Liberia Study Tour, 2012: Reflections - Day One

 

Liberia Study Tour, 2012: Reflections - Day One

Posted on July 13, 2012 by Talia Taxman

Having arrived early in Monrovia, I feel kind of lucky to be one of the few to have slept off some of my jet lag, but also to have the chance to share some of my initial impressions with you all.

It was made clear from the moment we walked out through the sliding doors of Robertsfield airport that we were in a pretty different place. My mom and I were waiting for our driver at the airport, and we were trying to communicate with the security guard that we were traveling with American Jewish World Service. When we told him this, his eyes opened wide as he said, "Ahhhh, Jews?" as if he had never seen one in the flesh.

After a healthy dose of travel compounded by an hour and a half of waiting in the truck and another 45 minutes of driving, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were happy to have arrived at the hotel. Later that evening, the early arrivers shared a beautiful dinner and some of us sampled the local Club brew. And let me tell you, it really feels like you're growing up when you and your mom enjoy the beer so much that she whispers to you, "we can be drinking buddies for this trip." Even though you soon find that your moment of glory is only ephemeral when she quickly adds, "but don't get used to it."

And so began my stay in Liberia. I don't think many people my age can say that they got to spend a week in such a fascinating place. So I feel really blessed to get the chance to experience something like this, especially with my mother and with such an interesting and accomplished group of people. Already, barely even having left the hotel, I've experienced things that have helped me shape my impression of Liberia.

For example, on Sunday, when I was sitting on the beach I was approached by a group of young men who were all very eager to sell me their jewelry and paintings for what they made clear was "a VERY good price." And, even though he was a pretty pushy business man, I ended up having a great conversation with one of the boys named Tio. We talked for hours and we found that despite our dramatically different backgrounds, we actually shared a lot in common. We are both recent graduates from high school who share a passion for music and the arts.

Getting the chance to have an informal conversation with somebody my age from Liberia, to me, is one of the best ways to begin to form my own opinions about this place that I am eager to learn more about. And, Tio was equally as excited to learn more about my background. He wanted to hear all about our plans for the trip. In fact, Tio was very intrigued by our Shabbat dinner on Friday night, so don't be surprised if you see a teenage Liberian boy there asking for some grape juice and a piece of challah.