Friday, May 26, 2006


At just under four feet tall, eight year old Enoch is one of the smaller boys in the neighbor- hood. Most kids find him relentlessly annoying and he is forever being pounded by almost everyone around, from girls his size to the teenage boys. He is one of the poorer children in our poor community, often hungry, dressed in grimy torn tee shirts and shorts, with no money to afford flip-flops let alone shoes. Because his feet are bare, his soles are cut and his toes have “jiggers,” (real name chigoes-- not the same as chiggers)) the nasty larvae that we dug out of Renita’s big toe last August. Last month, we extracted three from two toes. Unfortunately, he quickly loses the flip flops we occasionally buy for him.

He lives with his mother and grandparents, in an unfinished, open cement block house with no furniture. The family eats sitting on the floor, sleeps on thin foam mats and are always exposed various diseases brought on mosquitoes, flies, rats and the chickens that also make Enoch’s house their coup. Lack of sanitation is a significant problem. There is no well at hand, no bathroom, no soap or toilet tissue. Like millions of others in the world, the family uses various spots around their yard for a toilet. Last October, Enoch cut himself on the leg above the ankle-- a minor cut that would normally be treated with a plastic bandage—but after two days of being exposed to his fingers, the cut was seriously infected and within a week we had to take him to the hospital for antibiotics to stop the ulcerated infection, which was causing his skin to rot and his entire leg to swell. Because the family has no clothes line, the clothes are spread around the yard to dry. This exposes them to the tumbu fly-- which lay eggs in the clothes late in the day. When the eggs hatch, the maggots burrow into the skin from the clothes. Two weeks ago, I popped a tumbu fly maggot from his upper abdomen. We are working with him on basic hygiene skills, and we think he is beginning to get it, but without easy access to soap and clean water, the most we can expect is that he will keep his hands away from his cuts and his face, and try to avoid getting “poopoo” on his fingers.

He does not attend school, because his mother has no money for him to go. Next year, we have arranged for him to go to the local school in partnership with Millbrook Christian School in Michigan.

None of what I have described is unusual for a Liberian boy. I do not write about Enoch to garner sympathy or pity. I write about Enoch because I’m impressed by him. He is one of the most indomitable souls I have ever encountered. Despite the hand he has been dealt, the kid is simply unconquerable. He is assertive, directive, audacious and often hilarious. I said earlier that he gets picked on a lot. This is in part because he never shuts up, and he picks at kids twice his size for whatever attention he can get out of them. His sense of comedic timing is pitch perfect, and he knows exactly when to provide the mouthiest comeback. So when the bigger kids have had enough of his incessant needling, they pummel him. But Enoch will not be broken. The kids can hold him down, make him cry, make him scream and howl, but he bounces back immediately and is right back at them. He spends hours in our yard every day, insisting that I look at something, asking Renita to give him a coloring book, haranguing Noah to come out with his “playtoys,” or telling Hannah that he loves her. He delights and infuriates us every day. He tempts me to yell at him, box his ears in, and he makes me smile and laugh out loud. I wanted you to meet him too.

Enoch's day typically begins with a trip to the Reed house.

When he gets to our house, he (purple shirt)joins Noah, Chokon, Geeba and Obadiah for a serious playtoy session.

He loves the plastic soldiers and cowboys.

Everyday, Enoch's mouth get him into trouble. Here, brothers Eastman, Jackson and Chokon give him what for after being "cursed" by the lad. (Yes, I intervened after taking this. Enoch was mouthing off again seconds later. )

On another day, Jackson and Chokon attempt to run him down...

...but Noah was there to chase the attackers off. Note Enoch, literally bouncing back for whoever is next.

On one of his visits, be begged Yers Trooly to cut his hair. As you can see, he really enjoys this. As do I.

Another day of tormenting and being tormented behind him, a satisfied Enoch heads for home.

On his way, he passes several cement shells that used to be homes. Now abandoned, gutted and rotting, they testify to fifteen years of instability, displacement and war.

At his Grandfather's house, a small cement block structure, the next step up from dirt floors, reed mat walls and a tarp roof. This kind of house transformation is happening all over Liberia.

Enoch at his back porch with pals. Actually this is where Grandmother does the cooking for the family. Note the two small coalpots to the left of the kids.

The family living room. Here is his little sister, mother, father (he lives in another county and rarely visits.) and grandfather.

Enoch's bedroom. He sleep's here with his little sister and 15 year old aunt-- who by the way also plays in our yard and has the best throwing arm of anyone I know.

From an unfinshed portion of his grandafather's house-- a front yard overlooking the marsh and the neighbors with the Altantic 200 yards beyond. "Welcome to my world."

A farewell smile from a hammock across the waves.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Teaching Dynamo

Renita is a remarkable servant leader, as anyone who knows her quickly testifies. Back in Grand Rapids, she supervised neighborhood homework groups in our home, was a powerful advocate for community schools, and was always off lending her wisdom at workshops and seminars. Nothing has changed with her move across the Atlantic.

Every Tuesday, From 2pm to 5pm she teaches the LEAD class. This is at Christine Norman's school. Christine is the late president Tolbert's daughter, and a friend of many back in Grand Rapids.

When she gets home, the kids are waiting. Here she uses math flash cards with Ishmael and Sam from the orphanage, and Eastman.

Drawing class-- some of these kids do not know their colors. In addition to Noah,I think we have Obadiah, Eastman, Enoch, Chokon and Ishmael.

On to Reading with Odelle learning Phonics and Leonard trying to figure it out.

From left, Jackson, Enoch and Obadiah taking a quiz on subtraction. They actually ask Renita to give these to her. For Enoch, this is the only schooling he gets.

Last but not least, let us not forget her pet students, Hannah and Noah, who she home schools Monday thru Friday, 8am to 1pm. Talk about productivity!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Chicken News

Noah has been bugging us ever since we got here to get chickens, so a couple weeks ago we relented. However the dogs have been chasing them all over and out of the yard, giving us quite the headache. We almost told Noah we were going to get rid of the birds. We told him we would work with the dogs to train them not to chase the chickens. In the meantime, one of our neighbor kids, a twelve year old named Geeba-- Renita's father got close to him when he visited-- offered to supervise the building of a chicken fence and coup.

The good news is we are finally at a point where the dogs and chickens are actually free in the yard together without the dogs attacking, but the birds have a place to roost and get out of the rain at night. Can eggs be far behind?

Here the chickens are, trying to enjoy life in our yard.

But our vicious Kung-Foo dogs (Pinky pictured here attempting to do a Bruce Lee on Noah) would not let them rest-- chased the poor cluckers whenever they were not tied up.

Geeba (left) lent his building expertise, and along with Eastman, Obadiah and Noah, built a coup out back by the generator shed.

So now Noah's birds, Bawk, Cluck, Richie and lil' Richie, are all safe and sound.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Thing about Humidity

As most of you know the coast of Liberia is one of the wettest places on Earth. During the wet season-- which has just begun-- it rains for days at a time without letup, and most of the year’s 200 plus inches of rain falls during the next four months. Coming from a moist Midwestern US area that sees 40 inches in a year, it’s an impressive display. But far more impressive than the rain is Liberia’s humidity, which is as high as it gets anywhere, just about 365 days of the year. For humans, and especially me, he thing about humidity is what is does to the body’s natural ability to cool itself. When we are hot, we sweat. Sweat has no cooling powers in itself. However it is designed to evaporate, and as it evaporates, the body cools. In dry climates, like Senegal closer to the Sahara, it is just as hot as in Liberia and often hotter. A person perspires there as much as here, but clothes are never wet and rarely does sweat collect on the brow. A person may not even realize he is sweating. The ultra dry air immediately takes it, resulting in a cooler body.

In Liberia, the air is so saturated with moisture that perspiration simply has no where to go—the body just gets wetter and wetter in a vain attempt to cool off. I go through about five shirts a day here if I’m not in the blessed air conditioning of car or work. At home, ten minutes of activity, like pounding a few nails or taking the generator out, immediately starts a process that drenches my shirt by the time I’m finished. Sweat, with no chance of evaporation, drips off my body or is continually being wrung out of the handkerchiefs I now carry everywhere. And my body just gets hotter.

It really is fascinating. I used to think the humidity caused me to sweat more, but this is not the case. The amazing humidity of Liberia simply cannot evaporate it, so it accumulates. I’ve never understood the mechanism of evaporative cooling until now, when it does not work.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Welcomed Respite in The Gambia

We just returned from a week in The Gambia with families from Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) and Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). The Reeds have not taken a vacation since 2004, so this was a breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally. We were on the ocean with stiff cool breezes every day, all day. Hannah and Renita were actually cold several times, and I felt great. Noah and I did a lot of exploring, visiting tide pools and collecting shells. It was simply lovely.

Today, I woke up in Liberia. I discovered Henry’s funeral is next week—here they embalm the body for three weeks and more of viewing—and Mary Joyce is still clinging to life, but the doctors want to discharge her, as there is nothing they can do to help. My throat and arm infections are almost cleared up, thanks to 500mg of cefalexin every five hours.

Enjoy some shots of The Reeds in The Gambia.

Our hotel (on the right) at dawn. The winds were brisk and crisp.

Later in the morning, we met as a large group for a time of mutual spiritual support.

After the sessions, Noah and I out hunting for shells. Some days there were thousands of jelly fish stranded by low tide-- here are a few.

One of the jellies that made it to a pool, waiting for rescue from the rising tide.

Yers Trooly in the tide pools, looking for anything interesting.

At the tide pools, a western reef egret.

In the late afternoon, we return home and Noah displays the booty to Mom and sis.

In the evening, the tradition was to have a talent night. Hannah and Noah doing the sing-a-long thing.

An obligatory Reed family photo.

As we prepare to leave, Noah bids farewell to our last day, the beach, and Gambia.