I am on my way to Liberia, Africa for the first of what will likely be many trips. I have been hired as an agricultural consultant by an American humanitarian non-profit organization and my job when I arrive in Monrovia is to scout potential locations for a commercial medicinal herb farm and wellness center for war-affected women and children. I will survey 4 or 5 different sights to determine agricultural suitability, obtain soil samples to be sent back to a lab in the US for testing, and most importantly, network with locals and Liberian agricultural specialists to gather support and form partnerships for our project.
Having left Vermont at 2pm yesterday afternoon I am now in the Brussels Belgium airport with approximately 5 hours to kill until my flight to Monrovia. I blew through a non-fiction book I bought in Vermont about an ill-fated sailing trip from New York to Bermuda that I literally could not put down. This helped distract me from the uncertainty of what lies ahead but now I am just left with my thoughts and the distraction has been replaced by the reality that I will be landing in Monrovia, one of the poorest cities in the entire world in about 12 hours. So far every person I have interacted with in Belgium has seemed very unfriendly and some downright rude. Whenever I approached someone to ask them a question such as "Is there wireless internet available?" "Where is gate 117?", "Is there a fee for riding the bus to the Africa departure gate?" etc, etc, the first question they ask is "Where are you from?" to which I reply, the United States. The uniform reaction is a rude chuckle as if to say "stupid American" or something to that effect . I tried to buy a coffee with my American money at two different counters and they both looked at the money and laughed. Neither could tell me where I could change some American currency to Euros. I think I will just sit here for a while and try to kill time by writing and reading and preparing mentally for the next 6 days. I can imagine there are some really nice people in Belgium somewhere, perhaps on my way back through in a week I will give them another chance before I form a bias about Belgians. So far, the only saving grace about this airport is that they have vending machines that sell 16oz. Stella Artois. Too bad I have no Euros and too bad there aren't beer vending machines in the US.
I am now flying over Morocco. I managed to sleep for a few hours in the Belgian airport in a quiet corner of the terminal and am feeling re-energized. From the air, Morocco appears otherworldly like the surface of a distant planet. Huge, rugged mountains plunge to the dessert with hues ranging from White to black and then from brown to beige, orange and then red all surrounded by desolate looking expanses of sand dunes so large that they are visible from the 36,000 foot altitude we are currently flying. This huge jet is only about half full so I have the advantage of a whole row of three seats on the left side of the plane all to myself. I see other people with their own rows all around me laying down stretched out sleeping on three seats which looks pretty comfortable but I just can't take my eyes off the ground below. The earth appears so peaceful and beautiful from here but the reality on the ground in this region tells a different story. I have no idea how far I can see to the east from this vantage point but I know that Libya and Egypt aren't all that far off relatively speaking and there it is far from peaceful.
Are we Americans and the "coalition forces" really going to go in there and try to get rid of gadhafi like we did Sadam Hussein? Ahhhhh, perhaps this explains the rude treatment by people who learned of my nationality in Belgium. We have certainly made quite a name for ourselves in the world's view. I just hope that in Africa, the people see me for who I am, a humanitarian coming with an open heart to try and help their people grow profitable medicinal botanicals and recover from the aftermath of years of civil wars. I am certainly not going to be waving the American flag while I am there though.
For the last two hours I have been trying to finish "The Poisonwood Bible", a novel that is historically pretty accurate about a Baptist family living in the heart of the Congo during the early 1900's. I have only gotten through about 10 pages in these two hours because I am just completely mesmerized by the Sahara desert stretched out below me as far as the eye can see. The sand dunes look just like waves, like the views of the Atlantic ocean I had between North America and Africa only now the same landscapes that were previously azure blue have been colored light beige. I keep waiting to see some feature, some oasis or mountain or sign of life, anything but the desert, but the sand here is so vast that the desolation seems endless. I am growing more nervous by the hour contemplating my arrival but I just have to keep repeating my self-assurance mantra, "Trust that if you come with an open heart that the people will welcome you" The shadow side of my conscience keeps echoing in the background "What the hell did you get yourself into? You have a wife and child and a farm back home to attend to" I miss my family intensely already and it is only day two.