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.