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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The life and lilt of Eliza Larmena

City College student Eliza Larmena, a Liberia native, is studying in the Learning Resource Center. Larmena earned a bachelor's degree in Moscow, Russia. Photo by || Vincent Fernandez || [email protected]

During a West African winter, when the dusty, harsh Harmattan trade winds sweep in off the Atlantic and stir the slender tropical mangroves and tall, coarse elephant grass that coats the Pepper Coast, Liberians have to be ready to weather the storm.

Bring it on. Liberians like Eliza Larmena have endured far worse.

Larmena, a City College student in her 40s, has experienced more than most people. In fact, her life is its own miniature made-for-TV movie.

She spent her childhood days picking fruit and playing soccer with 12 brothers, dealt with the death of her father in the midst of military-led coups and genocidal civil wars.

But in addition to this, she left everything dear to her behind in Liberia to pursue a degree in the frigid climate of Russia, then reunited with her war-displaced family in the U.S. the day before 9/11, making Larmena’s story seem mythical.

Nonetheless, her smile is capacious, and the warmth it exudes hasn’t been chilled by a lifetime of trying circumstances.

“In this life you have to take things one day at a time,” Larmena says.

Larmena was born in Grand Bassa, Liberia, a nation established in the 19th century as a fresh start for freed American slaves.

Her father worked in medicine and her mother was a school teacher. One of 21 children, Larmena had no shortage of siblings with whom to comb the beaches a half mile from her house or against whom to score a goal.

“I was kind of a tomboy,” says Larmena, recalling her brothers and her youthful exuberance for soccer.

Yet life in Liberia was not all fun and sun for Larmena.

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Larmena followed in 2001 and was greeted by the toppling of the Twin Towers.

Still, looking at Larmena, you’d scarcely perceive that such hardship has been her lot.

“Eliza is a woman of quiet strength,” says occupational therapy professor Ada Boone Hoerl, one of Larmena’s City College instructors.

Larmena says she hasn’t allowed herself to be downtrodden by her painful past, but instead, is driven by its memorable joys and present pursuits of happiness—primarily in the lives of others.

“If I can help somebody, and that person gets a smile, then I feel happy,” Larmena says.

Ask anyone who knows her, and they’re likely to agree.

“She’s a happy soul. That’s for sure,” says Bessida Taonda, 22, a civil engineering major at City College.

During her lifetime, Larmena has filled many roles. She’s mothered three children, worked as a certified nursing assistant, school teacher and wedding cake-maker. She’s taught needlework and served with the YWCA. She received her bachelor’s degreee in Moscow, is currently enrolled in the RN program at City College, and aspires to a master’s degree.

“She’s really dedicated,” Taonda says. “It’s inspiring.”

But the most inspiring aspect of Larmena remains her perseverant philanthropy. She dreams of one day ministering with medicine in the rural villages of Liberia where her father once labored. Even though, as she acknowledges, there will be no real money in it for her.

“Maybe I’m just a nosy person. I talk to everyone,” Larmena jests. “There’s so much to learn from other people.”

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