Sunday, April 15, 2012

April is the Cruelest Month

The above photo is from mid-April 1979. The corner of Broad and Randall Streets, the "1st and Main" of Monrovia, which is still today the site of the Palm Hotel and is down the street from the KLM desk, but no longer boasts a swish Swissair ticket office or Panasonic showroom. The city of that morning looks modern, cosmopolitan, and affluent, but on closer inspection, a disorder is evident.

It is one of the first days after the Rice Riots, perhaps even the very next morning. The Swissair agent's glass windows are smashed away, and the debris of chaos is visible on the otherwise immaculate pavement. At least forty Liberians are dead, the first casualties in a violence which would crescendo into a great massacre of hundreds of thousands.

While travel agents would sweep up the lobbies of their plush storefronts and enjoy a few more years representing European airlines, and the Lebanese Hi-Fi salons would still find customers for the latest American, European, and Japanese electronics, the golden days of Monrovia's prosperity were coming to an end. Later that year, in June, President Tolbert would open the Hotel Africa and Unity Conference Center, and for a brief while it would seem that Monrovia was still the capital of Africa, and Liberia was still a leader among its nations.

But by the next April, Tolbert would be dead in his bedroom, burial place unknown. His cabinet, including his family members, would be tied up and shot on the beach, or never be seen again.

That would be a full decade and half before the hell of April 6th, 1996, which drowned Monrovia in an acid bath of looting, destruction, mayhem and murder, and announced the arrival of the new leader, Charles Taylor.

It would be another seven years before the chaos of April 2003, when World War III rained down on destitute, desolate Monrovia in the form of un-aimed rockets, blind grenade landings, and the deadly whistle of AK bullets whipping through the streets.

April has come to Monrovia again, full of dates which are remembered by mourning if they are thought of at all. The clouds are changing. The waves, so crisp and evenly paced in previous months, crash haphazardly on shore. The bright sand repels the tidal forces, sometimes sending them back to crash against the next onslaught, a spectacular sight that forebodes of dangerous currents for swimmers. The seasons are changing; the skies begin to dim with cloud cover, soon to darken with rain.

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