I’m out of practice.

I’m out of the practice of living in a developing country. And Liberia feels so different from south Africa. Actually I’m unsure if it is really that different or if I’ve just forgotten or been spoiled. Life simply requires more from you here. From washing clothes to shopping in town…there is nothing quick. Today I found myself at Starbucks (the nickname the other volunteers have given to the junction at the main road that has money changers, small market stalls, and a special tea I haven’t tried yet) looking for a  cab.

K is seasoned at this and so directed us into a private car functioning as a taxi, four in the back seat and two in the passenger seat, and headed 15 or so minutes up the road. Swerving amid the potholes and honking at oncoming traffic. We were waved through the immigration checkpoint but were warned that sometimes it may be necessary to show our PC ID.

Dropped on the outskirts of town, we headed onto a side road toward an HIV/AIDS project run by the Lutheran church that K has been active with. Young men on motorbikes, some carrying passengers and others seemingly in search of them, craned their necks to get a look or beeped their horns and continued riding.

Inside we were greeted and exchanged pleasantries that turned to an exchange of awkwardness. One of the AIDS counselor trainees explained the training process and how she became involved.

She is HIV +.

Her disclosure then morphed into an explanation of her circumstances: before she knew her status, she got sick and her husband left, leaving her with her three children and the five children of her brother – killed during the war. Now she is without a job, sick, and looking for a better way.

The unasked question sat, clinging to each of us like the drops of sweat on our foreheads and arms. Would we help?

Unsure of the proper response, Bushdiva and I sat quietly, avoiding eye contact and watching K to see how she would field it. There was silence. And after the long pause she responded evenly and with compassion with questions about the woman’s plight. How are the children? What is she doing now? Silence followed the answers. Finally, K thanked the woman for sharing her story, reiterated that things are very hard, and commended her on all she was doing to help herself and her family.

And then she excused us to say goodbye to the reverend we had come to meet.

Outside, walking toward town with a UN VIP convoy kicking up dust to guide our way, we debriefed. There was no question of truth to her story – only in our ability to help her, and following her, every other person in Liberia with a variation on the same tragic story. For many, death and disease, abandonment and rape, are the backdrop this country is rebuilding on.

There are no easy answers. Giving money to individuals doesn’t solve the systematic ills that need to be righted to establish sustainable change. And so even conversation is hard here…

And so I fumble on, knowing that there is no pattern, no rhythm yet and recognizing that a part of me still expects there should be. I am not as fearless as I want to be in life. The pace of Gbarnga, though no bigger than a small town, throws off my equilibrium. And I must remind myself that I will eventually find my balance and the newness will be forgotten. Until then, I observe, I interact, and I search for my patch of sustaining Blue in the tumult of competing colors.

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