Saturday, October 04, 2008


I spent several years living here. I remember eating, studying, playing with friends, playing with the cat, reading, exploring the jungle, burning termite mounds with gasoline, stepping on a mamba, working in the maintenance shop (fruitlessly trying to explain to the manager that he had the hinges wrong on a cabinet), shooting rice birds, watching tree frog tadpoles develop and escape, wandering and wondering--the usual things boys do. I wasn't (and still am not) a crowd person, and there was generally room to be alone.

That was almost two generations ago. Last year's visit was a whirlwind. We couldn't stay--our driver had a son in the hospital and as soon as business was done we could only allot a few minutes for sightseeing. The campus was much smaller now that I was grown, and far more crowded, and much run-down--the war had not been kind and neither had the tropical sun and rain.

I'd had some naive notion of showing my daughters where I'd grown up, but even the roads had shifted. I could have searched out some spot and tried to recollect what had been, and tried to describe to them the vistas now obscured by trees and new buildings and laundry. By the side of a road that doesn't exist anymore I used to watch tadpoles in a puddle, and heaved in the largest chunk of quartz I could find to see how far the splash would go. The pond filled in but left two inches of sharp stub sticking out above the dirt--my little mark on Liberia. It may be there yet, but I doubt it--the road was regraded in a new location before it was abandoned.

Even if there'd been time to explore, to try sightseeing through my memories would have meant trying to ignore the new people and new scenes. That would be a strange way to show Liberia to my kids: "Don't look at what's here, look at what used to be here." Better for us all if it is a completely new country, with a few people I used to know.

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