The Road to Greenville, Liberia: A Muddy Slog

Liberia_ Road to Greenville
The road from Buchanan to Greenville takes about 12 hours. The CRS vehicle never got stuck. We did, however, use our winch to pull a stranded vehicle out of the mud. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS.

Lane Hartill, CRS’ regional information officer for West Africa, writes from Liberia:

If you want to get a feel for Liberia’s problems, drive to Greenville.

To get to this coastal town in the southeast, you’re looking at a journey of about 16 hours from the capital, Monrovia. Through mud. Deep mud.

During Liberia’s 14-year civil war, a logging company maintained the road. But it has since left. And so has much of the maintenance.

Up until a few months ago, the bridges were palm trees lashed together. When the logs started to groan under the weight of the truck, you floored it. You would round a bend and come across a ribbon of caramel-colored water. It wasn’t a river. It was the road.

I’m squelching down the mud track, past the stacks of planks cut by teenage loggers, waterlogged and brown as barbecue sauce. But nobody is coming to buy them. Not now. Not with the roads like this.

But things are getting better. The United Nations has installed culverts in many areas, and some of the bridges are now permanent — painted red, white and blue.

But if getting to Greenville was a problem for us in a four-wheel drive, it means it’s almost impossible for the majority of Liberians who live on less than $1 a day.

The road network in the country affects everything from health care to jobs, housing to livestock. If villagers can’t get produce to market, it sits and rots. The little they take is often carried on their heads, which means they earn little. If someone gets sick, they squat by the road and beg for rides. But now, during the rainy season, few cars pass. Jerry knows all about this.

Liberia_Jerry George Adder
Jerry, George (2 months) and Adder. Both George and Adder are doing well. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS.

Two months ago, the soft-spoken farmer and village chaplain from Saywon Town in Sinoe County couldn’t take the screams any longer. His neighbor, Adder — who is also his sister-in-law — was about to deliver a baby. She was in pain. A village birth attendant wasn’t having any luck coaxing the baby out. So early the next morning, Jerry and a few villagers put Adder in a wheelbarrow and, in the rain, started pushing Adder down the mud road. When his shoulders gave out, Jerry handed the wheelbarrow to the next guy. They often had to pick the wheelbarrow up and carry it over the sucking mud. Ten hours after they left Saywon Town, they arrived in Greenville and rushed Adder to the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, baby George arrived.

There are only about 400 miles of paved road in Liberia. The rest are dirt. But now — during the rainy season — they’re mud. Any maintenance done on them during the dry season is washed away by the rain — some parts of the Liberian coast get more than 200 inches a year. It comes down so hard the ground sizzles like frying bacon.

We rolled on, Moses, our CRS driver, at the helm. The former mechanic rarely talks, preferring to concentrate. He nods at his passenger to pull in the mirrors. He dips the front of the truck into potholes as deep as wine vats, the water swishing halfway up the door, covering the car in water the color of weak tea. Mud — the consistency of thick batter — sloughs off the banks like slabs of warm cake.

The truck leans dangerously to the side; the curtain of green brushes my window. The vegetation is so dense, it’s like staring into a split head of cabbage. Some of the leaves are as big as umbrellas. It feels like driving through a massive Caesar salad.

We drive on. I can’t stop thinking about Adder, who went through labor in a wheelbarrow. In the mud.

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4 Responses to “The Road to Greenville, Liberia: A Muddy Slog”

  1. Wtb 81-89 fj60 - IH8MUD Forums Says:

    […] Africa. Liberia is the country we founded when we set free slaves in the U.S.. It has some of the worst roads in the world. We were looking for an FJ, when we met a group of 26 awesome guys from the […]

  2. Sarah Troh Says:

    I loved your text. My husband and I are ccurrently living in Sweden but one day hope to live in Greenville… Thank you for sharing your difficulties from that particular place..

  3. Robert Bernum Says:

    I spent 7 days from Monrovia to Buchannan and then on to Nana Kru. We were there in the middle of October after the rainy season and the mud and water filled holes were still there and just as deep. What an experience, it was my first trip to Africa.

  4. Michael Klenda Says:

    This is a very interesting part of the world. Hopefully, some improvement in the political situation can resolve disputes and begin the process of rebuilding their economy. Reading about this region, the need for peace is long over-due.

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