The following story came in from Luca Varaschini (by way of David Sasaki) who was born and raised in Robertsport, Liberia where his father was a doctor. He now lives in Milan, Italy, but was in Robertsport a couple weeks ago for the first time since he left as a child.
During my first week back in Liberia I had been invited to Hawa’s birthday party, on Sembehun Beach, not far for Robertsport, so I passed some time with the ladies while they were preparing western-style food for everyone: rice, beef stake, pasta and potato salad. Then they started stirring what would have to be two cakes for the dessert, and I started wondering how they’d be able to bake them, since the only cooking apparels in the big warehouse were these coal pits on the ground.
They showed me the oven, a big metal cabinet against the far wall; looks like a refrigerator on legs, to allow a coal pit to fit under the bottom, but when I get near it, I see it’s a Blockbuster Quick Drop Booth! The front, where the slit had been closed, faces the wall and the back door is to access the oven; inside are several fridge trays, on which they lay the pans. The door is then locked with a simple bolt and sealed all around with wet cloths.
The cake was fabulous.
[Editor’s note: I’m find myself incredibly curious trying to figure out where they found this… How did a Blockbuster drop box get to Liberia?]
Alfred Sirleaf is an analog blogger. He take runs the “Daily News”, a news hut by the side of a major road in the middle of Monrovia. He started it a number of years ago, stating that he wanted to get news into the hands of those who couldn’t afford newspapers, in the language that they could understand.
Alfred serves as a reminder to the rest of us, that simple is often better, just because it works. The lack of electricity never throws him off. The lack of funding means he’s creative in ways that he recruits people from around the city and country to report news to him. He uses his cell phone as the major point of connection between him and the 10,000 (he says) that read his blackboard daily.
Not all Liberians who read his news are literate, so he makes use of symbols. Whether it’s a UN or military helmet, a poster of a soccer player or a bottle of colored water to denote gas prices, he is determined to get the message out in any way that he can.
Advertising works here too. It’s $5 to be on the bottom level, $10 to be on the sideboard and $25 on the main section. He doesn’t get a lot of advertising, and but he manages to scrape by.
His plans for the future include decentralizing his work, this means opening up identical locations in other parts of Monrovia, and in a few of the larger cities around the country. I don’t put it past Alfred either, he’s a scrappy entrepreneur on a mission to bring information and news to ordinary Liberians. He’s succeeded thus far, and I would put my money on him growing it even further.
(Also, read the NYT piece on him from 3 years ago)
(note: title for this post stolen shamelessly from Rebecca’s Pocket. I also first posted this at WhiteAfrican, because I couldn’t decide if it was an AfriGadget story or not…)
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