Monday, January 29, 2007

Gbaye's Town Gets a New Women's Center

North of Kakata, in Gbaye’s Town, the women of the Konoquellie clan have been working with the Mother Patern Women’s Development Program to create a women’s resource center. The MPC Women’s Program has been helping Liberian women help themselves in villages all over Liberia. Grace Boiwu, a friend, student, and hero of mine, heads the program. She works with humble and fierce determination to empower women affected by war, abuse and a culture that has traditionally relegated them to near slave status.

The women’s resource center will be a place to offer training and support in a number of areas, from developing and managing a business, to trauma related help, to conflict resolution. It will be a place of teaching, learning, praying, holding and healing. The Mother Patern Women’s program will be conducting ongoing workshops at this and the other centers, and hopefully soon I will be able to join them to lend a hand. It is humbling to be allowed to be a part of this work. It is a sacred trust.

2/2/07 UPDATE We were having problems again posting pictures. Please be patient with us when this happens, because somebody needs to be and its usually not me. It drives me nuts because we have such limited access to the net, and when it doesn't work, it might be days before I can get to it again. So thanks. Here are the shots.

The road to Gbaye's Town. Not for the faint of stomach. Impassable in the wet season.

We arrived and were greeted by Kpelle singing and dancing.

As always, the kids watched us. As always, each face says something different.

We gathered in a temporary reed-covered pavilion-- here Grace Boiwu waits for the program to begin. She doesn't like cameras, but I told her the world needs to see her.

A panorama of inside the pavilion. The opening of the resource center was a big deal for the whole village-- and the surrounding villages.

After the ribbon-cutting, the women of Gbaye's Town in front of their new Women's Resource Center.

As the event closed, while everyone was eating, I took a stroll through the town. Here is a community cooking hut, one of the most common structures in the country.

What seemed like the town sqaure. Very dusty, but they tell me a real mess in the wet season.

Thatched roof and our Land Cruiser.

Our last view of Gbaye's Town on our way back to Monrovia.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Huck Finn Ain't Got Nothin' on Noah

As soon as school lets out, they call to each other with rooster crows-- right out of Peter Pan. On Saturday morning, we hear the calls as soon as we get up. It is Trokon and Eastman, Noah's fellow comrades, warriors, adventurers and chums, come to join forces. Noah answers with an er-a-er-a-eeeerrrr, and they are off.

When we came, we hoped Noah would find Africa a place that would give outlet his huge imagination, a place that would provide him with a chance to laugh and learn all the time. Now, with his two fast friends at his side, Noah is fully occupied, discovering how Liberian boys make their lives work. Trokon and Eastman are very poor, and live with several other adults and children in a 15' x 10' mat and zinc shack. But their mother provides them with school and allows them to play every day with Noah, something many parents could not afford to do. In return, we feed the boys supper and help the family in various ways. But mostly, the boys give Noah loyalty and daily adventures that would make Huck, Tom, and even Peter turn green. Here is a typical week.

One of their several fishin' holes. Noah can't get enough fishin' in.

Tree climbin' tips from an expert.

Making a working palm hut with rooms.

Cookin' rice over a campfire.

A little cement work-- making a play house.

Eastman and Noah trying capture sparks on film.

Running their own soft drink business-- here with Trokon returning the empties.

Making cars completely out of bamboo-- including bamboo nails.

Playing a truly authentic game of "Monkey in the Middle."

Monday, January 15, 2007

X- MPW: The Painful Price of Progress

The MPW stands for Monrovia Public Works. The X means “This structure must be removed.” Throughout Monrovia all the way to our home and beyond, Liberia is preparing to rebuild its major highways. To do this, it has flexed its Eminent Domain muscles and declared that all structures within 75 feet of the relevant highways must go. This is a significant and welcomed sign of progress for the nation and most of its inhabitants, but a crushing blow for families, schools and businesses that are suddenly in the way. If you were to drive from Monrovia to the Reed house, you would see many sad stories in the making, as home after home and business after business display the huge yellow hand painted “X-MPW.” Some of the homes are brand new, or not even completed, whose owners thought the coast was finally clear to build after years of waiting.
Progress is always a mixed blessing, and in a land of poverty, whoever is on the short end suffers far more that those of us in the West. There are many stories here; we know some of the people who stand to lose. As time passes and the work starts, we will share some of those stories with you.
A Parade of Homes...

... of lives about to be uprooted. The Yellow X says it all.

The blocks in front of this home were to go to an addition to the house. Now the blocks, and the family, have no where to go.

A brand new structure, too close to the road, must come down.

A neighbor's storage shed.

One of our favorite gas stations. Slated to be demolished next week, the shocked owners are scrabbling for a plan.

A LEAD business.

This wall will soon come a'tumbling. The line tells the owner where the structure begins to be in violation. But it wasn't in violation until this week. The lines drawn on homes are especially sad. What good is a half demolished home?.

Monday, January 08, 2007

New Year, New Life

While enjoying the Christmas holidays, a local church asked if I would be willing to help them baptize some new Christians New Years Eve morning. Of course I was honored to join them at this joyful event. Baptism is a lovely and inspiring act of submission, and a powerful symbol of death and rebirth.

Renita and I joined the dozen new converts at sun up, and a couple pastors from local congregations were there to assist. We stood in the water, faced the rising sun, and rejoiced at the promise that we are buried and risen with Christ. It was holy fun.

I keep telling everybody that we are not missionaries or a pastors, just Christians trying to live out our faith in meaningful ways. I guess I've figured out by now that "just living out our faith means more that what we thought.

As of January 8, the Reeds are all back to work. The kids are in school, Renita is branching out, taking LEAD on the road, and the MPCHS social work staff is hammering out the details of its new social work program, plus preparing for a visit next year from Calvin College students. The cool Harmattan winds are still with us, but we know that the weather, like the work, is going to heat up soon.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Its Like Harmattan on a Hot African Day

Three days ago, we woke up our typical 81 degree morning, but something we do not see much here: fog. Fog, as you know, develops when the temperature reaches what is called the “dew point.” Dew point is also related to humidity, especially to how uncomfortable the air feels. Back home in Michigan, when the dew point reaches the upper 60s, it begins to feel what we call “muggy.” By the time it reaches 72, the air is thick and we are sweating heavily. In Michigan, the dew point rarely reaches 74, but when it does, it is almost unbearable. Everybody complains and runs for the AC. I do not believe I ever saw a dew point of 75 in Michigan. So imagine a dew point of 81. The sweat, unable to evaporate, drips off your face and body.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to what looked initially like an overcast day. I headed outside on my morning routine (feeding chickens, weavers, deer, monkey and dogs) and saw the sun cutting through a haze. I realized I was not looking at clouds, but dust. Within minutes, I began to feel a most heavenly breeze. It was something I had not felt in 17 months: cool and dry. The humidity dropped 30 points within minutes. I stood in my yard, arms outstretched, and received the grace with a smile.

Harmattan had come. Harmattan is the name of the winds that come from the Sahara in the north. They usually occur sometime between December and February, although last year they did not come at all. This was our first experience, and after 17 months of daily working in some of the highest dew points on earth, I cannot convey the relief we felt. This morning, the dew points were in the 50s and temperature was 65F degrees for a few hours. That is the lowest temp we have felt here by at least seven degrees. I was almost cold. I even turned my bedside fan off for a few minutes. Then the mosquitoes showed up and back on it went.
But we are loving the gift of cool, fresh feeling air during this holiday break. Enjoy a few relaxing photos of the creatures in our lives. One of these days, we'll get back to work.

Dog meets Deer. Notice the delicate paw/hoof dance.

Dear meets Deer. Renita has two new kids. We spend every night with the monkey on our lap and the deer at our feet. Now we get a cool breeze to boot.

Kids in the trees, monkey on the ground. Deer supervising. Seems about right.