GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

Weekend with L-SWE – SUCCESS Camp 2017

No alarm woke me on Saturday. I rolled over to check the time on my phone and saw two things: it was 10:15 AM and I had silenced my alarm somewhere along the morning. I moved slowly. I felt like I could sleep forever, but I was also trying to stay committed to the appearance of a schedule. The week had been superbly exhausting – teaching, talking, planning, discussing, dancing. My sleep debt had swelled, and this morning the collector had come calling. I mixed instant coffee into room-temperature bottled water and waited for what was next.

I was thankful I was awake for lunch, because it was a feast. Fufu, a mound of pounded cassava, placed on top of a mixture of ground spices. All submerged in a “pepper soup” containing crab, bony fish, crawfish, and vegetables. The clear orange broth hugging it all was spicy and rounded, seasoned and full. The broth alone was enough to make a meal. Anything additional just made me feel spoiled. In truth, the food at UL had been pleasant throughout the week – barbeque chicken legs, breaded fish, tuna pasta salad, spaghetti with vegetables and meatballs, mashed potato greens, cooked cabbage, sliced bread, mayonnaise, and plenty of rice. This meal, though. Especially memorable.

We stayed on campus for the rest of day. There was to be a political rally in downtown Monrovia for the elections, including presidential, coming up in October. Combined with an already busy downtown, we opted to avoid the large crowds. Busses filled to the brim with passengers passed by campus as we walked from lunch.

With no rain in sight, a kickball game got going in the afternoon with Edith and Maria as team captains. It was an intense game – competitive and muddy almost go without saying. Lead changes, home runs, strategic bunting. Bottom of the final inning, behind by one run, a booming kick by Jackie secured the hard-fought win for Maria’s team. Did I mention I was also on the winning team?

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Captain Maria takes her best kick
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Captain Edith with a wicked pitch
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The winning team!

Sunday, for a good portion of Liberians, is dedicated to church. This was true for many of the campers. Two-hour services offered twice in the morning, one beginning at 8 AM and one at 11 AM. Thankfully we went to the one beginning at 11 AM, but because of traffic, road conditions, or any potential events occurring between Fendell and the church, we planned to leave at 9 AM. We got on the road around 9:45 AM, heading to Maria’s place of worship, Philadelphia Church. The sanctuary was in a building basement – plastic chairs on a cement floor, pillars wrapped in blue, red, and white fabric, transparent glass pulpit.

I had been told to expect a rousing church experience, and I was not lied to. The choir processed to the front of the room, matching navy dresses and red shoes for the women. The praise song leader started in with an upbeat tune. There was a moment after five minutes had passed in which I almost sat down because I thought the song was ending. I was wrong. The song was about to pick up steam. Clapping. Vigorous stomping. Dancing. Ten minutes later, ever so slowly, the singing came to an end. I sat down, only to be asked to stand back up to be welcomed by the church-goers. Twenty handshakes followed.

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Choir at Philadelphia Church

On the drive back to Fendell, Aeriel and Sarah took their Sunday rest in the backseat next to me. I blinked back sleep, barely seeing passing shops, stalls, and pedestrians. Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” played in a long, continuing loop on the radio, every so often interrupted by the radio DJ’s commentary on the lyrics. The notion of a neat, compact four-minute song or hymn just didn’t seem to exist here. Our vehicle slowed as we came up on a small truck with four men in the back with megaphones. Campaigning. Chanting in unison. A large flier with a photo of the man running for representative taped across the back window. We waited patiently and then made our way past the truck. For several second accelerating away, I could still hear the men through the megaphones, their circling refrain fading with the distance.

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