Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Preparing to Return to Africa

Tis Tuesday the 26th, and our flight to Monrovia (via Atlanta then Brussels) is Saturday. Its been a packed month, and we are ready to get back to Africa. People have been incredibly generous. A list of a few of the people we owe more than we can repay:

Kris and Nate Vanderstelt-- Put us up in their guest house for almost three weeks. The pool was Brrrrrrisk.

Norm and Mary Katerberg-- Threw a welcome party for us. Norm, even while living with a brain tumor-- grilled the meat. Always there for us. Norm visited us in Liberia last year.

Warren and Joanne Boer-- My mentor and friend. Key players in my life for almost twenty years. Would not be in Liberia if not for them.

Janette and Dale Vanderveen-- No one has served us more in the last ten years. They are our anchors here. Janette, Renita's sister, handles all our US affairs.

Henry and Marnie Kranenburg-- Pastor Kranenburg of partner church Emmanuel CRC, Renita's brother, and hosts. Henry visited us in April.

Pete and Marrie Kranenberg-- Renita's folks, and actively involved in getting others involved in the rebuilding of Liberia. Marrie has visited us twice, Pete once.

Lucille and Keith Mosher--- My mom and step-dad. She makes pies and potato salad. I make her cry.

Ev and Mary Vermeer-- Mary visited us in March and is always coming up with ideas on behalf of the people of Liberia. Ev is a sage and co-founder of the Nehemiah-Liberia Group, LEAD's US partner. (NLG)

Tom and Mary Steenwyk-- These old pals took Noah in for about two weeks of our stay. Gave him such a good time with sons Matt, Sam and Ben, he may not want to return with us.

Mary and Dave Vermuelen-- I've known Mary since she was a student at Calvin, Renita and she are old friends, and her daughter Anneke is Hannah's longest known and dearest friend. Hannah hung out at their place for a few days.

Pat and Perry Holden-- Hannah's other pal, Abbey, was her host a few other nights. They couldn't stop laughing.

Mary and Ron VanValkenberg-- part of the NLG, "Dr. Van" has visited Liberia at least twice and has provided a huge amount of supprt-- including our famous but ill-fated generator, the "VV 9500." Let us use their vehicle while here.

Judy King-- A long time supporter of Liberia, has been there a few times with late husband and friend Steve. Also let us use her vehicle.

Dave and Paula Graf-- Could not have made the trip without them. Dave is an idea-machine who works with the NLG.

Lloyd and Pat Cain-- Gave us three days of Bliss up in their summer home.

The folks at CRWRC and PWW: Mary Dykstra, Andy Ryskamp, Lou Haveman, and Ruth Majawa.

Last week at Renita's folks. Renita talking with sister Liz as Mom and Pop K look on.

After visiting her folks, and with Bliss just behind us, we head to Lake City for a gathering of my relatives.

Brothers Steve, Don and Bryan, sister Sandy with Mom behind us all-- as always.

We're outa here! Next stop Liberia!

Friday, June 22, 2007


For the past three days our travels have taken us to the northernmost part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. We spent the time at our uncle's summer home near the tiny Emmet County community of Bliss. Bliss is where my maternal grandmother and grandfather lived and are buried, where my father is buried, and where in my youth I spent every summer. It has become the most evocative place on earth for me, somewhere I cannot go without remembering the past with tears and reflecting on my life and what it all means. I stand on the pavement of Valley Road-- it was a dirt road forty years ago when I was twelve-- still feel the same cool breezes off Lake Michigan a couple miles West, and here so little has changed. The air is still fresh and clean. The skies are deep blue and crystal clear. Consumerism and technology have not scarred the land or people too much yet. I think: "Here is one place in America I could someday live."

Yesterday, I took the kids to "downtown Bliss." One store, one old schoolhouse and the cemetery. I visited the store, reveled in the wood floor boards and cramped feeling, and chatted with the storekeeper. She knew our grandparents and remembered our family. We wondered together where time had gone, and why they stopped making Frostie root beer, the best root beer in the history of the world.

So this morning we left Bliss, and headed south to meet up with my side of the family. As we drove down Valley Road, I wanted to make sure the kids experienced "Ticklebelly Hill," a dip in the road so severe that when traversed at sufficient velocity, one can experience temporary zero-G. It was a "must event" when I was a kid, and we always begged whoever was driving to floor it. As the hill approached, I made sure I had reached the appropriate speed. We braced for weightlessness and the sensation of our bellies being tickled.

Not much happened. It was a sensory and an existential dissappointment. Ticklebelly Hill was nothing more that a barely notable bump. In paving the road, the highway guys graded the tickle right out of the hill. I was sad because in the place of memories it meant a memory not available for reliving. So something has changed over the years in Bliss, and like in Liberia and everywhere, progress came with a price. It was sad, but ok. The sky was blue as ever, the air as clean and crisp as it was forty years ago. Throughout our stay in North America we've been saying everything is the same, but everything is different. In Bliss, some things have changed, but nothing has.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Some Shots that Never Made It

We are in the midst of our North American journey of meeting, greeting and eating. I cannot believe how much food is available, and everybody loves to see us eat. Like I need it. Not that I'm really complaining. We are spending time with the people who love us most, people who have been with us throughout our time in West Africa. So it is "busy-o plenty but a good good tie."

But I miss Liberia.

I can't believe I'm saying it, but I do. I miss the simplicity-- the basic, uncomplicated but daily struggle of our neighbors and friends. I miss rubbing shoulders with people who have little more than some rice and their souls to share. In Liberia, my life just seems more real.

So last night, thinking about what to write today, I started looking over possible pictures of our time in North America. You all came to mind and I thought, "These people do not want shots of Renita or me in meetings or Hannah or Noah in a Michigan swimming pool." Maybe you do, but I guess maybe I don't want to see them. Then I began looking over the images of Liberia, and I realized there are a bunch of shots that almost made it to the blog but for one reason or another-- e.g. they didn't fit the theme that week or there was something wrong with the quality, or there was a different pic that fit better-- they just didn't get in. So, here are a few pics that you never saw-- blogworthy but until now without a blog. Enjoy.
Next week: "Family Reunion(s)"

Our first few weeks here. Rainy season, and Lionel wears a water crown under the drain spout. Note the stare. Since it is rainy season Liberia, he's probably under there right now.

October 2005. The road from Rivercess with CHAL. (Look it up in the archives, you can see Yers Trooly waiting for these guys to haul the cab out of the mud.) This is typical of interior roads during the rainy season.

One day, Noah got it into his head to get shots of people jumping. This surreal piece is called "Nikki the Dog Stupified Yet Again By Human Behavior." The subjects are Victoria and Rachel.

Looking down upon a fishing boat in Mali.

Another Mali shot. The Reeds enjoying quiet moment.

Vera, the woman who cooks for us during the week and does our laundry, cooking for her own family late afternoon at home.

This may be the strangest billboard I have ever seen. I'm thinking the baby (note the five o'clock shadow) looks a tad like former president Charles Taylor.

One last shot of the Monk. This is her being angry. You won't like her when she's angry.

Hannah, in the midst of a Liberian-style, in your face, tell-it-like-you-see-it argument. You can actually see her speaking Liberian English.

Where our 300 friends from Barclayville drink. They call it their well. What would you call it?

Another Noah piece: "Sand Rain on Sand Dome via Enoch and Jackson."
We hear the pangolin is doing just fine. Hope to see her soon.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the Reeds are livin' large in the VanderStelt's guest cottage. Sponge Bob Square Pants blesses the children from the TV whist Renita networks.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Meet 'n Greet

It took me about a week to adjust to jet lag; the rest of the Reeds got used to the time difference much quicker. We are about a third of the way through our visit to the Americas. All of us are still finding adjustment to the world around us taking longer. As we try to figure out exactly what being here feels like and means, we will pass along the observations to you.

In the meantime, we are going, going, going. It makes life a roller coaster. On the down side of the ride, we are a bit tired because every day we are getting together for work meetings or seeing friends. On the up side, we get a rush out of everyone we meet. There are so many that we love and love us. So we leave the place we are staying droopy, then we get a big boost when we see the folks we are meeting, then we dip down again until the next meet n' greet. The pics below are some of the highlights of our first week.

Our friends the Katerbergs throw an open house just after we arrived. It was great to see a bunch of our friends and co-laborers, and we got a chance to tell 'em what's going on in Liberia.

The Katerbergs own a golf cart so Noah, Hannah and the other kids got a chance to do some wheelin'.

A few days later, Yers Trooly gets to meet with Calvin College social work chair Cheryl Brandsen and BSW instructor/friend Stacia Hoeksema with son. Discussing the future of the MPCHS BSW program. Soon we hope to "hang head" with the folks from Kuyper College, the other US school working with MPCHS.

Later in the week, we attended a conference hosted by CRWRC. There we met our old friends Zakka Chomock and John Orkar. Interestingly, they work in Nigeria, we work in Liberia, but we've never seen each other in either country. We met in Senegal, the last time we were together was in Mali (insert), and here we are in the USA.

Sunday, we went to our home church, Madison Square. This is one of three services. We gave 'em the five minute update, then I asked 'em to say "cheese."

After church, we got the biggest treat of all-- walking down the street to our old house, now owned by Stacia and Tom Hoeksema. Chatting with Ida Reid and Mabel Jones.

One of our deaest friends in this big old world. This is Glenda Quinn, our former next door neighbor, sharing an African fashion moment with Renita while Yers Trooly gloms on for attention.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Getting Over the Curbs

We arrived in Grand Rapids, Michigan USA Thursday night, and are finding being here is a bit more complicated than we'd like it to be. On the one hand, it could not be easier to be here. Grand Rapids is a beautiful city-- orderly, quiet, green, neat, tidy and very familiar. Everything that was here two years ago still is; the city is still the same, the building and streets still the same. Yet even though everything is familiar, everything has changed. From the moment we left the airport we saw this mid-sized midwestern city with a perspective informed by two years in West Africa.

I know this may sound weird but what I noticed first were the curbs. They frame every road in the city. In strategic places, they are painted. Then I noticed the streetlights and stoplights. They are all working. The fire hydrants are all bright yellow. I noticed the roads-- smooth and level. Thousands of lawns covered with green freshly mowed grass. I found myself fascinated with the neatness and tidiness of this typical American city. I never saw it like this before, and I still can't get over it. I wonder if it's what an first time African visiter would see. Because none of what I'm seeing-- the suburban curbs, sidewalks, paved sidestreets, hydrants, mulch--- a Liberian boy has ever seen before:

Just another neighborhood on a rainy Sunday morning. Beautiful smooth roads, immaculate attractive sidewalk, picturesque lampost, quiet open lawns. There are so many neighborhoods like this, I couldn't find it again if I wanted to.

This is what I mean about curbs. I think this is for drainage at a city parking lot. But instead of a simple hole or a break, the city sloped the curbs and they brought in these beautiful stones and integrated the drain with the landscaping. Nice mulch too.

See, in Grand Rapids, they love their curbs so much they put up signs so you won't hit them. Note the landscaping--- more nice plants and, God love 'em, mulch.

Everywhere I drove, the city had planted rows of trees, and each of the trees has its own lil' mulch covered base. What a city!

Perfect curbs and perfect fire hydrants. They all have poles screwed on them in case they get covered with snow. Or mulch.

We're in heaven, Dave. Hydrant heaven. Could there a happier hydrant anywhere?

No sidewalk is bruised or broken for long. The city is there to prevent toe stubbing and lawsuits. The mind boggles.

And if sidestreets get too bumpy, why, they get resurfaced. And while their digging, why not replace the old pipes with these really cool black plastic ones. Somebody is going to have to email me a shot of the new curbs. Do NOT forget the mulch!