Ebola has killed more than 1,300 people in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia. But for the million-plus residents who aren’t sick, life goes on even as their city is reshaped by death.
On market day, the downtown is teeming with shoppers and merchants and people just hanging out. It almost looks like commerce as usual until you notice all the “Ebola buckets,” elevated plastic containers with spigots that deliver a chlorine solution for hand-washing.
One of those buckets is next to the hair salon where Angie Gardea does braiding and weaving. Her afternoon is going very slowly. “Business [is] not too fine since the Ebola,” she says. “The customers [are] afraid of us.”
That’s true of many businesses. And in a city where today’s earnings are tomorrow’s groceries, it means people like Gardea sometimes go hungry.
A block from the hair salon is a street where you can buy just about anything — from cassava to clothing to outdated cassette tapes. A man in a faded Monty Python T-shirt is pushing a wheelbarrow full of plastic toys and slippers. Since the outbreak, he says, he’s been living on a dollar a day.
Things aren’t much better along the winding alley on Mamba Point, where local artists sell carved wooden crocodiles and paintings of tropical scenes. Foreign missionaries used to visit the wooden stalls and buy art, says Suah Kollie, who runs S.K. African Arts Shop. Now they are afraid to come near him, he says.
Even the loan shark business is hurting these days. Late on a Saturday afternoon, Diggs Monger, who calls himself a “money changer,” sits beneath a brightly covered umbrella outside the Monrovia Sports Bar. He has no customers. “I got to get my food money before I go home,” Monger says.
Inside the sports bar is Antonio Francis Tuan, a man who doesn’t need a loan. He’s a lawyer who’s come to watch his favorite English football club, Arsenal.
When Ebola first appeared, Tuan and his friends stayed at home. Now they’re back at the sports bar, though Tuan positions himself near the open door and keeps a distance from other patrons. “We come here and relax a little bit, have fun and go back home,” he says. “It relieve the stress from your mind.”