Monday, August 27, 2007

ReedNews Update--Updated

Weather: August 8 was our area’s last day with any notable sun. Since then it has been cloudy with most days seeing a low, heavy overcast. In the 19 days since August 8, there have been 228 hours of daylight. Of these, there has been an aggregate of less than 6 hours of sun. The rest of the time-- overcast. Some rain every day, with average per day totals about a half inch. Westerly to southwesterly wind every day.
Weather Update, September 1: August 28 ushered in four days of partly sunny skies and little day rain, although we had about a half inch every night, and Thursday night gave us the loudest thunder we have ever heard here, and two inches of rain. But the sunshine was heavenly. Today brings overcast and light rain. Winds SSW.

Around the Reed home, the loss of our friend Norm Katerberg along with constant overcast tests our ability to see the proverbial glass as half-full. But loss and dark skies are the everyday story of our Liberian neighbors, so, like they do, we simply continue on with the next thing. Eventually the skies will brighten and the sharp sting of loss will fade. And there are breaks in the clouds even now.

Item- Niki, the oldest dog in the neighborhood—she’s two—is pregnant! That’s right, our licking-coward-turned-faithful-barker discovered that seven month old Max has what it takes for fatherhood. This is good news for us and even our neighbors. Because the country lost so many of its dogs in the war, and rogues continue roam the country side, good dogs are in demand. We will raise them for a few months, keep the female of our choice, and find good homes for the rest.

Item- Summer is the time Renita ramps up her out-of-home activity. She continues her dual LEAD responsibilities with the regular program and the WFP training for women who are also HIV positive. The other day, she left for Buchanan at 7:00am and did not arrive back until 10:00pm. Bad roads, long interviews with LEAD loan applicants and a flat tire conspired. She finally made it back after giving out 17 loans, and promptly crashed.

Item- I’m still in a slower summer mode, composing emails to be sent, watching the kids while Renita ventures, puttering around the generator/solar scheme, trimming coconut trees with the boys, and occasionally going in to Monrovia to meet with MPCHS staff—including a new PhD in psychology sent by a German INGO to work with us for a couple years. We continue to refine the upcoming BSW program and will be interviewing our last batch of candidates next week. Correspondence and planning with Kuyper and Calvin Colleges continues.

Item- Noah is feeling sick and has been for about ten days. His only complaint is nausea so we think it’s a result of his anti-malaria medicine, so we’ll switch it tomorrow to see if it works.
Item Update 9/1-- The Corrosion Beast has struck again! On Tuesday, I could not get into my computer, but the evidence pointed to a failure in the operating system. With help, I would be able to retrieve my data, files, and folders, and get back to work after reinstalling Windows. No such luck. On Wednesday, Mr. Tanu, the MPCHS computer guy brought his data retrieval gismo and we learned together the gut punching truth: the hard drive was shot.
Item Update-- The Fallout. There was good news and bad news out of this blow ragarding my computer. Renita and I had backed up almost all our data elsewhere. The very bad news was, even though both of us could swear we had seen it backed up, all of my most important files-- the courses and workshops I'd developed, my MPCHS work, my Mental Health Task Force work-- in short all of my work over the past two years-- was not backed up. Plus our email address book was gone. The data exists now only on my broken hard drive.
Item Update-- The Plan. We need to get that data off the hard drive. We have heard of people here who can do it, but if need be, we will DHL or FedEx it back to the States to get it back.

Sometimes it comes straight, sometimes at an angle, but every day it comes.

Renita and the women in the WFP HIV-AIDS program.

On top, a trim, vigorous Niki "before." Below, heavy with pup. "Wha' is happening to me"?

...and as Noah and Trkon fade into the East headin' toward their fishin' hole, we wish you a fond farewell.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Norm Katerberg: A light gone out of the world

Norm Katerberg, a friend and colleague in ministry passed away Saturday night. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor while we were in the USA. When the chemotherapy quickly destroyed the cancer, we all rejoiced. And then, just when things looked so good, pneumonia came and took him.

Norm was a partner in ministry with the Reeds for the past ten years, first when we were deacons together at Madison Square Church, then in the work at Restorers and Madison Square Counseling Ministries, and then here in Liberia. Norm was one of the most selfless people I have ever known, one of those pure hearts that are so rare to find; a man who seemed to have no hidden agenda, only to do good and to be good.

He was a fixer, a problem solver. I loved working with Norm –I often told others that I could almost visibly see a light bulb go on over his head as an idea came to mind. Whenever there was a problem, and in ten years of doing ministry with the poor there were plenty of challenges, Norm would scratch his head and say, “You know, I wonder if…”, and often his wondering became the solution.

Norm came to visit us here and stayed in our house. He swam with Noah every day in the ocean, made repairs around the house, and played with all the kids in the area. It was no different than anyplace else with Norm and kids —they loved him, and he loved them back.

And now, suddenly, this good, gentle, generous light is gone from us.

When we heard about his cancer, Bob and I made sure we visited him and Mary. There were some things I wanted to say to him—probably more for me than him. He hated being praised, and avoided even being thanked. But I just wanted to tell him something about what he meant to me. I think he received it.

Goodbye for now, Norm. What are you going to do in a place that doesn’t need fixing? Maybe you’re splashing in some heavenly ocean with kids from Liberia.


Our last picture of Norm-- looking so healthy on the right with Mary as we share with them about the work in Liberia. This during our Grand Rapids in June.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wading Through the Dead of the Rainy Season

Weather: Low, dense overcast daily for a week. Two hours of sun since August 8. Rain on and off every day, averaging about 1.5 inches per day. Hi Temps in low 70s during the day, lows in the low 60s at night, but with a steady southwesterly to westerly breeze of around 10mph and constant rain, it feels cooler. Meteorological background: The warm equatorial ocean throws billions of tons of water vapor into the air. The trade winds that blow from the west half the year move this saturated air over the coast where it meets the relatively cooler land, creating condensation everywhere, but especially in the atmosphere. The result: A giant rain machine. And it rains frequently, about 200 inches worth, from late May until the winds shift 180 degrees, usually sometime in October. The rainiest months are July and September.

Back in Michigan, I used to call mid January “The Dead of Winter.” The air was coldest, the snow was piling up, the days darkest, and spring was still months away. It seemed like everything was longing for relief from the merciless weather. I think I’m in the “dead of the rainy season.” I like occasional sun. I may even need it. When I don’t see it or feel it, my mood is affected. I get down, more negative and impatient. We haven’t seen the sun or felt its direct warmth for a week, except a couple hours late Sunday afternoon. Plus everything is damp. Clothes not aired out stink of mildew. Electronics act up and short out. On the roads, the potholes are now deep everywhere and our 12 year old Pathfinder is being shaken and rattled to death. We cannot keep up with its repair needs. It takes 45 minutes to drive 12 miles into town. We are supposed to get some dry weather soon for a few days if memory, folk lore and science all serve. Renita predicts one more day of wet, then two days of sun.

This week, I’m mostly at home, writing reports and emails. The emails get sent whenever I get to an internet cafĂ©. During breaks, if it’s not pouring, I might mosey down to the market and tease the ladies. I was needed at Mother Patern College Monday, and I’ll need to be there again Friday for planning meetings with Grace Boiwu, head of the MPCHS Women’s Development Program. On Saturday, I’m conducting a workshop on parenting for the Foster Town community.

Renita is in town and in front of people every day this week. Monday through Wednesday, she’s conducting an orientation for the growing LEAD staff. Thursday and Friday, she’s conducting the LEAD training workshop for the WFP. Like I, she gets a bit anxious before times like this where she has to do a lot of presenting But she’s relieved and in a good mood when it’s over.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Weather: Heavy overcast with light rain. Hi Temps in the upper 70’s during the day, the lows in the upper 60s at night. Light breeze from the west-southwest. Rain totals the last two days less than an inch.

Renita and I are in the middle of a full week. She is back and forth to Monrovia clarifying and re-clarifying LEAD’s contract with the UN World Food Program—which seems to change daily as WFP adds more conditions. They need to get it together soon though, because the class starts Thursday the 16th. In the midst of her WFP wrangling, she’s teaching the LEAD class, attending community meetings and stubbornly running all over Monrovia trying to find birthday presents for her decidedly birthday-challenged husband.

As for me, I also have a plate full of Liberian morsels. When she's around, I'm offering my pithy insights and suggestions to Renita for the WFP gig. In Monrovia, Mother Patern College is interviewing prospective social work students as it prepares to launch the program. (Look for the official announcement in September.) The interviews are an honor to conduct with the Social Work staff, and I never forget there is something sacred about the task. Back at home, I’m writing whenever I get a few hours at a time. The CRWRC West African Ministry Team wants a comprehensive report on all of our work up til now. And always, I’ve got another Blog to crank out.

Hannah is finishing her first job, helping Christ Friend Children Academy get organized. She is interesting to watch—a mixture of her mother’s dogged thoroughness and her dad’s ability to guiltlessly put the work down and go play. Procrastination and productivity in one package-- how appropriate!

Noah is involved in a yard project. He, with buds Trokon and Eastman, are digging, hauling and spreading about 40 wheel barrows of sand and dirt on an area in our yard where the rains are washing away the existing sand. The kid has become a dirt-dynamo. He shovels it better than his dad-- er, dirt that is. Some stuff I'll be the champ at shovelin' for a while yet.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I Am My Brother’s Keeper Meets Mind Your Own Business: Percy’s Solution

Weather: After seeing over ten inches of rain Tuesday the 31st, Wednesday and Thursday are dry. Thursday is mostly sunny with high clouds and a light westerly breeze. Temps in the 80's.

One of the most obvious differences between African culture and North American culture is in the way people relate, how they view each other. Americans act from a more individualist perspective, Africans from a collective or group perspective. Typically, when Americans speak of family, they mean what sociologists call the “nuclear” family— comprising parents and children. In Africa, “Family” includes the “extended” members—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—but also close friends or even long-time acquaintances. Also, the concept of “ownership” is more fluid, and likely less clear-cut to an American eye. In America, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. Don’t ask me for what’s mine and I won’t ask you for what’s yours. In Africa, what may begin as yours may be requested by me if I have a more compelling need. In the LEAD business classes, we see these cultural norms in constant conflict as LEAD participants try to make their businesses work while a steady stream of “family” members lay competing claims to business profits. One of the principles Renita has tried to hammer home to her LEAD business people is: “If you give away your profits for “family” requests—your business will be affected accordingly. Actually, the money is not really yours to give—it is the business’s money.”

Easier said than done, and sometimes our business people become poignantly creative to trying to be good business people and good friends.

Take Percy for instance.

Percy is a tailor. Like thousands of others, he toils long hours making clothes for little profit. Like thousands of others, he fends off daily requests from “family” to assist will real needs. Up until now, he gave in and the business took the hit. The other day, he shared in class that he was happy to have a recent accounts receivable of $150 US paid back to the business. He would not “eat” the money, but reinvest it—perhaps in material or even a second machine. However, that evening a friend of his came to tell him that the friend’s son was in the hospital, and that he needed money to pay for his son’s treatment. “Please,” said the friend, “I beg you. I will pay you back.” Percy faced a very familiar and difficult decision. The reasons to loan the money was, as always, a good one. Would he help another friend or protect his business? Percy looked at the money in his hand, looked at his friend, and thought about the class. If he did not begin setting limits, his business could never become profitable. He decided. “No, I cannot use the money from the business to help your son.” After pleading and cajoling for a while, the friend became sad and even insulted. “How can you do this,” he asked, and left empty handed. Percy felt the guilt most people feel when they try to establish good boundaries. He did not sleep well that night. He knew he was doing the right thing by not giving away the business’s money, but he cared about his friend’s son. The next day, he found his solution. He had a small television that might be worth something. He took the TV into town, sold it, and brought the money to the friend at the hospital. He honored his business, he honored his friendship, but the juggling act cost him a TV.

Renita says, “I find Percy’s solution moving. It makes it real that people in Liberia face difficult choices every day: to say no to your friends and relatives can risk their health and very wellbeing, not mention brands you as “uncaring” or “selfish.” However, to give money each time you are asked risks your livelihood and causes the eventual dependence on someone else to help you. There is a social and relational cost to moving out of poverty, and not everybody is willing to pay the emotional price attached. A frequent theme we hear at the graduation from LEAD's classes is that ‘LEAD made me to be mean.’ They say this with a smile on their face and in a positive way, but we understand the truth behind it.”

To make healthy decisions here sometimes requires the Wisdom of Solomon as Liberians weigh important new values with time honored traditions. Percy’s solution suggests that for Liberia to grow, new, creative ways will need to be found provide balance to competing values. But Percy’s solution also suggests that no matter the solution, it will come with a cost.