Saturday, August 7, 2021

I want to remember: Liberia

I want to remember how music from the church filtered into my days when I lived on 9th street. It was too loud and too frequent, but I definitely ended up singing along to some bangers and it came to feel like home.

I want to remember my lockdown routines. Eating dinner on the back porch and watching Friday Night Lights, then coming in to wash dishes while listening to music from the aughts. Drinking a beer, eating Pringles, and reading a book at 6 o'clock on weekends. Dropping what I was doing to do barre3 classes when they started on Instagram live.

I want to remember the flow state that I sometimes got into when coding in Stata or programming surveys in SurveyCTO. I went from feeling like an imposter to a "technical influencer" to a genuine resource for other staff in my office on survey and data questions.

I want to remember how nervous I was at the start about whether I would be able to pull off the survey, and how nonstop I worked when we were preparing to launch.

I want to remember seeing storms roll in across the ocean.

I want to remember becoming a connoisseur of sunsets and how I could tell when it was going to be a great one.

I want to remember watching the water and how it changed from hour to hour and from day to day. I feel so lucky that I got to see the ocean every day (with literally just a small handful of exceptions) for a year and a half. 

I want to remember coming back from hot, stressful workdays in October and November - when we were trying to launch the survey and weren't allowed to use fans in the office - and jumping in the pool and just washing the entire day off. 

I want to remember family dinners and the joy of sitting down together around the table after helping (or "helping") to cook.

I want to remember beering the margs.

I want to remember coming over the last hill in Robertsport and seeing the ocean and how even though it happened about once a month, it made me giddy with happiness every time.

I want to remember arriving at the beach on Sunday and how even though we went once a week, it made me giddy with happiness every time.

I want to remember the joy of coming back from a weekend at the beach or a trip to the beach in a neighboring country and... still being at the beach.

I want to remember the relief I felt when preliminary results started coming in and making clear that I hadn't messed up the survey.

I want to remember the jokes. I don't know if I've ever had as many laughs per minute as I've had here. 

I want to remember stopping for Korean on the way back from Robertsport: sunburned, dirty, slap-happy, and ravenous for pork and bibimbap.

I want to remember bobbing in the ocean and making jokes.

I want to remember the Sunday routine: stopping at Kaldi's for coffee and croissants. Driving out to the beach. Swimming, chatting, reading a book, drinking a beer, playing Rummikub, eating lunch. Home for a face mask and a call to my parents.

I want to remember the Mohammeds, our Guinean drivers who brought us on so many adventures and tolerated us (and our music) so kindly. Who knew our names and didn't need to be told where we were going, just who we were picking up (and even that they could usually guess). 

I want to remember the ten-second calls to Mohammed to arrange a car and his three-second call when the driver arrived: "Yeah he's there" or "Yeah ousside." I normally hate talking on the phone. But I think about going home and calling an Uber and getting sent someone I've never seen before and will never see again and I get a little sad.

I want to remember the public taxi rides, where everyone greeted each other good morning, debated teh political news of the day, and was instantly on the side of the driver against anyone else on the road who may have wronged us.

I want to remember grilled staffed fish, oregano grilled wraps, potato greens, and sushi pizza.

I want to remember driving at 90 down those country lanes.

I want to remember the music of Liberian English. The "eh-HEH." The "ehyouknow." The "thank you ya." The "Ah!" The o's at the end of sentences.

I want to remember my colleagues- the jokes we shared, the kindness they showed me (especially when I was alone during lockdown), and what we were able to accomplish together.

I want to remember the feeling of community. Of spontaneously popping downstairs to eat dinner or watch a few episodes of something. Of playing Ligretto or Ticket to Ride and drinking wine and processing our workdays. Of running into friends or the Mohammeds when out and about.

I want to remember stopping for a coconut at every chance I had and how it made daily life feel like a tropical vacation.

I want to remember monitoring the survey in the field and racking up a fantastic step count, getting to experience parts of Monrovia that I would not have otherwise, winding through crowded markets trying not to knock produce off anyone's head, the field staff worrying about me getting lost or sunburnt. 

I want to remember keke rides to drop off lappa at Michelle's tailoring shop or to buy produce on Benson Street.

I want to remember the rolling hills on the drive to Nimba and the joy of seeing mountains again.

I want to remember the lush green - the palm trees and banana trees and so much more foliage that I don't know the names for.

I want to remember stepping out on the balcony or walking home from work or popping up for air during a swim and breathing in the salty ocean air.

I want to remember the sights and sounds of daily life in Liberia. The motorbike drivers with their snazzy jackets and the extra long umbrellas during rainy season. The guys selling fuel and gas out of mason jars by the side of the road. Folks playing checkers under a tree or drinking beers in a bar. Haircuts and manicures happening in open-air shops. Drivers washing their motorbikes and kekes on the weekend. The guys with megaphones walking down the street: "Orange data, Lonestar data. Orange minutes, Lonestar minutes. Rechaaaaarge your phone." The guys with a handful of chickens hanging by their feet.

I want to remember the joy of getting to do something I'd long dreamed of.

I want to remember how happy I was here. My life in Liberia had three key ingredients: a sense of community, challenging and meaningful work, and the novelty of living abroad among the unexpected. How lucky I am to have found that.

Photos are favorites from the last few months. All are mine except for the sixth and last, which were taken by my friend Erik Jorgensen, and whoever self-timered that big group shot.