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Gritty Ganta: The Liberian Town That Can't Catch A Break

The Liberia-Guinea border has been closed since the early days of the Ebola outbreak. The Liberian city of Ganta — about a mile from the border — has historically been a hub of commerce, and was hit hard by the closure. (NPR)

Ganta is the Liberian city that never sleeps. That's what local businessman Prince Haward says of the town of 40,000, one of the country's largest cities and a crossroads for travelers in the southeastern region: "Ganta is a nonsleeping city ... a business-oriented city."

It's also a city that has seen its share of tragedy. The scruffy town is located in Liberia's eastern Nimba County, where the country's brutal civil war started in late 1989. Many buildings were destroyed during the conflict and remain gutted; others are still pocked by artillery and mortar fire from the war. And there's been little investment in the gritty city since the conflict ended more than a decade ago. Potholes nearly swallow up vehicles.

So even before Ebola, Ganta was struggling. And now the virus is taking a toll.

For many people, there's very little business right now. Ebola is the reason: The border with neighboring Guinea was closed in July to prevent possible spread of the virus.

Just a hundred yards from the St. John River bridge crossing, young men play whist under the shade of a mango tree. They used to be money changers. A very unhappy Prince Dolo says the outbreak put an abrupt end to their livelihoods: "I have nothing to do. Border is closed. And I'm vulnerable and unemployed. I'm not happy. Without the border, Ganta is just dead."

Just off Ganta's rutted, red-dust main street, 18-year-old Bebe Gono, who sells ready-peeled oranges, says she's struggling, just like the city. "We are trying to find the little we can afford."

Comparing Liberia's civil war with Ebola in her town, Gono says both have been difficult: "Ganta has suffered a lot. We've lost a lot of people to the war and we've also lost a lot of people to Ebola. As compared with the war, Ebola is worse."

Gono never went to school and can't read or write. But true to the entrepreneurial spirit of her town, she has dreams of a better life. If she had a little money, she'd like to open a business in the city that never sleeps.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's a town in Liberia that was once destroyed by the country's brutal civil war. Now it is at the front line in the battle against Ebola. Ganta sits on the Liberian border just across the river from Guinea. There used to be a busy crossing between the two countries, but because of Ebola, that crossing has closed, which has put many people out of work. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: This is the main road in Ganta. It's about a mile long and most of it is red dust, unpaved. Motorbike taxis ferry people - one, two and three on the bike - despite Ebola and being told that people should not be touching one another. Now this city has been hard hit. Battered by the civil war, Ganta is home to around 40,000 people and is one of Liberia's largest cities. Many buildings destroyed during the conflict remain gutted, others are popped by the artillery and mortar fire of the conflict that ended more than 10 years ago. Tarmac covers only a small portion of Ganta's rutted, red dirt roads. Potholes nearly swallow up vehicles. There seems to have been very little investment in this vital border town.

PRINCE HAWARD: You see the kind of road you just drove on to come here? - are we not ashamed?

QUIST-ARCTON: Local entrepreneur and businessman Prince Haward says even before Ebola, gritty Ganta was struggling. Yet, he says, it remains a major crossroads.

HAWARD: People from the southeastern region, they must transit in Ganta. People from Monrovia, they must transit in Ganta. Ganta is non-sleeping city. This is what Ganta is known for; a business-oriented city.

QUIST-ARCTON: But for many people, there's very little business right now. Yards from the border with Guinea, young men play whist under the shade of a mango tree. They were money changers until the borders closed in July. A very unhappy Prince Dolo says Ebola put an abrupt ending to their livelihoods.

PRINCE DOLO: Have nothing to do, border is closed. And I'm just vulnerable and unemployed. I'm not happy, five months now. Without the border, Ganta is just dead.

QUIST-ARCTON: Just off Ganta's main street, 18-year-old orange seller Bebe Gono says she's struggling.

BEBE GONO: (Through translator) We are struggling and we are trying to find the little we can afford. Five - five dollars to survive.

QUIST-ARCTON: Are you saying things are tough here in Ganta?

GONO: (Through translator) Yes, things are hard in Ganta.

QUIST-ARCTON: Comparing Liberia's civil war with Ebola in her town, Bebe Gono says both have been difficult.

GONO: (Through translator) Ganta has suffered a lot. We've suffered a lot. We lost a lot of people to the war and we also lost people to Ebola, so we've suffered a lot. As compared to the war, Ebola is worse.

QUIST-ARCTON: Gono never went to school and can't read or write, but she says if she just had a little money she'd like to open a business. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Ganta.

MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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