Welcome! This blog documents my experience as a Nancy Germeshausen Klavans Cultural Bridge Fellow with the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development during my studies at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The views expressed are solely my own and are written to share experiences, introduce issues, and initiate conversation. Thank you for reading!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Monrovia: the view from above

Pictures of Monrovia from the top of the Ducor Palace Hotel:
1. the neighborhood of West Point
the bridge that collapsed one month ago

This morning (Sat) we drove to the Ducor Palace Hotel, the first hotel in Monrovia and a luxurious retreat for foreigners visiting Monrovia. Peaked on a hill near the coastline, the hotel's pool offers a splendid view of fishing boats and waves crashing on the sand shoreline. Or, at least it once did.

During the conflict, it was abandoned by all persons with resources and inhabited by Liberians fleeing from their burning villages and pillaged homes. Since the conflict's end, refugees transformed the stripped-down luxury hotel into a cement structure comprised of over 150 one-room residences. One month ago, the government evacuated all squatters via police force. Under the support of Libya, renovations of the building will begin in one month.

Security forces, guarding the hotel from re-occupation of squatters, granted our "guests of the president” delegation a trip to the top floor. After climbing eight flights of stairs through the wet, dilapidated structure, we stepped onto the balcony to witness the best view of Monrovia – green trees and blue water, sand beaches and kids playing soccer, bustling streets and crowded slums, the fallen bridge and abandoned buildings.

I can’t help but feel uncomfortable by the privilege I have to look down on the capital city and marvel at its crumbled infrastructure and gorgeous shorelines. Something about the view from above makes the city’s destruction and challenges all the more real, yet extremely far away.

In many aspects, my lens into the life of Liberia’s women is no more than a “view from above” – statistics, written accounts, and encounters from behind the barrier of my high heels, white skin, American English, and privileged affiliation.

I know I won’t make it down to ground zero; just as the guards keep the squatters out of the hotel, life’s circumstances prevent me from ever truly knowing what it takes to live after surviving unspeakable atrocities. Yet, I have breached the surface of the view before me, and I look forwarded to witnessing all that I can: broken bridges and blue waters, alike.


Meghan said...

Hi Em! I continue to be inspired by your example, and you should know that much of my decision to spend two years of service in Belize is due to your support and courage. I do not doubt that this time in Africa will be incredibly challenging, just as your time in El Salvador was. But you have created tools and techniques over the past three years and there is a reason God brought you to Liberia this summer.

The question remains, can you help people from the outside? What is your role in Liberia? To observe and report back? Are you observing statistics and important meetings and caucuses? I know in your heart you want to meet the women of Liberia- in their homes, on the streets- get to know their hearts. I hope you have some opportunity for this, but as always, be safe.

We are all praying for you!

Molly Kinder said...


I love this reflection. You've touched upon such a poignant point: that a birds eye view from above often precludes a stroll with people on the ground.

This reminds me of our Sunday afternoon outside at the Mambo Point hotel, from where we marvelled at the huge waves and the beautiful beach in the distance. When you and I then walked down to the beach below to have a heart-to-heart, it was quite a surprise to discover that the picture-perfect view from the Mambo Point obscured the garbage-strewn beaches, the precarious shacks built very close the water's edge, and the day-to-day reality of families who had just a few minutes ago had been hidden from our sight. It was almost as if the priveleged view we entertained from the hotel was a painting or an airbrushed photo of the reality in front of us.

And yet I have little doubt, Ms. Stanger, that your passion for social justice and human connection will inspire many more such walks down the hill. And, in doing so, that you will help bring all of your many worlds -- the Gender Ministry, your countless friends and family back home, the Kennedy School community, and the women of Liberia -- on a journey together.

Emily Stanger said...


Thank you, as always, for your warm embrace of support and prayers. My journey through Boston College (and ever since) has been strengthened by your own faith and devotion to living out God's love! I cannot wait to start receiving updates from Belize about your work in the prisons. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!

I'm observing a lot these days: the government structure, politics, political figures, relations with international donors, how everyone works (or doesn't work) together to reach the same end, where the policy theory fits in and where it falls short, the dramatic challenges of serving an entire country when the government is still learning how to stand on its own,.... It is a completely different perspective on poverty, but you are correct to remind me that those same "moments with the divine" that brought me through El Salvador, will carry me through this as well.

Thanks Meg! love, Em