Climbing up the narrow stairs onto Royal Air Maroc’s finest, one leg left in the trio of red eye flights that make up the move from one of the world’s best cities, San Francisco, to one of the worst, Monrovia. A move five months in the making, from the first moment my rollercoaster of a love affair with Liberia began in June. Sliding down the narrow aisle towards 15B, the realities of my new life began to set in.
Liberia is a country with stories that an unaware citizen may not believe, from it’s “Return to Africa” freed-slave-led founding in 1847 to it’s civil war and the cases of cannibalism, to the Ebola outbreak that raised moral questions about the world’s commitment to support our fellow humans, regardless of ethnicity or country of origin. And on a micro-level, each person on this plane, their story was one intertwined – or like me, about to become intertwined – into the fascinating complexity that is one of the world’s poorest nations. My neighbor in 15A was a women whose life had already been intertwined into the fabric of Liberia. Alongside her husband and children (5 and 8 years old), she had been one of the few that hadn’t ran when Ebola brought Liberia to its knees. My row 15 neighbor gave me a crash course on Liberia and the landscape of the expat community, and even shared her incredible love story of how she met a husband who was as excited as she was by the idea of living in the bush of south Ethiopia and the crumbling infrastructure of Monrovia.
I am at a different point in my journey, a flight up and over the Sahara away from embarking on my first real challenge post-university. I am on a one-way ticket to a life of intensity that will hopefully take me to some of the world’s most fascinating but often ignored corners. But before I can be my own version of that wise, experienced neighbor in 15A, having spent years spent doing work I love, or having met a partner that is as passionate about being adaptable to the idea of living anywhere, or raising young kids in the middle of one of the worst global health emergencies of modern times – first is Liberia.
First is a project that will demand every ounce of my focus, a project that allows me to “Start Over” in both how young people are educated and with how international development is “supposed” to work. An opportunity like this doesn’t come often, and is one where I am conscious that a 24/7 commitment will be required.
I cut the conversation short with my wise neighbor as we go off about the wonders of Ethiopia – knowing it is time to rest. I drift off to sleep on my 3 hour red eye, thinking about my next morning, becoming intertwined in a country that will now always be a part of the story I share to the kid in 15B.