been living in a bubble the past 4 weeks. Teeming with a plethora of NGO partners and the largest peacekeeping force in the world (as well as a lot of summer interns), post-conflict Monrovia has almost developed a parallel economy to cater to us. We go to the finest restaurants, the best bars, and the nicest beaches. We live in the best compounds and usually have our own reliable drivers to take us wherever we want. There is even a sushi bar and at least two casinos. While the quality and quantity of such facilities is still meager, life here still vaguely resembles a good lifestyle in a developed country. The picture to the right is the view from our veranda.

One of my favorite places to visit here is the bar and restaurant at Golden Beach, where sometimes I feel like I’m in a Corona commercial. There are gazebos, palm trees, a little garden area, and a duiker (mini-deer-like thing) that runs around. Given the abject poverty in Monrovia and the conditions in the not-so-immediate area surrounding this beach, I was initially quite surprised no one had eaten it yet. However, the duiker was protected within the confines of this small garden area. I feel like we too, like this duiker, are often stuck frolicking in our own little world (okay, so it’s a bit of a stretch...).

The hypocrisy of our existence here became particularly apparent when we went to an 80’s party at the UNMIL (United National Mission in Liberia) compound, complete with a disco ball and a large fleet of identical white SUV’s. As the hour grew late, the contents of the bar began to dwindle, and the 80’s party gradually transformed into a pool party, I couldn’t help but wonder about how painfully detached I was from those on the other side of the coils of razor-wire.

In all fairness, we all do work pretty hard. In the past couple of weeks, I have been working with the program manager of the National Leprosy and Tuberculosis Control Program (NLTCP) to implement parts of the work plan from the Global Fund Round 7 Proposal. The NLTCP is currently undergoing a revival with new management and a lot of funding (read: they have $1 million to spend in the next 2 months). The building to the left is the TB annex where they house a lot of TB patients.

I have also been working on developing a standard operating protocol for procurement and supply chain management of essential drugs. Overall, it’s kind of exciting to participate in rebuilding this country’s health care system at a time when it seems this country has the spotlight of the world.