That’s what Jerry, one of the workshop facilitators for the Lutheran Church’s Trauma Healing and Reconciliation program, told me as we made the less-than-smooth transition from paved roads to a rutted, muddy mess that passes as the international highway between the Ivory Coast and Liberia. We were on our way to Nimba, a frontier county that abuts Guinea and the Ivory Coast, to conduct conflict resolution workshops for Ivoirian refugees and their host communities. Assuming I had not yet experienced the joint-rattling potholes of rural roads, Jerry wanted to clue me in.
But I saw something else in Nimba, something besides treacherous roads, that deserved to be pointed out as Liberian. In Kranplay, a small town 10 miles from the Ivory Coast, a group of children played soccer in an overgrown field. At the sight of a foreigner with a camera, they came running. The result? Your stereotypical “Africa” photos of grinning children, snapped by every volunteer and tourist on the continent. Being stereotypical, though, doesn’t make the grins any less adorable. And for me, it doesn’t make the scene any less – dare I use the word? – inspiring. After all, the kids were a mix of refugees from the Ivory Coast and children from the local host community, playing together while their parents sat in a conflict resolution workshop. And eight years ago, children their age were given drugs and guns and told to kill.
In Kranplay that afternoon, those things had no impact. The kids were just kids, just playing. Though it’s sometimes hard to see through the decay and corruption and poverty and violence here, they too are Liberia.