The first day, not only in Liberia, but in the continent of Africa, we end up in the police station; talk about Brits abroad! As we walked into the dark vestibule signs screamed at us not to loiter, stand or wait.
We followed our companion quickly up the marble staircase, our feet echoing around the hall.
Heading towards a dark room at the end of the long corridor, we passed numerous interview rooms, some of them full, some of them half-full but all were willing to interrupt their detection to give us a cheery wave as we walked past.
We arrived in a room with the sign “WACPS”: which contrary to our momentary fear that the department had something to do with WASPs, turned out to be the Women and Childrens’ Protection Service.
In the room a group of people were gathered casually around a black and white telly watching a Liberian soap- it wasn’t quite what we expected of the police headquarters.
We were there with CAFOD’s partner Don Bosco Homes who are the leading child protection service who work with underprivileged children. They have close links with the police and were there to help out a teenager who had got into some kind of trouble and were going to arrange counselling.
In only two days, the visit to the police station wasn’t the only thing we’ve accomplished: we’ve eaten mountains of rice, shoals of fish and flocks of chickens, we’ve seen lizards for the first time, plodged (or paddled to those from the South) twice in the Atlantic Ocean, watched a football match played at full speed on a pitch that resembled a sandy minefield, and been on the receiving end of several speeches welcoming us to the country and then had a go accepting those welcomes in kind.
Lots of the things we’ve experienced here are things we have at home, but with a Liberian twist – and that’s not just the rice. When we arrived at Mass, the street outside the church was full of cars – all of them 4 by 4s, jeeps, landrovers showing the make-up of the congregation.
In a sermon about Jesus’ baptism, the priest found out that not one person in the church was baptised before 1960. At the end, a parishioner reading the parish notices asked first-time visitors and those returning after a long time away to stand up and be clapped.
The welcome we had in the parish was emblematic of the welcomes we have received everywhere in Monrovia – a mixture of feeling slightly conspicuous but at the same time warmly included.
Our introduction to Africa has been full, vibrant and warm – in every sense, given the 30 degree heat, and we’re all excited to see how the rest of the month unfolds.