2 weeks ago
Monday, 7 December 2009
The main reason for the name of this blog stems from an interesting phenomena in Liberia. Namely, when I first got here a little over a year ago, besides people yelling "don take my picchah!", people would start calling me a spy, or yell "dat man spying-oh! He CIA man!"
Much like being called 'Chinese-man' regularly, I found this outstanding, so incorporated my surname into my new profession, and whammo. Somewhat innocuously, I just realized that a) its been a few days over a year of reporting my spying to the Esteyonage and b) The Liberia surf comp post was my 100th - fitting.
Thus, the title of this post being anniversaries.
The above girl represents another phenomena of taking pictures in Liberia. I was sitting in a boggy slum on a drizzling day, with a Liberia reporter, talking to her mom about challenges facing women in the community. The girl looked powerfully confused, and stood motionless in the doorway, staring with big inquisitive child's eyes. So, with her mom's consent, I took her picture.
This called the attention of the local morning drunk, who began ranting about how I was going to make a million dollars off the picture, (they always say $ 1 million... why?) and demanding I was not allowed to do so. To make a long story short, it got to the point of concrete chunks being hurled, until the group of women descended upon him, and pushed him back to his family. The girl never flinched.
Insofar as there is a moral to that story, taking pictures here still has its severe ups and downs, and beyond still being a spy, after just 1 year of Esteyonaging, I am the only journalist in the world who is now a millionaire.
This post is part of a larger series called 'Gettin By', that looks at the informal sector of Liberia in relation to the purported statistic that 85% of Liberians are unemployed. Read this for a better explanation, to see all Gettin' By posts click here or simply read on.
Profession - Making Concrete Blocks
How it Works - One side effect of a country hustling to distance itself from war is that there is a lot of building. I believe we are relatively familiar with the term 'reconstruction' and how much money backs that term around the world.
Well, in order to 'reconstruct' you need stuff. The stuff buildings need a lot of is concrete, and for houses in particular, blocks are the chosen method.
Bags of cement can be purchased for $ 8 from sea cans and stores around Monrovia, but solid cement generally needs to mix with sand, water and sometimes crushed rocks in order to become the building supply as we know it.
(Interesting side note: concrete production accounts for around 12% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions; airlines - who take a bulk of the criticism - account for about 2%, roughly the same as the IT industry; deforestation, 20%)
Sand in Monrovia generally comes from sand mining operations - a separate means of Gettin' By that's in the pipes - and is brought to stations such as the one above. This particular operation, tucked behind the prison, finds shade on the first floor of a burned and broken shell of a building. Sand is brought in from the beach by wheelbarrows and/or rice bags, mixed on site, and poured into wooden block molds.
The team above, makes around 200 - 300 blocks a day, which sell for about $ 30 LD/block. This works out to close to $ 100 - 140 US/day as a gross, but most of this money gets sunk into expenses: several bags of cement are needed for this many blocks; they have to pay the sand miners; buy a shared bowl of rice; give a cut to the middle man; pay for security to watch unsold blocks at night and they rent some of their equipment.
Each of the 6 - 7 men working here make between LD 100 - 20, or less than $ 3 per day. The rate varies a bit, as their take home depends entirely on whether or not their middle man gets buyers - construction foremen - to come buy large quantities of blocks. Making $ 300 LD is relatively unheard of, even on a good day of mixing, pouring and hauling cement, sand and blocks all day.
All days are from "seven in the morning hour up til five, six". Every day.
Variables: Besides obvious factors such as oppressive heat, low wages and zero job security, what they are doing is technically illegal. Mary Broh - a renegade appointed mayor who confuses 'cleaning up the city' with 'demo-ing the place' - tore down some squatter structures behind them, and these workers say they constantly fear government showing, stealing their wares, and, worse, putting them out of business.
Price Point Comparison - For $ 100 LD, you could buy the cheapest pair of flip-flops, a cup of rice and two bananas, and then you can keep the $ 5 LD (7 - 8 cents) change for a rainy day.