The Team at Sugar Beach
Compared to many of the world’s major travel destinations, Liberia sees relatively few foreign visitors. It is understandable, since the nation is still in a transitional period, moving into its ninth year of stability after enduring over thirty years of warfare. Dilapidated buildings continue to litter the Monrovian landscape, a visual testimony to the long lasting effects of conflict. Once opulent embassies, offices, and houses now stand as open structures, often housing overgrown vegetation, passersby or city dwellers seeking a place to sleep, meet, or simply pass the time. Each structure seems to house untold stories, locked in an eerie silence that seems to prevail in the country.
For those visitors who do have a chance to visit Liberia, The House on Sugar Beach is a must read. The memoir details the life of Helene Cooper, an Americo Liberian who fled Liberia with her family during her youth in 1980, shortly after the country fell to the rule of Samuel Doe, and returned in adulthood as a journalist. Familiar with the story of Helene Cooper, our team wanted to find the old house on Sugar Beach, with the understanding that it would now appear as another dilapidated structure waiting to be rebuilt.
On a cloudy afternoon last week, the team took a spontaneous trip to a strip of beach toward the southeast edge of Monrovia. As we approached our location, our team member, Fabienne, remarked, “isn’t the old Cooper house on Sugar Beach somewhere nearby?” We began to ask passersby if it was feasible to reach Sugar Beach and received a series of vague instructions. After just a few wrong turns and one episode of getting the van stuck in a particularly sandy patch of road, we finally came upon the area known as Sugar Beach. While there are now several structures that populate Sugar Beach, we immediately identified the old, grandiose frame of a building, two stories high, with a curved roof, just several yards before the sea. The team immediately felt that this had to be the house.
As we pulled up to the structure, we met a construction crew working on rebuilding the interior. The manager came out and welcomed us through a small tour of the building, pointing out a few of the poignant locations from Cooper’s childhood stories. The property was stunning, with a fresh sea breeze blowing the surrounding palm trees, waves crashing on white sand, and a few rays of sun peeking down at us. We took a few photos, sat on the edge of the deck, and absorbed the general experience. Although we’ve come across countless structures in Liberia, the House on Sugar Beach marks the first which houses stories and a history that we’ve been able to access. As we left Sugar Beach, we remarked at how unique the atmosphere was that surrounded the whole experience. In five years, we plan to revisit the property to see its next phase, as its owner is in the process of transforming it into a bed and breakfast. In Liberia, as people like to say, things change “slowly but surely, slowly but surely.”