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Walking the Walk

November 26, 2011

Look ma! We showered! Thanksgiving on the beach in Monrovia.

Two nights ago I slept in a fancy American-style embassy apartment.  Tonight Krista and I are sharing a bed in the village of Medina in upper Lofa County.  The two worlds could not be more drastically different.

This is the third straight day we’ve spent on the bus and there are two more travel days to go before we get home to Sanni.  Exhaustion.  Lack of routine.  Lapses in hygiene.  This much travel is rough anywhere, let alone in Liberia.

K has a horrific head ache, but I’m finally doing better.  While she rested I sang ‘Old McDonald’ with the kids outside then they agreed to sing if I would dance.  Duh!  Of course I said yes.  They started right off with ‘Pressure’ and it was a best-of Liberian music for the next 45 minutes while I worked up another sweat and undid the hot bucket bath they made me take in the open-roof cane hut out back.  (Although I went reluctantly it felt divine.)

Staying with the embassy couple was nice, but it made me reflect on how easy (or not?) it would be to slip back into a modern, comfortable, life and blur the memory of the last six months with distractions like television, granite countertops, and shelves of knick-knacks.  I stayed with a super nice couple and they made me feel right at home… maybe that’s it… it was too at home, too easy, too comfortable.

I’d taken a cold bucket bath just the night before and slept under my mosquito net, wrapped in a lappa.  Suddenly I was talking about art, sipping wine, and washing my hair in my first hot shower since leaving America.  I still remembered how.  I’m still definitely American… somewhere in there.

It hit me the strongest when over the husband’s shoulder someone in the next building (not embassy) emptied a bucket of waste water from the 6th or 7th floor window.  This is still Liberia… but places like this exist in Liberia?  Their apartment was nicer than plenty of hotels I stayed in while in America.  And it felt weird.  They’re nice people and I have no doubt they have done and continue to do a lot of good work… it’s just dramatically different from the work we do in Peace Corps.

The extravagance shocked me.  Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s house was a who’s who of tan, buff bodies dressed in the latest western fashions, stuffing themselves with rich food and expensive drinks.  (I would be remiss to exclude myself from that last bit.)  Just a few hundred yards away thin boats cut across the waves, likely fishing for a small meal.  I watched a young man daftly maneuver a football next to the razor wire on the beach and wished I could hop the fence and join him.  How can these two worlds coexist?  Let alone on top of each other.  Why must the extremes be so… extreme?

I know it’s complicated.  I’m just not sure I can see myself working in those circles after Thursday night.  I need to feel closer to the people I’m serving.  I need to walk the walk if I’m going to talk the talk.

Tonight I ate two bowls of rice and soup since K was too sick to eat.  God I hope I don’t wake up with thunder in my belly.  I don’t know where the bathroom is and it’s pouring rain.  Here’s to everything that comes along with walking the walk…

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