Sunday, January 25, 2009

Moved To Monrovia

Well, as you might actually already know, I am in Monrovia, Liberia, which you can easily find on a map or Google earth. But here is a better understanding of the city that I have moved to.
Monrovia is most easily understood by taking either Manhattan or San Francisco as a template for reference. San Francisco offers many similarities because Monrovia is also a peninsula, at the end of which is the old port and city center, from which bridges cross a natural harbor to the suburbs.
Manhattan is a useful comparison because the long Montserrado Peninsula is divided into three districts that act as a Downtown, Midtown, and Uptown in a roughly similar way to New York City.
The old city, what the Liberians call "In-Town", originated as the first settlement of freed American slaves who founded Liberia, and occupies the westernmost tip of the peninsula. Today it is a major business and financial capital for the whole country, with most banks and law offices, but also with the city's principal pedestrian shopping precinct on the waterfront (called "waterside"). On the ocean side is what is called Mamba Point, where there are a few nice hotels and the massive American Embassy. Coincidently, the American Embassy occupies a clifftop redoubt on the Northwestern tip of the peninsula, not unlike the Presidio in San Francisco.
Going east, one reaches the capital area, where the Executive Mansion, Senate, and Temple of Justice all face one another. Continuing on the main road is Sinkor, which until about 20 years ago was more like a suburb of the small capital city, but today is truly a part of Monrovia proper, with many businesses, embassies, and government ministries in this area, along with a couple of hotels. I am currently staying at one on the main road there. Midtown Manhattan might also come to mind in the grid pattern of the streets, numbered 1st, 2nd and so on. This is where I am right now.
After that comes Congo Town, which is more residential but still a busy area with a lot of ministries and aid organizations (I'll be using the term NGO sooner or later, and for those unfamiliar it stands for Non-Governmental Organization, which is either like the Red Cross, MSF/Doctors Without Borders, or a faith-based charity or the like).
The name Congo Town is interesting. Briefly, the history of the term is that when Liberia was founded, it was very poor, as it was solely funded by American Colonization Societies sending freed black families to Africa. Monrovia is named after President James Monroe because he secured the lavish sum of $100,000 to help found the country. Anyway, one of the ways that Liberia was able to get financial support was to agree to help Britain and America. Both countries had abolished the slave trade, but continued to capture vessels from other nations that were still shipping people across the Atlantic. The British and Americans had the dilemma of what to do with these people -- who were from all over Africa, and really had no idea where they themselves were from in terms of macrogeography, so could not likely be returned to their home lands even if the funding existed to do that. Therefore, these people were put on shore in Liberia, and the Freed American Black Liberians were given funds to settle them. These people came to be known as "Recaptured's" or "Congoes" and so the settlement outside of Monrovia came to be known as Congo Town, and is today a busy part of the city.
Descendents of Congos and Freed Americans have over the paset 150 years all come to be known as Congo, to distinguish them from the native peoples of the 16 indigenous tribes of Liberia, who have been known as Country people.
Now I hope you have a good understanding of where I am, or at least you can refer back to this post later when I am describing the town. I have actually been working on some maps of the city as part of a real estate marketing study that I am helping to conduct. Once these are finished, I will post them soon so to help illustrate my location. Have a great day!

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