Adventure in Liberia

There were twelve people from the Zorzor community who worked on my mural.  Among them was Gayflor, one of the two professional artists in the community.  I’ve never painted a mural with a professional artist.  I must admit, passing off some of the things I usually do was a momentary struggle.  But, I thought that giving deserving people the opportunity to shine was more important than my pride.  Gayflor printed designs on shirts and painted signs in Zorzor.  What I needed was exactly what he did, and he was one of the few people I’ve ever come across who could outline the mural to my satisfaction.  The time he saved me allowed me to have more opportunity to savour the stay in Zorzor.

One of those opportunities was a three person taxi ride on a motorcycle with Gayflor.  Big Sam, the motorcyclist, was a whole lot safer as a driver than me.  It was about a fifteen minute ride from Fissebu to Zorzor.  I don’t know how other drivers managed three passengers.  Some of them passed us on the way.  It didn’t look safe and I want to feel safe while on a motorcycle.  The trip to Zorzor was to see some of the projects Gayflor painted in town as well as his workshop where he silk-screened a lot of shirts.

I returned to Gayflor’s home on another day.  He wasn’t home but his mama welcomed me onto the front porch.  We shared a plate of potato greens.  Now, when I say we shared a plate, there was one plate and one spoon.  I felt like a true African and welcomed into the family.  I don’t know anyone else back home who would eat that way.

After the meal, it was time for dessert.  Mama really didn’t know why she was supposed to pull out the coal pot and start a fire, but she politely did as I requested.  She was about to get her introduction to chocolate no-bake cookies, and she liked what she saw.  The whole family did!  And, quite an extended family showed up to sample the goodies.

Gayflor’s father took a particular interest in the treat and requested the recipe. Of course, I copied it down for him.  Then, I asked him about something on my Liberian bucket list.  Did he know where I could find a “rubber gun”?  A rubber gun has nothing to do with guns at all.  It’s what Liberians call a sling shot.  I had one from my Peace Corps days, but someone pulled back on the elastic and learned that it didn’t hold up well after 25 years.  I needed a replacement.  Dad knew where to get one and did just that.

No shortage of talent in Zorzor

I was so genuinely delighted that I gave him the entire can of chocolate baking powder.  Now, everyone was happy.  But, as I have so frequently discovered in my travels, it is hard to out-give the people I come in contact with.  Gayflor’s father was a tailor.  He decided that I should get one of his special African shirts made from country cloth.  It’s a traditional woven fabric that is kind of a dying art.  The shirts are magnificent and expensive, but I would have purchased one if I could have found it.  Zorzor really didn’t have much of a marketplace.  I’d already asked about these shirts and was told I’d have to go to shopping in a bigger city.  Nothing I’d find could be as special as the shirt I wanted that was made by a tailor I knew.  But, in typical Liberian fashion, ceremony was very important.  I didn’t get the shirt on the day of the cookies and potato greens.  It had to be formally presented during the dedication ceremony for the mural.

Finally, it’s always interesting when you get to know someone well enough that they can tell you things that they wouldn’t do when they first met you.  During my wonderful afternoon with Gayflor’s family, he talked about the first day we met.  He said that nobody in the group of twelve thought I’d be an artist of any kind.  Why else would I need the only two professional artists in Zorzor to help with the project?  Expectations were low, and I ended up blowing them all away.

Honestly, I feel that I made more of a community impact in one week than I did in my entire two year Peace Corps experience.  There were crowds every day watching the progress of the mural.  So, wherever I went on the campus of the Zorzor Rural Teacher Training Institute, everyone knew who I was.  But, that wasn’t the end of it.  When I walked down the road to the nearby village of Fissebu, people recognized me and talked about the mural.  And, even in Zorzor, I was stopped on the street because people knew about the project.  Yes, I’d say that I have learned a thing or two about working with communities over the course of my murals.  And, whether their expectations are high or low, it’s always a good thing to blow people away with a community project.