Thursday, October 27, 2005

Honey, I'm Home

Hi folks, Bob here, back from my work in Rivercess County. I was away with CHAL, the Christian Health Association of Liberia. During the eight day excursion, I had a chance to receive at least as much as I offered to the good people of Cestus City, Little Liberia, and other small rainforest communities.

I was there to lend myself to the CHAL Trauma and Reconciliation Team to participate in offering mediation and conflict resolution skills training. The five of us conducted a six day, forty hour workshop to a group of thirty-six community elders and leaders. The days were long and at times a bit tedious but over the six days most everyone seemed enriched. It was an honor to eat with and listen to the participants during breaks or over meals. I was continually moved by their generosity and graciousness, especially since I stopped by some of their homes and knew they daily lived with a poverty that is impossible to convey in this short space.

The evenings with the CHAL team were filled with stories from Bassa (the ethnic group dominating the area) tradition and we enjoyed laughter and stimulating debate. I learned much about rainforest life, and by contrast, much about the Liberians living around us. Our conversations ranged from the spiritual to the political to the cultural, with a healthy dose of the culinary tossed in for good measure.

Speaking of food, we had an opportunity to sample ketaly (a tiny very bitter berry, sort of a concentrated bitterball. Back in Michigan we would have called them choke cherries, spit them out, and moved on), lots of smoked fish, dried fish, and freshly killed bush meat— in this case a Liberian version of our raccoon supplied by a local hunter—which we ate with cassava leaf over the perennial Liberian staple, white rice.

It was difficult to be out of communication with Renita during this time, especially on the 20th, which was our 15th wedding anniversary. The first few nights seemed to go on forever, but the return home was as sweet as the ketaly was bitter. All in all, I return with a sense that both Renita and I are beginning to understand what we are supposed to do here. A few images of my week follow. I took about a hundred twenty pictures but these few capture the essence. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to archive them all, so you can view at your leisure.

We're on our way. This is past the city of Buchanan, about three hours (80 miles) out of Monrovia, with five hours to travel the remaining 80 miles. Note the hanging baskets in the tree. They are birds' nests.

The Land Cruiser navigates a very shaky log bridge over a washed out section of the road.

The road narrows to Cestus City, Rivercess County.

The Dreamed Guest House, my home away from my home away from home.

The workshop site, Open Bible Mission, in the midst of the Liberian rainforest.

The conflict mediation workshop. Fanantee and Aaron to the left, with James "Pappa" Doe, the director of the reconciliation and trauma program, seated near the door on the right. The white guy is me.

Participants practicing a conflict they can mediate.

A sweaty me explaining a point to a Paul, participant. He looks like he's wondering what planet I'm from. He ought to get in line.

They didn't always understand my English, but my attempts to speak Bassa cracked them up. Mouie! Eh, Mouie!

One of the particpant teams report while Pappa Doe and a moist me look on. It ain't the heat, it's the humidity.

Ah, the evening meal waiting for us at our guest house: Cassava leaf, rice and freshly killed raccoon at sunset. Does it get any better than this?

Time to head home. The road is a tad slippery from the night rains.

On the homeward journey, a cab is stuck in the mud and holds up traffic. As he prepares his rescue, the CHAL team observes from a dry distance.

A typical rainforest home on the way out.

The long and winding road that leads to her door. A tough but good week behind us, and only five more hours to home.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Run off Election: November 8, 2005

A run off election has been declared between George Weah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The results of this election will come in much quicker than the last election. The campaigning for these two will begin on October 26, 2005. There is much talk, speculation, and rumors going around, as the subject occupies the minds of many. As I have not yet met a supporter of Weah, my observations are clearly one-sided. But I was overcome with sadness on Saturday, while discussing our goals for LEAD, that the Board members talked about two potential paths: goals and dreams that will have a chance to take place if Ellen wins, and the fruitlessness of doing anything with LEAD and setting any goals if Weah wins. In fact, those present (and others that I have spoken to as well) are seriously considering leaving the country, should Weah win. The scene from the movie, Hotel Rwanda (If you haven't watched it, I strongly recommend it), came back to me, as I considered those with the ability to leave and the many, many for whom leaving is not an option. As I worshiped at a small, humble church in a hut on Sunday morning, with songs joyfully declaring the glory and majesty of God, I fought to keep the tears back as I considered that these are the folks that would be standing by the side of the road, watching as the buses of those of means pull out (as in a scene from the movie Hotel Rwanda).

The biggest fear that people express if Weah wins is not war, but the International Community, specifically the US, withdrawing support and connections. This election is serious business for the future of the country. It’s not like elections in the US where you might not want one person to win, but you don’t face extreme poverty, corruption, food prices tripling, feelings of abandonment, and, to a large degree, hopelessness if that person wins. Those who want to leave just don’t want to go through it again. Those who have to stay don’t have any choice.
Please join us in prayer. Please pray that God will intervene and work in the hearts of those making new decisions of where to cast their vote. Please pray for God to spare this small country and give it a leader who is Christ-like, and will love the country and its’ people more than s/he loves her/himself.

Hannah holding Maajoua, our neighbor.

The Noah '95, our homemade lawnmower (dog not included:-)

Friday, October 21, 2005

LEAD Inc.: Liberia Entrepreneurial and Asset Development, In the Name of Christ

In Bob’s absence, let me report on some of the work that I am doing with LEAD Inc., a new NGO that is in partnership with Partners Worldwide ( and CRWRC ( LEAD’s goal is to work to increase employment in Liberia – currently there is approximately an 85% unemployment rate. The goal is to develop savings and loan groups, who will receive a 3:1 match on their savings in the form of a loan, to expand their business, and ultimately the employment base. Our current goal is to work with small to middle size established businesses (with several employees). This was a big week for LEAD: we incorporated officially with the Ministry of Planning, and we hired a staff person: Brother James Hillary. This Saturday, October 22, 2005, we will hold our Strategic Planning meeting for the Board. We are blessed to have visionary people on this board who have some great ideas for where LEAD can go to effect change for the people of Liberia and the Kingdom of God. They have ideas of working not only with middle size businesses in their current location, but to begin a business incubator program through the establishment of a ‘mall’, where businesses can be indoors, outside of the rain (most businesses are currently outside, along the road), with lighting so that they don’t have to close up shop by around 6:00 pm, and security. This would be a place where middle size businesses could be, as well as some new entrepreneurs, targeting ex-combatants, specifically. We are in prayer about this and trust that God will use us, as long as we keep submitting our will to His will, our agenda to His. We are also blessed to have detail oriented people on the board, who catch the minute details of what needs to be done, and are willing to do that work as well. In addition, we have a North American Affiliate group, called the Nehemiah Liberia Group, made up of business and otherwise interested folks in Grand Rapids, who will work as partners with the business owners here. As Bob has the camera with him, I will send pictures along when I can.


Some of you have asked about Homeschooling. So far, it’s going fine. I’m enjoying it and Hannah spontaneously reported this morning that she likes Homeschooling better to regular school. Noah reports that while it’s true that the days are shorter than regular school days, the days feel longer because the work is harder. I like the one-on-one attention that I can give them, especially as it relates to processing material to make sure that they understand it; that is a luxury that most teachers with many students in the class cannot do. As both kids love reading, but don’t always read the quality books that I would like them to read, I am enjoying assigning those books now. [Before I would ask them to read a particular book – they would halfheartedly try and then report that they ‘really couldn’t get into it’. Now they don’t have an option – they must read it.] I’m happy to report that once they start reading it, I find them sneaking reading during their break time in school – they like it! Currently, Hannah is reading To Kill a Mockingbird; Noah is reading Lord of the Flies.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Election Update

We wanted to give you an election update, as we understand that Liberia election news is not making it to the news stations there. As of today, October 17, they have counted about 90% of the vote. The top three candidates are: George Weah (former professional soccer player) at 28.9%, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (long-time politician, ran against Charles Taylor in 1997) at 19.7%, Charles Brumskine (lawyer) at 13.4%. As a reminder, the winner must have 50% plus one vote to win. As it looks like this will not happen, talk is that a run-off election between the top two candidates may happen in the beginning of November. Results from that election will come in much quicker, as it will only be two candidates, not 22, plus the senators and representatives will also not be included.

The folks that we have spoken to seem somewhat stunned and very discouraged that Weah is in first place. The newspaper Saturday described him as "a man with no experience in any area except playing soccer" and "the idea of George Weah as president is an outright shame for Liberia." We can only hope and pray that those who voted for the other 20 candidates will prayerfully consider who now to support and will make a good decision for the future of Liberia. With the lead that Weah has, it seems doubtful that even if Ellen gets the majority of support from the other candidates, that she will have enough to make it over 50%. Please keep this process in your prayers!

Bob goes to Rivercess County

In other news, (I feel like a journalist:-), Bob left today for Rivercess County for ten days with CHAL (Christian Health Association of Liberia) to do trauma related training and conflict resolution. As phones do not work there, we will be out of communication with each other for that time. Unfortunately, our 15th wedding anniversary is on the 20th, during the longest length of time that we have been without contact with each other. We covet your prayers - for Bob, that it may be a meaningful, safe, and pleasant trip - for me, as I carry on the chores, especially going into Monrovia, as well as sleeping at night. We are excited that Bob has this opportunity and trust God's hand in this. I will be updating the blog in Bob's stead, so if you notice that it is less pithy, you'll know why:-).

Bob preparing for his two week training venture in Rivercess County with CHAL.

Planting a vegetable garden - yes, in October - the first of two growing seasons.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Early in the morning, the voting lines are already formed, as UNMIL soldiers look on.

Amanda, our housekeeper, is dropped off to cast her vote.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Our Election Journalists On the Scene File these Reports

Election Report by Noah Reed (Age 10)
On Tuesday, October 11, 2005, Liberia will vote for a new president. The results might not come until, at the latest, October 26. There are twenty-two candidates and five seem to be the leaders. The leaders and their parties are:
George Weah: Congress for Democratic Change
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Unity Party
Charles Brumskine: Liberty Party
Varney Sherman: Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia
Winston Tubman: National Democratic Party
In Liberia there are 1.5 million registered voters and of that, there are 600,000 men and 900,000 women. The candidates will need at least one vote over 50% of the votes and if no one gets that they will do another vote for the top two candidates. When elected, the president will serve for a total of six years.

There are many election observers who watch to make sure the voting and election is done right, including former US president, Jimmy Carter. For additional security they have tamper proof locks on the boxes with the ballots in them, because in the past people have messed with the votes so that their candidate will win the election. Much of Monrovia and schools will be shut down because it is going to be busy and maybe dangerous.

Here is some information about four candidates:
George Weah: A professional soccer player.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: A past politician and UN official.
Varney Sherman: A lawyer.
Winston Tubman: Son of former President Tubman
It is difficult for Liberians to get information other than on the radio. There are also accusations that candidates are bribing people with rice and money to get their votes. Plus there are signs to girls saying, “My Vote is Secret” because some men tell women to vote for who the man wants to vote for. For voters that can not read or write, they will dip their thumb in ink and put it on the picture of the candidate who they want to be president.

I interviewed two people about the election. One was Sister Amanda, the other Brother Samuel. Sister Amanda thinks that a good president is what Liberia needs. Sister
Amanda wants Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to be president because she has good International contacts. With International contacts, Sister Amanda says Ellen can get people jobs which might bring peace because people won’t steal. Sister Amanda believes the most important task for the new president is fixing roads, getting people jobs, improving schools, and getting running water. This is why Sister Amanda wants Ellen for president.

Brother Samuel’s thoughts about the election are that it’s a good exercise for Liberia to choose a good leader. He hopes that God will speak to the people’s hearts and help them choose a good leader that will help Liberia. He believes the president needs to restore water, rights for people, rebuild roads and cover potholes, and improve health. So the president basically needs to rebuild Liberia. Brother Samuel doesn’t know who to vote for but hopes God will help him choose the right person. He believes the president has to have knowledge and common sense because without those the country could fall apart again. He also thinks the president also has to have past experience with unifying things and needs to know what to do to help the country. Brother Samuel said that all the candidates are promising to unify Liberia. He hopes they keep their promise. Brother Samuel said, “This job won’t be done overnight. It’s a hard task to do but hopefully it will be done.”

My thoughts on the election are that an important task for the new president is unifying and rebuilding. I hope the Liberians pick the right president because the president will stay for six years which is a long time. I also hope the candidates will keep their promise on unifying and rebuilding Liberia. From Monrovia, Liberia, this is Noah Reed reporting.

The Presidential Elections: The Candidates, the Voters, the Process
by Hannah Reed (Age 12)

This year hosts the first presidential election in Liberia in eight years. The elections will take place on October 11, 2005 and the results will be out on October 26. In this election, there are 22 candidates, five of which seem to be in the lead. The candidates that seem to be in the lead appear to be Ellen Sirleaf of the Unity Party, George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change(CDC), Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party, Varney Sherman of the Coalition for Transformation of Liberia(COTOL), and Winston Tubman of the Nation Democratic Party of Liberia(NDPL). To win this election, one of the candidates must have 51% of the vote. Some Liberians say that Ellen has a good chance of winning because 900,000 of the 1.5 million registered voters are women [although some women are being forced by men to vote for who the men want. The My Vote is Secret Campaign is telling women to stand up for themselves and vote for who they want.]. The remaining 600,000 are men. 51% of the votes are 765,000 votes. This method of doing things could mean a run-off. Then the top two candidates will compete, and there will be another election two weeks later. If the voters can’t read or write, their ballot will have pictures of the candidates and they will put their thumb on an ink pad, and then press it on the picture of the candidate they want to win. To ensure that the votes won’t be messed with when being transported from separate counties, there are many security measures being used, such as the boxes the ballots are being transported in have tamper-proof locks. During the week of the voting, a lot of Monrovia will be closed. It was suggested that the schools be closed from October 3-15. Although this idea was dismissed by some schools, most government schools are closed during that time.
George Weah is popular among young adults because he is a soccer celebrity. Ellen has been in jail twice for speaking against the government. Varney and Brumskine are both lawyers. It is extremely hard to get information much deeper than this on the candidates, so the voters’ knowledge doesn’t seem to be deep about any of the candidates.
I interviewed two people about the election. The first person was Reverend Zar. “I’m satisfies with this election,” says Zar. Rev. Zar is voting for Charles Brumskine. “I like him because he likes the children,” says Zar, “and I like him for caring about their education. He has concern for the children.” Rev. Zar believes that Brumskine will have to help the people forgive. “After that,” says Zar, “unifying will be easy.” Rev. Zar says that Brumskine has experience as a lawyer and that that is good. That concluded my interview with Rev. Zar.
The second interviewee was Pastor Samuel B. Reeves. He says that he is also satisfied with the election because it is the first free, real, and fair election in a long time. He is voting for Ellen Sirleaf. “I’m voting for Ellen,” says Reeves, “because she is skilled and the world knows and trusts her. She is a very good leader and in the past, she’s worked for the UN.” Pastor Reeves says that the most important job for the new president will be reconciliation. “Everything will follow that,” Reeves says. Ellen works for the Unity Party and although it’s never won an election, it has had strong candidates in the past. “Ellen will make a good leader because she has character, courage, and she’ll be committed to her job,” says Reeves, “and since she’s a ‘people person’ she’ll work with all people, not just a few.” Pastor Reeves doesn’t know much about Ellen’s vice-president, but he trusts Ellen and her pick. This concluded my interview with Pastor Samuel B. Reeves.
As an American 12-year-old observing the election, I think Ellen would make a good president for this country. I think that the new president’s biggest job is reconciliation, then rebuilding. But both of these jobs are very important and this is not an either/or job, this is a both/and thing. Both rebuilding and reconciling are important and since one has to come before the other, then the other should come directly behind. It doesn’t matter which one comes first as long as one does. These elections are one step closer to rebuilding this country. My hope is that this new president will help heal the country and that he or she will do it peacefully. Reporting from Liberia, West Africa, this is Hannah Reed.

The Liberian Presidential Ballot. Twenty-two candidates.

Close up of same.

The National Elections Commission, apparently prepared for sore losers.

Another view of the NEC building. Razor wire heaven!

CDC Hut, part of the George Weah party Headquarters.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Late posts-- Renita and Election News

Internet access has been very difficult for ten days, so blog posting is catch-as-catch-can. Here are my latest posts. Many of you aleady know about Renita’s malaria, but here is the post none the less. Then a bit on the elections.

Renita was sick on and off all last week. She had a mild fever and felt lousy Sunday the 25th, but then the next day felt ok. On Tuesday she was sick again, but better on Wednesday. After doing some reading in our handy Where There is No Doctor book, we suspected malaria. We understand that malaria, if left untreated, is a very serious illness that can be deadly. We also know that if treated, it is entirely curable, and responds quickly to anti-malaria medicine. So we were attentive, but relaxed. On Thursday, when she was sick again, we elected to take the malaria treatment we have on hand, just in case. On Friday she was still queasy and feverish so we went to the nearby mission hospital, ELWA, to get tested. The tests were actually negative, probably because we had already started treatment, but the doctor diagnosed it as malaria anyway and Renita began an additional treatment. There are several varieties of malaria, and one, Plasmodium Falciparum, produces the severe and life-threatening type of malaria. Renita apparently does not have falciparum malaria.

Marlaria is a fascinating disease. It is not caused by a virus, but a parasite that hatches and grows in the gut of the mosquito after it bites an infected person. From there, the mosquito injects the larvae into the bloodstream of its next victim through its saliva. The parasite grows in 6 days in the liver and produces 30,000-40,000 daughter cells (merozoites) which are released into the blood when the liver cell ruptures. In the blood, after a single merozoite invades a red blood cell, the parasite grows in 48 hours and produces 8-24 daughter cells, which are released into the blood when the red blood cell ruptures. Unless it is stopped through any number of treatments, it never goes away, damaging the liver, making the person anemic, and even causing death. The youngest and oldest are most vulnerable. Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of young Africans every year.

Back to Renita. She is feeling much better as of Wednesday night the 5th, although not 100%. She is taking it easier, but if you know Renita, that means she lays down for a few minutes before moving on to her next task. We expect her to be back up to 100% before the end of the weekend. Like the amebic dysentery I enjoyed last month, we take this seriously, but in stride. Even with the anti-malaria medicine we take, the odds are we will each get it at one time or another. Fortunately we have ready access to what millions do not have: appropriate and attentive medical treatment.

The Presidential Election
On October 11, Liberians will go to the polls an hopefully elect a new president. Since 2003, a transitional government, underwritten by the US and the UN, has been doing a fine job keeping the nation just a few pay-offs short of complete collapse. As most of you know, Liberia is officially classified as a “failed state”, and has been in deep trouble for over twenty-five years. That is two butchered presidents, three wars, and 200,000 dead Liberians ago. So these elections come with anxious hope and a great deal of hoopla.

There are twenty-two candidates, but it looks like only four are given any real chance of winning. The four leaders are Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and old hand at Liberian politics, serving in the Doe and Taylor governments, although a dissenter in both; George Weah, the high-school drop-out turned ex-world class soccer player turned presidential aspirant, wildly popular with the young and without any experience in government; Charles Brumskine, a businessman and attorney popular with the folks from Grand Bassa and many religious leaders, and Varney Sherman, a wealthy attorney, purported to be closely aligned with the Lebanese business community who seem to own every pharmacy, retail outlet, supply store and grocery store in Monrovia. The folks around us are split mostly between Sirleaf-Johnson and Brumskine, although no candidate really seems to have a clear edge. In addition, to claim victory, a candidate must hold a true majority of 50% plus one or else the election commission will hold a runoff election. The thought of a runoff gives war, chaos and election weary observers the shivers.

The electioneering in and around Monrovia has been wild and crazy, with fights and mayhem breaking out as one loud disruptive group of a hundred or so campaigners stop traffic, then turn a corner and run into a few hundred more supporting a different candidate. The National Election Committee is buried in razor wire, and all checkpoints are building up their sandbags in the event of post election craziness. This morning, it took me an hour and a half to drive the twelve miles into Monrovia. The normally quasi-four lane road was a six lane bumper-to-bumper mass of turtle-paced vehicles, five moving into the city, with one coming back. Along the side of the street, marchers and shouters by the thousands. I’ll get pictures, I promise, as soon as this crazy blog thing starts obeying me.

So here are a few random domestic pictures while we wait for some more newsy shots of election craziness. These are all from last week or earlier. Here is Hannah studying her Math homework. I don't know either, so don't ask.

The following are a few fauna shots-- creatures around the house. Noah with one of the many lizards he enjoys snagging.

A cute lil' turtle Noah kept for a few days, then released.

This bird is has a nest in our back yard. The picture does no justice.

A toad. I know you have 'em, but ours are bigger. About six inches across.

A lil' dragonfly on a rope. Actually, a big dragonfly.

What are YOU looking at? Yes, its on my head.

This is the school Madison Square Church and some Grand Rapids schools are working with. When we first visited, the building was a shell with no roof.

A shot of the back of the house. Note the new wall going up.

Here is a night shot out our east entrance. Burning is the standard way of clearing lots for buiding.

The process of gettin' powered up. This is the team of solar electricians hooking up the inverter and other equipment to the generator. Soon the solar panels will go up. Oh joy!

Now the team moves outside to the zinc roof. Everything else is running except the solar panels.

Oh so glad to get these babies up there.

The team almost done.

The finshed product, on the honkin' roof.