Monday, July 17, 2006

Let's Play "Our Home, Vera's Home"

I’d like to tell you about Vera Brown. Vera has lived in our neighbor- hood since the civil wars began, about sixteen years ago. She is not married, late thirties, and has four children, Moriah, Trokon, Gift, and Prince. The children’s fathers are completely out of the picture. We met Vera through Trokon, her 17 year old son, who we had known as a helpful serious teenager. Trokon one day approached us to help him get back to school after being unable to attend for three years. We agreed to pay his tuition for this coming year, and in exchange, he does yard work for us every week. (In addition, Renita tutors him several times a week to get him ready for school-- He will be entering sixth grade.) In gratitude, Vera visited us and after a time we became impressed by her humility, her strength, her perseverance—and her poverty.

For some time before we knew her, she and her children lived on the $20.00 a month she made teaching nursery school to sixty community children. Through a variety of ordained circumstances, we came to ask her if she would like to work with us (and in the process quadruple her salary.) She said yes, and now is part of our world five days a week. She washes our clothes, shops and cooks Liberian dinners for us Monday through Friday, and helps with some light cleaning. A couple weeks ago, I asked her if I could share her story and pictures of her home life with you. She said, “Yes, Unca Bob.”

You know, I tend to complain a bit about our house. At around a thousand square feet, it would pass as a “handyman’s special” summer cottage in Michigan. One toilet does not work; there is limited electricity and no running water. The floor is covered with plastic sheets and it is always dirty. Most Americans I know tell us we are making a big sacrifice to live here. Whenever I find myself whining more than usual, I pull out my Dell laptop computer, look at the pictures I took of her life, and play a little exercise called “Our Home, Vera’s Home.”

Here’s how it goes:

The Reed family home. 1200 square feet of moistness.

The Vera Brown family home, with Vera, Trokon, Gift and Prince. Only about 300 square feet is usable, and some of that is the porch/kitchen.

The Reed family living room. As I say, the decor is "Summer Cottage Tacky."

The big room in the Brown family hous-- uninhabitable, and open to the elements.

The Reed Family sleeping quarters. Four people in three rooms on foam mattresses on beds. Note plenty of stuff.

The Brown family sleeping quarters. Five people in one 12' X 12' room on foam mats.

The Reed Kitchen. Solar refrig on the left-- new stove on the right, full pantry in the middle.

Vera's kitchen. The new pots she just bought are already gone, thanks to the rogues.

The Reed family bathroom. No running water but everything else works.

Vera's family bathroom-- a hole in the ground outside. Its been this way every day, all of their lives.

Vera's home this morning, after almost 48 hours of steady rain. To top it off, last night rogues broke in a stole the few pots she had just purchased.

ReedNews Update

As life returns to Liberian normal, I have some time to take a breath and look at my immediate surroundings.

Item: Deacon Reeves, who is our dear neighbor next door, has been diagnosed with type II diabetes. He now is taking insulin every day and still his blood sugar count is over 300 (It’s supposed to be under 126). He was in the hospital for a week, and he does not look so good. Every morning I help him check his blood and am learning to help with his injections.

Item: The huge international NGO Save the Children is in our community, organizing youth activities. Looks like it could be a good thing. They helped the kids with an election of leaders and Hannah was elected treasurer by acclamation. I was surprised, because there were about a hundred kids and it seemed like most knew Hannah and wanted to see her in leadership. I’m sure I was beaming a bit with fatherly pride.

Item: The rainy season is on us full throttle. In the last 48 hours, it has rained about 40, with probably ten inches of rain falling. Intense rain like this effects activities like heavy snow does in Michigan—events are canceled, people stay home, and we all wait for the water to go away. Huge puddles/ponds are everywhere.

Item: Renita is being asked to speak more. Last week it was a workshop on leadership for this community, and Sunday she was the guest speaker at a school graduation.

Item: The rainy season brings more than rain—the noisy patter on the zinc roofs makes a perfect cover for rogues. Sunday night they tried scaling our glass shard covered nine foot wall. They got some of our next door neighbor’s clothes off the line and draped them over the wall where the small gate makes it easier to climb. We heard them and they never got in. Today, we install our remaining solar motion detector light at the small gate and throw up razor wire over the top. I hate razor wire, but as the rogues go, so go the counter measures.