Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Liberian Living: The Black and White of Print Media

Anyone who has read a Liberian newspaper is reminded immediately of an American tabloid from the grocery store checkout line. Large pictures draw attention to the often sensationalized headlines, and a reader cannot be sure what's fact and what's opinion when they read any content on the inside. The problems with accessing trustworthy news are plentiful because the root of the problem itself runs so deep.

First, newspapers are sold in traffic in the early morning. Kids walk between cars on the already congested Tubman Blvd to sell a newspaper for about 35LD (about 50cents USD). Picture yourself driving down the street and a large headline reads "I will run again" under a picture of former President Charles Taylor. You're going to want to buy that paper and see what on earth they're talking about. After you've purchased this paper, you notice the headline is simply a quote from the former footballer and current presidential candidate George Weah, but the newspaper has made a sale by pulling on your feelings, and each day every paper is in competition to earn your purchase. I buy the papers every so often because the job listings are always updated, which is convenient for an ex-patriot like myself.

I spoke about what I've seen with two Liberians I'm working on my non-governmental organization with, and we've come to several reasonings about the newspaper issue.

In the Charles Taylor era, journalists had to be picky about what they printed. The country was at war, and you didn't want to be on the wrong side of that. Fair enough.

These days, writers and editors make less than $200 a month, which isn't enough to pay any college educated journalists. It's not uncommon for a writer to only have a 9th grade education.

Last and most unfortunate, Liberians aren't reading at levels that encourage better newspaper content. The pictures and short words communicate all that a citizen may need in order to get their facts for the day. When I expressed that the CIA World Factbook lists the Liberian population as being 57.5% literate, my colleagues were surprised to say the least.

"Usually NGOs determine that number, but I've traveled extensively in Liberia and I must say most of our people are illiterate, and I mean many many more than half."

"They say 'if you want to hide it from Liberians, put it in black and white.'"

This leads to the larger problem of education. In many places, teachers aren't even high school graduates themselves. I plan to do a little digging on education before I do a formal report of it, but if you're interested in education in Liberia, click around the Liberian Orphan Education Project website. Our family friends, Beth and Emmalee, travel back and forth between Liberia and the states to train teachers and bring classroom supplies, and always pay for their trip themselves! Who knows, maybe one of the orphans they impact will reshape the newspapers I see everyday.

So what do we do for real news out here? Aljazeera is the best I've seen. If you only watch CNN, you're not hearing about most the wars being fought. Of course, BBC radio is present as well and has had great coverage on Egyptian affairs, but for local news? The bottom line is that there is much to be desired.

Being that we're right beside the Ivory Coast, you would think I would get a lot of news from that side, but you'd be mistaken. I've not met any Ivorians or been impacted by their unrest at all.

Now to my backyard:

The plums and pawpaws are developing nicely right over the house. I cannot wait for them to drop! Imagine, these are the trees in my backyard. In the states, I only had pinestraw!
I've told the houseboys that they are not allowed to eat anything that falls without checking with me first. They were eating all the pawpaws and then saying "sorry madam, they're not ripe yet." No more of that. I comin end that quick.

plums: mangoes!!
Top picture.
pawpaws: papaya!! Bottom two pictures.
drop: when fruit becomes ripe and ready to eat. sometimes it simply falls from the tree, hence 'drop'
'I comin': 'I'm about to' or as southerners say 'I'm fixin' to.'
When said with more passion, it can mean 'I will.' Popular ways to use this can be 'I comin' go!' to signify that you are about to leave.
houseboys: workers of the household.
In our yard, we have one who lives on the property and another one who comes in the daytime to help out. The one who lives on the property is given accomodations beside the house but still on the estate, school fees, health care as much as he should need it, and an allowance. The one that comes in the day is simply given a monthly fee. Duties may include washing dishes, cleaning, dusting, and minding the gate to the house among other things. A Liberian estate can also have a cook, a washman (for clothing), and a watchman (for security), so the duties should not overlap.

I'm waving at you from across the Atlantic!


  1. How does one distinguish between a Liberian washman and a Liberian watchman?

  2. Ha! washman does laundry, watchman is security.

  3. Talking about hitting the nail on the head!! Your few words to answer the White Man's question does not in this instance mean lack of clarity! lol