Thursday, April 12, 2007

Transitions

This is a post about transition. Its settings include Denver,Minneapolis, Janesville, Chicago, Brussels and Liberia. The characters are mostly African and American. The time is 10:55 am in Monrovia, which meansit is 2:55 am in Denver - or at least I think it is: time involves numbersand numbers tend to overwhelm me.

My goodbyes in Denver were hectic and I'm sorry for those I missed – I am already desperately missing my day of the week and the little boy crainewonders; and, I can already predict poor Kristy will be forced into recitingplay-by plays frequently leaving me wishing I had access to real time footage. The training in Minneapolis went well and my time in Chicago was a delight.

I know many of you are quite curious about my father's big retirement party.Well it went off without a hitch, thanks to my brother and Shelley. My presence was a surprise (however my father claims he had a dream I would bethere) - for someone who always thought my work and interest in dream interpretation was slightly bizarre, he sure sounded like a true Jungian when he was interpreting his own dream sequence. His reaction to my arrivalwas much more subdued than my mother's, who was recovering from the fact that her sister and my uncle had also made a surprise appearance from Texas. The toasts were touching and I feel profoundly grateful I was able to be present for a celebration of the man I have always admired most. Hisbravery, idealism, generosity, talent (both in poker as well as in surgery) and outrageous sense of humor were highlighted and observed. My only hopeis that he is proud of what he has managed to accomplish thus far in life.He asserts he has no worries about boredom in retirement and already claims to have no idea how he was able to accomplish anything meaningful while hewas working full time. Together, they plan to travel and explore and areheading to Spain in April and Egypt in January – where I plan to join them for a little R & R.

As is often the case in travel, things didn't work out the way they were planned and rather than arriving in Africa 9 days ago, as expected, I was briefly delayed in Brussels due to airplane problems out of Chicago. Myself and ten fellow 'strandedees' were put up for two nights in Ghent, a smalltown just outside of Brussels. Ghent and its neighboring town Brogge arefilled with canals, castles, dragons guarding the city and amazing waffles, chocolate and beer. They call the area the Venice of the North.Fortunately, due to overcrowding in the airport hotels, American Airlineswas forced to put us in a 5 star hotel with amazing beds fitted withEgyptian cotton sheets – a lovely place to be resting while overcoming aheinous bout of jet lag.

The airport in Monrovia is an eyesore but I quickly realized I have been infected for life and was relieved, like a breath taken from an inhaler, to be back in West Africa. The new president in Liberia has declared a 'zero tolerance' policy on corruption and had apparently cleaned house at theairport a few weeks ago. I arrived to serious staffers in freshly starched uniforms fixated on getting us in perfectly formed lines and putting usthrough multiple checkpoints for what appeared to be nothing more thananother very intense look at my oh so serious passport photo. I was dropped off at CVT headquarters by a friend I had made in Brussels (an American attorney in Liberia working in the justice department training localattorneys). In route to Liberia I also met an ex US military solider who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and is now doing highly paid contract workfor the State Department. When asked what he felt about the war and ourcurrent administration he simply stated: "I just did what I was told to do." He was sharp and sweet and built like an ox and his gentle dispositionand simple analysis of the "facts" puzzled me. The other travelers were all missionary folk heading to Liberia to adopt flocks of children – 4 a piece to be exact. One of them had 9 biological children and 7 other Liberian adoptees at home. This experience is an entirely separate chapter of myexperience to date but please remind me to tell you about it as it was interesting to say the least – a bit like watching Jesus Camp, I suspect.

The minute I stepped outside the airport I was struck by humidity and heat.Although it was already 7 pm, the heat was relentless and intense. The trees and bushes are much lusher than in Nigeria and it is clear I will bedealing with an entirely different beast here in comparison to the dry heatof Plateau State. Although overwhelming, I felt myself giving off a big sigh, delighted to know I have arrived where my heart had been pointing meand I now know that on some level Africa has infected me for life. In spiteof my exhaustion, I found myself grinning. There is something about Africa that got into my blood and stayed there.

Visually, I observed flock after flock of women and children sauntering downthe dusty pothole ridden roads with jerry cans and baskets carrying fish,bananas and peanuts (aka: "grumpy") on their heads. Boys were seen pushing wheelbarrows and playing football in dusty packs. The heat is heinous, theroads are a mess and everything is run by generators, but I briefly hadair-conditioning in my room and there is running albeit cold water and flushing toilets in the house and office.

As a committed traveler and connoisseur of originality, I know that gathering the fruits of wanderlust will hopefully enable me to see the worldwith a wider, more original lens. And, in the words of Mark Twain (and in honor of my father's favorite quote from our recent trip to Arizona),"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness."

gwen
gvogel22@msn.com
Liberia phone: +231 (0) 690 9880
Liberia office: CVT, 8th Street Beach Side, Sinkor, Monrovia
US Office: Center for Victims of Torture, 717 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA

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