There were 13 of us on the trip. It was hot and humid, and we had limited electricity and no air conditioning. We took turns using the two bathrooms to take bucket baths, and shared kitchen duty –fixing meals for the group and washing up afterwards.
We met women and girls who had suffered for years with the indignity of uncontrolled leakage of urine and feces. Some of our group gave immunizations to the people of the Charles Luke community, while others of us distributed reading glasses. We visited an orphanage. We also went to the beach and relaxed, and over the course of the two-week trip, we bonded over our intense shared experiences.
I recall the morning our return flight landed in Atlanta. We were tired from the long, overnight trip. We made it through customs and then separated to reach our various domestic flights home. I looked forward to being reunited with my husband, yet I felt a deep sadness at being separated from my new-found friends.
Back in Austin, my husband Garry picked me up at the airport. I was too keyed up to rest. Besides, my body had yet to adapt to the time difference. We sat down outside and I told him about my trip. Kathi had told us experiences that some Liberians had shared with her about the war years. Unimaginable horrors! I shared these with Garry. He is the only person I have told and that was the last time I said them out loud, though I’ve thought about them often and cried many times.
After the weekend, I returned to work. Colleagues asked about my trip, but I had to remember that my experience was not the most important thing in their lives. They still had financial problems, trying bosses, family illness, etc. I found it hard to settle down. Things, that once were so important, now seemed so trivial. I had just spent 2 weeks with people who had real problems. The first world problems seemed so insignificant!
A few weeks later, I received a book Bringing it Home by Jim Mersereau from a fellow Dignity Advocate, Trish. I used its stories and exercises to help sort through the emotions I was experiencing. One of the questions for personal reflection was to recall special things that touched my heart and changed me. I wrote:
“Being lavished with gratitude humbled me. What had I done? Seeing people with so little, take joy
in being alive. Seeing hope. Finding common ground. Knowing I could do without electricity and
clean up with a bucket of cold water.”
Coming back home can be a hard transition. Would I do it again? You bet! I returned to Liberia in 2015 and plan to go again in 2018. Being a Dignity Advocate is a life-changing, view-altering experience.