Ethiopian Airlines, flight 928 leaving Monrovia. Such a wild mashup of cultures – men with heavy Liberian accents, women in fabulous Ghanian dresses, and the Ahmaric (or is it Akan or…?) overhead announcements. All of Africa seems to be traveling together with us this morning. And it all seems manageable. Just a week ago Ghana, Liberia, all of western Africa seemed as strange and deep as it must have to Stanley, a century ago. Now, we’re cruising through airport security in this still war-ravaged country like it was our summer retreat. Elliot exchanges snaps and a fist-bump with the screener and points back to Glen – “Keep an eye on that guy”. Elliot is the instant drinking buddy/old friend of every man on the planet.
I guess we all seem to have our special little superpower here. Yvonne connects with the women. A large beautiful black woman with a smile as broad as the Serengeti and the vibe of Aretha Franklin, she just has “that thing”. Yesterday, we met with THINK, a home for young women and girls who’d been victims of sexual trafficking – brought from the countryside to Monrovia with the false promise of schooling. THINK provides a home, school and vocational training, counseling, and most of all, a rock-solid social support structure. They greeted us with song and dance, and (commendably) insisted that we sing and dance with them before the meeting proper could commence. Meeting was opened – as with many of these groups – with an inspired invocational prayer to Jesus seeming to come deep out of the Southern Baptist tradition: shouts of “Amen!” and “Sister!” all the way (Also notably, at least one of the groups we’ve met that opened that way closed with a Muslim prayer in Arabic that sounded remarkably like Kaddish).
At the end of this meeting, they asked us to offer a closing prayer, and there was a deafening silence as we looked among ourselves for a suitable candidate. I ofte get pegged for impromptu speeches, but a nice Jewish boy from California doing the Pentecostal Jesus thing convincigly? I don’t think so. And we owed them a good one.
Eventually, all our eyes fell on Yvonne. She glanced around at us with a “here goes” look, took a deep breath and let forth something beautiful, thanking God for bringing us here to be inspired by these brave women, for giving them the strength to be our inspiration, and praying for them to be a light to women of Liberia. There were cheers and shouts and hugs. There were “Amen!”s and “Sister!”s overflowing. I think there were even a few tears.
I dare to think that she inspired them as much as they inspired us.
Okay, that’s Yvonne. There’s also Don. Don runs a travel company that is in the habit of sending groups (of sometimes high-profile individuals) on educational visits to awkward destinations, like Yemen and Iran. I think he’s sent people to North Korea (yes, and gotten them back). He’s got a head for logistics and a nose that can detect a potential disaster – or opportunity – way down the line. I guess it’s the nature of his business, but when we’re tromping around a rural farm field learning about land-use conflicts and I see Don’s ears prick up that particular way, when he looks over to where that music’s coming from and saunters off to investigate? I know it’s time to follow. Because, as it turns out, it’s Sunday afternoon and there’s an animistic tribal ceremony going on in the next field over (full disclosure: yesterday, I was too involved in the land use discussion and *didn’t* think to follow. Heard about the tribal thing from Don and Elliot in the van on the way back).
More about Elliot some other time.
My secret power seems to be kids (oh, the irony!). For some reason, little bitty kids seem to flock to me, to offer me their itty bitty seats to sit on, and then be willing to join me when I scoot over to share. At the Nancy Doe market, a boy of no more than four grabbed my finger, declared “You da big man!” and started trying to give me a separate tour of the place. It’s an odd superpower, but hey, I’ll take it.
Okay – time to go, so I’ll post now and write more later.
Great travelogue, informative, thoughtful and insiprational, beautiful pictures, too. You are a wonderful writer, Pablo, look forwards to reading more. Thanks for sharing.