Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pace and Patience: A conversation between Bob and Renita

Hi. Being here has meant much more frequent and steady communicating between Renita and me. We always have viewed communication as a pillar of our relationship, but I think we are talking and listening now more than ever. The enormous change in our lives makes it absolutely essential. Here is a somewhat reconstructed but typical conversation between us about what we are learning.

Renita: I remember once being wisely advised not to pray for patience. The danger being that praying for patience means being tried over an extended period of time. So I have stayed away from that prayer. It has dawned on me recently however, as we complete our first month here in Liberia, that I did ask several of the folks back home to pray that I would adjust to the slower lifestyle here. I remember stating that, in my typical desire to be busy and get things done, I feared I would find a way to make the slower pace of my life in Africa speed up.

Bob: I remember that too. And I see the tension it produces in you. You are being tried.

Yes, that particular prayer request is being answered, much to my chagrin. I have not been able to speed up the slower pace of life; I have realized that Liberia won’t be sped up.

Bob: Nicely put. Accomplishing single tasks take much more time than in the US. Three hours just to withdraw money at the bank! C’mon! I’ve always heard that the African pace of life is slower, but I could not get a handle on that in previous visits. Now, honestly, I think from my American perspective I’d say African life is less efficient. And as I say this I realize that efficiency itself is a product of privilege and access.

Our daily morning chit-chat over coffee and tea.
Renita: Whatever it is, inefficiency or pace, it has impacted me spiritually. Even the basic tasks of living at home won’t be sped up, at least not on our budget. As I do various home chores, I find myself grumbling about whether this is an effective use of my time…sweeping out the continual flow of sand that seems to rain in our house, doing endless chores relating to water, starting coal pots, in which the simple process of boiling water can take close to an hour. And I think about how the just the job of living is time consuming here. Not something I had to think about in the US. Is this what God has called me to? Is this how He wants me to spend my time? I want action. I want to report to our supporters the good work being done here. I want to see God in action through us, in the lives of Liberians. And, of course, I want to see it now. But when I stop and think that with all the modern efficiencies in the US, was I that much freer to be a better person, to use my time the way He would desire? So many people, including ourselves, complain about busyness in the US, with all the modern conveniences to make life easier.

Bob: As I listen to you I know we both know the answer. He has never called us to accomplish tasks or reach a certain level of efficiency, but to “make the most of our time, because the days are evil,” and to seek a certain kind of relationship with Him in the midst of that. And from that perspective, we work on our earthly task here: to simply be good neighbors. To love others as Christ loves us. Where inefficiency hinders productivity, love clears the way with patience and grace. Where ease of access and the luxury of privilege create a false sense of self importance and privilege, love demands justice and humility before others.

In the stress and busyness of the last few months, I have felt myself simply in quiet companionship with God. I am beginning to have the energy to ‘draw near to God’ once again, and look forward to Him drawing near to me, to continue a more active relationship. As this happens, I quickly feel reminded of the analogies between the work for clean water here, and the promise in John 4:14: “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (I also can relate better to the Samaritan woman who responds by saying, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming to draw water”J).

Man can I relate to that lady now! Seriously though, I think just recently I am giving myself permission to slow down and meet African life on its own terms. And that’s hard for a guy like me who wants what he wants when he wants it. It means more time with conversations that we would have never had before, like with Mason last night or with the neighbor kids every day. Maybe He wants us to be ok with doing less and being more, as in doing fewer things in one day and being peace whenever we can.

Renita: Our wedding verse comes to mind, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10)

Bob: What an odd coincidence.

Renita: Shush. And so, as I struggle with a lack of American-style productivity, I begin to realize that I am exactly where God wants me to be – learning to be satisfied with Him and myself as I do simple tasks; and taking the opportunity while performing these tasks to be still, drinking from this Well, replenishing my thirst in Him.

I don’t know what I have to offer Liberia or Liberians. I truly don’t. But I’m beginning to catch a glimpse of what Liberia has to offer me.

Bob: Couldn’t have said it better my self, m’dear. Now, when do we eat?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Month In

News from the front: After being here just over a month, we estimate we are smack-dab in the middle of the getting started process. It continues to rain nearly every day, some days a steady rain interrupted only by even harder torrents, for twelve hours. The liquid blessing takes a break, we might see the sun for an hour—might not—and it starts again off and on for another twelve. The humidity affects everything. Clothes do not get a chance to dry on the line, paper always seems wet and flimsy, cuts get infected easier, the car starts harder, glasses fog up just by wearing them, and we go to bed every night a little sticky. On the other hand, my dermatitis is clearing up, and we have lots of water fights.

Item: I’m working a bit more frequently at the catholic college. The dean asked me to sit on a mapping task force mandated by the government to assess the mental health efforts in Liberia, to clarify the role of various service providers, and to make recommendations regarding future training and professional standards. It seems like a good way to make connections. In addition, I’ll be doing some teaching and training soon.

Item: Hannah and Noah continue to adapt, and are actually beginning to have fun. It was hard to get Hannah out of her room the first week, now she is outside on the porch or in the yard with neighbors every night. It’s nice to see her laughing again. They saw their first monkey the other day. It was tied to a tree, but it still counts as “African Wildlife.”

Item: I am currently almost over a bout with amebic dysentery. It’s an intestinal thing that involves bloody diarrhea and microscopic animals, so let’s just say I feel better and leave it there.

Item: I had my first warm shower since we got here today. I heartily recommend it for everyone. Of course to get the full effect, you have to take cold showers every day for the month proceeding, but I promise you, the experience will make you feel reborn. It’s also nice not having to wince before the water hits.

Item: Here are a few assorted pics.

A water crown for an all-wet princess. She's getting pummeled from a downspout on our roof.

Roland, Betty and Eric. Three undernourished kids who spend a lot of time with us. She's not showing it here, but you could spot Betty's smile from the length of a football field.

Join us on a stroll to the beach. This is the view from the road where we live.

Thinkers Village and Barnes Beach.

The beach and the shelled out building that 13 orphans call home, including Roland, Betty and Eric.

Bob, Betty, and Noah.

The waves come in like walls.

She's soooooo kewl.

Lionel, the ever-present tormentor.

Drawing water at the well. About ten buckets every day.

Our living room. I call the decor "Summer Cottage Tacky."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Saturday Morning Errands Become an Adventure by Noah Reed

Hello. My Dad and Deacon Reeves and I went out to pick up some boards and blocks, to make Mom shelves to hold all me and Hannah’s home schooling stuff. Yes folks, school. Here. On the way, we saw some tropical scenery along with a family of chicks, and it rained lizards and toads. Not Literally. I took some pictures of our adventure.

What made it an adventure was the way home. On the way home, when we parked to buy ice, a policeman told us it was illegal to have wood boards next to me in the jeep. Yes folks, I was liable to be killed from sitting next to wood boards. The chief policemen came and wanted to take us to headquarters because Dad refused to turn over his driver’s license. I thought what the policeman was doing was stupid and I was pretty angry about it. I did not take any pictures of this because I didn’t want us to get into deeper trouble. We waited about a half hour while Deacon Reeves talked to the policemen.

After some time, the policemen allowed us to go home, but dad will have to go back on Monday and pay $10.00. Dad said he wasn’t sure if he was paying a fine or a bribe.

That was my Saturday morning. Hope you like the pictures!

Here we are zooming by a green field on our way to Duport Road. Its blurry but pretty, don't you think?

Looking through the rain splattered window at a coconut tree.

Dad and Deacon Reeves baragining for boards for Mom's shelves.

While at the wood shop, a family of chickens clucked past.

The dad chicken strides closer to the car, waiting to peck somebody.

On our way to the cement block shop.

Here is a picture of the tropical trees and a running stream from the rain.

A cool shot of a puddle in a rainstorm. Notice the explosions of raindrops.

Dad and Deacon Reeves shopping for fancy blocks to hold the shelf.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

What Do You Do When Their Lights Go Out?

Poverty in Africa is providing new challenges to our lifestyle choices. One of Renita’s favorite slogans is “Live simply so that others can simply live.” I have believed the truth of this for a while now, but here in Africa, there is immediacy to it. Last night the implications hammered me.

Next door, right next door, lives a man who has been a support and helper to us since the first time we visited Liberia. A small man, he is deeply humble, gracious and yet speaks with authority, so there is a “Ghandi-esque” quality about him. His name is Sam Reeves, and he is our former pastor’s father. When we first visited Liberia in 2004, there were about eight people living in his three bedroom house, including several children not his own. Now there are twelve or thirteen living there, and more children. His pension provides about $20.00 US a month. There are little jobs he does in addition that pays less than a subsistence wage for him. When he runs out of rice or gas for his generator, he and those he cares for simply wait in the dark. They do not complain, for God has always been faithful. And they are grateful for the rice or the gas when it comes. After all, many of his neighbors do not even have the generator.

The hammer that hit me came when I powered up our little generator for the evening. Next door, it was dark. They had run out of gas. In fact, they ran out of gas three nights ago. I heard it sputtering and then die, but the next night my neighbor asked me for a gallon, and thanks to you I had it, so I gave it to him. But last night he did not come to ask, so his house was dark while ours was full of light. In addition, I was aware that he was almost out of rice, and I had half of a hundred pound bag in the pantry. The hammer was in the form of a question: “How can I enjoy family power when my neighbors have none?” And then, “How can I eat rice when their bag is empty?” These are deeply troubling questions, because even if we gave all our food and gas to our neighbors, the many neighbors beyond next door are still out of both frequently. So on the one hand, I cannot have rice or gas when my next door neighbor is out, but on the other hand, I do not have the resources to apply this to everyone in my community. So we will do what we can. And since we are on a limited budget, it means there will be some nights we both sit by candle light, and some nights we pool our resources so everyone eats. For us, “living more simply” will have direct implications on our neighbors’ quality of life. Using less gas means our neighbors get to have light. Using less food, or sharing more means the kids next door get a bit more rice with their bitterballs. Living simply so others may simply live means also our neighbors and us become more interconnected. Our needs become theirs and vice versa. And while living a bit more simply is a bit scary for me, I know in my heart it is simply… right.

More pics soon. We miss you all.

PS I don’t think I’ve said it lately, but I don’t think you can know from there how much we appreciate you from here. We would not be here, could not make the progress we are making, without your steady and faithful support. Tuesday, as I was on my way back home from Monrovia, I had a blowout. Getting a flat anywhere is a drag, but getting a flat on the road from Monrovia is a bit unnerving. As I changed the tire with my all-precious spare, I was ok. I knew God, through you, had already taken care of the replacement tire I would need. So thank you for keeping the Reed wheels from falling off.

Our next door neighbor, the Deacon Reeves.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Election Madness

The much anticipated presidential elections are just around the corner, and today is the official start of the campaign season. Driving into the city is only topped by attempting to get out again. Everywhere I go, there are large groups of people marching, or dozens hanging from cars, handing out posters, trying to affix bumper stickers on my vehicle. I wish I had my camera with me, but I'll remember next time. All of this in the middle of the rainy season. Yesterday we must have received five inches.

The situation in Liberia is impossible to describe in a blog entry, but chaos short of anarchy is close. I imagine it’s a lot like the old American West. The “Law” is rarely available, and chances are the local lawman is looking for a bribe anyway. I think most Liberians forge alliances with neighbors and family, trying to makes a living the best they can in a decimated economy, all the while being watchful for the lurking scoundrel-- or “rogue” as they are called here.

But, since I have no shots of the campaign or of any rogues, here are a couple pics of yesterday's post-tropical storm water fight action.

Ventura, Onsay, Hannah and I think Apple negotiating Noah's fate.

I like this one. A nice blurry action shot.

Noah and Lionel giving Odele a shower.

The kids using Renita as an unwilling shield from Lionel. Don't worry hon, the dog will protect you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Noah with the newest Reed-- Nikki.

Around the House

Hello folks,

A few more shots of the daily grind. We'll get some scenery and city pics soon.

You know, while it is true we are all making steady progress adapting to Liberia, it is healthy and wise that we acknowledge how much we reflect on our life in Michigan. We do. The other day I asked Noah, “How much do you miss Grand Rapids?” In an immediate whisper I heard the words, “A lot.” Tears welled in my eyes as I croaked out, “Me too.” And I thought how normal this is, to miss the place one has left, no matter where one has gone. I still miss living in Middleville before living on Prospect in GR, and I miss California before I came to West Michigan, and before California, I miss Chicago, and forever ago, long before Chicago, I miss Strathmore Street and Bogart Street in Lansing. So if there are a few minutes everyday when I’m sad, its probably more than that for everybody else.

But we are getting used to it, day by day. Things like birthday cakes, and dogs (we just got a new puppy-- Nikki by name), and becoming friends with the folks here help a lot. Some days Renita and I can see it fitting together, and some day, as Noah reminded me during that talk, we will miss Liberia too.

Oh, before I go, I have telephone numbers for you. To call Renita from the US, dial 011 2316 452 356. To call Bob dial 011 2316 452 381. Because we are out of the city the call may not go through. And Renita just text messaged me to say she got her phone wet, so we'll see if that number holds up. If you change phones, you change what are called SIM cards, which means you change numbers too.Just keep trying. It does not cost us anything to receive calls, but it costs a lot to make them.

Keep in touch. We miss you.

The kitchen side of our house with our new used Pathfinder.

The back of the house. Beyond the house is the ocean, about a third of a mile away.

A view from the front yard. Kids not included.

A not too unusual scene as I peeked my head out the door yesterday. Somewhere in there is my wife.

Ventura doing a number on Hannah's head.

Hannah in her bedroom, peeking from behind the bug net. Not really too many flying bugs, but nobody likes a cockroach climbing across one's legs, especially if it is being pursued by a lizard, which is being chased by a vole.

Renita with her "Is this shot necessary?" look.

Bob and Lionel stringing the solar security lights. Generator shed in background.

A view of our kitchen. Renita and Hannah working on baking a birthday cake over a coal pot.

Is this guy good looking or what?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Few Images

Hey folks,

That last post was some kind of Blogger error-- not ours of course, so we deleted it. If it doesn't look like it is fron us, its not. Now that we have some internet access, I'll try to send pics every time. There are so many great shots; these are just intoductory.

We were saddened to hear of the death of Steve King. The Kings mean so much to many Liberians. Our prayers and love go out to Judy.

We are still getting settled, but much has happened to make us feel more at home. We even got a dog yesterday. I begin my job tomorrow. Will write much more soon-- enjoy the pics.

Bob and the Reed Fam

Our house, in the middle of Liberia. Noah and Lionel on the porch.

Bob makes pancakes on the coal pot.

That's right. Hannah. Laundry.

Father and son calculate the risks of a gray Atlantic.

View of raindrops from our porch.

Now that's a front yard!

The rainy season at Thinkers Village. View from our front porch. Deacon Reeves house next door.

This is how our furniture got delivered.

The Reeds in Mom and Dad's bed just before Dad's laptop bit the dust.

Hannah doing some porch reading.

This I think is my favorite shot so far. A group of kids from the orphanage leading Noah along a sand cliff by the ocean.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Getting Settled

Hey Gang,

At the internet cafĂ© again, hopefully with images very soon. It has been an active week. We live about 20 minutes to the south and east of Monrovia, along the coast. Each day I’ve had to be driven (or “be carried” as they say here) into the city. One trip into Monrovia is an entire day affair, and only about three things can be accomplished before the body and soul needs a break from the haggling, jostling, begging, waiting, returning, shouting and sweating that occurs there.
We must go however, because the city has what we need to accomplish our first major task here: to get settled.

Getting settled means, among other things, and roughly in chronological order: killing very large cockroaches and spiders, unpacking, learning to use the toilets and showers (no running water), purchasing basic food supplies, buying a drill, a safe, and hardware, attempting to get online, installing some security alarms, hanging bed netting, hauling water from the well to the barrels in the house (every day) selecting phones, changing phone servers, returning phones for replacement parts, ordering iron bars for doors, shopping for a car, attempting to get online, purchasing furniture, cleaning fire ants out of furniture, haggling for best prices on cars, catching a lizard in our bedroom, going to Western Union downtown to get wired money for car, being turned away because money is in Renita’s name, driving back with family to get money for car, purchasing car, backing car into tree, learning the hard way what the wrong voltage can do to a laptop, catching a lizard in Hannah’s bedroom, getting title to car, registering car, getting car insurance, hunting down the vole in Hannah's room (a vole is like a large mouse with long nose), reporting to US Embassy, getting letters of employment from MPCHS, and registering with Liberian Immigration.

Now, lest you think we find settling in overwhelming or too great a burden, I assure you it is not. We remain in good humor. Our life at home is more peaceful with every passing day. We live close to the beach, and our neighbors seem to like us. Our evenings are quiet and there is play and laughter throughout the day, every day. Look for images of life in Liberia very soon.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Don't Touch that Mouse Button

Hey folks, just a quik update: my laptop is toast and we are still trying to get up and running. We can do posts, but still no reliable way to get pics on the blog yet. We are working out the high tech gremlins.

Things are well. We have a 4wd vehicle and phones. Will post more very soon. We miss you, but are doing very well. Can do without the foo-foo though.