On Travel: Buchanan, Liberia

Local Buchanan Beach

Some of you may remember that I grew up in Buchanan, Liberia until about a year before the war started. This is one of the main places I remember (or thought I remembered...) from my childhood. I have talked about this place with the sense of nostalgia that most people have when they remember a pleasant childhood including posts such as this.

A few days after arriving in Monrovia, I learned that I would get the opportunity to go to Buchanan for the first time in over 23 years. Needless to say I was dying with curiosity. It isn't often that one gets to visit their childhood home, especially when that area is far away in a war-torn country.

As we drove along the highway, I tried to see if I would recognize anything but besides Firestone (more on that later), the scenery was just a beautiful blur to me. Lush tropical trees hugged the paved highway and then the highway turned into a red dirt, pot-holed road bumping us along to our destination

Almost three hours after leaving Monrovia, the driver annouced that we were in Buchanan. Whatever sense of "aha...'home'" I was expecting to feel most certainly did not hit me! In fact, there was nothing about Buchanan that felt even remotely familiar! The streets were packed with the typical vision of markets lining the street and people, dogs, motorcycles, trucks, gutters, trash and everything in between all meshing into one mega chaotic blur. In my memory, "Buchanan" was a clean quite area where I ran along between housing to visit friends and this version most certainly was not measuring up.

I told the driver that I use to live in the old mining community area and he promised that we would pass the area known as "The Loop" - on our way to a local community that we had come to visit. As we approached the area (now run by a new mining community), the "Buchanan" that I knew started to take shape. The guards at the check-point to enter the Loop seemed familiar, or maybe it was just having the check-point there in the first place that triggered familiarity.

As we drove along, things became even more "normal looking" with neat little signs popping up and most importantly, everything related to the mining and the transportation of iron ore coming into view including rail cars loaded with sparkly black dirt, helmeted workers and most importantly, the port where ships awaited their precious cargo. This is clearly a community owned and managed by foreigners who are strictly here for business - big business - and the chaos of the real Buchanan has no place in this area!

We passed the main area and started to bump along some back roads and before I knew it, the beaches appeared just to my right. We would sink into one pot-hole and upon coming out would sneak another look at the coconut tree-lined beach front. Imagine miles and miles of untouched beaches with the Atlantic crashing unto the shores and coconuts awaiting for anyone with a panga! One meeting later, we were taken to this beautiful area where a river protecting a mangrove forest clashes with the Atlantic ocean (a place were some serious fish, sea turtles business takes place). While of course I couldn't remember this specific beach, just being on the coastline brought back memories of weekends spent in similar nearby beaches.

As we drove through "The Loop" again on our way back to "downtown" Buchanan, I noticed the sign for the residential areas. I knew that behind that second "inner loop" laid my old house, my old school, the old tennis courts, and more. A huge part of me was dying to see that inner "loop" (translation: I wanted to bust the second layer and run around people's private homes and lives to see my past), and was slightly heartbroken when we turned left toward Monrovia instead of right toward that area with the driver taunting "you'll see it the next time you come back!" Of course the "next time" is much easier said than done.

Nevertheless, the experience was brilliant, most of all because it really hit me that my memory of Buchanan was so completely limited to "The Loop" which had nothing to do with how those from the area really lived. Of course as an adult I knew it was a secluded experience, but the reality could never have hit me any way other than seeing the real town, and getting to speak to some of the local people and hear their experiences. Back then, I knew my experience as "the norm" and I was amazingly lucky enough to live a childhood where I could literally run around in blissful ignorance of the poverty surrounding me. While the reality does not taint the memory of my experience, getting to visit Buchanan today has put that memory into a more realistic context, allowing me to see so many things that I was too young to understand back then....

{Photos: Brandie Tendai}

1 comment:

Andrea said...

I very nearly was born in Monrovia, and very nearly grew up there. But it became too dangerous, so the family shipped out, me being born in the UK in transit of sorts on the way to PNG. Really interesting to read this stuff.