June: “Monrovia, Liberia” was all but two words in a job description for an opportunity I thought was incredible, but way out of my league. All I knew about Liberia was a basic understanding of the impact of Ebola on the country, and the broad concept of Charles Taylor and the civil war that ended in the somewhat recent past.
Early November: Liberia was a series of articles on my computer, research documents, and a screen-sized view of a staff house on the other end of a Skype call. It was a final destination on a marathon of a flight itinerary. It was a country whose complexity I had read about, but had not yet began to understand.
Early December: Now, one month in, Monrovia, Liberia is the neighborhood kids I play rugby with at the garbage-covered beach. It is the sound of the waves crashing into the rocks just below my house, where the smells of the city’s main river (and sewage catchment) occasionally drift. Monrovia is showing up at the More Than Me Academy each weekday morning to a gaggle of energetic young girls playing before the morning assembly begins. Monrovia is still mysterious, still new, but it has become home.
I am still at the start of my education on a country as complicated as they come, where there is always two sides to every story. Examples? Mary Broh’s beautification campaign that is destroying homes, or President Sirleaf’s unspoken involvement in the country’s gruesome civil war, or how United Nations staff maintain peace during the day and find young Liberian girls to pay for sex at night.
That last one is hard to understand, but is something you witness first hand anytime you go to one of the handful of bars in Monrovia that serve the expat community: young scantly-dressed Liberian girls and old, white men hovering – predators, albeit paying ones, waiting to pounce.
In a month, I have created an influencer map of 50 key stakeholders in Liberia, ranging from youth in the slum of West Point, to the Lebanese business community, to government officials and ‘repats’. I have been crammed in the back seat/trunk of cars on two incredible surf weekends in Robertsport, become an advocate of the weekly rugby and ultimate Frisbee games that happen at the Ministry of Defense, and have been voluntold into a role organizing of the Monrovia Hiking Society.
What began as two words on a job description, and then expanded into some open tabs and a view through Skype, has now become a 360-degree 24/7 everyday immersion that is good and bad, extraordinarily beautiful and disgustingly ugly, most usually at the exact same time.
One month in, I know that I have still only scratched the surface. That scratch has had an impact though, and the dirt of everyday life in Monrovia, Liberia is now permanently stuck in place under my fingernails, and doesn’t look like it will be gone anytime soon.