My Community of Contrasts

The waves are my iPod, the setting sun my waypoint, the contrast of crumbling slums failing into the sea next to the expat apartment buildings secured behind barbed wire, my backdrop. Tonight, I feel back at home. Down the beach past where the eye can see, ocean waves crashing into my legs with each step. Getting away from the chaos of the city core, the communities along the beaches of Monrovia simultaneously achieve beauty and despair like little else. For these communities, running water, plumbing, and even electricity are often nonexistent – the beach is the bathroom. But the beach is also the backyard – a space for football matches, exercise, community meetings, and a pretty incredible local date spot. For a minute, I stop, hoping to transform from the foreign passerby to a human being who can have a place, even if it may be brief, in this community of contrasts.

I am back in Liberia, after 7 weeks away, and it feels like home, but just as I write this, I am looking at flights to leave next week. I was away for longer than I planned, and am back shorter than I planned. I am continuously failing on my promise to my Liberian friends that I am not just the typical expat who comes to Liberia with grandiose visions of setting up a real life here, but then vanishes back to the comforts of Europe or North America. I explain to friends I am away for my project, that my lifestyle has become one of a back and forth 11,432km ‘commute’ of sorts. For me, I love it, being able to engage intensely (even though always temporarily) with places as different as Monrovia and San Francisco.

The consequences of a life of without a true home base is that my relationships get put on standby, and more often than I would like, they don’t end up getting a seat on the plane that is my constant back and forth. I try to offer a voucher for the next flight out to the people I really care about, but I can’t expect anyone to wait around for me to come back. But for right now, I am here, running on the beach in a community where I first touched down 8 months ago, living in the fullest way I know how.

I am so at peace that at any point I could stop running, lie down on the sand, and fall asleep. My body is in autopilot, my mind wandering on the soundtrack of the waves, appreciating the beauty of the world around me, for all of it’s sewage-filled streams and crumbling infrastructure. At least in this moment, I am home.


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