Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Short Breather

Weather: Mostly sunny and humid during the day, some wind and thunderstorms at night. High temps in the mid 90's and humid, temps in the upper 70s at night.

This round of guests is back in the States, and we await round three, arriving Sunday night. We look forward to visitors coming for many reasons, and when the visitors leave we look forward to returning to the Liberian version of "Reed Normal" for other reasons. So we have a week of rest and catching our breath. For the Reeds, this means:

Tuesday morning-- its good to have mom back teaching math.

Yers Trooly getting ready for his class at MPCHS. Here consulting with Sr. Barbara.

Afternoon is water pumping time, every day. The kids find a way to make the time more than a chore. Noah plays the palm branch guitar with foot resting on Spunky while Eastman drums and Enoch dances-- all for their hardworking audience-- Hannah and Trokon at the pump.

At Dusk, Noah is off, somewhere in the neighborhood playing. In this case, it was not baseball-- they were imagining themselves as UN Peacekeepers.

Another activity we've been working at: teaching 13 year old Hannah to drive. She's making a tight right-hand turn. Noah on her right and Eastman off camera on her left act as traffic cones, so I'm standing there to prevent the cones being run over.

A dad teaching his daughter to drive. In the words of Tevia, "Where is the little girl I carried?"

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Plenty Plenty Doings

Weather: Mostly sunny the past few days, with highs in the low 90s most days and nighttime lows in the upper 70s. Some light rain in the evenings.

This week we’ve enjoyed the company of a few Stateside visitors—Mary Vermeer, an active participant and supporter of the work here, and her daughters Jennifer and Elizabeth. They began the week Sunday with us by observing and offering insight at a contentious FoCDA meeting, and ended it by helping out at a LEAD gathering of 35 participants at our home. In between they traveled with us to Buchanan, Johnson Town and Kakata, visted Sr. Barbara and the staff at MPCHS, and even were with us as the Pathfinder broke down for the second time in a week.

In addition, both Renita and I were off on our individual duties—Renita finishing a major grant proposal for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and being grilled by the UNDP evaluators on Friday, and me working on the BSW curriculum with Joseph Kpukuyou, the Johnson Town community curriculum with Grace Boiwu, and teaching the communication class. We have too much to put in one blog, so I thought we’d give you a few images today, and a few more in a couple days. We’ll breathe later.

Off on separate outings, the two vehicles just happen to pass each other. Renita is taking Mary and Jennifer around to local LEAD businesses, while Elizabeth is joining Grace and Yers T. as we head out to Johnson Town. We each got off a picture of the other, as the upper right insert attests.

In Johnson Town, Grace (in blue) shows us the womens center-- under construction.
Grace and I were in Johnson Town to gather information for a new series of community empowerment meetings I will be helping with, starting in a few weeks. (You'll have to imagine me in the blue chair. I was in the way when I tried to take the picture, so I had to move.)

Next day, Renita was off to Buchanan with the guests. Mary donated some equipment to a LEAD photo business and is here offering technical guidance.

Also in Buchanan, the tour vists a fishing business participating in the LEAD training. Mary is getting a few pointers on landing baracuda.

The next day, Friday, was packed. We finally got our car back, visited MPCHS, Renita had her interview with UNDP, and 40 folks gathered for dinner and a to-do in our front yard. This is Mary, Jennifer and Elizabeth meeting Sr. Barbara, Dean of MPCHS.

That evening a group of the business folks LEAD is serving had dinner and shared ideas for the future.

Renita and Mary listen closely as the participants share experiences and offer insight.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Would You Like a Little Whine with that Nissan Pathfinder?

As I write this entry, it is 6:10pm at Mother Patern College. I am waiting in the palaver hut in the central courtyard. Even though the class I teach ended at 4:00pm, I remain. I am waiting for transportation. Yes, I have a car, and no, Renita is not using it. I drove it in today. Sometime within the next hour, I hope I will drive it home. I’m getting hungry. The guy who just checked on it said it would be ready in ten minutes. Translated from Liberian English, I’m guessing I’ll drive out of here in 45 minutes, at 6:55pm.

The car is in the shop. Again. Wheel/Suspension related problems. Again. Since we’ve been here, we’ve had zero problems with the engine or the transmission. The Nissan Pathfinder, nine years old, runs fine. But Liberia is murder on that place where the Nissan finds the path. Mohammed, the MPCHS mechanic, has replaced bushings twice, ball joints, wheel bearings, breaks twice, shocks (rear, now front), gone through two alignments, repaired drums, and it is now on its second set of brand new tires. And you know what? 90% of our driving is back and forth the 12.5 miles to Monrovia. That’s how bad the best roads in the country are.

Here in Monrovia, parts are expensive and mechanics hard to find, but if found, mechanics are less expensive than in the States. So repair work is affordable. However, we are so regularly dumping money into this vehicle we are asking ourselves a very familiar question— will it be cheaper to dump it and buy another or keep sinking a few hundred bucks into it each month?

This is a little problem really… “I complained that I had car problems until I met a man with no car—and no feet, home, or food--” Like the guys who wait for me every time I come out of any building in downtown Monrovia. So I’m really just whining to pass the time.

Well, here he is-- Mohammed with my car. I’m outa here.

Hey! It’s 6:50pm! Five minutes early!

Monday, March 19, 2007

ReedNews Update

The weather is a-changin’ after four months of almost no rainfall. The days alternate sunny and cloudy, and every other night, it rains. This is the transition time, between the rainy and dry season. It mirrors the transition time in October, at the close of the rainy season. It is characterized by brief but strong nighttime winds carrying thunderstorms followed by steady rain that lasts hours, but typically over by morning. The mornings are relatively cool—low 70’s— but the day still heats up into the mid 90’s on sunny days. Now some news:

Item- The spring seems to be visitor season; we have just said goodbye to brother Brian and are awaiting brother Henry and mother Marrie in a couple weeks. Currently Madison Square Church and Nehemiah-Liberia Group member Mary Vermeer is here with her daughters Jennifer and Elizabeth. We’ll get a picture of them later in the week.

Item- FoCDA continues to produce. The area community development association collaborated again with my pals at Mother Patern College to present a workshop titled “Nutrition, Food Preparation and Preservation.” It was an excellent presentation, attended by about fifty neighbors. Renita said, “I think these workshop could save somebody’s life.”

Item- I had a chance to facilitate a seminar for about 120 people last week. It was a marriage conference, and we had a lively time addressing issues. Family life has been deeply affected by the turmoil of the last twenty-five years, so it was fascinating discussing Liberian marital and family realities vs. the ideal. The biggest issues relate to mutual distrust, and male/female roles in marriage.

Item- The market place continues semi-steady progress. Building the market has produced some tension and arguments between various groups in the community, which has in turn created lively community meetings. Intergroup and even intragroup yelling and finger pointing happen as some neighbors suddenly want a say now that the market is an inevitable reality. This conflict is all part of the process, and is in fact necessary to building a cohesive community. The underlying conflicts and mistrust have been there a long time, lying dormant. It takes a large community activity like this to bring the conflicts out so the members can transform them into something beautiful.

Item- We released the monkey. After several months of debate, we decided to go with our heads and take the monkey back to the forests and allow her a chance to be free. So we selected a spot where monkeys had been seen and let her go. It was sad for us, but we knew it was the right thing to do. Beyond principle, she had become aggressive toward some people, especially when she was being held by Renita or me. She was particularly hostile toward Hannah, giving her a nasty series of bites. After six months being chained to a tree, it was time for her to return to the wild.

Item- The Reeds are returning for a visit to Michigan! It started when Partners Worldwide asked Renita to come to Grand Rapids for a couple weeks for a conference. We got to thinking: “We are already one quarter of the way there. Could we find the funds to get us all over?” We did. Nehemiah-Liberia Group sprung for another ticket, and thanks to many of you, we are doing well enough for the remaining two. We will be in Michigan the month of June, working, visiting as many of you as possible, and taking a little break from West Africa after two years.

Noah and his bestest buds, Trokon and Eastman, and Hannah and her special friend Andrew, hangin' out amongst the blocks on an overcast day.

The latest on the market. Rafters up, waiting for zinc.

Yers Trooly, tired of washing laundry by hand, tries another approach.

Finally, a couple parting shots of our favorite primates. Here, Unca' Brian before he leaves, surrounded by Trokon, Odell holding Jackie, Margaret with Bandit, with Blessing holding Max, and Eastman.

Our last image of the Monkey, as she cautiously steps off into the bush.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The National Workshop on Mental Health Worker Standards and Nomenclature. Did Somebody Yawn?

Udated March 16
Local Weather: Days alternating between overcast and sunny. Some light rain. Temps in high 90’s and humid in the day on sunny days, upper 80’s on cloudy days. Upper 70s and humid at night. Precipitation: Approximately 3 inches total rainfall since mid November.

Granted, it’s not the “hot new topic in development,” like entrepreneurial and business empowerment, and it’s not easily understood, like community development, and it’s not even all that interesting, like building partnerships for creating important new training curricula. But Liberians on the front lines of the mental health battle will tell you it is a critical necessity if this country is going to survive and prosper. Let me tell you about it.

All of you know that Liberia is a post war country, a nation and a people just three and a half years from 14 years of conflict that saw the country virtually destroyed, its people exposed to horror and heart break, and ten percent of its population dead. No one has escaped exposure to traumatic events, and practically everyone still lives with the effects. You see it everywhere in the ways Liberians act toward one another. Yes, they are amazing survivors. Yes, many have overcome. Yes, the country is full of heroes. But there are open wounds. High levels of mistrust, dishonesty, opportunism, rage, alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, sexual abuse and prostitution permeate this culture.

As a result, since the mid 1990’s, NGO’s have been offering untold numbers of brief “psychosocial training programs” of two or three weeks length to Liberians and sending them back into cities and villages to provide what they might call “trauma healing,” or “psychosocial counseling,” or even “Training of Trainers,” which means people with virtually no training go on to train others in all kinds of mental health interventions. You may imagine the psychological and spiritual chaos that has resulted.
Throughout Liberia, there are thousands of men and women with almost no training, calling themselves “Counselors”, “Trauma Specialists”, or “Social Workers.” Some of them are talented and dedicated, possessing natural skills to help others and the wisdom to know their limitations. Many do not. Too many are on the field, employed by NGOs, opening wounds, retraumatizing victims, and giving the worst kind of advice. Too many of these poorly trained workers do more harm than good.

This is where the National Mental Health Task Force comes in. Mandated by the Ministry of Health, we have been working for the last year and a half to come up with minimum training standards and appropriate titles or nomenclature for these workers. Standards are necessary to insure professional training, and we also want to make sure that when one calls himself or herself a "social worker" or "counselor," people can trust they are being served by individuals with extensive traing and field experience. The Ministry of Health hopefully will adopt these standards and make further recommendations to the legislature to put them into law.

Last week we reported our suggestions to some of the heads of these large NGOs and workers in the field for their reaction. It was well attended, and we went away feeling like our task force is making a conversation happen that is long over due and may someday substantially improve the quality of care people are receiving all across Liberia.

As I say, this kind of work is not “sexy development work.” Most people’s eyes glaze over when I start talking about my work with is group. I mean, who but a shrink type or a geek would care about “mental health standards and nomenclature?” But it is necessary for this country’s recovery. It is peacebuilding work-- it is Kingdom work.

The workshop. After our report, the paricipants divided into subgroups to give feedback and suggestions. Here one group reports.

They loved us.

Yers Trooly, appointed "MC" getting ready to yank someone for going too long.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Q & A

Local Weather: Temp mid 90’s and humid in the day, upper 70s and humid at night. Partly cloudy most days. Precipitation: Two days with rain since mid November, approximately 1.5 inches total.

We have received many emails and notes in the last twenty months. We might miss one or two, but we try to answer them all. We figure others have similar questions from time to time, so here is a smattering of those questions, with our response.

Q. How much does food cost?

A. It depends where you shop and what you want to eat. A Liberian meal, which we eat every week day, costs us an average of $5.00, and with it we feed about eight people, four dogs, a monkey and a deer. A weekend “American meal” costs between $10.00 and $15.00 for four people and the animals. Here is a list of random items, expressed in US dollars. The red is purchased from city grocery stores, the green purchased from open markets:
1 bunch of Potato greens: $.20
16 oz rice: $.20
50 kg bag (120lbs) rice: $22.00
A six pac of soda pop: $4.50
A large pineapple in the city: $5.00
A large pineapple in the country: $1.00
1 pac Chicken hot dogs: $1.00
1 pac Beef or Pork hot dogs: $8.00
16 oz. Ranch dressing: $4.00
Turkey (2 wings): $1.25
Pringles potato chips: $3.50
1 lb Sliced lunch meat (salami or ham only): $5.00
1 loaf bread $1.20
1 loaf bread $.30
Fresh Milk: unavailable
1lb Apples $4.00
1lb Mangoes $.40
1 quart ice cream: $8.00 (we have no freezer anyway)
12 oz Gin $1.00

Q. What’s the status on all those people being displaced because the roads are being widened?
A. The good news for them is that nothing has happened yet, although the yellow “X-MPW”s painted on houses, schools, churches, and businesses are steadily moving down the road. Renita and I think there is no way we will see structures coming down this year: too late in the dry season. My guess is everyone will get a year reprieve. But you never know.

Q. How are the solar panels treating you?
A. The panels are fine, although in this dusty season we have to climb onto the zinc roof and rinse them off. The solar batteries are still supplying us with dc power for the refrigerator and fans, and we found cheap modified sine wave inverters here for our computers and for charging stuff in the day. By the way, the country is going 220w, so finding 110w items here is getting increasing difficult. Finding 110 inverters was worth celebrating.

Q. Hey, how is Bob doing on the weight thing?
A. Hey, why don’t you just come out and call me fat? Ok, ok, I get a bit testy. As some of you know, I lost a small portion of my large amount of fat before we came here, about 70 pounds worth. I did it by getting a lot of support and eating fewer calories, and focusing on non processed carbs and protein. Since I’ve been here, the low protein, white rice diet has made every day a struggle to maintain what I lost. I’ve gained 20 pounds in the year and a half we’ve been here, but have leveled off and am fighting the good fight.

Q. We haven’t seen much of Hannah lately. How’s she doing?
A. Hannah continues to change, as adolescents do, but we could not be more impressed or proud of her. Her courage, strength of character, and helpfulness are inspiring. Look for a blog on her soon. I just need to talk her into letting me publish that picture of her eating spaghetti.

Q. How do you get your news? Do you have TV?
A. We are always way behind in getting big news stories compared to the West. We do not have TV connected to the airwaves, although we have a TV to watch movies.

Q. What do you miss most from your life in the US?
A. Faces of friends and family. A cool dry breeze. Cheap but good chocolate. Flushing toilets. Good loamy soil. Maple trees. Michigan Octobers. Looking out my window and pretending all is right with the world.