The long process of planning was over. February 13th arrived with a snowy New England greeting — coating the driveway sufficient to remind us what season is still in charge. Our friend, DJ, kindly picked up Marsha, Kathy and me in his extended cab truck with more than enough room for us, our 6 checked bags, 3 carryons, and 3 backpacks. After weighing and re-weighing to make sure they didn’t exceed 50 lbs., the moment of truth came as we made it through checkin with minimal content redistribution. We made it through TSA pre-check quickly and settled in near our gate for a light lunch at Legal Seafoods.
Kathy and I were seated on our first leg to DC next to a woman, Siah (pronounced: SEE-yah), from Sierra Leone who became our impromptu travel companion. She reminded me of a West African version of my paternal grandmother. Overall it was a rather uneventful series of flights. We arrived late into Brussels, but were blessed by landing at Gate D3 and departing for Monrovia from Gate D5 so no need for a sprinting connection.
Our old friend and reliable driver, Saah, met us at the airport. The new terminal building is complete and looks like a western small-city airport except for the requirement of being scanned for a fever and washing hands before entering — reminiscent of the post-Ebola days yet stemming from current fears of the corona virus entering from China. Some baggage carriers whisked us through customs without sending our luggage or bins through scanners or further inspection.
After a good night’s sleep at the LCL guesthouse, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Royal Hotel. Saah packed up the Toyota while I walked to the Orange cellphone provider office to investigate why my phone wasn’t connecting to the network. Despite using the same SIM card for five years, my card was deactivated. A simple card replacement and computer registration update and I was back in business with my same Liberian cell number.
Mr. Saykor, the hospital administrator for Phebe Hospital was in Monrovia and hitched a ride with us. We were off to Gbarnga and took the opportunity to interview our captive Mr. Saykor about healthcare, Liberian life, and culture. After a brief stop in Kakata for a little walk and exchanging of Liberian dollars, we were back on our way to Totota. Arrangements had been made to join Linda Seyenkulo at her home there for lunch. She made a delicious meal of Kwee ground nut soup with chicken (over rice of course) which we enjoyed in the shade of a palava hut.
Our greeting at GLTC was full of excitement as people realized one of the women guests was my wife — a well-kept surprise. The crowd of students and familiar faces from the community formed an aisle for us to drive through as they sang and threw rice at us. We were ushered into a classroom for a welcoming program of signing, signing, and more singing! About a dozen of the smaller children were dressed in traditional clothing and tribal makeup, adding to the festive greeting.
We toured the campus afterwards and spent time unpacking suitcases, bins, and previously shipped boxes containing everything from soccer balls and T-shirts to medical supplies and food for our stay. Kathy played a game of handball with Moses while Marsha chatted with Annie and Amelia. With dusk approaching, our guests departed, allowing us time to prepare dinner, shower, and enjoy a game of cards on the porch. The evening temperatures dropped affording us a cool first night at the guesthouse.