99 Days in Liberia
Why did you choose this particular country and organization?
I had been working on the Ebola crisis from a USG and DoD perspective in 2014/2015 tracking the impact on much of West Africa, with projections focusing on a range of economic and security issues. When a friend first told me about the potential opportunity to come to Liberia, I was immediately interested as my primary regional knowledge base for the continent has been the Horn of Africa. I was intrigued to learn more about Liberia from the post-conflict perspective, as it still bears much of the scars of the civil war. I was also curious to see firsthand the cultural impacts of Ebola and what improvements had been made in the health sector. Finally, I was interested in understanding how the influx of international NGOs had affected the ongoing development work in the country, and what the outcomes of the Ebola media attention and funding were looking like on the ground.
Although I had not previously heard of Last Mile Health, when I learned of this opportunity I began researching the organization. I found op-eds, media mentions, and read through the organization’s history of and motivation to provide health in the last mile. I was impressed by Last Mile’s outreach and dedication to the overlooked and underserved. Additionally, I was excited to see how Last Mile employed and enriched the lives of Liberians working in and around the organization. Ultimately, I recognized that this position and organization offered me a unique opportunity to make an impact, learn about a new sector and region, and have a variety of new experiences along the way.
What is the best day you had on your trip?
The best day I had in Liberia was hiking through Lower Yarnee District in Rivercess County. I was out in the field to observe and record our recruitment activities for new Community Health Workers (CHWs) in Rivercess. I was with a team of expats and local CHW supervisors and we were hiking through a notoriously remote area in the county. In the two days we spent conducting recruitment activities, we hiked nearly 25 miles through Liberian jungle. Our group experienced Liberia’s finest rainy season downpours, waded through jungle swamps and rivers, crossed single log bridges, and we were met with the sight of villages that were miles and hours away from any government infrastructure for health. The journey was arduous and tremendous, made all the more memorable because we hiked with local staff members who would walk some of these distances regularly in order to provide care to these communities.
Show us a picture of your favorite food. What is it?
Liberian pepper (pronounced pepe) isn’t so much a vegetable as it is a staple of every meal. It is the Tabasco, ketchup, and even salad dressing of Liberia. I’ve asked coworkers and cooks what kind of pepper this is and the closest they can come up with is chili pepper. I had Liberian pepper my very first day in Liberia, with pumpkin soup and drumsticks – this is before I had the opportunity to learn about such delicacies as bush deer and hedgehog, or experience the ubiquitous chicken feet that are so often cooked into Liberian soups.
But back to the pepper. Most cooks here transform this dried out pepper into a pepper sauce that looks like a salsa, smells a bit like relish and tastes nothing like either. It’s served with every single meal, regardless of the type of cuisine and it is oftentimes already added to the food. Just a thumbnail sized portion is enough to bring to life a spoonful of food and the only cure to a burning pepper mouth is a plate of plain rice. It seems fitting to Liberia that there simply is no mild form of this pepper.