Monday, June 11, 2012

A Liberian Weather Report

Since there are, to my knowledge, no Maytag appliances anywhere in Liberia, the loneliest guy in town has got to be the weatherman. Why? Because there is nothing he has to say that your average Liberian wants, or needs, to hear. That is because the weather here is, subject to one exception, basically the same day-in, day-out, 365 days a year.
Liberia lies just slightly north of the equator (from 4 to 9 degrees N. latitude). There is therefore virtually no change in the weather month-to-month or season-to-season. The highs generally range from 30 to 35°C and the lows are typically 25 to 27°C. In a word, it is hot! All year round. But the killer is the humidity. Liberia sits on the Atlantic Ocean and while I don’t know the exact figures, it feels like the humidity is 110% every day. In my office at the Ministry, I have a small wall-mounted air conditioner, just like we have at home. It is set at 16°C. The poor thing chugs away all day long, and the best it can do is lower the temperature to around 27 to 28°C. All I want when I get back to the hotel each night is a shower!
And then try walking around outside. Forget Weight Watchers folks!! This is a sure-fire, money back guaranteed way to lose weight. I typically go for 1 to 2 hour walks each day on the weekends and I arrive back at the hotel absolutely soaked. I pray for rain on the homeward leg because (a) it would cool me off, and (b) I couldn't possibly get any wetter! If you read any books about Africa, you will see that even the most grizzled journalists never get used to the heat, no matter how much time they have spent on this continent. For someone raised in temperate Canada, there is a definite adjustment period, before one can stand being out in the sun for even 5 minutes.
The one exception I mentioned about the weather is the rainy season. We are in it now. It runs from late May to early October. It rains virtually every day. Sometimes it rains 3 or 4 times a day. Other times it rains all day or all night long. It’s a different quality of rain, though. It is not like the typical rain shower we are used to in North America. It rains in monsoon-like proportions. So much so, that it is sometimes hard to carry on a conversation it is raining so hard! An umbrella is an absolute must. "Don't leave home without one" is the motto here for approximately four months a year.
Aside from the annoyance of the rain, one major downside is flooding. Only 10% of Liberia's roads are paved. That means that during the rainy season large parts of the country are inaccessible by road, because the road system simply washes out. Another problem is agriculture. The fields lie flat in the coastal plain between the Atlantic and mountains to the east along the Guinean and Ivorian borders. These fields get badly flooded during the rainy season, so badly that they can’t be farmed. This is a major problem because 90% of the farming here is of a subsistence nature. People therefore depend on it for the only food they can obtain (and afford). The government is taking steps to establish  vocational schools in the rural areas to train the farming community about the principles of agronomy, but it will take a lot of time and money to make that happen. The government is also interested in promoting mechanized farming, and farming on a large scale, but again that will take time. In the meantime, the rural population tries to make do as best they can, as they have here for centuries.

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