Saturday, June 9, 2007


I’m sitting in the Houston airport, about to return to Connecticut after three days of condo-hunting. I am now officially the property of Baylor College of Medicine and will be starting med school in July. I will re-emerge in Spring, 2011 with more letters after my name (I never really liked the implications of ‘Eleni Benson, B.S.’) and much less money than I have now (farewell, mere poverty; hello, insurmountable debt).

It’s been three weeks since my departure from Monrovia. I’m completely unjetlagged, I’ve washed the Africa out of my clothes and I’ve taken my deworming pills (they’re not just for dogs!), but I still get a rush from jumping in the car to drive anywhere I want without telling anybody, or going for a run without turning around every 400 meters when I come to the end of a UN-guarded dock, and without expecting everyone I see to pull out a knife and ask for my ipod.

Stepping off the plane onto the Gatwick Airport tarmac in London felt like Dorothy’s arrival in Oz. The cool, lucid air gave me a light head after months of labored breathing in the 4390857849% humidity (maybe it was less the air itself, more my frantic lamaz-ish breathing to soak it all in). Once in the airport, I was dizzily overstimulated - the lights weren’t only on but they were bright, the stores took credit card, there were white people, lots of them, who didn’t work for NGOs or the UN, and all the people were just so… beautiful... I suddenly felt very lame in my missionarious formal attire – my best pink wife-beater, black sweatpant capris, and once-upon-a-time white socks and sneakers, stained red from too much soccer in the African dirt (missionarious is a term we coined to describe what missionaries wear). Contributing to my feeling of lameness was the fact that no one told me I was beautiful or asked to marry me, and not a single little child tried to touch my hair or hold my hand. Cue plummeting self-esteem.

My trip home involved some six plane flights, four countries, two weeks, and 387 relatives visited, giving me plenty of time to digest my experiences in Africa and providing a sort of buffer to my transition back to real life (or maybe less real – who’s to say). Here are my resulting thoughts, outlined illegibly in a notebook on the airplane tray table:

My time in Africa was an incredible sojourn into a world that I never knew existed. Africa is a world where organizations like Save The Children, World Food Program, World Vision, UNICEF and Samaritan’s Purse are no longer just different brands of sappy commercials with the requisite large-eyed skinny black kids, pleading for your support and probably prompting a quick channel change. In places like Liberia, these organizations are for many people the difference between life and death. I met a 16-year old girl at the Fatima Orphanage who would not be alive today had Save The Children not found her starving on the streets with her little brother – both her parents died, one in childbirth and one in the war - and placed them in the orphanage, where their food was mostly supplied by the World Food Program.

Africa is a world where spiritual affairs are acknowledged just as much as physical, and I think that this is something from which Western cultures, including the churches therein, are so far removed as to be unhealthily focused on the physical (i.e., materialism). Driving through the market one day, we were stuck in some traffic (probably waiting for cows to cross the street or something) and a man came to my window and said, “You are from the Mercy Ship. Your ship is good, it is physically and spiritually powerful. No demon can stand before your ship.”

If someone said that to me at home I’d probably sniff for the alcohol on their breath, but in Liberia, where the spiritual world is very much a part of everyday life, it was a profound thing to hear (I know it was profound because I got goosebumps). Animistic religions there call heavily on demonic powers, and there is much evidence for successful channeling of these forces, which manifests itself most horrifically in the sick brutality of war – mutilations, cannibalism, etc. On the other hand, the Christian church in Africa is generally very much aware of what it is up against, and calls heavily on the Holy Spirit and God’s angels to fight for and protect it. This is one thing that the African churches have right: It’s hard to fight a battle if you don’t know it’s going on, and I think that here in the sanitary, scientific West, Satan’s biggest victory must be in convincing us that he doesn’t actually exist. I think perhaps our churches could benefit from a slightly more African awareness of the world between what we can touch.*

War-torn Africa is a world where life is hard. Death often comes early and is difficult to evade without basic medical care. Tragedy is routine, and it’s difficult to find anyone in countries like Liberia who isn’t eligible for some sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Physical labor has yet to be replaced by technology, so everything is done by hand, from scrubbing laundry on a rock in the river to transporting water into the capital by wheelbarrow. Jobs are scarce and require elaborate networks of connections, education is too expensive for most, and there is no infrastructure to support and rehabilitate the impoverished masses. Justice is just beginning to re-emerge from the ashes, but the jails are still full of innocent men who have never been on trial while crimes perpetrated on the streets go unreported and unpunished.

And yet, though hopelessness seems to prevail, a vibrant culture survives. Through the Monrovian streets wallowing in trash and sewage, elegant women glide with slow, stately steps that can only result from a lifetime of balancing their burdens on the tops of their heads. Though it may be the only outfit they have to their name, the vivid colors and intricate patterns of the lapas tied proudly around their waists are mesmerizing against the dark background of their graceful skin. Together, they are a beautiful collage of colorful grace that speaks hope into this broken place; and that is how I will remember Africa.

Thank you so very much to each and every one of you who supported me with your finances, emails, thoughts and prayers. I am incredibly blessed to have had such a network of friends and family standing behind me for this journey! My understanding of the world and of the scriptures has been challenged, and my faith has been strengthened. I hope that through this journal I may have also given you a glimpse into a world not your own, with all its tragedy and beauty.

God bless you!

*see Ephesians 6 for more, I probably shouldn't have tried to tackle that subject in a paragraph...

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Life Aboard

As the Anastasis is slated to begin its final sail for the ship graveyard within the next few weeks, I thought this would be an opportune time to describe life aboard, sort of a monument to a unique culture on the brink of extinction (tear).

The Anastasis is a world all its own. A young land-based missionary in Liberia, jealous of our amenities and comraderie, labeled it “floating Europe,” and proceeded to take every opportunity possible to come aboard and fraternize. Because the ship docks in countries with minimal infrastructure, it is almost completely self-contained, with everything the crewmembers need: A post office, health clinic, Starbucks-stocked coffee bar (woohoo), hair salon, bank, water purifying system, large kitchen and dining room, library, seamstress, and a state-of-the-art satellite system with (relatively) speedy internet and a U.S.-based telephone exchange. The ship is air-conditioned (usually), with running warm-water showers. It really is a rather cushy life, especially compared to what our land-based missionary friends endure. Poor things.

That said, it is an old ship. It has been in operation for over fifty years, first as an Italian cruise ship before its conversion a hospital ship. Things go wrong. The air conditioning breaks and we start to think the outside air is “refreshing”, cockroaches periodically triumph in battles with the housekeeping department, some of the toilets have seen their final flush and are completely out of service, and sometimes we’ll hear announcements like: “Anyone with a bucket, please report to C1 as soon as possible” (C1 is where I live; that was an actual announcement heard two nights before my departure when a pipe on the water tank broke off).

We also have to deal with the realities of whichever country we are in at the time. In Liberia, for example, water is scarce, so we were on water restrictions for a good portion of our time there: One-minute showers and one load of laundry every other week. As you might imagine, this leaves little room for vanity or personal hygiene: People smelled, and could be seen wearing the same outfits for days on end (or maybe that was just me). Liberia was also just coming out of a prolonged state of war, and was extremely dangerous, so we weren’t allowed out on our own. There was a strict 11:00pm curfew, which we struggled to make on several occasions, pulling up to the ship at 10:58 to the tune of Chariots of Fire (a throwback to high school – if Dad had any idea how fast I drove to make those curfews…).

I think that the culture of the Anastasis is most defined by the fact that it houses about 300 crewmembers from over 30 different countries, all living within 300 yards of each other. There are some nice big cabins reserved for important people and families in the upper decks, but most everybody else lives in tiny cabins with up to five other crewmembers. “Intimacy” takes on a whole new meaning: Nothing is sacred, not even your digestive habits, as there are only a few restricted toilets on the ship that aren’t reserved for “liquids only”. You have to sign out with a destination every time you leave the ship, so there’s really nowhere to hide (favorite pastime: Studying the signout sheet to see where everyone is, and with whom). When you get a phone call, an announcement over the PA tells you to dial 151 and the people around you cheer, then later they all ask you who it was. Budding romantic relationships are impossible to keep private (this not from personal experience, unfortunately), which I imagine can be frustrating, but it’s also a good thing in that it forces partakers of such romantic ventures to be deliberate and honest in their intentions – 300 other people holding you accountable has that effect.

Mercy Ships is a volunteer charity (as you all know from that time I begged you for money) and as such, there are things to deal with that other hospitals and NGOs don’t face. There is an incredibly quick turnover of staff, so there is a constant need to train newcomers and adapt to the way new people do things. We also have to conserve everything, as supplies aren’t readily available in the West African countries that we serve – if I had a nickel for every time I washed and re-sterilized equipment with a prominent “do not resterilize” label, I could pay for a year of Medical School. Unfortunately, the kitchen is forced to reuse everything as well, i.e. food, and we’ll often see the same meat four or five days in a row in various casseroles, quiches and stews. I do applaud the chef’s ingenuity; it often took me all the way until the end of a meal to realize we had just eaten a different version of the previous three days’ leftovers.

With so many very different people working hard together in such tight quarters, there is a sizeable potential for conflict. While there were little tiffs and dramas that broke out, however, I was shocked by just how little drama there is, largely as a result of the shared Christian faith uniting the crew members. There is a common spirit of grace and forgiveness that takes into account one others’ imperfections, allowing for bad days and bad attitudes and providing supportive encouragement. There is no better way to end a fight with someone - while maintaining and even strengthening your relationship - than to ask forgiveness and pray together for humility (and yes, that is from personal experience).

Living in this Christian community was an incredible experience, and with all the different cultures present, I honestly think it may have been a sort of microcosm of heaven (except in heaven the rooms are bigger). Surgeons are friendly and humble, they thank you for scrubbing blood off the instruments they use, and actually care about your answer when they ask how you’re doing. People do things like fold your laundry, clear your plate after a meal, and send encouraging notes (with cookies!) if they think you’re having a bad day. I often found myself wondering why my friends were being so nice.

Life on the Anastasis is difficult to put into words. It isn’t perfect by any means, and it tries one’s patience to no end, but living there has taught me many things about tolerance, grace, and friendship – and I already miss it dearly.

*Final batch of pictures:

Monday, May 14, 2007


(that’s Liberian for goodbye)

Five months have somehow passed me by, and my (embarrassingly huge) bags are all packed to leave Liberia in less than an hour! I’ll be stopping in Greece, Scotland and London on the way home to visit friends and relatives (and to make sure the Greek islands are still there – you never know), and I will be back in Connecticut on May 30, at which time I’ll tidy up this blog and post some more pictures. I’ve come to love it here and will miss it dearly, but I won’t pretend I’m not looking forward to a chicken ceasar salad and fresh milk, and seeing everyone at home, especially Homer (I find I miss Homer more than anyone else –sorry Mom – I think it’s because he’s hard to talk to on the phone, or communicate with via email; it’s hard to type without opposable thumbs).

Goodbye-o Mercy Ships! Over and out :)

Saturday, May 12, 2007


(That title is meant to be sung, so if you don’t know the tune to which I refer, then just…well…I dunno, ignore it or something, and get yourself some culture for goodness’ sake)

This is a very exciting time to be on the Mercy Ship. The ship on which I am currently working, the Anastasis, has been in service since 1979. It is a classy ship – every time I walk onto the dock and its elegant white hull comes into view, I can’t help thinking how beautiful it is, in both its design and in its function – but it has served its purpose, and is slated to sail next month for some Asian ship graveyard where it will be scrapped.

A newer, bigger ship – called the Africa Mercy – has been in the process of conversion from a rail ferry to a floating hospital for quite a long time now, having been delayed in its departure from English shipyards by about seven years for various logistical and technical reasons. The waiting time has been an emotional and spiritual trial for many people involved, turning plans upside down for entire families and necessitating superhuman patience and flexibility. Finally, to the tune of a collective sigh of relief, the ship set sail for Liberia last week, and will be here by the end of the month.

The final surgeries on the Anastasis took place last Wednesday, and it was a privilege to be a part of the historical day. I did my traditional annoy-the-surgeon routine and poked in to watch Dr. Parker perform the last of 25 years of surgeries on this ship, a routine cleft lip repair. We now have a little over a month to pack up the ship and prepare to move everything across the dock to where the Africa Mercy will berth when it arrives (two weeks after I leave – bummer).

The day after surgeries ended, Thursday, we had a mass screening day in order to fill up the surgery schedule for the Africa Mercy, once its operating rooms are up and running. Screenings are usually done at the beginning of an outreach when we first arrive in a country, but we didn’t know until after the outreach started that we would be allowed to hold one in Liberia – for the past two Liberian outreaches we weren’t allowed to because of the security risk involved when large groups of people gather in unstable countries (I used to think that was silly, but after being here it makes perfect sense; fights break out over less than nothing).

The screening was held at a large stadium in the middle of Monrovia, and information was disseminated through posters, radio and word of mouth. A few nurses went at around midnight the night before to start turning people away whom we definitely couldn’t do anything for; most of the people slept at the stadium anyways, as it’s too dangerous in Monrovia to travel in the middle of the night. When the rest of the crew arrived in the morning, the line was long but manageable: A disturbing array of massive tumors, shrivelled limbs, facial deformities, bullet wounds, and disfiguring burn injuries, often endured for years in quiet desperation. Many of these people have spent a good deal of their life hidden from view in shame and embarrassment, only brought out of hiding into a brave position of public vulnerability by the hope of being freely restored to normality.

Patients were pre-screened at the entrance to the stadium, and only sent inside if there was a good chance that we could help them. They snaked through an assembly line of nurses taking histories, surgeons examining their various ailments, and lab tests to determine fitness for surgery. If they were lucky, they received an appointment card at the end, with a date for them to come to the ship for a surgery. The final station was a prayer station, where they could receive prayer whether or not they had an appointment, if they so chose.

My job was to usher people from the prayer station to the exit. Many of them had either come to the stadium the night before or very early in the morning, and were exhausted, so that the completion of the long-awaited process released a flood of emotion. Those with appointment cards clutched them jealously, reciting to me the date on which they would return, at times crying tears of relief. Of those whom we were unable to help, some were frustrated, many seemed too tired and resigned to be upset, and still others were somehow incredibly grateful despite their situations, praising God and joyfully thanking us for even trying.

No matter their state, each person who walked with me through the stadium had been wounded more deeply than I can understand by forces beyond their control, either from the war or from the rampant poverty and lack of healthcare resulting from the war. To listen to their stories of endurance and suffering was intensely saddening to be sure, but also in a way inspiring: The human spirit can endure far more than we give it credit for, I believe, and if these people can find joy and resilience after all they have been through – some at the hope of pending relief, but others for seemingly no reason at all – then perhaps our concept and expectation of joy is quite a bit smaller than it should be.

More pictures and an official article (what, mine isn’t good enough for you?) can be found on the Mercy Ships website.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Taste of West Africa... five true short stories:

Hospitality: One evening, a few of us girls were trying to go out for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant on the other side of Monrovia. We happened to be leaving at the same time as one of our OR translators, Vicky, so she flagged down a cab for us all to share and haggled with the driver for a decent price. When she asked us how we were getting home, we told her we would just take another taxi. Concerned, she said to wait for her outside the restaurant after we were done; she showed up right on time in another taxi, came with us all the way back to the ship (about 20 minutes), and then finally took another taxi home for the night. It made me think – my thoughts went something like, ‘oh how nice of her; I would NEVER even THINK of doing that. Is that bad?’

To the point: Conversations with Liberians are notably bereft of euphemisms. If I miss a free kick in a soccer game, the fans say, ‘You play bad. Why?’ If it’s someone’s birthday soon, they say, ‘It is my birthday. What are you going to give me?’ If I have a zit on my cheek, they say, ‘Your skin is bad!’ And if I gain a few pounds (ok maybe more than a few), my soccer captain tells me, ‘You look two-month pregnant. With triplets.’

African Time: Last Sunday, I was supposed to meet up with one of my Liberian teammates at 2pm at the gate to main road to go see her house. My friend Kristen who works on one of our construction teams was supposed to meet a hired worker at the gate so that she could teach him how to read English, also at 2pm. And another crewmember, Renee from Guinea, was waiting for a friend that he had met who wanted to come tour the ship – also at 2pm. The three Mercy Shippers arrived at the gate promptly at 2. By 2:30, Kristen and I assumed our friends weren’t coming, so we went back to the ship, but Renee, being West African himself, stayed to wait longer.

At 4pm, I saw Renee arrive at the gangway with his visitor. We later discovered that Kristen’s visitor had actually come, but at 8 that morning. My teammate just plain old never showed up. None of us was particularly bothered, or surprised; this, my friends, is African time.

Friends: It’s very easy to make friends here. When you meet a Liberian, they will shake your hand with a finger snap at the end (hard to describe – ask me to show you when I get home), ask for your name, tell you their own name, then tell you that ‘You are my friend’ (often followed by a marriage proposal or a request for contact information). This Sunday, I went to a local church that I had never been to before, the Jamaica Road Evangelical Fellowship. I sat next to a little old lady bursting with energy, who led a church-wide dance party during the praise and worship; at the end of the service, she handed me a piece of paper with her name and address. A few minutes later, a man with a tailor shop told me that I should come by next week so that he could make me a dress. And on my way out, another woman asked me if I am married (no) or if I have a fiancĂ© (no), because ‘I like you for my son.’ All in a day’s church service…

Remembery: I’m often amazed at how well - and for how long – the people here remember the things that we tell them. I think it may be a consequence of simplified lives, minus the over-stimulation to which we technologified people tend to expose ourselves.

One example: All the UN soldiers wear these distinctive powder blue baseball caps that I’ve been coveting since I got here. Five weeks ago, I had a sudden flash of inspiration while walking by the Ghanaian UN soldiers who guard our gate, and asked if there was any way I might be able to get my hands on one of these hats. One of the guards, Seidu, told me that he would try to get me one next time they were being issued, and asked for my name so that he could bring it to me. I gave him my name while thinking ‘yeah right, great talk, seeya again never!’ and 30 seconds later had moved onto more important thoughts (probably something along the lines of, ‘mmm, fried plantains taste gooood…I wonder how they would taste with ice cream…mmm, ice cream tastes gooood…).

Two days ago (five weeks later!!!), I was paged to the gangway – and imagine my surprise when there was Seidu, immensely proud of himself, holding a brand sparkly new powder blue hat in a bag with my name on it!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Suffer the Little Children...

The children of Liberia have suffered dramatically for the atrocities of preceding generations. Unknown numbers of children were orphaned, abandoned or separated from parents or relatives during the war. The lucky ones lived, and now the orphanages are overflowing.

Bowie Buverud is a crazy Norwegian welder/biker/bus driver with wild curls and a braided beard who has led efforts with other crewmembers to sort of adopt the Fatima orphanage, located just outside Monrovia on a beautifully fertile plot of land. The orphanage is run by an elderly woman named Mother Young, who rules 180 children with an iron fist (it’s incredible, really – she raises her hand and the place goes from deafening to deathly silent). Like the rest of Liberia, Fatima is a place that reeks of sorrow mixed with hope. Although many of the children are true orphans – often either from the war or from AIDS - a good number of them were simply abandoned by parents incapable of feeding them. We’ve been visiting the orphanage on Saturdays to spend time with the children, and a girl named Signa who was here last year went home to Norway and raised enough money to start building a dining hall and latrine; an agriculture project has also been started, so that eventually they will be able to grow some of their own food.

Mother Young is an amazing woman who has devoted her life to loving and caring for these children, but she simply has had no resources to work with and as a result the conditions in the orphanage are horrendous. 40 boys sleep in one room the size of my senior year bedroom at Yale, three or four to a musty, urine-soaked mattress. Keeping the children fed is an endeavour of faith, and although they receive some food from an NGO, the delivery is sporadic and they never know if there will be enough for the next day. Many of the children have obvious health issues – skin diseases, umbilical hernias, crossed eyes, and facial disfigurements. One of them, Jimmy, came to the ship last week for a hernia surgery, but he is the exception, and most of them will go untreated.

Most Liberian orphanages face the same difficulties as Fatima, and to compound their problems, the government and some international agencies are now attempting to implement stricter regulations for orphanages. This means that many of them are in danger of being shut down (‘shut down’ means they can’t receive food shipments or any other form of help from NGOs or the government) because of poor conditions and the high proportion of children who have living parents or relatives who theoretically should be able to take care of them. This might make sense in a completely detached hypothetical way, but in reality the relatives – if they can be found - have no interest in acquiring another mouth to feed, and the poor conditions are impossible to overcome without adequate funding (rock and hard place?).

To hold the children after hearing these things and seeing how they live is to invite emotions that will change you forever. They have nothing in the world save the ratty, wreaking clothes on their slim backs, and maybe a pair of flip-flops (often broken). Mother Young and her panel of fellow matriarchs (all dressed in white and named Elizabeth) do love the children indeed – but the women are getting old, and there are just too many children. Not surprisingly, the kids are starved more for affection than they are for food. As we drive up in the Mercy Ships Land Rover, village children start running beside the car and word of our arrival reaches the orphanage before we do. They start chanting Bowie’s name – BO-WIE! AH-AH-WEE! – and crowd around the car, a sea of white teeth and wide eyes. Searching hands reach out for ours, they stroke our skin and pet my hair, fingering the Greek Orthodox cross around my neck, hungry for loving touch.

Sometimes we’ll play games with them, like soccer (or a variation thereof, i.e., kick the ball and chase it, try not to trip over kids or bushes) or Miss Mary Mack, if I can remember the words (you know you’re old when you’ve forgotten the words to Miss Mary Mack). One time Lucy and I learned how to cook pepper soup from some of the older girls (I’m SO good at pounding hot peppers with a stick, you have no idea), and last Saturday the children took us down to their ‘creek’ where they all wiggled out of their clothes as if they had caught fire and dove in before we knew what was happening.

Most of the time though, I’ll just sit, holding them on my lap and simply being with them, which I think is what they crave the most. When it’s time for us to leave, they get a little quiet and their faces fall, and as we drive away I always feel as though a piece of my heart has broken off and been left behind.

"Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" - Mark 10:14

Note: In response to the dire situation of many orphanages in this country, some ex-Mercy Shippers have actually moved to Liberia and started a group called Orphan Relief and Rescue (; although there are only five of them, they’re doing what they can to help – take a look!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bong Mines (and more pictures)

There aren’t very many options for weekend outings here in Liberia, so we have to get a little creative. One of the most popular Saturday trips amongst the Mercy Shippers is the train trip up to the Bong Mines.

The Bong Mines are up country about a 3 hour drive, or 2 hour train ride. The area used to be home to iron mines and a massive electrical plant that supplied all of Monrovia and the surrounding towns, until about 17 years ago when it was attacked at the beginning of the war. They (either the rebel forces or Taylor’s people, can’t remember) wouldn’t allow the operators to put it on bypass, so all the machinery promptly broke and nothing has functioned since.

The train from Monrovia to the Mines, however, is back in operation, making the trip once a day and carrying some small cargo. The last time the ship was here, some of the crewmembers got to know the guys who operate the train, and started a new fad of taking Land Rovers on the flatbed cars up to the Mines. So, last Saturday, I joined a group of 20 or so other crewmembers in an early morning trip to the train tracks, where we drove the Land Rovers onto the train, climbed up on the roofs, and settled in to watch the country go by.

The Liberian countryside is a lush green jungle dotted by typical Africa villages – a few huts in a clearing, connected by footpaths. Most of the people we saw waved as we rode by, after an initial look of confusion to see a bunch of white people on top of cars, on top of a train; the children usually shrieked and ran towards us, arms flailing wildy. We were also waved at by some women taking their bucket showers outside, and a gentleman in the middle of doing his business by the side of the tracks – people are very comfortable with their bodies around here. There was a noticeable lack of wildlife in the jungle, which I was told is attributable to the prolonged war – not because ‘all the animals left during the war’ as one girl put it (I can just see them, a long solemn line of animals refugees fleeing the violence), but more likely because they were eaten during the widespread food shortages.

Bong Mines itself is an eerie place. The colossal skeleton of the power plant sits in a vast valley, stripped bare of everything but its steel frames. The mines have filled in with water, making two or three crystal clear lakes. It was next to one of these lakes that we parked the Land Rovers, unloaded our picnic lunch and set up a tent to shield us from the sun. The whole area seemed dead; the air was still and heavy, and there was nothing alive in the water except for some gray mossy plant-type stuff (I’m sure that was alive – it even tried to eat me a few times, and I only narrowly escaped with my life.) We also found it much harder to swim there than in a normal lake, though I’m still trying to figure out the physics of that (any ideas?).

Despite the unnatural aura of the place, it did have a striking beauty, and we had a lovely time. I spent most of the day in the water, floating around on noodles taken from the ship’s pool and jumping into the water from the surrounding cliffs (ok everyone else jumped, I mostly just floated). On the way home my friend Kristen and I further confused the locals, as if they weren’t already confused enough by the whole white people/Land Rover/train thing, by playing the ipod game most of the way back, which consists of sharing headphones and finding songs you know the word to so you can shout them at the top of your lungs.

All in all, the trip was a great way to explore some of the countryside, understand better why exactly there is no electricity around here (and won’t be for a while), and enjoy some ironic beauty in the midst of Liberia’s ruins.