It is Easter Sunday. What better way to spend the morning at mass in the catholic? I see some of you frowning. I mean mass in an African cathedral, the Sacred Heart cathedral of Monrovia, and let me tell you, that is a whole different experience. Sure, we need to stand up regularly, more than during a usual service in a western country, but we do get something in return. There is a bit of gospel reading, but most of the time the choir is singing, or the whole congregation. And when they sing here, they swing. Not only the choir, but many people in the pews are moving their hips, waving their arms; very few people can stay sitting still.
We are late, but after us there are still more people entering the church, until halfway mass it is pretty full. Some have dressed for the occasion, women with hats, some men even in suit – despite the oppressing heat. Many wear dresses and shirts with African print, very elegant. A group of women are in white, with blue sash, obviously specially designated church goers. Their men are in uniform, also with sash, and military hat. But others are informally dressed, T-shirt, jeans. Yet, all are actively participating, in singing and in clapping. In between, the priest delivers his sermon, in a strong voice, almost shouting – we have noticed that many Liberians have a way of speaking that we would interpret as shouting, yet for them it is normal. The priest is not different. Where it really helps, is in the choir, which supports some beautiful tenors!
Great atmosphere! If the focus of this trip was on ceremonies, I don’t understand why the whole group wasn’t here.
After the service, we walk up the Ducor Hotel. It is fitting that Monrovia’s biggest tourist attraction is a dilapidated former luxury hotel. The Ducor was established as one of the first five-star hotels in entire Africa, in 1960, soon to be managed by Intercontinental. But they gave up in 1987, and the hotel closed just before the invasion led by Charles Taylor, in 1989. It was badly damaged during the civil war, and by post-war looting, and the moving in of large numbers of squatters from the slums didn’t help, either. Those were evicted again in 2007, with plans for refurbishment, which came to nought. Left over: the shell of a building, with a roof terrace with fabulous views – over Monrovia’s largest slum, Westpoint -, with a white marble spiral staircase, black marble dance floors and an almost empty swimming pool. Just the thing we love to explore.
In fact, we get a personal tour from the chief guard and his helper, the people who are supposed to keep the squatters out, and earn on the side by accepting a few dollars from each tourist. He shows photos from the hotel in its glory days, brings us to the rooftop terrace – walking, the lifts don’t exist anymore – and down the marble stairs. On my own initiative, not really appreciated, I walk down the dance floors, to find graffiti on the walls of what must have been the discotheque, dated 2015 – so maybe there is more to the recent history, the guard couldn’t tell. He was mostly worried about criminals that sought refuge in the hotel.
And about other criminals, as well. When we leave, they advise us to talk to nobody and take a taxi back to our hotel, be very careful, thieves everywhere. And maybe that is the case, maybe this is indeed a very criminal city. Alonso, old Africa hand, is also paranoid about the neighbourhood, about the whole of Monrovia, and he should know. From the tuktuk – very popular public transport mode here, seemingly directly imported from India – we see the shop doors, all closed because of Easter, today. These are not normal doors, they are steel, fortified, and secured with huge bar locks. Come to think of it, our hotel is also protected by steel doors, even our own room has its separate steel door. Must be a reason for, you should think. Groups of young men are idling on the streets, nothing to do, no jobs. And yet, although not everybody is overly friendly, so far we have not met with hostility or resentment, during our few walks in town. But we’ll be careful, that doesn’t hurt.
Next: another day in Monrovia