Healthy Soul

New Year’s Day 2012 – Arrival in Monrovia, Liberia

January 1, 2012. I started the New Year touching down in two countries on two continents in one day. Belgium, Europe and Liberia, Africa. The airline travel has been completed. I am settled in the Royal Hotel, Tubman Boulevard, Monrovia for a few days until the road trip to Harper begins.

The United Airlines flight

Our United Airlines flight from Washington, DC arrived in Brussels 30 minutes early. The aircraft is one of the new fleet. Seat monitors are all touch screens and the offerings are expansive: several categories of movies with multiple choices within each category, documentaries, reality TV, kids’ programming, and games. I was quickly frustrated by both the solitaire and word search games because it took me several “touches” before any moves would be executed.

Royal Hotel, Tubman Boulevard, Monrovia, Liberia.

Royal Hotel, Tubman Boulevard, Monrovia, Liberia.

I was excited however, to customize a jazz playlist that included John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, The Average White Band, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. While it was disappointing to see that there were only two options in the world music category, it was great to be able to personalize what I was hearing. Impressive also was the audiobooks option that allowed me to listen to some short stories.

The bathrooms were larger than what I usually see and at least one in each cluster of three had a full length mirror on the door and offered enough room to get dressed. The seats in economy class were wider, but still don’t recline far enough for a comfortable night’s sleep. I was in seat 31B and had a wonderful conversation with a consultant from Eritrea working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in one of Liberia’s northwestern counties – the geographically opposite direction from where I will be.

Across from me, in the middle section, were two rows of four seats each reserved for the crew. After the meal service was completed I saw them pulling out pillows and blankets then disappearing behind the secured privacy curtains. The seven hours went pretty quickly. My specially ordered Asian vegetarian meal was couscous in a tasty vegetable sauce with real (I think) chunks of zucchini and carrots. That made me happy.

Getting from Terminal B to Terminal T is by bus across the tarmac. It runs every 10 minutes. The driver is very punctual and friendly.

Getting from Terminal B to Terminal T is by bus across the tarmac. It runs every 10 minutes. The driver is very punctual and friendly.

Brussels Airport

At 6:00 a.m. after a seven hour transatlantic flight on a trip that began almost 12 hours before navigating from one terminal to the next did not appear easy. All flights to and from the Brussels Airlines 21 destinations in Africa arrive and depart from Terminal T. Flights to and from the rest of the world arrive and depart from Terminal B. Getting to Terminal T from the gate our flight arrived in required climbing a ramp that twisted and turned up three flights, walking across several gates, then making our way down another three flight ramp to get the bus to Terminal T. The Air Brussels representative informed us that there were fewer food and shopping options in Terminal T. Wow – a five hour layover with limited options provided. Seating wasn’t very comfortable, but my Kindle and I spent lots of time together. I listened to New York Times Correspondent Helene Cooper’s autobiographical The House at Sugar Beach about growing up in the pre-war Liberia.

At one point I reached for my phone to call friends and family back in the USA but put it away immediately as I recalled the conversation with the T-Mobil technician. He recommended not using my cell phone while in Europe because the charges would be $15.00 per MB for data – email and texts – and $1.59 per minute when making or accepting calls. The airport did not offer any free Wi-Fi access. Vouchers for internet access can be purchased at vending machines. All prices are in euros, and, as reminded at the smoothie bar, the exchange rate for the US dollar is not good. Change from the $20.00 given to the sales person for one medium smoothie and a bag of veggie chips is three euros.

Welcome to Liberia, Roberts International Airport.

Welcome to Liberia, Roberts International Airport.

Brussels Airlines to Monrovia

Several passengers on the Washington, DC to Brussels flight were connecting to the Brussels Airlines flight to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire that was stopping in Monrovia, Liberia. The conversations were fluid and easy. They were returning home for a myriad of reasons – enjoying leisure time after working for many years in the USA, tending to family business, death of family members, USA based-entrepreneurs with establishments in Liberia. I had a long and very informative conversation with Dr. Michael Slawon, Director-General, Liberia’s National Commission on Higher Education. There was a retired couple from Washington state on their way to teaching assignments at the Hope Africa University in Bujumbura, Burundi.

The aircraft provided seating for 265 passengers, but there were only 164 of us so we were able to spread out, lift handrests that divided seats and be prone for a pretty comfortable sleep most of the 6 hours. When I wasn’t sleeping I finished listening to The House at Sugar Beach. From it I am now aware that the use of the word “native” to describe a Liberian means that person is a descendant of the indigenous peoples, not a descendant of the freed Blacks who came from the USA to settle there. Clearly I need to learn a lot more about the political, historical and multi-cultural components of this complex society.

Helicopters for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Will I be lucky enough to get a ride from Monrovia to Harper or is the 14-28 hour road trip my fate?

Helicopters for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Will I be lucky enough to get a ride from Monrovia to Harper or is the 14-28 hour road trip my fate?

My first glimpse of the shore line forced a gasp. The smooth landing elicited spontaneous clapping from the passengers. Several rows of white helicopters on the ground announced the presence of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). I smiled as the mobile stairs came into sight. I’m thinking the last time I used mobile stairs to disembark outside onto the tarmac was 2002 in Cuba.

Dr. Elizabeth Carbajosa, VP, Academic Affairs, Tubman University.

Dr. Elizabeth Carbajosa, VP, Academic Affairs, Tubman University.

And then I saw my name, being held high  by Dr. Elizabeth Carbajosa, William V. S. Tubman University’s Vice-President of Academic Affairs with whom I’ll be working. There was lots of assistance to get my three over-weight suitcases into the taxi that took me to the Royal Hotel. Thankfully free Wi-Fi was included, so after a quick message to family and friends and a shower (lots of hot water) I succumbed to a deep restful sleep.

What an eventful start to my 2012. What about you? How are you starting your 2012?



  1. Greetings, reading about the various interactions and experiences that you had during the journey show how travel can broadens one’s knowledge and consciousness. How is the book: The House at Sugar Beach? Jen, I’m looking forward to seeing Liberia and experiencing it through your eyes. The use of the word “native” makes me want to read up more on the history, because I thought that when freed Africans went back from the US to found Liberia, that they set up a county on unihabitated land. I think that’s how i was taught it…shows what they never taught in history class…but I am going to read a bit more on it, to know the truth, Any recommended readings? As for my 2012, I have been very quiet, peaceful, kinda semi-meditative and open to lettting things unfold naturally in my life. In 2011, I delved in many paths almost simultaneously, and became a bit pressured and now I am truly learning to put everything in motion and then let it flow…peace & blessings, Helen

    • Hey Helen – The House at Sugar Beach focused more on the life of a young girl growing up in the lap of luxury and privilege in a country riddled with poverty and classism. There were some historical facts that helped me better understand the situation but the story is a “victor’s” account of history. No, when those ships came in the 1820’s with representatives of the American Colonization Society and the freed Blacks there were several wars with the people who were already here about where the “settlers” would set up camp.

      There are a couple of titles I’ve been selecting from Amazon for the Kindle.I haven’t read them as yet but I’ll send them to you.

      Sometimes we are so eager to be engaged in meaningful activity that we do put too much on our plates, Now that you have lived the full plate, i’m sure this period of meditation will help you determine what the take off and what to leave on. I too am learning to just set the intention and then let things flow.

      Thanks for staying in touch. I’m missing our conversations.

  2. Greetings Jennifer! Thanking God that you have reached Liberia safely and have started what I’m certain will be an enriching and life changing experience. I look forward to reading your blogs daily…thank you for allowing us to “sojourn” with you! Wishing you and God speed and abundance of His blessings! LOVE you to LIFE! Danielle “Elle” Thomas

    • Hey there Danielle – Nice hearing from you. Don’t let this exchange be one way, I do want to hear what you and Rudy and the girls are up to also. I am so grateful to have friends willing to keep me anchored in the friendships now that I am on the other side of the Atlantic from you.

  3. Jennifer
    I am soo soo happy and excited for you. This assisgnment fits you like a glove – See and do all you can. You are like a sponge I know you will know what to soak up and what to squeeze out.



    • Hey there Vee – I am always amazed at how much more faith my friends have in me, and my ability to adapt, than I have in myself. So, of course I now will live up to your expectations, soaking up the positive and squeezing out the negative. Love to your family.

  4. Also, did you check in with your embassy to let them know you’re in the country now?

  5. Glad to know you are experiencing a different culture; let me know how the food is.