What is it about Africa that causes its visitors or temporary residents to fall so deeply in love with this continent? I hear it over and over again. The words of love echo from the first Peace Corps volunteers who landed in Liberia in 1962 to the newly returned volunteers in 2020 (post-civil war, post Ebola). I have heard it from the round-the-world travelers who spent time in Africa and said it was their favorite place on earth. Not until I wrote my memoir, In Search of Pink Flamingos, did I actually understand it. May these excerpts guide you through my process.
Part III, Chapter, Tragedy to Affection.
“In my first five months in Liberia, human birth and death were now a part of my life. The political future of the country was yet unknown. I witnessed the tenacity and strength of life juxtaposed with the fragility and fatefulness of loss that can be out of one’s control—so many hard lessons that can never be acquired from a textbook. Through these experiences I discovered my small village wanted me and cared about me. Zorgowee began to feel like home. I became a part of the Zor Clan, its people and the culture. To me and many who felt its love, Zorgowee became affectionately called Gowee. And so, from that time forward, Gowee was its name.”
Part V, Chapter, My Salvation.
“My self-inflicted despair seemed minuscule compared to the daily difficulties of the people in Gowee. The thin fragile line between life and death rarely seemed to affect the value of their precious existence. The villagers easily found happiness with rice in their belly and a roof over their head. Their resilience was remarkable. I had so much more to learn from my people in Gowee.”
Part V, Chapter, Diamonds and Near Death.
As the flames flickered, serenity overcame me. I sensed a connection to the hardworking villagers and their simple lifestyle. Their bond with nature and love of family resonated within me. It was that night my love for Liberia and its people grew deeper.”…..
…“Weeks after my recovery [from a deadly illness] I came to an ironic conclusion. Sitting around the fire with the villagers in Gorton was the day I fell so deeply in love with Liberia. That was the same day I came closest to my own death.”
Part VII, Chapter, Difficult Choices.
“For two years the villagers of Gowee became my African family, especially Martha, Rita, and Clara, including Sami—the family who loved and accepted me the way I was. Our lives bonded when I ate rice with them by hand from one common bowl and when I held the baton of the tall devil. By the full moon I danced with my people to the sound of the talking drum...
…I carried a baby on my back while I walked through my village. Martha and Rita plaited my hair so I looked like them. I nearly died, at least once, from a tropical disease. One infant boy in the village was named after my dad. Sami’s daughter was named in my honor, but she died before I could hold her. In those special moments, I became one of them. There was no other place I would rather have been than Gowee.”
Despite the multitude of hardships I witnessed, that at times pierced my heart, the love for Africa and its people is something special, unique, boundless, and unrestrained. At the young age of twenty I learned the meaning of an unfettered love. My final words in this chapter captured it perfectly…
“My deepest pain also held my deepest love; of course, Africa will always be my first love.”
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