It’s taken a week since getting to Liberia to have the realization sink in that I am finally living in Africa – a dream I’ve had since 2008, when I began offering and leading humanitarian service trips to developing nations. It took sitting on my balcony with a cup of coffee, staring out at the Atlantic waters, and realizing that the home I knew for the last few years was now ten hours away across those waters and I was here. My new home is a strange, puzzling place with tastes, sights, sounds, and people so unlike what I am used to.
My daily walks with Barnaby, my Cairn Terrier, were once serene and simple. Now those walks are spent with me on constant alert for feral dogs, speeding motorcycles, and cars beeping their horns at every intersection – that’s how they mitigate accidents here, as there are no stop or yield signs as there are back in the States – and of course, I must watch out for people. It’s not that I’m in an unsafe area; on the contrary, I’m in one of the safest neighborhoods. But Liberia is still a country awash in corruption and crime, and very deeply rooted poverty, making me, a white girl with a dog on a leash, an identifiable target. So being observant and predetermining my routes and potential exit strategies are constant necessities for living here.
The grocery store has more “state-side” food choices than I would have expected to find, from Prego Spaghetti Sauce and Kraft Mac & Cheese to Haagen Dazs Ice Cream (though it’s $13.95 a pint!). The difficulty is in finding fresh produce and meats at the grocery store, and I had to just forget about buying organics. That is until last night! I am on the Expat Google List, and saw a post last night for sustainably raised vegetables! I called the grower immediately, and at 9pm last night he delivered a box full of fresh arugula, lettuce, zucchini, peppers, eggplant and basil to my door! The variety of produce is still very limited, yet now I’m able to make fresh organic salads. I didn’t have to wait to long for that to manifest – a very welcome surprise! My diet, normally consisting of fresh fish and juicy steaks, is now mostly confined to chicken. I experimented with the beef the other day – it was tough and not very delicious – so I’ll be skipping that from now on for the home-cooked meals. At least until the farmer I just met online begins producing sustainable meats (which he says is not too far off!) – I’m impressed!
I am lucky. The area I am in is fairly quiet, as well. Not like the tree-lined, lakeside streets of White Rock Lake, Dallas, where the only sounds are the occasional motorcycle or dog barking in someone’s backyard as I pass by. Instead, during the day it’s bustling with locals heading to and from the main area of town to trade and sell and look for work or to attend school. Liberians are friendly, and they appreciate those who have come to support its rebuilding, so I am regularly met with the local greeting, “How are you?” The only disturbance so far has been what the locals call a “crusade” at the nearby church last week, with its Pentecostal preacher on a loudspeaker wailing away in tongues from 5:30 am to 8 am and again from 5 pm to 11 pm. I asked my security guard how long it would go on. He said they can last several days or more than a week. I told him that I’m doing my own praying – that tonight would be the last of it! He said, “Well, it’s the word of God; what’s wrong with that? Don’t you like it?” And I replied, “I like God, but why do they have to be so loud? Don’t they know God can hear them without a loudspeaker? God hears our whispers, too.” He and I both laughed and I went back to my apartment, where I resumed my own praying.
Yet there are familiar sights, sounds, and tastes, also. Today I walked six blocks to a newly opened coffee and pastry shop, which has the most delicious, perfect chocolate croissant I’ve ever had, served up with a perfect vanilla latte! Their freshly made sandwiches of smoked salmon, chicken pesto on ciabbatta, and roast beef with Swiss rival any I’ve seen or had at Panera and outshines Starbucks by ten! I can simply scale back on my variety of protein and save it for my nights out! There are many great restaurants close by that ship in Angus beef and fresh fish, even sushi grade, weekly, which I’ve been deliciously served to my great satisfaction.
Wednesday nights there’s a great local reggae band playing up the street just three blocks away, and Friday night is Salsa Night, if I get ambitious.
Living here, I know, will be quite different from being here as a tourist for a week at a time, several times a year, for the past five years. I am prepared to keep discovering a new, simpler lifestyle, and I have a growing appreciation for a way of being that allows the majority of people in the world, who are living in developing nations, to live happily with less. I will learn from them, perhaps as much – I suspect more – than they will learn from me.