Mike’s Liberia Journal
January 8, 2019 - Monrovia, Liberia
I arrived back in Liberia at the end of December 2018 after the longest gap between trips in almost five years. I left Liberia at the beginning of August, shortly after my last journal, with malaria. That was suboptimal –
The day before I left Liberia, I started to feel a bit off. I was incredibly tired, I couldn’t stop yawning, had no appetite. I blamed it on traveling, poor sleep, etc. That night, I couldn’t sleep because I was covered in sweat and I couldn’t get comfortable … everything ached. I blamed it on the bad ventilation, the dog sleeping too closely to me, and the mattress being cheap. I went to the airport at 5am to catch my flight and suddenly had a vicious headache. “I don’t get headaches … oh, right … this is malaria. I had been particularly tasty to mosquitoes on this trip … this makes sense.”
Fortunately, I carry malaria treatment with me at all times in Liberia and started on the plane. Malaria is unpleasant. Flying with malaria for 16 hours is also unpleasant. But, I made it home and was able to enjoy a two-day stay as a patient in the hospital where I work. A slow, violently ill reentry to America.
Unfortunately, I returned to Liberia this time with the flu (or something similar). Luckily, I landed on a holiday weekend (New Year’s Eve) and was able to recover before the work week. I was fine by Monday and able to get to work.
Liberia has had a rough few months. This is part of the reason for my delayed return.
While I was here in July, the value of the Liberian Dollar (LD) plummeted. It decreased in value by almost 50% overnight during the trip. When I first came to Liberia in 2011, 76 LD = $1 USD. It gradually rose to around 100 LD = $1 USD and hung there for several years. In January, it jumped to 118…in July, it jumped to around 170. This isn’t great and is especially punishing to Liberians earning the lowest incomes because they are paid in LD but purchase goods that are based on USD. For example – a $3USD bag of rice went from costing 354 LD (118LD * 3) to 510LD (3 * 170) but you are still only paid 500LD per week. You can no longer buy a bag of rice every week. This is a big problem.
Investigations were initiated to determine the cause of the rapid change in the economy and it appeared to be caused by large scale counterfeiting. Many potential solutions have been discussed including dissolving and restarting the Liberian currency. This investigation is ongoing even now and the LD has held at around 150 LD = $1 USD. Until it is solved, many international support organizations have delayed sending funding (such as grants and loans). One such grant was intended to support the initial salaries at the staff of our new hospital; due to its delays, we have delayed opening the hospital and I have delayed my return to Liberia until now. We aren’t going to ask our staff to quit their paying jobs until we have money in the bank for their salaries.
In order to allow our project to move forward, we have altered our opening plan. We will scale down to a specialty outpatient and urgent care clinic and open with less initial staff and will expand as we generate revenue and, hopefully, our promised grants are delivered. This is the focus of my trip. I intend to have the clinic shiny, furnished, equipped, and ready for staff by the end of the month.
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Photos below show continued work to open the hospital.