T.I.A. (This is Africa)
If you look too closely — if you focus too hard on it all — Liberia can be overwhelming in its sadness.
Garbage in the form of innumerable plastic bags; pieces of broken plastic buckets, bowls, and chairs; discarded parts of this and that litter the streets and create heaps and mounds in empty lots.
Gutted and bombed-out skeletons of buildings stand all around with walls that bear the scars of civil war, and tin roofs that peel up and crash down with the heavy winds that bring torrents during the rainy season.
And remnants of the stresses and dangers of years of wars and the recent Ebola crisis show in people’s eyes and on their bodies.
Liberia is a difficult place to live for anyone — natives and expats, alike. There is so much need that it can be suffocating.
However, if you allow yourself to overlook those things — to get past the sadness and the desperation — there is beauty here.
Nature in Liberia
My husband Andrew and I recently attended a special presentation by our friends Lisa and David Korte in which they discussed the abundance of biodiversity in Liberia and highlighted various national parks and natural sites. Lisa is the Natural Resources Team Lead with USAID/Liberia, and David is a photographer whose fascinating work you can find here as he chronicles both everyday and unique aspects of life in LIB.
During their presentation, they showed photos of places like Providence Island, Edina, and Sapo National Park which all offer outdoor adventure and immersion into Liberia’s natural beauty; and their passion for enjoying, conserving, and promoting it is inspiring. They have learned to coordinate with the Forestry Development Authority to plan their trips and to go out alone or with groups like the local birdwatching club.
And as I’ve stated in past blog posts, getting outside of the walls of Monrovia (Liberia’s capital) is always an invitation to breathe easier and feel more relaxed. Getting “upcountry” (anywhere outside of the outskirts of Monrovia) immediately brings relief. It’s a hard life out there, for sure (expats are smart to bring their own dry goods, toilet paper, water, and even linens), but the views surpass that of compound walls and barbed wire in the city.
Arts and Crafts in Liberia
Another opportunity to find beauty here is to get out to the local arts and crafts vendors. Much of this merchandise is made locally by skilled craftsmen and artists, but much is also imported from countries like Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire. Buying from these vendors is always an interesting experience in cultural learning and social interaction.
For instance, today, Andrew and I were browsing in one of the “art villages” near the embassy. We stop in periodically to see if there is anything unique that we would like to add to our collection for our home, but we don’t go with the idea of purchasing anything in particular. On this trip, we went into two shops that we had never noticed before and met one of the kindest and most interesting craftsmen. In the process of shopping in his store, we learned that he had been making jewelry since the 1960’s.
The necklaces and earrings in his shop caught my eye because they were unlike any of the jewelry we typically see in the stalls. One necklace in particular stood out to me because of its beautiful colors and because the charm it holds depicts a lion cub.
While there are no lions in Libera (you have to go to East Africa to find those), I liked the idea of having a lion necklace from Africa. So I asked the gentleman about the necklace and discovered that the charm is made out of cow bone. I had to have it! And to go along with the necklace, I also picked out a couple of sets of cow-bone earrings.
Another of my favorite art dealers is a man named Joseph. His stall is located across from Mamba Point Hotel, and this is where I made my first purchase when I arrived here. Anytime I have an idea in mind of something particular I want, I go to Joseph first. If he doesn’t have it, he will most likely be able to get it.
Recently, I made another purchase from him because I needed a box to keep my hand-written letters in. I had been searching for something big enough to store these important keepsakes, but hadn’t seen anything that stood out to me. Then, last week, I found a box that has on it typical African animals (giraffe, duiker, lion, goat) on the outside, and the depiction of a traditional thatch-roofed hut and a palm tree (both common in Liberia) on the inside of the lid. Like the lion, there are no giraffes in Liberia, but this was the first box I had seen with a duiker — a critically endangered species of antilope that is native to Liberia and is frequently caught and eaten as bushmeat — on it. “An animal that I will remember as being truly Liberian,” I thought. It was perfect.
The People of Liberia
I know I have said it before, but the warmth of the people is truly something that makes this country beautiful. Their smiles, their laughter, their eagerness to assist, their hospitality, and their humility seem to be “the Liberian way.” Rather than try to express these things with words, I will include some photos:
Farewell, Mama Liberia
This will be my final post from Liberia: my first home away from home, the place where my husband and I started our life together, the place where my dreams of international work came true, and where I — after a lifetime of hoping — stepped foot on African soil.
I do not think this is goodbye. I do not feel like my work here is done and that I will be back one day. Liberia has a special place in my heart, and I hope to stay connected as she moves into a better and brighter future.
A student who attends my weekly STEM enrichment classes asked me a few days ago, “Ms. Greene, when does the next round of your classes begin? I want to learn more from you.”
“Unfortunately,” I explained, “This is my last group of students, and then I will leave Liberia to go somewhere else.”
“Oh, no,” he replied. “That is too sad for us. We will miss you very much.” Then, after a beat, he smiled. “So, you are going to put your foot in another world, then.”
“Yes,” I laughed and nodded knowingly as I realized his clever reference to my blog and Facebook page title. “Yes, I will.”
He grinned with pride at having made me laugh, and I smiled in return, trying to hide the sadness I felt at the thought of saying goodbye.
Here’s to the next adventure. Jordan, here we come!