24 hours in a Liberian refugee camp
Joy had been one of our first visitors at the house on Buduburam refugee camp, and my journey back to #178 from school was often with this self possessed and unknowable woman. She’d appear at my side from nowhere, silent and graceful. At first I was taken aback by this lean, willowy creature; arrestingly beautiful had she not the look of someone who was constantly hungry and malnourished. In a low and silky voice she’d ask after me. “How is your body today Hannah?” and I’d answer truthfully, knowing that I’d get an indifferent response.
“Melting, as always.”
“Ah that’s too bad,” and in her next breath she’d ask for a small sum of money to tide her over. She pronounced ‘money’ making a perfect ‘o’ with her mouth, and she’d look away out of my gaze. Her rheumy bloodshot eyes gave away problems not just relating to hunger, and I later learned that Joy had been a heroin addict in California. Somehow, Joy had returned to Buduburam because she was, in all truth, better off here on the camp rather than at the mercy of a city where temptation was ubiquitous.
I always squirmed at her requests for cash and admit to giving in from time to time, wanting to believe her half-truths. I still wonder what had happened to Joy and her sons during the Liberian Civil War, and whether Charles Taylor’s hateful actions had left an unscrupulous void inside of her. But I knew it was not my place to assign personal histories, or to determine if she was lying or not.
Joy glided across the camp effortlessly knowing every pothole and loose stone. She also moved fast and sometimes I would see her from a distance, at 6’1” a clear head above the rest of the crowd, sweeping her way amongst the corrugated iron roofs towards wherever she was going.
—excerpted from 24 hours in a Liberian refugee camp