Last week, Liberia celebrated its 160th birthday, making it the second-oldest state in Africa after Ethiopia. We were fortunate enough to be invited to the official ceremony in Buchanan, some 150km south-east of Monrovia. It was a memorable occasion: glamorous dresses, over-elaborate protocol, a fiery speech by Kimmie Weeks, a youth activist originally from Liberia and an inspiring one from the President, whose calm confidence never fails to impress me. Madam President thrilled - and humbled - us by mentioning in one passage "people from all over the world who are flocking to help us, including interns from Harvard University in this very room".
Working for the Liberian government has indeed been a humbling experience: it has shown me how a few dedicated leaders, like the President and her key ministers, can turn their country around. It has also reminded me, if I needed reminding, of my own inadequacy in the face of such enormous challenges. Finally, it has confirmed my belief in the power of teams - of two teams in particular.
The first Team Liberia is on the picture above: the family of interns. It has been great fun living with the family, but it has also been a privilege to learn from them. A few highlights: watching Yue Man pilot a multi-million-dollar grant application through the Ministry of Health. Emily's perfectly judged speech to the elders of the poorest village I have ever seen. Molly's inextinguishable enthusiasm for late nights in the Finance Ministry hothouse. Thank you Zach and Yesenia for late-night chats and encouragement, Jesse for opening all doors to us, Jeff for being the voice of reason and Colleen for surpassing Graham Greene in charm, talent and tolerance. (Hopefully your essays on Liberia will surpass his sales figures too).
The second and immeasurably greater Team Liberia are the dedicated people we have worked with in government. The President is one of many Liberians who have given up high-flying careers in the USA to go home and rebuild their country. Many have followed her personal call. Even more heroic, though perhaps less celebrated, are the ordinary Liberians who lived here throughout the war and refused to give up hope. Molly has a fantastic post on this, to which I can only add: if the returning diaspora and the survivors can pull together, this country will go far.
To the family, who leave this week: thank you and safe travels. To our generous friends and hosts: you have inspired me. This, too, is Liberia.