I’ve been back on American soil for just over 48 hours now. When I reflect on my week in Liberia, it really feels like a dream. I’m constantly making contrasts between now and then. For example, today, I went to Shop Rite with my mom and I helped her load up the car trunk with our bags — peacefully. On Thursday, when we exited the UN Drive supermarket with MacDella, the Liberian men sitting outside the store followed us to the car, like bees to honey, looking for money. I swiftly jumped in the backseat and shut the door. I remember a Liberian boy still tapping on the door. He was guiding an older Liberian boy who was blind.
When I was driving to Target today, I passed warehouses, multi-story homes, grass. No blankets with housewares spread out on them for sale, nor stands with little boys selling cell phone minutes. No one walking among the cars selling candy. No mounds of dirt sprinkled with trash.
These contrasts aren’t meant to paint Liberia as a pitiful, hopeless place. Because it’s not. The US has the better living conditions, hands down, but I still think Liberia’s children are the models of gratitude.
There really couldn’t have been a more meaningful time to take this trip. It was both my first week of being 22 and the last week of 2007 — which was a big year for me, with graduating and landing a job I love (psst, Hearst Digital Media launched MyPromStyle.com the day I left JFK). It was both a beginning and an end, a time of celebration and of sympathy. I didn’t know how I’d sum it up in a way that wasn’t too cliche or cheesy. But oddly, as we were sitting on the plane at the Monrovia airport, that #1 NY Times Bestseller I’ve already mentioned, “Eat, Pray, Love,” did the job for me. Elizabeth Gilbert writes,
“You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope (the mere hope!) that something greater will be offered you in return for what you’ve given up.” ~chapter 57
She nailed it. Ms. Gilbert was writing about finding God, but she could have been talking about traveling to Liberia with the MacDella Cooper Foundation. Genevieve and I gave up the special Christmas Eve meals our moms prepare, the habit of exchanging presents on Christmas morning, etc… Those sacrifices seemed larger-than-life in the moments we bathed out of a bucket, didn’t have a flushing toilet to use, or fanned ourselves in the 80-plus degree heat. But none of them outweighed what I was offered in return:
The greatest, sincerest gratitude for the smallest things.
A new wonder for blind ambition. If you ask the orphans what they want to be when they grow up, they’ll rattle off top-notch careers — doctor, pilot, chemist. Genevieve has that on tape. They don’t yet see the economic obstacles that hold them back. They don’t care how long the road is (figuratively and literally — remember that long path to school that the Children’s Rescue Mission kids showed me?) – they just need MCF and its sponsors to open the door for their education.
The thrill of being able to share what I was seeing in Liberia on this blog in real time, of spotlighting orphans who would have remained in obscurity otherwise.
My trip is over, but the storytelling is just beginning. Genevieve and I have our work cut out for us — she editing and transcribing hours upon hours of footage, me writing about our experiences and publicizing MCF.
I will still update this blog with info relevant to the trip and MCF. I’ll probably re-skin it by February, so it’s not just Christmas-themed, but these posts will always be here. If you’ve enjoyed it, click on “Subscribe to blog” from the Blog Info menu in the upper right-hand corner, or add me to your Google reader. Thank you for following me on my journey, and special thanks to anyone who left comments. Most of all, thank you, MacDella — you are Liberia’s Angel.
Send Monrovia good vibes when they ring in the new year at 7pm our time…MacDella and the girls will be in church, a Liberian custom. Happy New Year to all!