About three weeks ago I overheard Bukky outside talking to our former driver, Andrew. I suddenly realised that I could understand everything they said, when I couldn't understand a word he said when I first got here.
In other words, the last week in Liberia consisted of first times and premieres.
Tonia is Liberian too
Like Tonia's arrival. For the first time I realised that she's not only Dutch but also Liberian, the way she talks, the way she eats (not a morsel of meat remains on that chicken bone). It isthe first time I can recognise what "Liberian" is.
It is special to share our experiences. with Tonia. Because of what she experienced, she has a different perspective on the country and its history than an 'objective' outsider could. She still sees the relative stability as fragile; you only need to have one group that's hostile to another, and the potential for escalation has been created
Burglary and beach
And we had the first burglary. Well, attempted burglary. With a long stick, pushed through a window, they tried to steal a handbag. They weren't successful, but it was still exciting. They also tried to break in at Tonia’s dad's house, after Tonia had been seen there with a plastic bag. Where there are "white" people, there's money to be had.
The highlight of our last weekend in Liberia was undoubtedly the family excursion to Ecolodge, a beach resort where you can sun bathe on the beach or at the pool, can swim in a lake and enjoy a delicious lunch. Because of the Harmattan, a dusty wind from the Sahara desert, it's unfortunately not very sunny, so no one has any reason to be jealous of our tan.
Goody bags, good food, and lots of glue
And then of course there are the launch and graduation on December 8th. The preceeding days consisted of preparations and stress, making goody bags for the most important guests with the kids club, for example, where Roos and I realise how little these kids actually get to craft things. They find it very difficult to be creative, and don't easily reach for the craft supplies set out for them on the table. And when they do, the volunteers quickly call them to order: use it sparingly, don't stiekem take it home. It's not really strange because these things were all brought from the Netherlands, and when it's finished, it's finished. But the kids do eventually warm to the task, and especially glue and glitter turn out to be favorites. The results are colourful.
Every evening, the MF kitchen is filled with trainers and trainees working hard to have all the food ready before the 8th. It's great to see how everyone is committed to making this a success. The day before the launch, we too join the people making overhours, essential because the team meeting, also on that day and really essential, we can't start our preparations until in the afternoon. Roos and I made labels for the soap we will be exhibiting and for the products in the goody bags. We do a lot of glueing and packaging. Thankfully one of our trainees has a soft of laminating machine that she uses for her own soap. She and the trainer, Moses, now use it to package our soap, which he made on Friday. Extra gorgeous and extra scented of course.
Our speakers are here, but where are our guests?
The launch. We're up at 5 am. There's no light, so we "shower" in the dark. At 5.45 am we head towards Monrovia Christian Fellowship, where our event will be held. A lot still needs to be done and not everything proceeds smoothly, but around 10am, the starting time for our event, we're ready to receive guests. The banner's up, LAUNCH MINEKE FOUNDATION 2015 & GRADUATION CEREMONY OF VOCATIONAL TRAININGS in bright colours, and we are at the ready with our lists to mark off guests as they arrive. The first speaker, William Dennis from the Business Start-up Centre, is already there so we can begin.
But there are no guests. Quarter past 10, and no one. Liberian time, right. But the UN Women speaker arrives - Ndiaya Awa Seck, the country director herself, who hadn't been sure she could make it. We do not want to make her wait long, because she has other commitments. Luckily some guests trickle in and at 10.30 we decide to just start. While William speaks more and more people flow inside.
Eventually, we had about fifty people in total – with one person staying longer than another. Less than had registered, but enough to call it a successful event.
If only because of the big names: UN Women, IMF, Deputy Minister for Instruction, and as icing on the cake, the Minister of Gender herself who acted as keynote speaker.
Or because of our Kid's Club delegates who did a fantastic job. They look elegant and they are not shy. Before they hand out the goodie bags they carry out a mini-presentation which they learned by heart and sing their own Kid's Club song - we are the young achievers, we are the future leaders. I immediately believe them.
Or maybe it was the 'exhibition' of our soap and our pastry. Brightly colored laundry soap, green liquid soap, bags of white powdered soap. And of course large bowls full of pawpaw pie, donuts and various types of cookies, breads and cakes. All of these are in great demand.
Singing, dancing, and smiling
We are very happy, and a little tired, but we don't have time for that as it's soon time for the second part of the program: the graduation. The approximately 75 trainees 'march' in with music, with loud cheers and dancing, wearing MF t-shirts. Along the procession people are filming and photographing, and the trainees beam as if they were celebrities.
The trainees are addressed by Bukky, Tonia, her father and several Dabwe Town delegates. After they have received their diploma - symbolically, at least, they will get the real diploma a few days later - it's time for photos. Or rather, lots of photos. Tonia, Bukky, Roos and I end up standing for half an hour to smile at dozens of cameras with our arms around dozens of trainees, both known and unknown.
Time for rice, chicken and cooling down. Our feet are tired but our minds can still handle a couple of things, and at home we look at the pictures. We are proud. Of our trainees and trainers who have worked so hard, not only the day before the event, but for months. Of Tonia, who has put established something beautiful in Liberia. Of Bukky who works hard every day to put MF on the map.
The last day
And then, the last day. One last time to breakfast with rice. One last time to play with Daniel. One final time to close the office. And pack suitcases.
While we are mashing potatoes – we're cooking a Dutch supper for the final meal - the light suddenly switches on. Thank you LEC! A Liberian gift on our last evening.
The Liberian customs is less well-disposed towards me. After we've said our goodbyes - not fun at all - we are dropped off at the offices of Royal Air Maroc, where we eventually travel to the airport with a van. When our temperature is measured and put on a sticker on our passport - long live Ebola - and after our luggage has been checked in manually (they don't do computers here), customs points out that I was only allowed to be in the country for 15 days, according to the stamp on my passport. My visa said three months, but they took that from me on arrival. Roos had the exact same visa, and it states 30 days on her passport - so it's completely random. I say that I did not realize that it said 15 days – and that´s true, because the stamp is so vague that you can not read the word 'days', only '15' which is written in pen. The man sighs and shakes his head, telling me that I 'm breaking the law, while he passes my passport to his colleague who stamps it. I'm allowed through.
When I'm singled out at boarding to open my suitcase, from which MF soap is removed which, for unclear reasons I'm not allowed to take with me, I have just about completely had it with Liberia.
I miss Liberia
But it is short-lived. On the way from Casablanca to Amsterdam, Roos and I see a cockroach in our plane. Whether we brought him with us or if he just wanted to remind us of what we're leaving behind, I don't know, but I have reached the point that I miss even him.