Arrival in Gbarnga – A Beautiful School

The flights from Boston-Washington DC-Brussels, Belgium-Freetown, Sierra Leone-finally-arriving-in-Monrovia went smoothly…starting with a minor departure delay and ending with a slight early arrival. I had a few fortuitous events along the way.

First in Boston…my three checked bags were all about 1.5 lbs. over the 50 lb. weight limit and the ticket agent let them slide by.

Second in Washington…my ticket indicated I was a proud member of boarding group 4 and the agents were requesting volunteers to check carry-ons since it was a very full flight and those with 4 or 5  boarding would most likely have their bags involuntarily tagged to go in the belly of the beast for later retrieval at one’s final destination. Having experienced the baggage handling mishaps that can occur en route to a developing country, the roller wheels on my carry-on began to shake in anticipation of being subjected to this fearful fate.  I decided to strike first.  I approached the boarding agent and offered to check my personal bag to Dulles ONLY since I couldn’t handle having it checked all the way to Monrovia. She kindly stated that due to government regulations, that would not be possible unless this was a “United Express” flight…which it wasn’t.  I explained my Liberian lost luggage paranoia and she said, “Why don’t you just come forward and go ahead with the priority boarding group so you’ll be guaranteed overhead compartment space.”  As Kathy would say…this only happens to Rossmans!  It felt like that luxury car commercial where the driver has  his own personal lane without any traffic or tolls to slow him during his commute.

Third in Brussels…I boarded the flight to find I was seated at one of those bulkhead seats in an exit row just behind the restrooms.  Normally this is a desirable location for tall people who need extra legroom but I don’t like the traffic –  and sleep interruption – as people come forward to use the facilities. I mentioned this to the flight attendant as people were boarding and she kept her eye out for an empty seat after all passengers arrived.  She grabbed me and pointed out two adjacent empty seats about ten rows forward.  I ended up in a more comfy spot and better positioned to exit when we arrived.

The LCL driver, Benedict, met me outside the terminal and drove me to the LCL Guesthouse in Monrovia where I enjoyed a good night’s sleep in the comfort of air conditioning – and my mosquito netting.  In the morning, I walked to the Royal Hotel to grab something for breakfast and a to-go meal to eat lunch on the way to Gbarnga. After a bit of food shopping at the ERA and Stop-n-Shop supermarkets, we were on our way by 11:00am.

The road all the way from Monrovia to Gbarnga is beautiful, save for the one landslide area that still hasn’t been repaired. Even the bridge that was bombed out by Charles Taylor and has been under construction for the last several years was finally completed.  The highway actually has some guard rails on it now!

We stopped by University of Liberia-Fendell to visit our friends at Lifewater that drilled the water wells.  Some of you may be aware that the University has been demolishing everything around the campus that it claims ownership of – from businesses and churches to residences.  The Lifewater compound has been in the bulldozer’s sites for months now and they’ve done everything possible to prevent it.  I met Lynda Gehrels (her husband Jim is the founder of Lifewater Canada that runs this Liberian operation).  She shared good news that after months of dealing with university leadership and Liberian government officials, a misdialed phone call got her in touch with the right person who informed her the compound would not be demolished.

Upon my arrival at Phebe Hospital, I went to the front desk to retrieve my guesthouse key.  Unfortunately, no one could find the key so I’m temporarily staying in a different guesthouse with two others.

Enough with the dribble about travel….let’s talk about the school!

Benedict dropped me off at Deanville and we parted ways.  My friends in the village rushed out to meet me, showering me with hellos and hugs.  The little kids started chanting “white man Jon” and jumping up and down.  After a brief visit, we all paraded through the village and made our way to the school site.  It’s looking great!  Here are a couple of photos of the exterior…more to come later in the week.

I looked with amazement at the nearly-completed buildings with their painted walls (inside and out) and screened windows.  Almost 1 year from my first days staring at 15 acres of overgrown bush and now – a beautiful school!

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