so many of you have asked me what my life here in Liberia is like. the answer—often unexpected. rarely going according to plans. surprising. hectic. beautiful. challenging. rewarding. atypical. something like this:
wake up at about seven o’clock, often still tired from a night of sweating, tossing, turning, barking dogs, car horns, and the other various sounds of our neighborhood. sometimes, i do sleep surprisingly well. especially if it rains at night. rain equals a cool breeze. and that’s always nice.
coffee. and water. porch time. breathing huge, deep, contented sighs. this is my sanctuary. i read. i write. i sing. i pray. there are usually interruptions. sometimes, it doesn’t bother me, and i resume. sometimes, i get frustrated and go back inside.
get dressed. eat breakfast. bread. and eggs. lots of bread and eggs. i usually wish for cereal. or yogurt and granola. fresh fruit. a bagel.
sometimes there’s bacon. that’s when i know it’s going to be a good day.
“work” begins. emails, Facebook, blogs. planning lessons. writing curriculum. reading children’s books. brainstorming. more computer work. it’s hot. i don’t drink nearly enough water during the day. i remember what it was like when i’d plan lessons for my students. so many resources then. such a different world.
it’s busy inside the fence. people are coming and going. people are just stopping by. people come in and out of the house. two or three people are trying to talk to me at once. cell phones ring. someone is knocking on the gate. i chuckle and shake my head. i can’t stay irritated; i love these people too much.
sometimes i step away from the computer and run errands in town. i really don’t like going to town. it’s loud and busy and hot and chaos. or maybe i’ll go to an orphanage in the morning. hopefully, i don’t need to go near Red Light. or Duala. more loudness. more business. more chaos. it’s exhausting.
lunch time. or something like that. sometimes i eat. sometimes i keep working. sometimes i read. sometimes i nap.
time to go to an orphanage. load up the car with supplies for class. drive—or, rather, sit while Joseph drives. marvel at the sheer insanity of traffic here. lots of car horns. no actual speed limit. so many people are walking. i wish we could pick all of them up. i feel guilty and over-privileged. they’re covered in sweat and dust, and they’re walking. i pass them in my air-conditioned truck.
lots of people staring. some wave. some point. some give me the thumbs up. some look terrified. “white woman!” usually i’m okay with being the white freak show. i don’t enjoy it, nor do i want the attention, but i accept it.
sometimes, though, i hate it. i want to cry. i want to yell. i want to run away, back to a place where i can fit in, where i’m not constantly on display.
arrive at the orphanage. cheers and waves. running kids. jumping kids. hugs, kisses, handshakes. these days, they look so healthy. they’re taller. fat cheeks and clean clothes. toothless smiles. they hold my hand, play with my hair, fight over who gets to sit next to me. they crawl in my lap, throw their arms around my neck. this is where i have to fight back the tears. i wish i could explain how much i love them. i wish they knew how beautiful and special and talented they are. i feel sick when i think about them being hungry. or ill. or dirty. or sad. or lonely. i want them to have every good thing. i wish.
class begins. we pray. they listen and laugh. usually we understand each other quite well. sometimes i can tell by their blank stares that they have no idea what i just said. questions. they’re learning to raise their hands and wait their turn before calling out. they’ve grown and changed so much. we read our Bibles. play games. they color, do a craft. i compliment their work. their eyes light up, and they smile. i want them to believe that it’s good, that i’m proud of them. sometimes their work gets taken from them.‘don’t do that,’ i want to say. ‘it’s theirs. they made it. it’s special. please, just let them have something special.’ we pray again. more hugs, more handshakes. “next week,” i promise. they’ll be waiting.
going home. more people walking. crowds. loud, busy crowds. markets. selling. old, filthy money. never enough of it to go around. yelling. laughing. make sure all the doors are locked. people tapping on the windows, on the side of the vehicle. they want me to buy from them. they want money. there’s so many, too many. i don’t have enough for them all. i have to look away.
crying children. playing children. cool water in the hot sun. dirty feet. worn out flip-flops. tattered tee-shirts. bright lapa. they’re beautiful. all these people—so beautiful. i want to apologize to them, but i don’t exactly know what for.
dinner. 5:00, always. Ma Mary makes sure of it. rice. pineapple. plantains. soups: palm butter, pumpkin, cassava, collard greens, beans. so many starches. and oil. Ma Mary is the best cook in Liberia. but sometimes i just want a salad.
or maybe we’ll go to town for dinner. Lebanese restaurant. Bangladeshi restaurant. sometimes a hamburger and french fries. foods i often can’t pronounce, and i don’t always know what’s in them. i don’t go hungry. but so many people here do. why? why, why, why? i’m always asking that question.
the generator is turned on. charge computers and cell phones. the guard pumps water. the nightclub next door blasts distorted rap songs that were popular almost a decade ago from their blown-out speakers. and Nigerian hip hop. i usually sing along. but i always wish it could just be quiet.
watch a movie on the computer. play cards or dominoes, everyone around the big table. take a walk to the beach to watch the sunset. everyone waves. kids run up to shake my hand. i’m thanked for “taking my exercise.” the beach is dirty. it smells. but the ocean is so vast, so incredible. the sky so vivid. the breeze delicious.
email. Facebook. it is so good to hear from my people back home. i miss them, miss being a part of their everyday lives. i don’t want to be forgotten.
showers outside, preferably under the stars and after the water has been warmed by the sun all day. try to unwind—as much as is possible here, anyway. so many noises. i tune them out, but they still find a way to get under my skin and put me on edge. the guard sharpens his cutlass. i pray again that there would be no rogues tonight.
lights out. generator off. under the mosquito net. trying not to think about the spiders and cockroaches and rats crawling on my floor. hoping none of them get inside my net. i pray. i drift off but wake up with every little noise. my earplugs never to seem to fit my ears right. i toss, and i turn. or i fall asleep instantly. always amazed by another day. always in awe that this, all of this, is my life.