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Home to Liberia - by Ike Wilson

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  • Charles S. Neal, III
    Home to Liberia Familiar places, faces and food Originally published January 23, 2011 By Ike Wilson News-Post Staff Photo by Ike Wilson Zoe Wilson dressed the
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 13, 2011
      Home to Liberia
      Familiar places, faces and food
      Originally published January 23, 2011

      By Ike Wilson
      News-Post Staff

      Home to Liberia
      Photo by Ike Wilson


      Zoe Wilson dressed the kids in Christmas garb.
      Before we left stateside for our four-week vacation in Liberia, I was disappointed that the Transportation Security Administration folks deprived me of my opportunity to utter my well rehearsed, "Sir, check me all you want, just don't touch my junk."
       
      Instead, we sailed through security checks at Dulles International Airport. That has never happened before -- even traveling domestically. The red light always goes off and we are always pulled aside for additional scrutiny. Then again, my siblings will tell you I do look suspicious.
       
      My wife, Zoe, came prepared: no wire bra, belt, buckle or jewelry. She had sworn this time she was going through unhampered, and she did.
       
      The flight to Brussells was seven hours with a four-hour overlay. The second leg was 61Ú2 hours to Liberia. The return trip was worse. We had a six-hour overlay in Brussells. By the time we landed, we needed a vacation from our vacation. We were exhausted.
       
      Making matters worse, the seats were cramped. Are they making those airplane seats smaller or am I getting fatter? No calls, siblings. I know. It's the latter.
       
      Long, intercontinental flights should offer more wiggle room, especially at ticket prices ranging from $1,200 to $2,200 per passenger.
       
      The flight to Brussells offered me a lesson in the adage: "Don't judge a book by its cover." I was about to give the flight attendant a failing grade because of the unfriendly expression he wore as we boarded the plane. He didn't come to the passengers' aid as they struggled to fit their carry-on into the overhead bin. I flashed him my winning smile and got a frown in return. In my book, when you're in a customer service job, the first thing you need to work on is a welcoming, winning smile.
       
      "Flight attendants don't look like they used to anymore," Zoe said, referring to him.
       
      A couple hours into the flight, I engaged him in conversation, and he was only too happy to talk about his 35 years as a flight attendant and looking forward to retiring in one year. He turned out to be a nice guy. Before we landed, he came by to tell us, "You guys are good customers." What if I hadn't gone the extra mile to befriend him? Why should I always have to be the nice guy?
       
      The captain landed United Airlines flight 950 as if the Boeing 777 was a feather. It was the smoothest landing I'd experienced in a long time. I led the applause.
       
      A 24-hour sauna
       
      Four weeks in Liberia can best be described as being in a 24-hour sauna. Cold showers didn't help. Profuse sweating ensued seconds after exiting the shower.
      I tried to cool off with chilly palm wine -- a whitish drink from the palm tree with about 30 percent alcohol. Liberians affectionately refer to it as: "From God to man," reflecting its natural state. Old Man Mully supplied me with fresh palm wine daily. Family and friends drank beer. After a week of palm wine I concluded it was making me warmer. Switched to beer. I was on vacation, darn it!
       
      Zoe handled the heat much better than I could. Didn't wear most of the clothes I carried. Most of my days were spent in tees and shorts. Thank heaven she packed a good supply. We attended two weddings, a 50th birthday party, the Rotary Club International's annual Christmas ball, visited many family and friends, and attended a couple of new business openings, including Liberia's first drive-through restaurant built by my boyhood friend who relocated to Liberia to open a small construction firm after many years as an architect for the New York City Housing Authority.
       
      I turned down other invites because I didn't want to dress up in all that heat, opting instead to enjoy the countryside, fresh air, fresh food and, thanks to my wife who dragged me along, some long walks -- in the heat.
       
      Then again, I had to walk off all that food to reload later.
       
      The human body is amazingly adaptable. Liberians don't break a sweat dressed in a suit and tie even in temperatures soaring between 90 and 100 degrees.
      We enjoyed staying in Virginia, my wife's hometown, about eight miles from Monrovia, where clean air was plentiful. We were awaken at 5:30 every morning by Mother Nature's clock -- a symphony of crowing chickens joined by twittering birds. It was annoying, but beautiful. No one could ignore this one bird in a tree near my window. His loud tweets were close to irritating. At one point, I was tempted to go out and show him how good my aim was with a stone.
       
      Two high points for us, hands down, were the children's Christmas party we hosted and eating affordable, organically grown foods directly from gardens, and seafood caught daily from St. Paul River and the Atlantic Ocean nearby.
       
      Eating off the land
       
      We had to remind our hosts that we were from America and had no interest in eating American fare. Bless their hearts, they thought they were doing us a favor by trying to prepare American food. For the next four weeks, we wanted to relive the way we grew up -- eating off the land, and we did.
       
      We ate chickens that only moments ago were pecking about in the yard. There were papaya (called paw-paw in Liberia), bananas and avocado (called butter pear) ripened on the tree and, oh, so sweet pineapples! Why don't the pineapples in America taste like that?
       
      We lived in a compound with about six houses, each with its own garden. Everyone tried to please us with produce from their gardens and cooked dishes. We were there during the crawfish season and being near St. Paul River, we indulged. The thinking was, we can't afford daily servings of fresh crawfish in the states, so why not pig out?
       
      Family members in the states had sent some money for the Christmas party for about 50 children in the neighborhood. We were warned to prepare for more. At least 200 children who had nowhere to go for Christmas and nothing to do, or even a good meal, showed up, many in their Sunday best. The women in the compound prepared the food and we were happy everyone was fed. A disc jockey provided music and some of the kids competed in a dance contest. Some even left with small gifts Zoe had bought from Goodwill and other discounters and shipped months ahead in barrels. We felt like Santa Claus.
       
      Zoe knew what to expect. She traveled laden with pain pills and other over-the-counter drugs that came in handy as visitors came by complaining of aches and pains. Even the Pepto Bismol came in handy for me one night after too much seafood.
       
      I told her the Liberian government could have her arrested for dispensing so much medication without a license.
    • Rupel Marshall
      Charles, this is well written and informative article by IKe. Hope it gets to several other print media including Liberian newspapers. I enjoyed reading it.
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 15, 2011
        Charles, this is well written and informative article by IKe. Hope it
        gets to several other print media including Liberian newspapers. I
        enjoyed reading it.
        Rupel

        >>> "Charles S. Neal, III" <csnealiii@...> 3/13/2011 2:38 PM
        >>>








        Home to Liberia
        Familiar places, faces and food
        Originally published January 23, 2011

        By Ike Wilson
        News-Post Staff











        Photo by Ike Wilson


        Zoe Wilson dressed the kids in Christmas garb.










        Before we left stateside for our four-week vacation in Liberia, I was
        disappointed that the Transportation Security Administration folks
        deprived me of my opportunity to utter my well rehearsed, "Sir, check me
        all you want, just don't touch my junk."

        Instead, we sailed through security checks at Dulles International
        Airport. That has never happened before -- even traveling domestically.
        The red light always goes off and we are always pulled aside for
        additional scrutiny. Then again, my siblings will tell you I do look
        suspicious.

        My wife, Zoe, came prepared: no wire bra, belt, buckle or jewelry. She
        had sworn this time she was going through unhampered, and she did.

        The flight to Brussells was seven hours with a four-hour overlay. The
        second leg was 61Ú2 hours to Liberia. The return trip was worse. We had
        a six-hour overlay in Brussells. By the time we landed, we needed a
        vacation from our vacation. We were exhausted.

        Making matters worse, the seats were cramped. Are they making those
        airplane seats smaller or am I getting fatter? No calls, siblings. I
        know. It's the latter.

        Long, intercontinental flights should offer more wiggle room,
        especially at ticket prices ranging from $1,200 to $2,200 per passenger.


        The flight to Brussells offered me a lesson in the adage: "Don't judge
        a book by its cover." I was about to give the flight attendant a failing
        grade because of the unfriendly expression he wore as we boarded the
        plane. He didn't come to the passengers' aid as they struggled to fit
        their carry-on into the overhead bin. I flashed him my winning smile and
        got a frown in return. In my book, when you're in a customer service
        job, the first thing you need to work on is a welcoming, winning smile.


        "Flight attendants don't look like they used to anymore," Zoe said,
        referring to him.

        A couple hours into the flight, I engaged him in conversation, and he
        was only too happy to talk about his 35 years as a flight attendant and
        looking forward to retiring in one year. He turned out to be a nice guy.
        Before we landed, he came by to tell us, "You guys are good customers."
        What if I hadn't gone the extra mile to befriend him? Why should I
        always have to be the nice guy?

        The captain landed United Airlines flight 950 as if the Boeing 777 was
        a feather. It was the smoothest landing I'd experienced in a long time.
        I led the applause.

        A 24-hour sauna

        Four weeks in Liberia can best be described as being in a 24-hour
        sauna. Cold showers didn't help. Profuse sweating ensued seconds after
        exiting the shower.
        I tried to cool off with chilly palm wine -- a whitish drink from the
        palm tree with about 30 percent alcohol. Liberians affectionately refer
        to it as: "From God to man," reflecting its natural state. Old Man Mully
        supplied me with fresh palm wine daily. Family and friends drank beer.
        After a week of palm wine I concluded it was making me warmer. Switched
        to beer. I was on vacation, darn it!

        Zoe handled the heat much better than I could. Didn't wear most of the
        clothes I carried. Most of my days were spent in tees and shorts. Thank
        heaven she packed a good supply. We attended two weddings, a 50th
        birthday party, the Rotary Club International's annual Christmas ball,
        visited many family and friends, and attended a couple of new business
        openings, including Liberia's first drive-through restaurant built by my
        boyhood friend who relocated to Liberia to open a small construction
        firm after many years as an architect for the New York City Housing
        Authority.

        I turned down other invites because I didn't want to dress up in all
        that heat, opting instead to enjoy the countryside, fresh air, fresh
        food and, thanks to my wife who dragged me along, some long walks -- in
        the heat.

        Then again, I had to walk off all that food to reload later.

        The human body is amazingly adaptable. Liberians don't break a sweat
        dressed in a suit and tie even in temperatures soaring between 90 and
        100 degrees.
        We enjoyed staying in Virginia, my wife's hometown, about eight miles
        from Monrovia, where clean air was plentiful. We were awaken at 5:30
        every morning by Mother Nature's clock -- a symphony of crowing chickens
        joined by twittering birds. It was annoying, but beautiful. No one could
        ignore this one bird in a tree near my window. His loud tweets were
        close to irritating. At one point, I was tempted to go out and show him
        how good my aim was with a stone.

        Two high points for us, hands down, were the children's Christmas party
        we hosted and eating affordable, organically grown foods directly from
        gardens, and seafood caught daily from St. Paul River and the Atlantic
        Ocean nearby.


        Eating off the land

        We had to remind our hosts that we were from America and had no
        interest in eating American fare. Bless their hearts, they thought they
        were doing us a favor by trying to prepare American food. For the next
        four weeks, we wanted to relive the way we grew up -- eating off the
        land, and we did.

        We ate chickens that only moments ago were pecking about in the yard.
        There were papaya (called paw-paw in Liberia), bananas and avocado
        (called butter pear) ripened on the tree and, oh, so sweet pineapples!
        Why don't the pineapples in America taste like that?

        We lived in a compound with about six houses, each with its own garden.
        Everyone tried to please us with produce from their gardens and cooked
        dishes. We were there during the crawfish season and being near St. Paul
        River, we indulged. The thinking was, we can't afford daily servings of
        fresh crawfish in the states, so why not pig out?

        Family members in the states had sent some money for the Christmas
        party for about 50 children in the neighborhood. We were warned to
        prepare for more. At least 200 children who had nowhere to go for
        Christmas and nothing to do, or even a good meal, showed up, many in
        their Sunday best. The women in the compound prepared the food and we
        were happy everyone was fed. A disc jockey provided music and some of
        the kids competed in a dance contest. Some even left with small gifts
        Zoe had bought from Goodwill and other discounters and shipped months
        ahead in barrels. We felt like Santa Claus.

        Zoe knew what to expect. She traveled laden with pain pills and other
        over-the-counter drugs that came in handy as visitors came by
        complaining of aches and pains. Even the Pepto Bismol came in handy for
        me one night after too much seafood.

        I told her the Liberian government could have her arrested for
        dispensing so much medication without a license.
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