Homelands

My short e-book for Deca on an orphan named Patience and a case for open immigration is now up for free at Longform.

When I was in Liberia during the civil war in 2003, I met a four-year-old girl named Patience. Monrovia, the capital of the small West African country, was under siege. Its power grid had failed. Rice was scarce. The taps had run dry. Cholera crawled in the tropical heat. Hopped-up government soldiers ran the streets in looted pickup trucks, and nobody knew what the rebels would do if their push for the center was successful.

I met Patience in a dark room off a dirt lot, in a concrete building in an orphanage placed perilously on a thin strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the river that held back the rebel advance. The night before my arrival, the woman who ran the orphanage told me, two shells from a mortar had passed overhead and fallen—crack, crack—somewhere between the orphanage and the ocean’s shore.

Patience, big-eyed, in stubby braids and a blue-and-white polka-dot dress, watched me from the shadows. Anemic, listless, undersize, suffering from dysentery, she had the measured movements of an old woman and the questioning stare of a toddler. In the same room, another orphan, ten-year-old Emmanuel, leafed through a book of photographs, color printouts, bound in black plastic and covered with a thin transparent sheet: There was green grass and a white-paneled house and a little blond girl smiling. There was a large van and an even larger play set. There was a countertop completely covered with food. “This is a very nice place,” Emmanuel said in a quiet voice. “I would like to go to this place.”

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Harvesting Trees Sustainably in Liberia

Time has just published my story on Liberia’s surprisingly sustainable logging industry.

Liberia, a country that for much of its recent history has been engaged in bloody wars, was once the last place on earth you’d expect to find a showcase for sustainable logging. As recently as 2003, before the country’s timber industry was slapped with U.N. sanctions, revenues from the sale of lumber were being used to fund a brutal uprising in Sierra Leone next door. Timber companies maintained private militias, accused by human-rights groups of rape and torture. Logging vessels arrived at port laden with weapons.

And yet today the country is on the path to becoming a model for sustainable timber. Ever since the U.N. sanctions were lifted after democratic elections in 2006, Liberia has been working on a painstaking reboot of the industry. With help from the U.S. and the European Union, the country is seeking to position itself as a guilt-free source of timber. “Liberia is different from other countries because of its history,” says Catherine Ray, a spokesperson for the E.U.’s commissioner for development. “They really want to avoid going back to where they were 20 years ago,” when the timber industry was rife with corruption and violence.

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