Approximately seven months into the Nigerian Civil War, we boarded a plane in Lagos for Liberia, where my father had been transferred. Our relocation had nothing to do with the war. The Ibadan job had been completed, and USAID had contracted with the city of Monrovia to build a municipal water system.
We lived on a quiet cul-de-sac within walking distance of Bernard’s Beach. For us kids, the dream of living this close to the ocean had come true. Every day after school, we grabbed our snorkel gear, waded through the warm lagoon at the end of our street, and trooped across the hot sand to endless blue water.
For me, the Liberia move was a personal turning point. The local high school was still under construction and wouldn’t be completed for several months—if then. With little choice, my parents enrolled me in correspondence courses through the University of Nebraska Extension Division. They felt I had the self-discipline to organize my time wisely, and I proved them right. As far as my studies went, if I needed help on a subject, I could rely on several teachers at a nearby private college who tutored students. However, I found it easier, and more beneficial, to do my own research to solve problems or discover course information. Not only did my grades improve remarkably, but also the workload forced me to set a strict schedule for class completion.
When we lived in Trinidad, the country had no television until a few months before we left the island. In Nigeria, we had two stations in English but only two programs worth watching: one a mystery series broadcast from Canada and the other the nightly news. And once a week, we listened to The Shadow on the radio. For lack of other entertainment, we all became avid readers, devouring books, magazines, and newspapers voraciously.
And as I mentioned above, the extension program became an excellent lesson in self-discipline, exactly what a budding writer needed. I woke early every morning, studied from 6:00 a.m. to noon, and began to write poetry and short stories to fill the afternoon hours. If I was bored, I’d double up on my high school work. We hadn’t lived in Liberia for even a year before we moved again.
Next week: “Wellington, South Africa: 1969.”