‘Oh Liberia’…the most common phrase uttered by my taxi driver during the course of my stay here. Why did I start with that phrase, well let me explain.
Having never travelled to the African continent before I set off from Edinburgh on the morning of the 14th April and eventually arrived on Liberian soil at about 8:30pm that same evening. Yah, the ACIPP Liberia co-ordinator was there waiting for me and I was whisked off in the darkness to my first host family. Upon reaching the house I was greeted warmly by all the family, but there was no electricity and only a couple of candles. “OK, well this is interesting and most definitely different!”
Quickly settled into the routine of bathing out of a bucket, sweating all the time and adjusting my routine due to the lack of electricity; I was well and truly out of my comfort zone. I am eternally grateful for being placed with the most loving and caring family within a local community who were incredibly warm and friendly and who helped to ease my transition. I am not going to say that it was easy, sometimes things were very hard and frustrating and on occasion there were tears. But for me, that was one of the reasons for coming to Liberia; being able to learn to dig deep, push through, feel the fear and do it anyway!
Being a white woman in Liberia has probably meant that I will have had a different experience to that of a white man. If you’re a white female you have to get used to being hustled by men pretty much every time you set foot out of the door. Having said that, the men/boys are not in any way intimidating, in fact they tend to be rather sweet, professing their love and marriage proposals. I never at any point felt threatened by these boys!
It can sometimes feel overwhelming setting foot outside of the door, but getting out and walking around the communities was without doubt the best part of my internship. Hearing their stories, seeing where and how they live, understanding the daily routines. My advice to anyone coming to Liberia would be to stay out of the cars as much as possible, get out and walk and engage with people. Do not be brusque; people here are doing everything that they can to survive. You will not be fleeced and I have had so much help from strangers; just be open to the experience and enjoy it!
Be prepared for a complete lack of infrastructure in Monrovia, it is really, really, really difficult to move around the city (another reason to get out and walk!). I only got a taxi a few times, the rush and pushing to get the last seat in an already overcrowded car was only ever a last resort for me.
The food is good, I don’t eat meat and that was sometimes challenging, but the street food was mostly veggie, cheap and delicious; my favourite was rice bread, yum! Fufu, an alternative to rice, is a little weird on its own but once you mix it with the gravy it gets a whole lot better!
To be honest, there is so much that I could write about…but I think that the only way to get a true sense of what Liberia is like is to visit. The ACIPP programmes provide a safe way to visit the 5th poorest country in the world. So go, go to Liberia and jump straight into a world that is both challenging and rewarding.
Oh Liberia…I leave a little piece of heart with you, and hopefully we will meet again…