This is slightly old news, actually, 2 weeks old, but it's still a fun story to tell. A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in the midships lounge, the living room of the ship. A friend of mine from Nigeria stopped by. Turns out there are a couple people here on the ship that are from the Republic of Congo and that day was their equivalent to our 4th of July. They had invited my friend to go to the Congolese Embassy and then my friend invited me. I had no idea what to expect, but who's going to pass up the opportunity of a trip to the embassy? That was 3:30 and we were supposed to leave at 5pm. I got to my cabin and all of a sudden realized that I had no idea what to wear. It was probably very naive, but the only thing I could picture was something very formal and grand, a little like some of the scenes in "Coming to America". All I have are clothes that make me look like a missionary, long skirts, solid-colored t-shirts, and sandals, definitely nothing formal. I tried a new skirt my roomate bought that is some gorgeous african fabric. The problem is, it's a big tube skirt, sort of like a wrap to wear at the beach. You tie it in a knot and hope it doesn't fall off. That was not going to do for an event at the embassy. I finally settled on an outfit and off we went. That's not quite true, because we had to wait a while for the taxi. Jean-Claude, the guy who is from the Congo, has a taxi driver that he knows and calls when he needs a ride, but that's still on different time than we would expect at home, so we actually left around 5:30.
I had not been to the part of town where we were going, actually I hadn't seen much of Monrovia at all, so it was fun to get out and see the town I call home for the summer. We went past the University of Liberia, the former presidential villa, and the UN headquarters. The area where the embassy is has many embassy buildings in the neighborhood. Many of them looked like they had suffered a lot of damage during the war, so I began to realize they may not be as nice as I was thinking. When we arrived at the Congolese embassy I got out of the car and across the street was the Liberia Mennonite School. I was a little bit proud to notice that it was in better repair than most of the buildings I had seen. I would like to try to stop by there sometime if I'm in that area again.
The embassy was the size of a very large house in the U.S. The celebration was in the back yard. I was expecting a very formal affair inside and it turned out to be a big barbecue on the lawn, just like a wedding reception or graduation party at home. We found out, though, that there had been some sort of miscommunication. We had understood that the party was from 5pm to 8pm. No, it started at 8pm, so we just all sat in the yard, talking, listening to the music that was playing, and talking. It was fun getting to know everyone. It's a little tricky because French is the primary language in the Congo so Jean-Claude and his wife, Anastasis (yes, the same name as the ship that just left), speak english, but with a very strong french and african accent. The other complication was that the people preparing for the party had already set up the sound system. It was a lot of fun dance music, but it was loud enough, that it was hard to hear each other, so we did a lot of just hanging out, drinking diet coke (mmm) and watching the preparation. After sitting there a while, I realized that that was the first time that I had seen a lawn since I've been here. It was nice, it felt like a little bit of home to sit in the yard in a resin lawn chair under a rented tent.
There was a man in one corner of the yard grilling. The grills were a series of 50 gallon drums with fire pits in the bottom and then a grate stretched across them with several large things being grilled. After a while the lady that seemed to be in charge came over and told us that once the food was ready we could feel free to help ourselves. There would be grilled goat, sheep, and chicken. That was when I realized that I was seeing a nearly whole animal on one of the grills.
Around 8pm people started arriving. We had decided to stay until 9pm, but the party was just nicely getting started, so we stayed a while longer. The food wasn't ready until around 9:30. Jean-Claude and Anastasis had been invited by someone else and she didn't want us to leave until we had eaten, so we extended the time. Taxis sometimes become a bit of an issue because they aren't always readily available, and they may already have 7 people in them. Jean-Claude finally ended up calling the driver to come wait and eat with us, so that we were assured of a ride home. I thought that the driver seemed a little bit annoyed at the inconvenience, but when we got back to the port, he refused payment in thanks for future business and the meal. Things definitely work differently here than in other parts of the world.
The party consisted of a bunch of Congolese people that are currently living in Liberia, lots of UN people, and people from other NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations, humanitarian aid organizations. Mercy Ships is an NGO, just also a Christian organization which is a bit different than some of the others.) There were a lot of people dancing to the music, which to me sounds a bit like Reggae. It's not the same, but still similar. We finally got in line to eat and I had some of each of the meats, rice, cassava, plantains, and french fries. It was all very good, but a lot of food to eat a 10pm!
All in all, it was a very fun evening. It was nothing like "Coming to America". It was, however, very much like a 4th of July party in America. It was nice to go since I wasn't at home for the 4th of July. I just celebrated on the 30th of June. It's not every day that you get to go to a celebration at the Congolese Embassy in Liberia. It was definitely an experience I felt privileged to have. My roommates were pretty jealous that I got to go and they didn't.