Take Me To Where Coconuts Grow #CoconutOil

I’m not a fan of coconut water or the shredded flesh from the palm fruit, but I am in love with the places where coconuts grow. Places paired with warm sun rays and salty cool ocean breezes, where tiny sand grains get lost in the wind and end up between unexpected body parts are the places I find most relaxing. Providence, Rhode Island is not one of those places, but I was born there. I have family there. It is familiar and so it is home.

However, growing up in bitter cold winters and sweltering hot summers gave me an appreciation for the land where my family comes from — a land where coconuts grow — Liberia, West Africa. I have lots of borrowed memories about Liberia from my parents and relatives. There are stories about the farm in Sanoyea, where my mom and her siblings spent most holidays and dry seasons lounging under the palava hut catching warm breezes as they downed German Plums (i.e. mangoes). Then there are not so pleasant memories of when the beloved nation spiraled into a chaotic civil war, stealing countless lives and nearly leveling the entire country to the ground. When I took my first trip to this foreign place, that I also call home, I chose to forget every bad thing I had heard about it. I forgot the good things too. During that journey (in 2012), I decided to size up Liberia for myself.

The land exceeded my expectations. After the warm musty air greeted my nostrils, I was hooked. There’s not much of a skyline and the capital is ridiculously overcrowded, but the picturesque view of grand palm trees against a backdrop of the sky blue Atlantic Ocean, is “wish you were here” postcard worthy. And don’t get me started on the food. Liberia is the jollof rice champion for a reason.

I grew up eating rice with anything that can be turned into gravy. Rice and cassava leaf. Rice and palm butter. Rice and potato greens. If the leaf is edible, it will be seasoned, fried and placed on top of rice. I grew up with my grandma, in the States, but actually tasting my grandma’s Liberian cuisine, while in Liberia is an experience that made my first trip worth the 22 hour flight. The peppers tasted hotter, the greens looked greener and the flavors felt bolder against my tongue. I don’t know if my excitement about being “home” tricked my mind into noticing an imaginated difference or if the authentic ingredients actually heightened the taste. What I do know is, there was a memorable distinction.

Aside from the view and the food, my people made Liberia feel more like home. My cousin Konah drove me, my sister (who was also visiting from the States) and our grandma over miles of bumpy roads to my family’s 200 acre farm that I had heard so much about. As we drove away from the coastline, we passed countless palm trees and bushes lining both sides of the red dirt path. The trees formed an endless blanket of hunter green that merged into the faded celeste sky. On the farm, we paid our respects, at my grandpa’s grave.

Cousin Konah also took us to the Logan Town family house where we met his brother, Cousin Cyrus. We talked about how they all grew up under my grandparents’ roof, like siblings. We laughed at how my late Uncle Jenkins and Cousin Cyrus would sneak in and out of the house window, after curfew. My grandma guided us through each room, as if walking us through a time capsule. I soaked it all in, adding to my collection of borrowed memories.

Back in the city, Cousin Cyrus took us to visit my dad, who had moved back to Liberia almost five years before our trip. He didn’t know we were coming, we just popped up out of nowhere and crept into his living room while he laid on the couch napping with his feet propped up. We stood over him and when he opened his eyes, he froze as if he was staring at a pair of ghosts. Then we embraced and laughed and made plans for the rest of our time together.

My first trip to Liberia was like a family reunion. I was able to put faces and visuals to the names and places that I grew up hearing about. The country is unlike anywhere else, at the same time it has good and bad, just like everywhere else. There were beaches, restaurants and clubs to enjoy. On the other hand, there were places and people that any common sense person would have avoided. But overall, it was comfortable. It was home.

Recently, I revisited this land of coconuts — Liberia. As my plane descended, I was filled with overwhelming sadness. Grandma had just passed away. Cousin Cyrus passed away, before her; Cousin Konah died before him; and my dad departed, before that. Coming to Liberia meant I had to confront the fact that they no longer physically existed. The place was not as comfortable, but it still had the same familiarity. The food was just as sweet, but it didn’t have the same nourishing effect. Almost every home cooked meal upset my stomach, except for my cousin Dee’s coconut rice.

I spent four weeks in Liberia eating mostly bread and occasionally coconut fried rice (thank God for coconuts). After my first few days back “home,” I decided to use the memories of my dearly departed family members to inspire me to experience and accomplish more than I set out to do. After all, it was borrowed memories that helped me adjust to Liberia the first time I visited. This time around, I could rely on my own recollections. I took care of family business, met with national officials, visited hospitals and explored more of Liberia than ever before.

Home is not just the physical. It is also the memories — both created and borrowed — that we use to share our stories. In sharing these stories, we share our home. And in sharing our home, we share our joy. #spreadsomelove #coconutoil #Liberia

“Manseen is one of our early customers here at Runako, she was originally part of the test pool for our body butter and we are proud to be part of her daily skincare regimen. Manseen is an editor and writer for Complex and Villages Tales Publishing. Check her out at www.manseen4change.villagetales.com

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