I’m back in NYC and… super jet-lagged! As I sit in my kitchen and look at all the appliances I and the rest of America use on a daily basis, I think of my time in Liberia, where I had none of that. I took a bucket bath everyday, saw or used no fridge while in Goyazu as well as other surrounding villages, and was completely disconnected from the internet, my iPhone and the media all together. So I can proudly say it was a true immersion trip!
And so my journey began here, on March 9th at 7:38pm.
As I sat in Delta’s Terminal 12, I waited to board my plane to Ghana, and then to Liberia. Since entering JFK, I had been surround by many West African men, women and children getting ready to visit home I suppose. Seeing everyone, some in their beautiful and traditional country cloth made me giddy and even more excited to be going to Liberia, where I knew I would see something new with each turn of my head. I could not wait to touch down in Robertsfield, but was also nervous, as I knew this was no vacation, but a trip that would test my endurance, mental capacity and ability to adapt.
Checking in our luggage was a totally new experience. We had a total of 10 bags between the four of us. A backpack each, three duffle bags filled to the brim with school supplies, clothing to give away and our few personal items. We had this extremely large plastic bag, with a zipper to close on the top, that I was sure would break sometime during our day’s walk to Goyazu. We also had another bag filled with files and workbooks for the school children and a HUGE bulky solar powered computer that was for a man named James Yeawolee, who surveys land for the use of sustainable agriculture and farming in Brueyama, a region within Lofa County, Liberia. (A county is the equivalent to a state.) I kept wondering how all of this would make it to Goyazu, a two-day journey, and a day’s walk in the middle of the rainforest…. But I can assure everything made it, carried atop strong heads and a steady arm.
After about 14 hours in my not-so-comfy economy class seat, we landed at Robertsfield International Airport in Robertsfield, Liberia. Actually, let me backtrack, after sitting in front of a man who prayed repeatedly throughout the flight, we landed. Even landing was a totally new experience. As I gazed out the window, I saw clearings where villages had been established. I could see the small adobe huts made of the reddish clay from the earth and zinc or thatched roofs. Was this real, I thought? I had never seen anything like that in my life, besides while flipping through National Geographic magazines or while watching the History Channel.
As I walked down the stairs and off the plane, we entered into the actual airport that is no larger than the size of one terminal. After meeting my grandfather, Papi, we got our luggage from baggage claim, which was in total disarray and quickly left the airport. Me, my brother, mother, father, grandfather, my uncle Daniel and the driver all piled into a car the only seats six, so I squeezed in with my 6 ft 2 dad into one seat and we set off for Monrovia, the capitol of Liberia.
After a couple stops, (one for Palm Wine, which according to Papi is “From God to Man” and one to meet my uncle David for a quick hello, in his town, “Smell No Taste”) we made it to our guesthouse, ironically named Maryland, in the heart of Monrovia. After a day’s worth of traveling and heat, I want to say I took I nice cold shower, but instead I got my first introduction to bathing and using the bathroom in a country where running water is scarce and expensive. I filled up a bucket with water from the nearby well, sat it down in the tub and experienced my first bucket bath in Liberia. It took twice as long as a normal shower, but felt just as good.
After a dinner of sardines and rice, my mom and I (who shared a room for the duration of the trip) talked excitedly for what was to come and our journey to Goyazu, that would start in just two days. Between the time difference, roosters who crow at all times of the night and morning, howling dogs, street music and loud voices, I did not sleep well, but woke up excited for the day to come!