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  • Lorraine Johnson

[101] My Friend And A Journey

The village was nestled in the rainforest, over 15 miles from the main, red-dirt road that slithered the country of Liberia from north to south. A road at an intersection where you choose to go north for miles on end toward the country's capital—where the compassion and cruelty of urban sprawl brings both mansions and shanty towns, where joy and suffering happens in both. Or you go south—through Harper county to its provincial capital, where the ocean meets the land—full of tradition and culture, and old rubber plantations and the shell of an old Masonic Lodge of the Freemasonry. An intersection where a Lebanese merchant once held the only shop—one with a gas refrigerator offering cold drinks to weary travelers. A place to buy toilet paper and other sundry goods not sold, at this juncture in time, in the dotted villages sprawled along dirt-laid, narrow, rocky paths that took you deeper into the forest affectionately called "the bush"—to the village where I once lived.

Already far from the merchant's more modern offerings, the village of Glofaken sat, with its tall unwavering cotton trees and busy rural life. I was told of large elephants roaming the forest some 8-10 hours walk away, still deeper yet in the bush. I started to dream of this journey. My dear Liberian friend, Jonah, told me one day he would take me there. I am not quite sure what I chose to carry with me on this mystical journey, or if I even thought at all, but if water was one of those things, it would have been a quantity far too small.

Across streams that trickled along the forest floor and vines that hung down from very tall trees, and low laying shrubs and thicket that created a density only a cutlass could get through—and creatures, both big and small—we walked. Cries and calls—of every kind—could be heard chanting in harmony amongst this vastness. Push on we did, till we arrived hours later at a very small village of a few huts, with short narrow doors that one had to make themselves small—bending their head—to walk through. The villagers were surprised and elated to see us appear on their doorstep, that they each wanted a part of our stay—one for tea, one for sleeping, and another for eating. We humbly obliged.

Our new found friends first offered us some hot tea and drew us into one of the huts. Our host for the moment, an old man, told us to wait and excitedly he stepped through an even tinier door, reappearing with the looks of a Mr. Donuts coffee pot. You know—the glass one with the brown, plastic piece that clung to its bottom. My eyes widened as I wondered what this coffee pot was doing in this far-off place, with earthen huts, and mortars and pestles, and the magic of monkey rope and dance and song that made its joy. And then the old man 'counted' his yester-stories of navy days, and the ship and its coffee pot with the chocolate-brown bottom, and how he ended up with this beloved prize. Of course he couldn't plug it in as there was no electricity—but out it came, nonetheless, with all his pride to serve unknown guests a classic tea on the eve of a very long, hot journey walking Liberia’s tropical lines.

With warmth in our bellies and a full moon lighting up the night sky, we took rest on a traditional bed in one of the huts. The early morn came quickly, and we rose to set on our quest—to find the vision of the velvety ears, wrinkled skin and wise, sorrowful eyes of an elephant—or if lucky—two or three or even more. Jonah warned me— as the moon lit the sky fully the night before, the elephants would be hard to find, as they retreat deeper from sight till the moon backs away and shows less of its might.

Bent down and silently, we walked through the underbrush, now and then squatting in place, quietly awaiting for a creature to appear. First it's the smell of animal dung and droppings, and then small noises and the rustling of branches. The excitement builds up in the bottom of your stomach and your heart beats fast. I thought it would be that elephant I longed to see, but to my delight what appeared up in the trees was a large family of chimpanzees—the great males and powerful females and so many young ones just going about their day. Their noises—not noises, rather a conversation with rhythm and tones. We laid low and watched, and watched, as my eyes grew wider taking in the marvel of nature and these beautiful creatures it birthed. There was no fear of snakes, or driver ants, or poisonous spiders that could climb up our legs or drop from the tree above, there was just the chimpanzees, my friend Jonah and me. Deep in the moment, fully present—we watched, and listened and smiled.

When the family moved on their way, we took leave—said goodbye to our village friends who cared for us as if their own—and commenced the long trek back to our own—I once thought remote! With Jonah at my side, we walked, and walked. And when tired and thirsty we would stop, and Jonah would cut down a voluminous vine in one full sweep of his cutlass, dazzling me with his reveal—a clear, cold stream of water to quench our thirst—offered by the forest through the wisdom and kindness of my cherished Liberian friend, as the sweat of the tropics rolled down our backs.

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