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London, England (VBS.TV) -- In previous episodes of The Vice Guide to Travel, we road-tripped through North Korea, shopped for dirty bombs in Bulgaria, and hunted mutant wild boars in Chernobyl. Little did we know that all of our harrowing journeys would leave us only semi-prepared for a recent trip to war-ravaged, godforsaken Liberia.
Since 1989, a series of brutal civil wars -- primarily fought by drug-addicted, prepubescent orphans -- has rendered Liberia one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Everyone has heard the stories of abject poverty, ubiquitous substance abuse and wanton violence taking place there, but we don't really believe anything that we don't see for ourselves. So, stomachs firmly knotted, off we went.
We arrived in Liberia with a small crew of three and quickly rendezvoused with a local journalist who would be our fixer and guide. Our first shooting location was the West Point slum, home to 80,000 people living in conditions that redefine squalor. Miles of rotting garbage surround the slum, which has no sewage system. Pretty much everyone -- even the local government officials -- defecates and urinates in the open. Drugs, prostitution and armed robbery are the main industries. We got to know some of the residents of West Point, who told us their stories as they smoked heroin and cocaine and begged us for money.
Next we visited a local brothel. The women who lived there talked with us about the U.N. soldiers who have sex with the child prostitutes and beat the older women, and then leave without paying.
But perhaps the most revelatory portions of our trip to Liberia came from meeting the major warlords of the nation's civil wars. There's a tradition in Liberian militias of taking on extravagant noms de guerre. Hence, our subjects were named General Bin Laden, General Rambo and General Butt Naked. The latter, in particular, was one of the most notorious Liberian warlords. He claims to have personally killed 20,000 people including babies, and to have sometimes cannibalized his victims.
Today, General Butt Naked goes by his birth name, which is Joshua. During our time together, he told us that Liberia will surely implode into civil war again when the U.N. leaves next year. But in the meantime, Joshua wants to redeem himself. He offered us a glimpse of the Liberia that he wants to forge, and we found ourselves growing to like him. He took us to his church, where he rehabilitates child soldiers. We watched as he preached his way through Monrovia on a Sunday.
Is there a chance that his mission will succeed, and further civil war can be averted in this desperate country? That's one of the many questions that we came away with upon our safe return from Liberia. Watch our documentary about our time there and see what you think.