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Boots on the ground

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

So I’m back in Liberia after a five week break I’ve spent home in Munich (while measuring my temperature twice a day, been a guest on German television and radio), St. Petersburg, working for Kindernothilfe with mentally disabled children and in Hammelburg, where I attended a pretty rough HEAT course with the German armed forces.

Being back feels great. When SOS Children’s International contacted me (thanks to Peter N. Bouckaert for the recommendation) I was just in the middle of a project in St. Petersburg which I’ve mentioned above. All I understood was “…Liberia…” - wow, I really did not expect to get back there during the recent outbreak of Ebola. I had my doubts as this was the first time I was asked to travel back to a conflict zone where I have just been. Contesting my luck a second time? I agreed and by now did not regret it. Working for NGOs is a totally different aspect and the people I have met last time all still did recognise me. When I arrived at the Royal Hotel in Monrovia, the place I stayed last time while working for BILD, the waiters came up to me and said “Oh Daniel, you are back!” - feels like coming home. Weird.

The first days in Monrovia have been a little chaotic due to the usual ill communication. Of course almost nobody is working on weekends (I arrived Friday night) and of course nobody organised the working permit ahead of my arrival. So I ended up covering the situation inside the SOS Children’s Clinic in Monrovia which now also treats adults being tested negative on Ebola and released from the nearby ETU (operated by MSF). After that we’ve visited the SOS Children’s Village - a quiet and tidy oasis in the middle of the chaotic Monrovia - and a new ETU outside of town just being finished by the Ministry of Health. Since I didn’t have the permission from the Ministry I was not allowed to take pictures there and returned to the hotel. Later that evening Carl Gierstorfer called - a colleague whom I became friends with on Facebook. We’ve met in Brussels on our flight to Liberia and he introduced me to his colleagues Laura XX and Kai Kupferschmidt, also from Germany. He invited me to join them for a pool party hosted by the CDC at the Mamba Point Beach Resort - one of the best hotels in Monrovia. “A pool party with the Center of Disease Control folks?”, that sounded interesting - especially in times of Ebola. So we went and had some free beers and chatted with some experts. All in all been a fun night and what else would I have done (especially with the terrible internet connection at my hotel)? Before we split up Carl and his friends invited me to come with them on Sunday for a trip to the abandoned Hotel Africa on top of Monrovia with a stunning view on Westpoint, one of the largest slums in town, which has been hit hard by Ebola and was put under quarantine in August (which ended in riots and one little boy killed).

They picked me up on Sunday in the afternoon and we drove to the location. My old friend Richard, who worked for me as a fixer last time I was in Monrovia, said it was save and we would not have any issues getting access. He was right (as most of the times). When we arrived a single guard was taking care of the huge abandoned hotel. He offered to take us to the roof for 15 US Dollars which we agreed to pay. This is Africa.. the view indeed was stunning and the black clouds over the ocean really added to the eery atmosphere of a decaying grand hotel overlooking the city currently the world capitol of Ebola. We’ve spent a few hours there and went back to the hotel where I agreed to meet Richard later that evening. It was great seeing him again and hearing his deep Manilow-like voice! Even though Monrovia was going through rough times because of Ebola he was doing fine. Thank god! I’ve introduced him to Carl and his friends and this way got him some new clients.

I am writing this on a UNHAS flight from Liberia to Sierra Leone. Hassle with booking. Confirmation on a short notice. Almost missed flight. Racing to the airport.

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