She greeted me, her hand reaching back to touch my arm as she walked by. The younger one, lagging just a little behind her, hands occupied with bucket and basin for water, greeted me with a mumble I couldn’t quite understand.

“what?” I stopped and looked back at her.

“my mom died,” she smiled at me. “I need something to eat.” she pantomimed eating and giggled as she stared at me.

For my part, I faltered for a second. “I’m sorry,” I said flatly. “I’m sorry.”

And I continued on my way, looking back once to see her staring and giggling after me. Talking inaudibly to the girl who had reached out to touch me.

And I forsake a little bit of my humanity every time I do nothing. Like the aid worker who turned the woman away to be raped and murdered in the midst of the war, I turn and walk away from a little girl’s smiling need. I could buy her some rice, or give her 50LD. I could find out where she lives and make sure she is enrolled in school. She, one of hundreds, one of thousands.

And I cannot do for thousands and so I do not do for one.

And it kills a little piece of me, how quickly I turn away from her. From the little girl a few weeks ago who – without greeting me or smile -asked me for  $5USD, or the man who sweeps at the hospital who greeted me one morning with, “I cannot pay the children’s school fees.”

And there is an insecurity. A hardening. Despite knowing need beyond my intimate and experiential comprehension, there is a hardening in my attitude. A walling off. A distrust of kindness or affection. The question nags…what is expected of me? What is this kindness in exchange for?

Talking to a friend at the embassy, he shared his own…paranoia isn’t right…his own…reluctance to be open and trusting. For him it is the constant bombardment of women who want to be “friends.” but the friendship they are looking for has hooks, snares, outstretched hands, and no safe place to catch his breath. So he keeps to himself. Friendly enough but without kinship and sharing. Friendly without trust.

And friendship takes on a different tone for me here. Power dynamics inherent in any interaction between those who have and those who don’t. those who can and those who can’t – shift and morph and skew what should be simple.

An exchange of pleasantries. Laughter at regular intervals. But someone interjects, “take me to America” with an earnest expectation or drawls “where my Christmas?” in anticipation of gifts or money I don’t have, and the illusion of buddy or companion is dismantled. Kicked out at the knees.

And I have to be careful not to let those interactions overshadow the friendships I have made. The random acts of selfless beauty and kindness bestowed upon me every day…the “thank you for helping Liberia” from strangers, the dark walk home that is illuminated by a new companion, the invitation to dinner, the lift…The people who have carved out space in their worlds and affections to make tine for me…to make room for me, me with a million questions. My foreigner self in search of a friend; ceaselessly asking in my own greedy way.

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1 Comment on "where my christmas?"

  1. Jennifer says:

    Beautiful writing Linnea. I didn’t know you had left for Liberia. Your stories remind me a little of when I was in Zimbabwe a couple of years ago…not knowing how much to give, so many street kids everywhere begging…how do you give to one and not the next and the next, but then how do you live with yourself if you give none at all. it was a real dilemma for me while i was there.

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