Sunday, September 7, 2008

the trip up country

Exactly 7 days after I arrived in the chaotic city of Monrovia, I started my long journey into the bush. The two of us who were planning to travel together had initially arranged to get on the UN chopper around eight, but we changed our minds when we once again observed the clouds were getting feisty. It looked like it was about to rain and when rain comes the UN airfield staff make everyone wait. Everyone sits around hoping it will clear and the choppers will fly. On a good day it only takes an hour or so; on a bad day people wait for hours on end to find out if they are going to give the clearance they need to move. For some reason this pregnant pause fills the airfield staff with delight and the remarkable levels of enjoyment are easily observed on their faces. It’s likely this enjoyment is a direct result of the power they feel over the waiting passengers as such power is infrequently given out so freely. With power comes a very quick attempt to push the limits and flex their powerful muscles. This disposition should not to be held against them, as they don’t know any better, but it takes a little added patience to not get annoyed.

So we chose to avoid the potentially disheartening experience of rejection and hours of hopeful desperation and load up for a 9 hour road trip on muddy pothole ridden roads. Half way to Gbarnga we see another land cruiser stuck in some mud. Our driver recognizes the passenger of this NGO vehicle as his former physics teacher from the high school he attended before the war. He looked over at me, “Gwan, do you think that maybe we could stop and see if we can help?” “Of course, let’s see what this thing can do” I reply.

The first thing we realize is that they are truly stuck and two of their tires are completely hidden in 2 feet of thick mud. We are riding in a flat bed pick up and they are in a four door land cruiser. Do to the fact there is not a hitch on the back of the truck we have to turn around and tie the rope to the front of the vehicle and try and back them out. Given we too are at risk of being pulled down the side of the muddy ravine, we are forced to pull them out at an angle. Our first three attempts fail and smoke starts to come out the back end of our truck and tires. We move a little closer to the ravine and try again. This time it works and we manage to get them out. And then, just like that, after a few quick thank yous and your welcomes, we are off.

Approximately 1 hour later we hear a funny noise and the car starts to pull to the right. Alvin stops and we realize we now have a flat tire and it appears that it was caused by the extreme heat from pulling out of the memorable physics teacher of years gone by. We quickly fix the flat, with the help of three 9 year old boys who thoroughly enjoyed the pizza flavor combos I gave them as payment, and we manage to get to the swap point an hour or so later than we were to be expected. Luckily for us, our colleague had clearly departed Lofa on Liberian time and arrived a few short minutes after our own arrival.

Entering an old home

As I mentioned in a previous post I have questioned my capacity to settle and create a place I can call home. Now I realize that maybe I have somehow managed to have created a few. Coming back to Lofa taught me this lesson. Aside from my childhood home, this was my very first experience of ‘coming back’ to a residence that I knew very intimately. After months and months of being away I unlocked the door and quickly recognized the space and noticed everything was exactly how I liked it. The clean crisp covers were on the furniture, my coffee percolator sat stoically on the shelf and my bright Guinean rug covered the floor in my bedroom. It was clear Korpo, my dear sweet housekeeper, went of her way to do all of this and I appreciated it (and her) with all my heart.

This experience left me feeling all the more confident about my recent purchase of a small home in Denver. When I left it felt strange to lock the door and image everything gathering dust while sitting around waiting to have their reason for existence realized. Now I know what it will feels like to go home and I can state with ease that somehow it is possible for our hearts to be and belong in multiple places at the same time. The only problem is that re-arriving often involves a lot of dusting.

So I end this post thinking about being and belonging. What i know is that there are those experiences that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant life experiences are those that make you reflect on yourself. And if you find some people to love and be loved by while you are living these experiences, well, that's just fabulous.

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