The generator hums above the clouds. A brilliant morning. The wispy clouds roll over the mountain peaks. The sky shifting, much like the world around us, always changing, despite the occasional appearance of stillness. Here in the mountains where Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Liberia meet, the truck bed has become my preferred mode of transport. Branches and vines slapping my sides, a jungle steaming with life on all sides, slowly retaking asphalt that once cut through it’s rawness. The wind provides a reprieve in the humid West African heat, so strong this morning in the darkness of the thick jungle, that for one of the first times since moving to Liberia, I am even a little cold. But none-the-less, the open-air bumpiness of the truck bed, the slap of a wet vine in the side of the head, it’s real, it’s raw – at least as raw as you can get while in a human-created machine.
I look up from my mountaintop perch, and the sun is no longer just a splash of light in the sea of clouds far below. The sun is high in the sky, beginning to heat the mountaintop and us humans that have bumped and rolled our way to it’s magnificent peak. All of a sudden, a smell has taken over, wait, is that – yes it is, coffee!? On this mountaintop? And not just Nescafe, the instant coffee that is the norm here in Liberia. Real coffee, freshly brewed by our hosts on this mountaintop paradise that exists at the very northern tip of Liberia.
We are up above a town with a history unlike any other in the country. Yekepa was home to a go-kart track, an Olympic-sized outdoor pool, tennis courts, 24-hour electricity, internationally-stocked grocery stores, it had it all. I work with Liberians who grew up in the glory days of Yekepa, when it was a Swedish mining town that was built to feel like a proper European community – here in the mountains of northern Liberia. Now, most of it lies in ruins, with a story similar to that of Liberia as a nation. At one time, the model country, prosperous, safe, developed. Then coups, war, and inhumane acts of violence, the companies pulled out, and what once was a sign of prosperity is no more than crumbling concrete and broken tile and foggy dreams of what was.
Yet, Yekepa is still a mining town. Not as big as it once was, or prosperous, but still much nicer than any other place I have been in Liberia in terms of it’s infrastructure and Western concepts of ‘order.’ From way up here though, on this mountain peak, it is just jungle filling my field of vision far below. It was a region that was not so long ago a pinnacle of African prosperity, but has now, for better or worse, returned to it’s natural wild state.