In the post below, NACDL Indigent Defense Counsel John Gross describes the team’s journey from the US to Kakata, Liberia, where the training is being held.
15 June 2014
International travel is never ever easy. A delayed flight or a cancellation can add hours or even days to the time it takes to get to your destination. It was for that very reason that we all were booked on the most direct flight from the United States to Liberia: a flight leaving JFK that would make one stop in Accra, Ghana before heading on to Monrovia. We never expected that just getting to JFK would be a problem. While Elizabeth, Martin, Lisa and I all arrived well in advance of our flight to Monrovia, the flight that was supposed to get Margy Meyers to JFK was cancelled. Before we even left the United States, we had lost an important part of our team. We’re all just hoping that Margy can find a way to catch up to us.
After a grueling overnight flight that lasted 10 hours, followed by a two hour layover in Accra, and then a relatively short flight to Monrovia, the four of us stepped off the plane and made our way through customs. We were greeted by several UNODC staff who had arranged for our transportation from the airport to the town of Kakata, where the training will take place. It was a bright and sunny afternoon, despite the fact that we arrived at the start of Liberia’s rainy season. The fresh air that poured in through our car’s open windows was a welcome change from the chilly pressurized cabin of the plane.
As we left the airport we were almost immediately surrounded by acres of rubber trees planted in carefully measured rows, thin white and brown trunks that turn into a canopy of waving green. The long lines of carefully planted trees stood out in sharp contrast to the chaotic foliage that surrounded them. Long before Liberia’s civil wars, Firestone leased thousands of acres of land from the Liberian government and built one of the world’s largest rubber plantations. During the civil wars, production ceased and only recently has Firestone returned to Liberia and started production once again, although on a very limited scale. As we pass abandoned buildings and derelict equipment, I’m reminded of the shuttered manufacturing plants that you see across our own rust belt.
We passed small clusters of buildings constructed of whatever materials must have been available at the time. Some are not much more than wooden frames with palm fronds for roofing, while others are more sturdy brick or cinderblock structures with corrugated metal roves. People roast corn on the cob on metal grates over hot coals beside the road and women pump water from wells. We see children in graduation robes walking along the road and men wearing bright jerseys playing soccer on unkempt fields. Every vehicle we pass on the road seems to be dangerously overloaded. Trucks seem twice as big because they carry so much and have a half dozen men balancing atop the load. Motorbikes carry at least two but more often three riders. Four door cars and rusting SUVs are filled to capacity. Our drivers easily overtake whatever traffic we encounter and do their best to navigate the potholes along the way.
Finally, the four of us, along with our companions from the UNODC, reached Kakata and Kem’s Guest House, where the training will be held. We each settle into our rooms, which aren’t fancy but do come with the luxury of air conditioning, and then regroup for a simple dinner of chicken and potatoes while we all wait for World Cup coverage to begin. Tomorrow morning we will be getting up early to go over our plans for the training. We’ll have to figure out how to divide up the sessions that Margy was going to lead; it really is a shame her flight was cancelled and we’ll really miss her tomorrow. We’re all anxious to meet the Liberian public defenders and the trainers from the Judicial Institute and get their feedback on the training materials that we’ve developed for them.