Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Reeds in Transit

By the time most of you check in on us we will be in Michigan, but as I write we are still on our way. Seven hours on the plane to Brussels left us without sleep when we arrived at 5:00am. We endured a five hour layover in a Brussels terminal, an eight hour flight to Atlanta, and here we sit for seven hours in the Peach State. Stay tuned, you'll hear it here first.
Tired and feeling a bit yucky in Brussels.
Catching the kids dropping off on the plane somewhere over the North Atlantic.

Took this one five minutes ago in Atlanta. Dog tired, and feeling surreal to be in the USA.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Few Lines Before We Head Outa Here

Weather: Sunday, partly cloudy and humid, temps in the lo 90's. Monday, heavy overcast, with occasional rain. Winds 5-10mph from the west. hi temps in the lo 80's, with nighttime lo's in the upper 70's.

Tis Monday, and sometime early Thursday we will become the Reeds in Belgium, then late Thursday will transform into the Reeds in Michigan. We will spend the month of June in the US and Canada, then be back here by July 1. We are busy with loose ends, but still have some news.

Item-- The market place is almost up. The roof is nearly complete and by the time we return, we hope to see the women selling their goods. We cannot convey to you what a victory this is for the Foster Town community.

Item-- Mother Patern has received over 50 applicants to their new BSW program. That's more than we can handle, but it means we'll probably get some good students out of the bunch.

Item-- The pangolin remains with us. He is still only drinking milk, and has not yet learned that the eggs the flies lay on him are edible, so we need to clean off the larvae that hide under his scales. When he gets older, they will be a convenient snack.

Item-- LEAD's fifth class begins in June while we are in the States.

Next Blog from the States!

The Market nearly finished. A community coming together under one zinc roof.

That's it from Pangolin country!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Concrete Evidence of Confident Hope

I mentioned a few weeks ago that throughout Liberia, but especially around the larger cities, we see houses going up. Thousands of new cement block homes are being built, all beginning at once, as if by signal. Here, within eyesight of our house, we’ve seen four new homes within a year and now our friend and former pastor Sam Reeves of Providence Baptist Church is building here too-- right next door.

A couple typical shots out the car window. On top on the way to Kakata, about eight miles out of Monrovia. On the bottom, on the way from the airport, about fifteen miles southeast of Monrovia. If you look closely at both, there are about twenty new homes in the process of construction. Just to the left and right, twenty more, and twenty more, and so on...

This is a hill a few miles from our home. Two years ago, there were about three houses on it.

Back in our neighborhood, this is the scene just next to our house. Sam Reeves is walling off his property in preparation for laying his foundation. Unfortunately, we will soon be trapped in our yard if we don't move our current gate which opens into his yard.

This is our property on the left last year above, and how it looks now with the new Reeves' wall being constructed. Like much in Liberia, an old pathway must give way to progress.

This is one of our neighbors' home. Where the family of five live currently is on the right-- a better view is in the insert. This family has lived in that matt shack for several years. Soon they will move to their new home. This is very typical. Reclaim the land you own, build a structure on it, and when you can afford it, build your house.

A couple months ago, this house next door did not exist. Then suddenly, we have new neighbors.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Healing the Hidden Casualty

The effects of the 25 year collapse of Liberia cannot be conceptualized. A quarter million citizens dead, the nation’s infrastructure and economy in ruins, the culture pulverized and unrecognizable. In two and half decades, Liberians destroyed Liberia, although most of the world never noticed. Liberians now bear the burden of rebuilding her. The UN says the country has been set back a hundred years, that even with 10% growth annually for the next 25 years, Liberia will only be where it was in 1980.

When we arrived in Foster Town, we expected to see the signs of a post-war African society: crippling poverty, destitution, unemployment, crime, and opportunistic corruption. As we have developed friends and worked with our neighbors to help heal this community, we have uncovered another casualty of this collapse—the common, ordinary trust of one Liberian toward another. Lost trust is perhaps the most damaging effect of the collapse of Liberia.

We began to see the effects of this damage with the attempt to bring people together via a neighborhood organization and projects identified by the community- a marketplace and new wells. Once real progress was evident, mistrust reared its head. People began fighting, arguing, accusing each other of theft and dishonesty. Factions formed. Liberians undermined Liberians. The work stalled.

Now, while it is true that the Liberian collapse has deepened mistrust, I do not mean to suggest that it created mistrust. Mistrust is woven into human nature. By nature, Liberians are no more mistrustful than, say, people from Michigan. But back in Michigan, when our neighborhood fails to come together in unity, or when gossip and backbiting wreck an endeavor, or when someone we know cheats his neighbor, we end up telling ourselves that’s just the way things are. We grumble a bit, and then we take advantage of our insulating treasure. We lock our doors, turn on the TV or drink a beer or pick up the bible or find some other cushion, and we forget it. It doesn’t really matter anyway.

In Foster Town Liberia, mistrust matters. Mistrust means no clean water. Mistrust means sick babies and hungry kids. Mistrust means family violence and rogues seizing the opportunities. Mistrust means a needed marketplace stalls mid-construction. Mistrust immediately and directly affects the quality of everyone’s life. Without rebuilding trust, Foster Town and Liberia cannot recover.

Fortunately, no one knows this better than some of our Liberian neighbors. The most wise hear Christ’s call to “love one another, forgive even your enemies.” The wisest among us are calling neighbors to come together, to be unified in spirit. Recent meetings have ended in Liberians embracing Liberians, with new resolve to join forces for the sake of a better Foster Town. The work restarts.

This will not be easy work. More conflict lies dormant, and as the market gets built and new wells get dug, the dormant conflicts promise to emerge. However, only when conflicts emerge can we address them and work toward healing. So we begin to see the Genius behind the call to love one another: The work of rebuilding, of healing, of improving a community brings conflict by design. Only then can sources of conflict be addressed-- and transformed into understanding. And when we begin to understand one another, we begin to heal the trust the past 25 years tried to take.

A marketplace, wells-- and trust-- under construction. We'll keep you apprised.

Friday, May 11, 2007

We Interrupt this Blog for A Cute Moment

The other day I was returning from Mother Patern College, after a long day of writing, planning for the upcoming BSW program and teaching, when I got a call from Renita. "It looks like we have another pet," she said. "Yeh," I asked, unimpressed, "what is it?" Renita said, "I don't know. It looks like an armadillo. Some neighbor boys brought it. You'll have to see it yourself." Neighbor boys are always bringing us birds or beasts to show us, sell to us, or get us to adopt.

I got home, and she pointed to a ball of gray-brown scales half-buried in the sand by the house. "Its some kind of anteater," offered Noah. Reading my mind as I tentatively reached for it, he added, "It has no teeth. It can't bite." I pulled it up out of the sand.

I had no idea what this thing was, but I certainly knew it was about the cutest thing I ever saw. And I'm not usually a big fan of cute. In fact, I almost never use the word, except when being satirical or sarcastic. But this lil' guy was in a category by himself.

After doing some research, this is what we know. It (actually we think he) is a pangolin, (manis tricuspis), not related to the armadillo or the anteater. There are apparently seven varieties of this creature in the world, and while not endangered in Africa, they are in other parts of the world where they are hunted for their scales-- supposed to have healing powers. There are several sites online that discuss the creature, so go to Google, type in pangolin, and read about her yourself.

The pangolin is fascinating -- and he seems to like humans. Being nocturnal, he is out at night, looking for bugs in the trees, but each morning he finds his way to our house, climbs our kitchen stairs and we find him curled in a ball at our kitchen door. We try carrying him back out, but he lumbers back, so take him in, wrap him in a blanket, and he sleeps. Later we take him out and sometimes he returns in his sloth-like way, and sometimes he stays out, but always he is at our door in the morning. We believe this one is an infant, because he is not eating ants and only takes milk.
There is no doubt we must return him to the bush. As sweet and cuddly as this thing is, pangolins have a very specialized diet and do not live long in captivity. Even zoos have a hard time keeping them alive. So even though we'd like to keep him, but once he starts eating bugs, we'll return him and hope he makes it. We just wanted you to see him.

Class, Mammalia; Order, Pholidota; Family, Manidae. Common names: Three cusped pangolin, tree pangolin, white bellied pangolin. Locally called scaly anteater or ant bear.

Monday, May 07, 2007

ReedNews Update

The Reeds are back in Liberia after the closest thing to a perfect break my brain can conjure. The best vacations refresh me in a way that actually makes me look forward to returning to the familiar. And it is good to be back, humidity and all. People ask me how I’ve adjusted to the humidity and I usually say my mind and emotions have adjusted, but my body never will. In other words, upon returning, I still find myself dripping with sweat most days, but I don’t care any more, and sometimes don’t notice it.

Weather Update: Speaking of moisture in the air, the months just leading to the rainiest months of July-September are the most humid. The temps climb because true summer is coming, but we experience occasional brief afternoon rains, followed by sun that leave us sweltering. The water table is very low, so we are hoping for more substantial rains soon for our wells. Now on to the news.

Item: Liberia as a nation continues to move, ever so slowly, toward health. The President says there is more money in the national treasury due to her campaign against corruption. Other examples: After earlier this year receiving significant debt cancellations from the US, China and Japan, and after UN Timber restrictions were lifted, last week the UN lifted its restrictions on Liberia's diamond trade. Police rarely try to extort money from us, and airport personnel actually help us get through the terminal without trying to squeeze us. Rogue activity is down—but still an issue. My theory is that as the Liberia heals, the culture becomes less tolerant of armed violence. Before, it was almost expected, and “What can we do anyway?” Now, it is seen as inexcusable, and neighborhoods are mobilizing to stop it.

Item: We are seeing signs of Liberians returning home with confidence. Everywhere we travel around Monrovia, we see new cement block homes going up. Thousands of new homes are in process. We are getting some pictures of all the work, so look for these images before June. The acres upon acres of construction are a striking symbol of hope for a stable future.

Item: The third-- correction-- fourth LEAD class graduates Thursday, and Renita is working with LEAD to land the UNDP grant we’ve discussed earlier. Plus, LEAD just received a welcomed grant a few weeks ago from a Grand Rapids foundation.

Item: I’ll be in Johnson Town two days this week discussing personal and family issues with the residents.

Item: Neighbors in the Foster Town area have joined forces with Lifewater Liberia to build seven new wells in various neighborhoods. Lifewater tells us they will start in June.

Item: The new market is stalled, in part due to a lack of funds, but also due to the mistrust that seems epidemic here, especially between Liberians. The building is about 75% completed, with some zinc for a roof. The entire structure needs to be covered by the coming of the heavy rains; otherwise the non treated wood poles will spoil. This is an important moment of truth for the Foster Town community and FoCDA. But we believe they will find a way.

Item: Around home, we have fewer animals again. Bandit was killed just before we left for The Gambia after somehow getting caught under the car as Renita was slowly driving in one day. Jackie killed and ate a couple small chickens just before we returned, and it looks like she will need to be put down soon. Not because of the chickens, but she has a congenital problem that keeps her from keeping any food down. She is slowly starving to death—which is probably why she went after the chickens in the first place. On the other hand, her brother Max is becoming huge.

I promised you more pictures of The Gambia, and even though we are fully back in Liberia, here you go.

When we last posted, we were walking through a local park, looking for flora and fauna. these are Vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops).

Hornbills hanging around in the bush.

These palms were monsters. Note the normal sized palm on the lower right, about 20 feet tall.

On another day, just walking around the countryside. I like trees.

I looked up into this tree and I beheld Green.

On to the beach. Three hooded vultures eating a cuttlefish.

A birthday gift for Hannah-- horseriding on a Gambian beach.

Noah joined in for a gallop.

In late afternoon by the silver ocean, Gambian youth play soccer.

So long from the cool breezes of the Gambia. Now back to work!