Nyehn is as idyllic as villages come. An hour and a half outside of Monrovia, the settlement of about 500 people is perched on a hilltop, with mud brick and thatched roof huts nestled among palm trees. Chickens and children run over the rust colored earth, through patches of cassava and down to the river. At night, friends gather to watch movies in the two houses that have generators. On Sunday mornings, the sound of drums floats out of the town’s medical clinic, where the Lutheran church holds its services. It is, at first glance, the very picture of quiet country life.
But appearances can lie, and Nyehn, like many areas in rural Liberia, is stuck between a violent past and a difficult present.
During the war, rebel fighters moved into Nyehn. According to Gbanjan Dohn, the General Town Chief, rebels stole supplies and food from the village – even hot meals that women were preparing for their families. To transport the stolen goods, they enlisted local men to carry the supplies on their heads to the next camp; once, they made Dohn carry an entire sugar cane mill for ten kilometers. As Dohn explained, “Nobody could say anything. If you did, they killed you. It was a complete breakdown of law and order.” The rebels killed and enslaved men, raped and made bush wives of women, and enlisted children as child soldiers.
After the war, the village was destroyed and local rubber plantations had stopped production, leaving the people with no homes and no source of income. To rebuild, Dohn said, they started small-scale charcoal production and subsistence farming; with their profits, they rebuilt most of the village. To heal the community, they held a series of reconciliation meetings and discussions.
Today, the only evidence of the war that destroyed this community is the occasional concrete skeleton where a home once stood. But, as Dohn and other community members explained, Nyehn has a long list of problems. Although there is a clean, functioning health clinic in the village, there is no ambulance or vehicle for the nurses to use. There is a one-room police station, but they don’t have a car or motorcycle either. There are only two water pumps for 3,000 people in the area, and the local surface water makes children sick because, lacking latrines or a sanitation system, the villagers must go to the bathroom in the bush.
Outside of Monrovia, about a million Liberians live in villages like Nyehn. Here, amid the palm trees and bird calls, it seems these communities cannot escape hardship.