My first first-hand account of Zwedru came via text message from another volunteer who arrived a day earlier than I. It read: “Zwedru is an oasis. It’s a pretty town, even saw a playground! That road from Ganta to here is shitastic. Wear a sports bra.”
She was spot on.
I left Monrovia yesterday morning at 5:30am and arrived in Zwedru at 6:00pm. The 12.5 hours included one vehicle switch, 3 market stops (for cabbage, plaintains, cucumbers and sweet potatoes), a lunch stop (rice and ‘beef’ sauce) and a bathroom break (a squat in the bush). The last 7 hours were on a ‘shitastic’ dirt road (thank God it wasn’t raining!), winding through a few towns, rice patties, and jungle-like forest (the trees and plants are awesome here). Then, almost out of nowhere, the road turns from dirt to tar, a sidewalk pops up on both sides of the road and the hustle and bustle of a large African town begins. There is a restaurant that serves pizza (but only when they have cheese, as I learned last night), a ‘pastry’ shop (food review to come), a town square which is actually a triangle (where the playground is!), UN police forces (on foot, vehicle and helicopter), and a lot more to still be discovered!
My work here is already proving to be something completely different than what I am used to and what I had ever expected. Although I am primarily working as a Peace Corps volunteer, my work with the WFP and UNICEF requires that I also work under UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia). It has its pluses (I get to ride in UN transport!) but it also has its minuses (I have to follow UN rules and regs). It’s something new to me and is another reminder for why I cannot compare this experience to the one I had in Zambia. Yet, different is not always bad.
I am living on the World Food Program Compound, located just on the edge of town. The compound contains the storage tents for the food rations, the town water tower, the guest house and those familiar trucks that you have probably seen on the news delivering bags of rice. The compound is up on a little hill, which gives me a nice view over town, but also makes it feel a little isolated (the barbed wire fence doesn’t help either!). There is 24-hour running (cold) water and electricity from 6pm (ish)-8am(ish). I have my own little bedroom with a bed, a love seat and a desk. There are windows on 2 walls which provides a nice cool breeze. It’s a perfect fit for me and I am starting to make it my own. There are 4 other bedrooms in the guest house (one is taken by another PC volunteer). The extra rooms are used for UN staff passing through town. There is a shared bathroom, a kitchen, a dining room and a sitting room (I saw a DSTV cable box but still have to check if it works!). There are some benches outside under some nice big trees….I hope to enjoy my daily morning coffee here!
The main WFP office is in town, about a 15 minute walk from here, on the UNMIL compound. I passed through yesterday and saw several offices for other UN organizations in the same building. Oh, did I mention there is a gym there as well? As a UN “partner,” I have access to all of the UN facilities, including this gym! While taking a quick tour of the compound, I ran into the head of the sub-office for WFP in Zwedru. Would you believe she is Zambian? We have plans to cook nshima and kapenta together after she returns from her next trip to Zambia! I can also touch up on my Nyanja skills since this Liberian-English thing feels hopeless right now!