5 Lessons, from a 365-Day Relationship with Liberia

This is the first of a series of posts through December looking back on my last year as the: Entrepreneurship Lab Architect; Just School Director; Liberia Country Director; Emerging Markets Product Platform Lead; and now Emerging Markets Director for Hampton Creek.

I want to share 5 pieces of advice to my almost 23-year-old self just arriving in Monrovia, Liberia, one year ago. That Kid in 15B needs it, as he really has no idea how the next year will unfold.

What have I learned in the year since I arrived in Monrovia, Liberia on this exact flight, 365 days ago?

  1. There is always space to stretch over multiple seats at the back of Royal Air Maroc flights. There is an aid worker-looking guy only 7 rows in front of me right now crammed in the middle seat, while I just woke up from a glorious 3-seat-long nap. He will learn.
  2. Secondly, have your yellow fever card in your carry-on, ready to go upon the 4:35am touchdown at Robertsfield International. That airport is an overwhelming experience on a good day, least of which when a Liberian Ministry of Health official chases you and forces you back inside the airport after you sneak past his strict eye when the sweet-talking doesn’t work (not recommended). But hey, I have learned.
  3. Thirdly, although you may make fun of friends at first who do this, have at least two phones. When you are on the road pinned down by a group of entrepreneurial Liberian thieves, you will understand why. I now have multiple phones, which is valuable considering I only spend more time than I used to alone on dark streets at night. I learned something at least – cheap phone + not carrying ID = nothing valuable to steal.
  4. Fourthly, you will need to take leisure time in Monrovia, if you don’t, you will burn out. Some combination of humidity, stress, frustration, or disappointment with how international aid creates a cycle of poverty will get to you. Luckily, I arrived on a holiday last year, and my new roommates taught me this on Day 1. Same day, 1 year later? Some emails, a work call, but all centered around the day’s primary activity of surfing and volleyball at the beach. This is a lesson I try to stick too, especially when work gets intense.
  5. Fifth and final, this work takes a long time to get right, even though I know you will adamantly disagree. I am still learning every day, and our progress has been slow, but I think we are doing it right. You can’t speed up the process of listening to and understanding a new place. It is not something you put on your to do list, it is something that builds with each moment of interaction in this country that will become your home.

This is not a comprehensive list. It’s a snapshot of a year of many mistakes, adventures, and slowly but surely, a year of making progress in a country that has become my home.

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