If you're old enough to know who Forrest Gump is, then you know all about life and its box of chocolates. Well, I was in the Peace Corps six years before that movie and there was very little chocolate involved in my experience. When there was an occasional "CARE package" from home, everyone at the Post Office knew Peace Corps Volunteers always received chocolate of some kind. And, it must be said, even if a mouse ate a corner of some chocolate bar as the box sat in the Post Office, it never mattered in Liberia. Nobody ever wasted chocolate.
My mom sent Reece's Pieces, my chocolate of choice. However, on a day to day basis in Zwedru, Liberia, there was very limited chocolate. The only kind of "candy" available tasted like Halls eucalyptus cough drops. Yes, they are horrible. That is not real candy. And if that wasn't bad enough, in the tropical heat, they were also sticky. Somehow, my neighbor kids were thrilled whenever I passed them out. I don't understand how. I do promise you they were a whole lot happier when I taught them how to make no-bake chocolate cookies with treasured cocoa powder from the capital.
I still love no-bake cookies. Well, actually, it's hard to find a cookie I don't like. At a recent Returned Peace Corps Volunteer gathering, I grabbed more cookies than I should have before joining a group around a picnic table. I fell into conversation with a man from Cameroon. When I told him about my murals, he said, "You should paint murals in Cameroon."
I love the idea of returning to Africa. However, there is that pesky little problem about financing the journey. When I was informed that money should not be a problem, the guy had my attention. He said I should write to the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon. However, the letter should not go to the ambassador. I needed to write to the Public Affairs Officer. My community murals are so unique that there should be interest in the project as well as cash in discretionary funds.
Okay, that advice (and way too many cookies) happened on a Wednesday night. On Thursday I wrote to Cameroon. But, hey, I thought it might be wise to not put all my cookies in one basket. So, I wrote to ten embassies. On Friday morning, I got my first reply.
Yes, I know that was fast. When I first moved to Africa (pre-Internet, e-mail or Facebook), the fastest communication home took a month. It was two weeks for the letter to get home and another two weeks for the return if they wrote that same day. Nobody ever replied that quickly unless I told them about malaria. So, yes, instant (and even overnight) communication anywhere around the world continues to amaze me.
I know, I know, be careful what you wish for, but this was more than I could possibly have wished for. The reply was from the embassy in Liberia. The people from the embassy want me to paint two murals with Liberians who survived the Ebola outbreak! In my mind, anyone who survived Ebola should be considered a national treasure, but that isn't the case in Africa. Those poor people are stigmatized in society. The hope is that involving them in a community project will help with their re-integration.
It's already an amazing opportunity. But, it gets even better. One mural will be in Zorzor and the other will be in Zwedru. Yep, my Zwedru! After more than twenty-five years, a horribly violent civil war that ripped the country apart and that terrifying Ebola epidemic, I'm going back home. It's a trip that is so long overdue. Mama Gump was right; you never know what you're gonna get. So, pass me some chocolates to stow away in my luggage because I'm packing my bags for Africa.
P.S. If you happen to be too young and have no idea what I'm writing about, you need to know the most famous line out of Forrest Gump's mouth. "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." Now, go rent yourself the movie and bring your own box of goodies.