Friday, March 9, 2012

Liberia: Unfamiliar and Familiar



I have just returned from my fourth trip to the continent of Africa, and third to the country of Liberia. All my visits have been one month or less, so basically I’m still figuring things out.

And as a rookie, my observations, impressions, and reactions are all over the grid, hundreds every hour, as I process reams of external stimuli and the internal responses they produce. I take in smells, sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and most of all, interact with people.
One side of my brain is telling me that like no other place I have previously traveled or lived, Africa is my opposite. These cultures, more than any other I have attempted to interface with so far, are the farthest from my own. Things I hold important, like promptness, clarity and exactness, are almost non-existent. Things I shy away from, like loud challenging verbal exchanges, are a part of everyday life.

But the other side of my brain keeps seeking and finding that common thread of humanity seen in every culture around the world. Good parents desire to give offspring a better life, mothers work hard and worry about food prices, men discuss politics, kids are all over the place, noisy, into everything, and always hungry.
And then, there are a couple of places where things really make sense to me.

The first is in church services. Here most things are familiar, whether they are in my language or not. Worship with singing and instruments, the giving of tithes and offerings, the message from the Bible, and yes even the inevitable boring announcements. Most of all I sense God here, a familiar Presence lingering in the middle of the heat and noise, reminding me He is the same God in Liberia that He is in Texas.

The second place of familiarity comes when I listen to women. When I dialog with midwives and with women who are expecting, I find amazingly common themes and issues to those that I deal with every day in America. When I ask the TBAs (Traditional Birth Attendants) what they worry about most, they tell me they are afraid of getting blamed if there is a death at an out of hospital birth they attend. When I ask women why they would stay home to give birth instead of coming to a clinic or hospital, they tell me it’s because they are scared they will get operated on, don’t like being separated from their loved ones in an unfamiliar environment, and shy away from rough treatment by clinic staff.

So while on the one hand I struggle to understand and adapt to a society totally different from my own, on the other hand I experience relief and confidence as I discover that under the culture there are needs and desires that are familiar.

Ones I know how to meet.

Liberia has much to teach me. And I now I know, with greater clarity, that I have something to offer Liberia too.

Sounds like a match, O.