Graduation Festivities

Friends – 

Me with some Gbarnga friends

As I reach my one month anniversary in Liberia, I’m shocked at how quickly the time has progressed. It feels like yesterday that I was back in the States getting pumped full of travel vaccinations and beginning my bumpy adventure with Malaria pills. Although each day here brings new experiences and discoveries, I feel that I have begun to settle in. While I am continuously learning and gaining a better understanding of the Liberian people and their culture, I am much more a part of everything now, rather than just an outsider. I can navigate the market without getting clipped by a crazy motorist, recognize the food I’m eating, understand Liberian English MUCH better, and set up a portable mosquito net in record speed (in the dark!). One way that I know I’m really fitting in is that the little children of Gbarnga chase after me as I walk to the market and, instead of screaming “whitewomanwhitewomanwhitewoman!!” they now know and address me by name (handing out Werthers candy really facilitates a solid introduction). 

 If anyone has the opportunity to venture to Africa, I suggest you coordinate your visit with the World Cup. It’s truly an exciting experience. Although we generally don’t have power in the evening to watch the games here, we have been venturing into town on motorbikes at night (also an awesome experience on bumpy African roads under a wide open, crystal clear African sky) to pubs and video clubs (I have started calling them “sweat huts”) where dozens of village people gather around a small television to enjoy Liberian beer (actually not too shabby) and cheer on their favorite teams. While Liberia doesn’t have its own soccer team, Cameroon and Ghana seem to be the teams of choice here. Oh, and the USA, but I can’t tell if it’s just when I’m watching J. 

Cunningham University graduation ceremony


Last Sunday I attended Cunningham University’s graduation ceremony, which turned out to be a wild experience. Cutnningham is one of the few universities in Liberia (I think there are only three—all very small by U.S. standards) and is located a few miles from Gbarnga center. As one can imagine, very few people have the means to attend college in Liberia. The fourteen year civil war stopped everyone in their educational tracks and, as a result, people have only recently resumed their education, and are often years behind. The government only subsidizes primary education, and therefore high school and college are rather expensive and very few get the chance to pursue their education past middle school. 

Needless to say, you can imagine how big a deal it is when one of the universities holds a graduation ceremony. Not only does the entire surrounding community celebrate, but Liberians come from all over the country to partake in the festivities. Everyone dresses in their finest and parties all day following the ceremony. I was able to stand under the giant tent in which the graduation ceremony took place, but there were no seats available for attendees other than the graduates and their families. I stood for a couple hours, which was fine, but it also began to downpour (and I mean African storm style) at the beginning of the ceremony, which made for some serious crowding under the tent and a very leaky roof. Cunningham’s own president was the speaker (it was supposed to be the ambassador to the U.S., but she had retreated back to the States to seek medical attention for an illness). I have to admit that I was a bit surprised when he spent virtually the entirety of his speech reviewing the university’s financial hardships (I mean, who announces upcoming lay-offs and program cuts at a graduation?!) and defending his own reputation, which had seemingly come under attack in the press. Needless to say, it was a very interesting speech. 

Graduation party


Following the ceremony, some of the DEN-L folks and myself crammed into a van and high-tailed it to a graduation party, which consisted of African dancing, food, drink, and all-around merriment. Little did I realize that this was the beginning of a looooong night. While in the U.S. people seem to merge grad parties so that you only have to attend one or two in a night, the Liberians each have their own parties and you are expected to attend every single one that you’re invited to. Of course, this means that you can feasibly only stay between five and fifteen minutes at each. We must have made an appearance at a dozen different fiestas that night! By the time we returned home I was EXHAUSTED. Those Liberians really know how to party hard, I tell you. 

 I am now preparing to leave this afternoon for another week-long workshop in “the bush”—this time with the Civic Action Program (CAP)—which will focus on peacebuilding and good governance. Stay tuned! 

In peace,