Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Much construction and building improvement is in evidence all over town, but Monrovia is still a hodge-podge of inexpensive wood-pole shanties and squatted larger concrete structures.

The main construction material in Liberia is a long wooden pole about the diameter of the thick end of a baseball bat. These poles are harvested from some species of long straight tree, which come as long as 20 feet. A typical family home is constructed of these poles, with a roof made of corregated tin, or a tarpaulin. Market stalls are constructed in a similar way. Stalls are stripped bare every night, so that an empty market area at night looks like a big empty one-story scaffold. In central Monrovia, there’s an outdoor wood shop selling only these long poles in various lengths. A team of workers sits around all day stripping the bark and branches off, prepping the poles for sale.

Another favorite construction material is the square panel of woven "cane" (pictured) which is used to build fences, screens, siding for homes, ceilings, you name it.

Luckier Liberians inhabit concrete and cinderblock structures. The central city features hundreds of buildings of 3-6 stories or more, in various states of disrepair. Even right downtown, many families are squatting (maybe renting?) abandoned commercial buildings, creating makeshift apartment buildings. Sometimes they build wood pole houses inside of concrete structures. It’s not unusual to see smoke from cooking fires streaming out of what was once a tidy government or commercial office building. These dwellings often also function as mini-malls in the daytime, where mothers and children sell roasted peanuts, fruit, or various inexpensive sundries. Often a hole will be punched in one side of the building to accommodate the exhaust pipe from a diesel generator, power cords and naked lightbulbs strung over the poles.

The reclamation of squatted properties will be a big challenge for the government as the economy starts to bounce back. Another one for the list.


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