Excerpt from Letters To Lorna From Liberia by David Joannes

“Go get yourself some coffee, babe,” Ray Joe tells me this morning at breakfast. That’s not the first time he has called me that.

“Hey babe, you get some good shots at the orphanage today?” “Um, yes.”

The first few times it threw me off until I asked if he was going to be calling me “babe” the whole trip. “You bet I am!” And he went on to explain that back in New York it’s a compliment when people call you babe. It’s referring to Babe Ruth, the all star hitter of the Yankees. Gina says he calls everyone “babe” because he can’t remember their names. I wonder if Ray Joe remembers my name yet. I will admit that when he started calling me “babe” and I realized I was gonna be rooming with the guy, I was a little nervous. He assured me everything was cool, so now I welcome it.

Yesterday I shot 24 gigs of footage at two different orphanages.

This is how it goes: you step out of the car, and your feet are barely planted on the ground when you are flooded by children. They don’t say much, they just smile and reach for your hands. It makes a videographer’s job difficult because my hands are all tied up and I can’t capture the moment. I can’t capture the smiles and the wonder and an orphan’s joy of seeing visitors. But as the little fingers of ten hands try to wrap around my hands, I feel the smiles. Canon cannot remember the eyes, but I am logging it in my mind. I’ve got more than 24 gigs.

“Mister David! Mister David!”

The young children run around. A couple older kids, 16 to 20 years old, put their hands on your shoulder and wait for you to shake. They ask your name and if you’ll be their friend and what your favorite Bible verse is. I always slow the conversation down and look into their eyes. “What is your dream? What is your ambition?” I say. “What do you want to do when you grow up.”

It’s a moment. It’s a memory that I may not remember but will always feel.

“I want to be an engineer,” Sam tells me. He wants to help rebuild Liberia. Ruth wants to be an IT technician so she can meet people from around the world. Their stories are so simple and somehow so inspiring. It makes me sad and it gives me hope.

I pry my fingers free from a group of children scrambling for my hand, and turn on my camera. I see everything in slow motion: the kids running, a soccer ball soaring through the air, bubbles and smiles and wonder. I try to stay strong and do my job without becoming too overwhelmed by thoughts of the world’s wealth distribution, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I try not to get upset.

At the end of the day, our car drives away with a hundred hands waving in slow motion, as if to say, “Do you really have to go already?”

Back at the hotel, I am greeted by Ray Joe who has been out overseeing construction projects in different parts of the city suburbs. “Hey babe, how was your day?” “It was good man,” I say, and tell him about some of the kids.

Some of the kids are still in my camera and in my mind. Some of them I may not forget for a long, long time.

At the end of the day, I am tired. I wish you were here with me to experience a new world. Liberia may be a whole new universe, actually. I wish you were here so that I could introduce you to the kids when we arrive at their run down orphanages. I’d say, “This is my babe, Lorna.” And Ray Joe would smile.

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