10 February 2008

We are Fine-O

Here we are. After a mind-numbing series of flights, we have finally arrived in Monrovia, Liberia.

The first thing that hit me was the smell. In a good way. As we stepped off the plane and onto the shuttle bus, I was hit with a solid whiff of rainforest. Clearing immigration was a chaotic jumble as people jostled their way to one of two wooden desks to have their passports stamped. And then we huddled for a long while in a holding area waiting to collect our bags from a makeshift tent.

In truth, this has been one of the easiest border crossings we have made this year. 30 other crew members were on the flight with us, and due to the good repute of Mercy Ships, we were waved quickly through customs. We were transported from the aiport to the dock by a team of staff members, and were ushered up the gangplank to the Africa Mercy where a hot meal and clean sheets awaited us. We slept knowing that the blue helmeted UNMIL soldiers were out there to keep us safe.

The next few days for us will be about figuring out our role here. Transitioning from tourist to employee of a NGO is going to be tricky. Do we bargain with the locals, and if so, how hard? Do we wear our ID badges when we go into town? Who is a tout and who is just being friendly? Then there is sorting out how it is to live in close quarters with your work colleagues. Perhaps one of the reasons New York holds such an attraction for us is the comforting anonymity the city bestows. Here solitude seem impossible. However, the strong sense of community has been a true blessing. We've met kindred spirits frank and sincere, all ready to "spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed..."

We are approaching our approaching our uncertainties with an open mind. Up until now, life has encouraged us only to ask the question, "What do I want?" Here, part of what we have to learn is how to submit to the needs of others. Whether what is needed is something as mundane as scrubbing floors or as exotic as diagnosing cerebral malaria, we want to approach our work here with equal joy and enthusiasm. Perhaps what stood out to us in our short time here is the number of volunteers who have given up lucrative and prestigious jobs back home to work as support staff here, whether it be in the cafeteria or maintenance. May we also have their humility as we face the days ahead.

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