As with every city, Monrovia’s ancestors and historical areas have left their footprints in architectural styles. new Liberian friend, Lawrence ‘Saha’, invites me on a walking tour of this capital on the rebound. AlthOugh of university age, Lawrence is finishing up his high school studies and already has the sky’s-the-limit attitude. Dressed in an outfit befitting a rap star, Lawrence ‘Saha’ is typical of Liberia’s young generation: hopeful, stylish, and contagiousiy optimistic.
We start our walk through Monrovia’s history at the gutted shell of the Ducor Hotel. Occupying the highest point in the city, the hotel offers sweeping views of the peninsula which Monrovia occupies. Bound by the Messurado River to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, Monrovia is the picture of a tropical capital, alive with activity and simmering in the heat. In its heyday the Five-star Ducor Hotel was the epicentre of the city’s pre-war elite and high society. Closed just before the 1989 coup, the hotel stands gutted but still echoes its posh past. Rumour has it that an investment company has plans to restore the property to its former glory.
After taking in the view and orienting ourselves to the city, we head down the hill towards the Masonic Temple. Supposedly a replica of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem (although that’s a bit hard to see), it was once one of the most powerful and prestigious social clubs in pre-war Monrovia. The building is decorated with marble interiors and a grand staircase. It recalls the days when Liberia was being constructed to be a major producer of rubber, timber, and other natural resources.
Heading towards the Messurado River, we cut across the busy downtown area towards Waterside Market. The Market is a hustle-bustle of Monrovia life. With anything from Nigerian rap music to faux-gold watches to traditional fabrics on sale, it seems that all of Monrovia passes through Waterside to buy and sell. Lopa fabric is one of the best finds in the market, with bright, loud patterns typical of West Africa ready for tailoring. Waterside is not for the faint of heart: the jostling and activity is hyped up, so a Friendly but brazen attitude is required.
Loaded with bags full of typical Liberian wares, we head back up the hill and step into Jamai’s. This Lebanese-run restaurant offers both Lebanese and local foods in a relaxed atmosphere. The grill is on non-stop, and so is the flow of Monrovia society. Expatriates, Lebanese businessmen, and Liberians keep the chat lively over tasty snacks.
Walking the streets or downtown Monrovia is like being In a Lauryn Hill’s video. Despite its relative poverty, Monrovia is alive with its unique brand of style and attitude. It’s a true cacophony of life with a diverse cast of characters. Chic women somehow manage to look fresh and stylish despite the steamy weather. Young hawkers sell used clothes and hip-hop fashions which are hung on the walls of decaying buildings. Blaring boomboxes screech out Nigerian and Liberian music through speakers hooked up to car batteries. The music adds the perfect background to this tropical capital.