Sunday, November 18, 2007

About Loneliness

Talk about loneliness
I had never socialized much with the larger community of American residents of Liberia. For the most part they were either with the embassy or employed by an embassy satellite like USAID or a multinational corporation like J.P. Morgan Chase or the accounting firm Price Waterhouse (before Cooper) and they were paid in American dollars, which meant their incomes more than quadrupled mine. Most of my social life was with low to middle income Liberian Nationals. Occasionally one of my well-connected American friends toted me with them to a party in the home of someone that had friends in the Liberian Community and in the foreign community. There was Virg a former Peace Corps Nurse and Kava a friend of mine who taught at the American School and I don’t remember how, but somehow I managed to have a friendship with Gloria the US Ambassador’s secretary. We would sit in her gorgeous high rise apartment across the street from the embassy and chit-chat over snacks and wine. I was her insight on what Liberia was really like since 95% of her time was spent on the embassy hill.

One of my more memorable experiences in Liberia was actually shaking hands with Maya Angelou. Ms Angelou was at the cocktail party of a Liberian doctor and his American wife and I was crashing the cocktail party with Kokava a friend that taught at the American School and her husband Massiehoo. When I saw her that night so tall and statuesque she absolutely sucked all the air of the room and took my breath away. We stood at the back of the room during the reading but then Ms Angelou rose and began shaking hands with other guests I was drawn towards her and then somehow my hand wound up and her hand and I was muddling something inane like I read “Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and loved it, as if everyone in the known world hadn’t. She graciously smiled on my and it felt like warm sunshine, truly.

I also met Nina Simone in Liberia. Betty [ last name] threw a party for her at her home. Nina was exiled from America at the time for income tax evasion and was going to Amsterdam to sing. At the time she sang and played the piano a little and sang one song but she seemed as though she was recovering from an illness. Her friend Betty that had once been a jazz singer, and had married into the Tolbert Family and bought a fleet of garbage trucks that had contracts with the American and other foreign embassies. She had a compound that was quite lovely and I saw her socially several times a year at her home or parties thrown by someone close to the embassy. I was on the periphery of the “in crowd” because all I really wanted in life was to make a difference in Liberia and educate my children. I really didn’t place much importance on friends, at least not then.