Liberian Businesses Reopen Their Doors, But Customers Are Wary : Goats and Soda The Ebola outbreak shuttered shops, cafes and offices. As the situation eases, many have now opened again — but as restaurant owner Mama Quaye can testify, business is hardly booming.
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Liberian Businesses Reopen Their Doors, But Customers Are Wary

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Liberian Businesses Reopen Their Doors, But Customers Are Wary

Liberian Businesses Reopen Their Doors, But Customers Are Wary

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

In addition to taking so many lives, Ebola has slammed the economies of three West African nations at the center of the outbreak. The disease has killed more than 3,000 in Liberia and, at the height of the outbreak, closed shops, businesses and offices. As the situation eases, many have now reopened. But as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, it's still tough going.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: This is downtown Monrovia. To my right, there's this large, windowless, derelict building - a bank, I'm told. It's a something a relic from the civil war, still pockmarked with holes from maybe mortar shells. Here on my left, there's a hand-painted sign which reads Mrs. Quaye's African Food Center, Ashman Street, with a map of Africa on it.

MAMA QUAYE: Welcome. Welcome in. (Laughter).

QUIST-ARCTON: Mama Quaye, the restaurant's namesake, welcomes into her almost-empty, low-ceiling restaurant. The gracious, elderly widow wears a pale green gown, matching elegant head tie and shaw. She sits at one of the three long wooden tables in the small, dimly lit dining room. But only one couple is lunching. Mama Quaye throws her arms up in the air in desperation, saying Ebola has as good as a wrecked her business.

QUAYE: No business, no business.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mama Quaye's restaurant was an institution in Monrovia before Ebola and before that, Liberia's fourteen-year civil war. The back-to-back civil wars which began at the tail end of 1989 were bad, says Mama Quaye, but with Ebola, the situation is even worse.

QUAYE: Nobody care what business. (Through translator) We're not making were not making any business. We're only struggling for our lives. We hardly get customers. As you see, it is now empty. That's how it always is.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mama Quaye says people are afraid of catching Ebola by eating out.

QUAYE: (Through translator) Everybody's afraid of Ebola, so people prefer eating food that they cook themselves, other than come to restaurants to buy food. But I think it's better we all fighting to prevent Ebola because life is important. As long as we are alive, there is hope.

QUIST-ARCTON: Despite the difficulties, Mrs. Quaye continues to support more than 16 people, she says.

QUAYE: There are so many. They're plenty. (Through translator) I have a very large family - very, very large. I also have my family's children, who lost their parents during the civil war, and they're all with me. I'm educating them. I'm taking care of them. So I have a very huge family.

QUIST-ARCTON: And then seated in the middle of the restaurant, the conversation turns back to business and today's menu, as Mama Quaye points to an almost full tray of the Liberian staple food, fufu.

QUAYE: For this morning, we cook a small (unintelligible). (Through translator) As you can see, that's fufu. It's been cooked since this morning, and nobody has bought some.

QUIST-ARCTON: But she says at least, the meals she prepares don't go to waste if there are no customers because she serves the leftover cooked food to her family. A full meal here costs about $2.50.

ZINNAH GRAY: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: And then, as if to add to the troubles, a high-pitched lament floats over from behind the kitchen counter, filling the restaurant.

GRAY: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: As if it's all just too much for Mama Quaye's friend, Zinnah Gray tells us she has lost a number of her family members to Ebola. Then she begins wailing, pouring her pain and her loss into the lament.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

GRAY: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Mama Quaye looks over at her friend sympathetically. Two elderly women - plenty of problems, as they say in Liberia - like many others during this Ebola outbreak. But there's one bright spot. A customer walks in while we're chatting, and another has just finished his meal. Alfred T. Karngar says he works just across the road and is a regular at the restaurant at lunchtime.

ALFRED T. KARNGAR: It's nice. She cook up good food here. Actually, I've been eating here before the Ebola crisis. And I see nothing that would stop me from eating here.

QUIST-ARCTON: Karngar says he observes all the health directives, including hand-washing with chlorinated water when he enters the restaurant. He says he tries to keep himself safe from Ebola and will continue to enjoy a good meal at Mama Quaye's. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Monrovia.

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