Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Living and Dying in Liberia

One of the questions we are frequently asked about our time in Liberia is: "Is it safe there"? Generally the question refers to personal safety from violence, threats of left-over war unrest, etc. The answer for us is an emphatic, yes, we felt very safe personally and never felt personally threatened or even uneasy – we only felt welcomed. Liberians are exceedingly friendly, appreciative and hospitable. Our host was protective and solicitous and our job to train teachers meant we spent most of our time at school with quiet evenings at home working on the next day's training program. (Our host was protective but that didn’t keep him from working us hard - it was great!)

Personal safety and protection from violence is not the only measure of safety, though, and we were very aware of personal, individual vulnerability in a nation where there are no emergency services and access to health care is minimal. There are no rescue services with ambulances, fire trucks, etc. in Liberia. The only ambulances we saw with sirens and lights going during our time there were provided by NGOs such as Doctors without Borders and UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia). It was not clear how the patient in those vehicles qualified for help and a race to the hospital but certainly such access is extremely limited – only available to the average person by chance or some luck of the draw.

Traffic and driving is chaotic and wrecks often result in horrible death and injury with only passersby to administer first aid or assistance. We happened upon one auto wreck and, before I turned away with a lurching feeling in my chest, I saw a motorcycle under the front wheels of a Hummer-type NGO vehicle. The motorcycle tried to take a turn, passing close on the inside and ended under the wheels of the much larger, heavier vehicle. A crowd had already gathered and people were trying to be helpful and provide what assistance they could. There was much shouting, gesturing and it seemed an effort to pull something/one from under the vehicle was underway. Here in the U.S. such a crowd would likely be waiting quietly for trained medical personnel in the ambulance speeding to the rescue. In Liberia there is no rescue – they know they are on their own.

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