We set out to Tubmanburg on Sunday, 4 September with a group of friends. I had invited the usual gang to go check out Aaron Sannah's farm and then go for a picnic at Blue Lake.
I know Aaron Sannah since my UNDP Liberia days. My colleagues and I used to buy $ 5.00 weekly flower bouquets from Aaron. I lost touch with him but had heard from another friend in the UN that he still delivers flowers to UN offices.
Another Liberian-American-Zimbabwean friend I made during my time at UNDP who since then has become a bosom sister friend - and now is back in the US - told me she was trying to get crowd funding to help Aaron expand his business. She had been helping him from afar all these years. She wanted me to take pictures of his farm and extract information from him in order to put together a business proposal.
For this reason, I decided to invite my friends to a day trip to Tubmanburg. Not only would we see a farm but also see Blue Lake.
We packed a picnic and piled into 2 cars and set out at about midday. Tubmanburg is hardly an hour away. The road trip was fun and, we chatted and, cracked jokes along the way.
We met Aaron at the Total gas station in town and, he joined us in one of our cars. We drove for about 20 minutes on dirt roads through forest to reach his farm. We came on to a large field in the middle of a village and were then led to a farm which at the bottom of a hill. The farm was land cleared in a forest, next to a ravine. Aaron's whole family of parents, wife, kids and farm workers had gathered to greet and welcome us. We were shown the piggery first which was at the top of the hill and then made our way down to see the beds of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cassava, and lots and lots of basil. Apparently, cucumber and basil was the easiest to grow. We were also shown endless birds of paradise which grow in so many shades. It was really a great tour and, Aaron picked bunches and bunches of flowers for us for bouquets to take home.
I took so many photographs of the farm, of Aaron's family and workers, of us with the family, and of the various produce and animals that were being grown and nurtured. Visiting this farm made me realise what intensive labour the farm is and, without constant care and diligence, the forest will reclaim that land and grow over months and years of back-breaking labour. Despite how fertile Liberia's land is, the challenges facing small farmers like Aaron are truly colossal. Although Aaron is quite close to a main city, it is still a good 20 minute ride by a car to get to the main road. He needs a vehicle, tools, workers and a good irrigation system to keep the farm all through the year. And, then he needs to a good distribution system to be able to sell his produce in the city.
We bid good bye and drove onwards to Blue Lake. After about 10 minutes we there and, what a sight it was!
There weren't any other picnic makers there and, it was such a soothing and beautiful sight after having been in the forest. By this time, it was cloudy and, I really loved the scenery of the clearest blue water against the surrounding green hills and sloping trees. The clouds moved closer to us and, we thought we should quickly have our picnic. The thatched huts were in disrepair and there was no covered space so we spread our picnic and started eating.
We had brought chicken curry, aloo sabzi, yoghurt and bread. There was also daal chawal. The highlight though was channa batoray. And, what's more they were still warm! We relished each bite and, enjoyed our food in the dilkash and sohana mausam. Slowly, the rain drops started splashing on our heads and into our plates. We were amused and continued eating.
The rain drenched us a little bit but eventually subsided. Afterwards, the men and kids jumped into the lake. They made million dollar plans for converting Blue Lake into real tourist spot. Visitors would be ferried by helicopter to a five-star hotel at the top of the hill overlooking the Lake. I reminisced about my visit to Blue Lake when it was stationed with the UNMIL Pakistani Battalion and how they hosted me and friends to a fabulous lunch and boat rides. Good old days!
The guys kept making one dupkee after another into the Lake until we managed to convinced them to start heading back.
The drive back was pleasant and, we continued to make jokes and share anecdotes. We were going to make a stop at Vai Town so one group could go home and we would need to re-arrange the remaining passengers into one group.
The Vai Town group asked my friend and I to come upstairs for a cup of tea. The other car with Haresh, my friend Jyoti's husband and the kids, were still behind us. I asked my friend Jyoti whether she wanted tea. She said of course! We went upstairs for my friends' Qasim and Amna's famous and delicious desi tea. Even before it was ready, the men telephoned us and asked us where we were. We said, we had come for tea. They started complaining and saying the kids were asleep so we should come down. My friend Jyoti explained to her husband that she wanted to enjoy her tea and, she was always patient when he wanted an extra beer at restaurants so why couldn't she enjoy a cup of tea. The men trudged up, bearing sleeping kids in their arms with sour faces.
Jyoti and I enjoyed tea with an amused Amna and Qasim who joked that of course we deserved tea for all the dupkees the men had made in the lake. We started giggling over our own jokes and, I joked that after a day of so much laughter I was bound to cry.
Sure enough, my phone was mugged that very evening. Read about it here.