Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Our Two Year Anniversary

Weather: Tuesday the 24th, steady rains all day under heavy, low overcast. Temp in the 70's all day. Winds from the SSW 5 mph. Rain total over 6 inches. Wednesday the 25th begins sunny and dry. Light breeze from the west. Weather UPDATE: Thursday and Friday, rain all day with moderate winds from the west under heavy overcast. Temp in the 70s; rain totals 5 inches on Thursday, 5 Friday.

Yesterday marked two years since our Brussels Airbus landed in Liberia. The day passed somewhat uneventfully. We enjoyed rain for about twelve hours straight, then on and off until sunset. I spent the morning at MPCHS, chatting with Sr Barbara and Joseph about the fall BSW curriculum. We may have twenty five students! Then I was out shopping for charger number four for our solar batteries. The automotive chargers are much heartier than the delicate high tech units designed for our system, but the corrosion still kills ‘em just as dead in the end.

Renita spent the day preparing for her 2:00pm business class. When I got home, she left for class, so I spent the next few hours fixing our fancy-schmanchy solar refrigerator. As great as the horizontal Sundanzer is at keeping things cold will very little dc power, the spring mounted hinges are an engineer’s big idea gone bad. Within the last six month, they both have ripped themselves out of the refrigerator door. So now the fridge has two, plain, heavy duty door hinges. Not fancy. But they’ll work.

On her way home Renita stopped off at the local police station. Four women had gotten arrested for fighting at the market. Two of them are the same women who have been warned before by the FACT people and other women to cool it. They seem to thrive on chaos, even if they have to create it themselves. If I was in the states, I’d be thinking borderline personality disorder. Anyway, after providing some options to the FACT folks at the police station, Renita continued home. As she pulled in the driveway, the exhaust pipe promptly fell off. I’m surprised it lasted this long.

In the evening, kids played and ate coconut in the yard until dark, and with the call “time to reach,” (meaning “time to go home”) most left, but a few remained. We had invited our closest kid friends in for a rare treat— soft drinks, popcorn, Noah’s peanut butter cookies, and a movie. Everyone had a riot watching the African-based classic, The Gods Must Be Crazy. After the movie, we walked the kids home under our 3,000,000 candle power spotlight, returned with a song, cut the generator—and enjoyed a quiet night.

Thus ended our somewhat uneventful 2nd Anniversary.

On the way into town, at the corner of UN Drive and Carey streets, a street vendor, up over his ankles in city runoff water, tries to push it along. Good luck, dude!

Back home, the laundry hangs out to... rinse.

Last night, from left Nowia, Nancy, Noah, Eastman, Trokon, Victoria and Hannah glued to the TV.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Things Going Well for Market with a Well for the Market

Weather— mostly cloudy the past few days, but with little rain. Today (Saturday) starts off partly cloudy with morning temps in the 70s. Light breeze under 5mph from the west. Total rain this past week about an inch.

During the wet season, life and expectations slow. The steady heavy rains and flooding delay arrivals, causes events to be postponed or cancelled, and generally doubles or triples the amount of time it takes to get things done. So even though we have had a dry week, because heavy rains could return any minute, life slows down. Over at MPCHS, Grace will make no trips into the bush, so I won’t see Todee or Johnson Town for a while. And we are in summer break, so the college is in a quieter mode. Renita is in the middle of the fifth LEAD class, but even that is rather routine with the curriculum fully “in the can,” and no longer under development. So we are seeing more of each other.

Around Foster Town, the new market has attracted attention from the community and beyond, and there are still factions jockeying for control and individuals trying to manipulate the process for personal gain, but FACT (Foster Town Association for Community Transformation) is showing firm resolve to run the market fairly. The FACT leaders are struggling to figure out how to remain focused in the midst of disruptive elements passing rumors and falsehoods about them. Like Nehemiah, the Hebrew who rebuilt Jerusalem in postwar Israel, it seems as though the community leaders need to fight off enemies with one hand while they build with the other. But building they are. As I write, a new Lifewater well for the market sponsored by FACT is almost completed.

It’s the weekend, so Yers Trooly is the chef for today and tomorrow. We eat Liberian Monday through Friday, and return to “home cooking” Saturday and Sunday. Today its chips n’ chili. Tomorrow, barbeque wings with baked potatoes and canned green beans. Feel free to join us. We’ll save you a plate

The Lifewater Liberia arrives to sink the new market well.

It's sinking!

Under the zinc in the market, the women are busy.

This gives you a sense of where the well lies compared to the market. Actually, out house is in a direct line over the well, about two hundred yards in that direction.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We haven't mentioned much about HIV and AIDS while here, but it poses a serious threat to Liberia's future. Sister Barbara Brillant, dean at the Mother Patern College of Health Science predicts that HIV-AIDS, if not addressed, will be worse on Liberia than the fifteen year civil war. Every major international organization seems to be attempting to address it, each from a particular perspective. It is unknown how many in Liberia are HIV positive, but estimates suggests as much as 12% of the population may be infected. Every year about 7000 Liberians die from the effects of the virus. A nurse at a local hospital tells us 2 in 10 women coming in to deliver their babies are testing positive for HIV.

Renita and are are just begining to find places where we can bring ourselves into the HIV-AIDS battle. I have been providing consultation to HIV-AIDS counselors at the hospital and the HIV-AIDS program at MPCHS, and just recently Renita landed a contract on behalf of LEAD with the UN's World Food Programme. The WFP is providing microbusiness loans to women infected with HIV. Renita will be providing the business training and support.

Like everything else, it's a few drops of water in a dry land. But when all you have is a couple of eye-droppers, it's the only way to go. And who knows? if enough of us show up with eye-droppers, we may be able to fill a bucket.

Friday, July 13, 2007

ReedNews Update

Weather: Very heavy rains all day Friday the 13th. Local flooding. Approximately 5 inches of rain fallen as of 1:00pm. Temps in the mid 70’s. Light wind from the southwest.

The rainy season is here, but it has been generally kind to us. Since July 1, we have only had two stretches of rain falling for more than 18 hours without let up—although if it rains 24 out of 36 hours like early this week, it seems like steady rain the whole time. Today it has been very heavy with flooding, and everyone is hoping it stops soon. I took some shots on the way into town for you.

In the News--
Item-- The honeymoon is over for the Johnson-Sirleaf administration, with charges of corruption and political infighting abounding in the sensationalist gossip rags they call newspapers. At times the president’s fight against corruption has turned violent; the other day the Liberian National Police were fighting the Freeport Police because the Freeport Police were supposedly diverting petrol shipments. Indeed Monrovia was “out of gas” this week for a couple days—the few stations with gas were charging almost US$5.00 a gallon.

Item-- We continue to see signs of upcoming major infrastructure development. Not far from us, a massive buildup of road working equipment has begun. The equipment is Chinese, and I’m told the Chinese own the contract to widen and completely resurface Robertsfield highway, which is the road from the airport to Monrovia, and about a hundred and fifty yards from our house. So I’m thinking they’ll start in October.

Item—The market is open, with about twenty women selling their wares, and more signing up each day. You can buy foo-foo, greens, turkey, pig meat, cow meat, kitali, bitter ball, pepper, spices, beans, as well as soap, some clothes and flip-flops. It still has a long way to go to compete with the market a couple miles down the road, but its coming. “Small-small.”

Item—It is heartbreaking to have to report this, but we returned to discover that the pangolin died while we were away. It apparently found a home in a place that it could not back out of, and by the time our friends found it, three days had passed. I’ve never seen a more inoffensive, gentle creature, and I’m still sad about the loss. But I got the message. We will no longer support the practice of bringing in protected creatures from the bush to sell to missionary types. We thought we were rescuing creatures like the monkey and the pangolin. What we were actually doing was encouraging an illegal and destructive trade.

Item—Hannah begins her first job next week—secretary to the principal of the local school—Christ’s Friend Children Academy. The school can’t pay her of course, so Renita will be appealing to her father and uncles to chip in to augment her salary. Why we are only appealing to her uncles, I don’t know. Renita said it just seemed like an “uncle thing.”

The ladies at the new market showing their stuff. More merchants coming.

On the way into Monrovia this morning. The work does not stop, and these guys hauling planks in a wheel barrow are two of thousands doing their thing in the deluge.

Streets in town flooding. This sight is not at all unusual during this time of year.

Neighbors homes flooding as everyone waits it out.
Back home, Max licks Grace-- "Hey-- she tastes like venison!"Last night before the rains, pets gather at day's end to munch turkey bones and discuss ways to show the humans how to get along.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Foster Town Market-- A Dream Realized

Weather: partly sunny and humid most days this week, with heavy, steady rain most nights. Saturday, rain throughout the early morning and morning hours, with wind. Rain cleared by late morning, just in time for the afternoon market dedication. Temps mid 80s during the day, 70s overnight. Winds 10-15 mph, mostly from the west, although shifting and out of the east during the day Saturday. No clue as to weather Sunday.

If you have been keeping up with us, you know our community, Foster Town, is trying to build a market. The attempt is an expression of the desire of the entire community through its new community development organization, FACT. (Formerly FoCDA, FACT stands for Foster Town Association for Community Transformation.) Currently neighborhood women need to travel several miles to the nearest market, and carry back large bundles the entire way or pay for increasingly expensive taxis. There are almost no Liberian car owners in the community. The market would create a much more convenient location for perhaps thousands of community folks saving precious time and money, and provide micro business opportunities for about ninety neighbors who would sell their goods here.

The Foster Town marketplace was first proposed last summer, with groundbreaking taking place in December. We all hoped it would be up by April, but longstanding distrust and control issues emerged, halting construction for March and April. In May, opposing sides began coming together so by the time the Reeds left for North America, the roof was mostly up, and the FACT market committee was taking names and reserving spaces for market tables.

When we arrived back to Liberia, the good news was waiting for us. The market place had its tables, the community would celebrate its dedication July 7 and it would open for business July 9.

As I write this July 7, we just returned from the dedication. Compared to most Americans, Liberians make a huge deal out these things. There were speeches and rallies, and songs and hoopla in a program that lasted hours. I thought I'd try to leave early, but the joy and delight of the women was infectious. I hung around and eventually figured out how to keep myself occupied.

On Monday, the market opens for business. Those are the pictures I’m waiting to take.

In December at the ground breaking, the field was nothing but palm stumps and brush. But we were committed.

In January, some support poles went up, and the women inspected a much more clear field.

In February, the community pulled together to dig up stumps and burn the rest of the brush.

But factions were growing. We spent a lot of time trying to make space for conflict to happen safely and trust to grow.

By March, the work was halted while the conflict played itself out. But by May... resumed. Through hard efforts of all involved work began again and we saw zinc going up. This was how it looked when we left for North America.

And this is how it looked when we returned. Tables up, ready for the dedication. What a moment. What a victory.

Saturday, July 7, under the zinc. Let the Celebration begin! Dancing, singing, speechifying, laughing and praising God.
Renita, a guest of honor, has a few profound words from Ecclesiastes and thanks our American friends, Mary and Ev Vermeer for their generous support in making the market possible.
Local pastor and friend Rev Odashi cuts the ribbon, opening the market.
Afterword, the women dance in celebration. Yers Trooly could not help himself-- to the delight of the crowd he jumped in and showed 'em he had a few moves of his own.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

SPLASHDOWN! And Return to Home Sweat Home

Weather: Partly Cloudy and dry this morning after four days of almost continuous rain. Rain since we arrived Sunday night: approximately six inches. Daytime temps when sunny mid 80s, when cloudy upper 70's. Night time temps mid 60's

We splashed down at Lake Robertsfield International Airport at 5:00pm Sunday. It took us an hour to finally get out: the customs official tried to shake us down for the $150.00 printer we brought in for non-profit use. After getting nowhere for $50.00, she let us pass, then asked us for "something small." This is the first time airport officials have tried to shake us down in a while, but it is not a good sign. It indicates that after an initial crackdown on this kind of stuff, things may be getting slimy again. We'll let you know.

We got home at around 8:00pm and here it is Tuesday already and we are still trying to get organized. The battery on the car is dead, and there are some signs of wear and tear on the house since we left, but otherwise it feels like home. One of our dogs, Jackie, finally died from her congenital digestive disorder, banded crows got all our chicks, and the pig busted up the pen and the neighbors had to do some repair work that cost us some limbs off our mango trees. Temps are cool, although I still sweat if I do any work at all. Working to get the car up and running in the rain and my own sweat was a trip.

They tell us the area has been hammered by four days of non-stop steady rain. Everywhere there are new potholes, swamps, flooded areas, giant puddles, and people hanging stuff out to dry.

It is good to be back to Liberian normal.

Our last pic from the US of A--- some our our faithful pals seeing us off. Mary Vermuelen with daughters Anneka(sp?) and Abbey(sp? I know I'm bad) and our "home base managers" Janette and Dale Vanderveen.
Home to puddles-- our street heading out to the main road.
This pond was a soccer field when we left. Come January, it shall be again.
The main road to the city. Folks drying laundry and tarps in the brief respite from the rains.