Monday, February 26, 2007

A Working Fun Sad Weekend

Weather: Daytime temps around 100F, nighttime temps lower 80's indoors, upper 70s outdoors. Hazy and humid. Two days of rain since Mid November.

There is never a dull moment around home or in our work, and this weekend was no exception. Our brother-in-law Brian is here to add to the craziness. Saturday Brian was off celebrating Lifewater Canada's 200 well, and Renita and I were busy working with FoCDA clearing the market site for more construction. We joined about thirty community friends on the project in 100 degree heat. It was a hoot. Brian returned later and for the rest of the weekend, hung around with us.

On Sunday we went to the beach to get some swimming in. The water was actually refreshing and the beach was unusually crowded. After a few minutes of fun in somewhat treacherous water (The beach has a serious rip tide), I noticed Brian-- who is a paramedic when not digging wells in Liberia-- had vanished. I wasn't worried about where he was; Brian is an excellent swimmer. I finally caught a glimpse of him a few yards away-- he was pulling a young Liberian man back to shore. Apparently, the young man's brother had just went under a few moments before and the young man was near downing himself looking for him. Brian brought him in. But his brother was gone. We and almost everyone left the water to look for any signs of the young man from the higher vantage point of the beach. But everyone knew how this would turn out.

Since we have been here, we have heard of dozens of people drowning on the nearby beaches. It happens far too frequently. I've almost become callous to the fact that these beaches are dangerous; I'm getting used to hearing about another drowning-- "so what else is new?" That's the way it is here, people working to buld a community-sustaining market, people trying to take a break from the pressures of living here, people dying in the midst of the activity, people grieving-- but not for long. In Liberia, extended grieving for a young drowning victim is a luxury few can afford.

The FoCDA folks (Renita on the left) clearing the market site. The poles are all up and next week we start on the roof.

Having an ad hoc meeting, discussing fees for market tables and quelling rumors.

Everyone, young and old, got into the act.

Next day, Uncle Brian the well digger up to no good with Trokon, Enoch, Hannah, Odelle and Eastman. Trying to make water balloons.

Doesn't this guy ever stop hanging around wells? Its ok, he's pumping water for our daily needs. Did it in record time too.

Later, its off to the beach. Hannah on the left, with Noah, Yers Trooly and Brian on the right. The kids on the beach include Trokon, Blessing and Odelle.

But exactly at that moment, a young man was dying yards away. After Brian brought the struggling brother back to shore, the beach crowd gathered and scanned the water. As of Monday, the body has yet to be recovered.

Monday, February 19, 2007

LifeWater Comes to Foster Town

FoCDA-- One of the commitments Renita and I share-- is the new Foster Town Community Development Association. FoCDA is also a Bassa word meaning rest. FoCDA is working on several projects-- security, HIV-AIDS education, community workshops, building a local market, and now drinking water. Thousands of people in the area have access to just a handful of maintained closed wells, and only a few more than that drink from unsafe open wells. LifeWater Canada, a group that includes our brother-in-law Brian Schenk is here in force beginning Wednesday to dig wells at various locations around the country. Its in-country counterpart, LifeWater Liberia, was here Saturday to conduct a water safety workshop and to discuss putting four new hand pump operated wells in the Foster Town area. This of course is a drop in the bucket (sorry) compared to the need for safe water, but it is a start.
In other FoCDA news, the market is slowly taking shape. The framing poles go up this week, and the roof poles will follow. We do not have the funds yet to put zinc on the roof, but we believe this community will make that happen. Yesterday was the monthly community forum. It is an honor to sit in on these meetings and hear how our neighbors are problem solving their way to a better life.

The LifeWater workshop focused on water usage and some hygiene stuff. Here the presenters test to see who knows the proper method of hand-washing. About one-third got it right.

A little reminder not to poopoo around a water source.

The women of FoCDA at the market site. The poles (called "sticks" here) are just going up.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

ReedNews Update

Local Weather: Temp around 100F (38c) and humid in the day, lower 80sF (27-29C) and humid at night. Mostly Sunny Today. Precipitation: one day of rain since mid November, approximately 1 inch.

News Headlines: A Partner Conference in Washington DC over Liberia is just concluding with some very good news for Liberia's future. Up until now, the country has been hamstrung in its plans to rebuild because it could not access World Bank funds. This barrier was in large part due to the nearly four hundred million dollars Liberia owes the US. At the Partner Conference Tuesday, Secretary of state Rice announced the debt would be forgiven. This is huge, and paves the way for millions in reconstruction and business investment dollars. Stay tuned.

In other news:

-Guinea, our next door neighbor to the north is erupting in violence and under martial law. Continue to pray for peace and justice.

-After a week delay, Renita is in Buchanan, interviewing prospective participants in the upcoming business class.

-I'm teaching another course at MPCHS-- Interpersonal Communication- while continuing to dialogue with the folks at Calvin College about the BSW program.

-The Reeds have two new puppies, Bandit and Max. We also replaced Eastman's puppy with "Jackie" and are caring for her as well. All other creatures doing well.

-Speaking of creatures, the Reeds are about to be invaded by reps from Renita's side of the family. Next week, brother-in-law Brian drops by for two week, working with LifeWater Canada and LifeWater Liberia to dig wells and offer a workshop in this community for FoCDA, and in a couple months brother Henry and Renita's mom visit. Always great to see family, even though things get a bit "cozy" at times for Yers Trooly.

-Renita will be in the US in June. Partners Worldwide is calling in all the company reps for a meeting. I'm jealous, but thrilled for her.
More animals! This is Max, being monkey handled. The FEMALE monkey is grooming the six week old MALE puppy, definitely not behaving amorously, as one of our loyal readers wondered. This is a G-rated site.

The other two pups--Bandit above, Jackie below, hangin' out with Grace.

I'll tell ya, sometimes so many things happen around here so fast and furious, I wind up talking to myself. Its ok though. I'm a professional.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Losing A Loyal Protector

Local Weather: Temp mid 90’s and humid in the day, mid 80s and humid at night. Partly cloudy most days. Precipitation: one day of rain since mid November, approximately 1 inch.

News Headlines: The Liberian Speaker of the House locked in battle with the House over past corruption; recent rioting by former police over back pay— main roads blocked, several hurt, arrested.

Last week we lost two dogs close to us: Peace, Trokon and Eastman’s puppy, and our own Pinky. Both Peace and Pinky died within a day of contracting some unknown virus, and within a day of each other. Peace’s sister, Spunky from next door, almost died last week from apparently the same illness. Another nearby dog died yesterday.

Pinky was our barker. Whereas our other dog Nikki is quiet and something of a coward, Pinky was protective and a howler. All of our visitors were afraid of her, which here is a good thing. We believe she was a key factor in keeping us rogue-free for nine months now. It was sad watching her struggle Friday throughout the day and slip away during the night, especially since there was nothing we could do for her. Saturday morning, we buried her with tears under our large mango tree.

Tropical climates are rough on mammals. Parasites, opportunistic disease, infection all take their toll, and sudden death is commonplace. Animals die, people die, and everybody remaining can only move on.

This is Peace a couple months ago. Much bigger by the time she died. She and the monkey eyeing the strange human behavior.

Our last shot of Pinky, taken a few weeks ago one fine evening with her adopted daughter, Grace the deer.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Renita Takes LEAD on the Road

Local Weather: Today's Hi Temp- 108.6F/43C (shade—Temp in the sun unknown; thermometer stopped working at 128.6F) Precipitation- one day of rain since mid November, approximately 1 inch.

News Headlines: Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Liberia on Thursday, promising millions in aid and forgiveness of the Liberian debt.

Renita and I divide our work here into three broad categories—her work, my work, and the work we do together. LEAD is her baby.

LEAD stands for Liberian Entrepreneurial and Asset Development, and offers a 36 hour business management course as well as a matching loan program to help small to medium sized business grow. For its first year, LEAD focused on businesses around Monrovia, and the first three classes were taught there. Already over 90 businesses have benefited from the training and loan program. Ultimately the goal is increased employment for Liberians in this land of 85% unemployment. Since the first loans distributed in July, LEAD businesses have created new jobs for about 20 people.

The long range goals of LEAD are to become national, with offices addressing the needs in each of Liberia’s 15 counties. So this time around, Renita is taking the class and the loans 80 miles down the road to Buchanan, a three hour drive on a very bad road.

The first step in the process is to find businesses that meet LEAD’s criteria for inclusion into the program. To do this, Renita, LEAD coordinator James Hilary and LEAD Buchanan coordinator Moses Haynes spread the word, take applications, and interview each business owner. The classes begin a few weeks later, and after successful completion of the program, each business may apply for a 3 to 1 matching loan from LEAD.

Below are a handful of the people who will participate in the Buchanan class. In each face I see two things. I think I see pride, because it certainly ought to be there. They have accomplished much already against crushing social and cultural odds. Next I see hope—hope that they will gain from this venture, hope that their business will grow and prosper, and hope also that this is not just another NGO big on promises and short on results.

The road to Buchanan, on an early Thursday morning. The road becomes very bad after passing the Robertsfield Airport.

They call Raymond Akinseye the "Shoe Doctor." Sells and fixes 'em.

Samuel Chemwiniin and his men are tailors. You see men at sewing machines all over.

Baryo Haynes sells textiles from all over the world. She and Samuel probably see a lot of each other.

Ah yes, Thomas Ghebhe and his USAID-sponsored Beauty "Saloon." I guess you can get clipped and hammered in one sitting. ( Jes' a yolk, folk-- everybody spells "salon" this way.)

I love this shot. William Kpoupyou and his daughter Grace amidst the car parts he sell out of a shipping container.