Monday, November 26, 2007

Debt Relief

Weather: The dry season is here. Days are hot and hazy, with little wind and high temps, nights are often still with temps in the upper 70's. Less than one inch of rain in the last week.
Last week, the international Monetary Fund cancelled Liberia’s 800 million dollar debt to the organization. The IMF decision was a huge victory for the Sirleaf-Johnson administration, supported actively by the ONE campaign and US President Bush. Earlier this year Liberia’s three largest national creditor nations, China, Germany and the US, cancelled Liberia’s debts to their respective nations.

Debt cancellation is a controversial action, as it ought to be. Naturally, nations in debt have a responsibility to repay funds borrowed. But in the case of the Liberian debt, who really is responsible for it? As Josh Peck of stated, “On April 12, 1980, Samuel Doe staged a military-coup in Liberia, killing the president in his home and bringing an end to the first African republic. During his decade of brutal dictatorial rule, Doe borrowed billions of dollars from international creditors to consolidate his power. Eventually, his regime collapsed into a bloody civil war that lasted 14 years and claimed the lives of 1 in 12 Liberians.But now Liberia has rebounded. There is peace, and
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, once a political prisoner during Doe's regime, has been elected as the first female head of state on the African continent. Sadly the Liberian people are still saddled with $4.5 billion of Doe's debt.”

For over twenty-five years, Liberia was ruled by bad guys and their henchmen. Power was stolen through assassination and maintained by brutal intimidation tactics. The Liberian loans were sought by ruthless criminals who ended up using the money for their own corrupt purposes or just wasting it through mismanagement. The men who secured these loans did not act in the interests of Liberia, and the money was not spent on Liberia. Yet the loan requests were granted. Incredibly, these loans were requested and granted in the midst of unprecedented Liberian instability. IMF and the other lending nations bear responsibility for approving bad loans that never made it to the intended beneficiaries, and it is just that they not require the people of Liberia bear the burden for repaying them.

So today, most of Liberia’s crippling debt burden is lifted. It appears the nations may be trying to do right by the Liberian people. Today, thanks to an honest and tenacious leader at its helm of state, Liberia is doing business with the world in a way that may right some of the past wrongs, and may actually impact the average Liberian. The debt relief removes the burden of crushing interest payments, and paves the way for smaller, wiser loans to be approved for the continued rebuilding of Liberia. We do not delude ourselves in thinking some money will not be eaten by some dishonest politician or contractor. But for the first time in a long time, Liberia is getting better. For the first time in almost two decades, the economy is improving. Roads are being rebuilt. Trash is being removed. The lights are coming on. For the first time in a quarter century, ordinary Liberians are beginning to believe they matter in the scheme of things.

It’s a good sign.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Not Always Easy-o

Weather: Two words-- Hot and humid. The temps are in the mid 90s during the day with stifling, water-heavy air and little wind until late afternoon. Evenings are cooler with a refreshing wind off the ocean. Nightime temps in the lower 80s dropping to the mid 70s by early morning.

Several happenings this week kept us occupied. Renita went up to Ganta as I mentioned, and on the way back the fan belt broke in the middle of nowhere. The LEAD Liberian staff worked the problem with Renita, and after hitching a ride to the nearest town and retrieving a new belt and a mechanic, she got it fixed (mechanic emergency roadside repair fee: $7.00)

Some of our closest friends experienced a two-week string of five attempts by rogues to steal stuff. The last attempt occurred three nights ago, and it was the most serious. The bad guys actually got into our friends’ house and held a machete to a guest's throat. When confronted by our enraged friend—a father of four—the rogues attacked him by slashing his face with the machete. Undeterred, he chased them out of the house before being taken to the Mercy Ship hospital for stitches. Happily by Sunday, the rogues were caught and hopefully our friends can sleep at night. As our Liberian friends say, "It not easy-o!"

The status of the Calvin-Kuyper-Mother Patern College partnership is as follows: both US schools continue to show strong interest and a commitment to what is happening here with the Bachelor of Social Work program. We are waiting to see if a grant request will be approved, but we continue to plan and for another visit from both schools by January of the academic year 2008-2009. For the January visit, the plan has them actually teaching courses and offering technical support to the BSW staff at MPCHS.

Road work has started on the main drag into Monrovia, amen. The workers are completely tearing the old road out and starting from scratch. They are doing it piece by piece, one section at a time so motorists can easily detour around on the side roads. It only took me a half hour to get into work this morning.

I got hit with yet another bout of dysentery over the weekend. This is the fourth or fifth time for me. Its very unpleasant for a day or so, but once you figure out what it is, its rapidly treated with antibiotics.

The deathwatch for Henrietta the Hog continues. She's a dead pig oinking with an execution date of November 28. That's the day before former President Tubman’s birthday, which is a big holiday here. We are preparing ourselves for the upcoming community feast. Henrietta now weighs maybe a hundred seventy five pounds, and she requires a lot of food and water. So while killing and butchering her is not something I’m looking forward to, it needs to be done. It’s why she was given to us. And I am definitely looking forward to eating the beast, that much is certain. Let her slow cook over coals for eight hours, then call in the neighbors. Slather on some barbeque sauce with some jollof rice and chicken wings on the side— man, I’m licking my chops already.

On the way to Ganta, a hundred fifty miles northest of Monrovia. The roads were pretty good and Renita and the LEAD team made it in five hours.

Even up here, clearing trees to make way for road work. A good sign.

Cattle coming back to Liberia. A good sign.


On the way back, a broken fan belt between Gbarnga and Kakata means a three and a half hour delay. Could've been worse.

By the side of the road where the Cruiser waits for repairs, a country rice field. On the platform a boy swings a long whipping pole to frighten the birds. That was all he did for the time the LEAD folks were there. Makes for a long day.

Back home, a typical evening outside-- puzzle for Hannah, dog teasing for Noah, feet up for Renita, and getting it on film for Yers Trooly.

One last shot-- more roadwork, this time in the city. Its going to be a long dry season for drivers once all the work commences.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More “Life in Liberia” Factoids

Weather: Strong storms Monday night dumped a couple inches of rain in an hour. Tuesday mosly cloudy and very humid with dew points in the upper 70's. Almost no breeze.

Well, Renita is up visiting the towns of Gbarnga (pronouced BANG-ga) and Ganta today (Tuesday the 13th) doing some advance work for LEAD. Ganta is on the Guinea border and is about five hours away on ok roads. She should be back by 7:00pm tonight-- 2:00pm EST.

Meanwhile, I'm home with Hannah and Noah having some nice chats. I told them I did not know what to write today, so they suggested a few more of our ever increasing list of items that we find interesting about this place we call home. I included a couple Monrovia pictures.

- Monrovia has about ten daily newspapers. Most costs about 35 cents. (20 Liberian dollars)

- Night time temperatures in our house rarely fall below 78 degrees Fahrenheit. At 79F, we start shivering and reach for our blankets.

- If you are sending your child to a Liberian school, you may be asked to supply the desk, which the school will keep. You must also supply toilet paper.

- Mosquitoes in Liberia are three times smaller than Michigan mosquitoes. One rarely feels the bite.

- If a schoolboy’s hair is over a quarter inch long, he is sent home, sometimes with a chunk of hair shaved out.

- If you need to go to a hospital, be prepared to pay a deposit before treatment and if admitted bring toilet paper, soap, towels, plates, and usually food.

- A 55 gallon steel drum used for burning trash in our yard falls apart from rust after five months; by eight months it will have completely disintegrated without a trace.

- Price of a typical Liberian meal (Rice, greens, meat or fish, oil) for four: About $2.00

- Price of a typical American meal (Spaghetti with meat sauce, garlic toast) for four: About $12.00

- When a mouse dies in our house, Renita always smells it first. Bob always gets to dispose of it.

- A favorite treat of Liberian children is “putuh,” a light gray smoky flavored chunk of dried mud.

- DVDs containing up to 16 movies sell for $5.00 apiece in downtown Monrovia. The movies are bootlegged. The worst are simply videos of the movie taken off the theatre screen, so you can see silhouettes of patrons getting up and sitting down.

- The soil quality of Liberia, as in much of Africa, is classified by experts as “poor” or “very poor.” Plants grow here because of the enormous availability of water and the rapid decomposition of everything dead.

- Large pineapples cost a dollar out of town, up to $8.00 in town.

- Foster Town Market ladies love to pray, and they love to dance.

- If you need to go to jail, your friends or relatives must feed you. And provide toilet paper.

The view from Monrovia across the Mesurado past Powder Island to Bushrod Island and the port in the distance. Looking NE.

Traversing the only operable bridge linking Bushrod Island/Freeport with Monrovia. Traveling North, looking West.

Monday, November 05, 2007

ReedNews Update- November Edition

Weather—Warmer and very humid, with daytime temps in the upper 80’sF, mid 70’sF during the night. Rain almost every night, sometimes heavy, but little or no rain during daylight hours. Hazy, partly cloudy skies. Light breezes, mostly from the East.
UPDATED Friday November 9
Time continues its inexorable march to wherever it is going, and as it marches, some things change and some things stay the same. We’re here to tell you which is which in our corner of Liberia, West Africa.

--Changes: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was in the US last week getting a Medal of Freedom from pal George W. This is further evidence of Sirleaf’s standing around the world, but back home we continue to wait for the oft promised improvement to water, power, transportation and health infrastructure. We are reading in the papers that major demolition of roadside houses, followed by major road construction will begin any day now. Meanwhile, the potholes are getting deeper. Interestingly, the one thing that has already been completed refurbished is the 50,000 seat Samuel K. Doe football stadium.

--Changes: The tomatoes have arrived! Monrovia is stocked again with Romas, although we are still getting gouged a bit—about three small Romas for over a US dollar and a half. My sandwiches are whole again.

--Changes: Next door, Patience, the 18 year old granddaughter of the late Deacon Reeves, delivered a baby girl. Renita was closely involved in the labor and delivery process, and has since been getting her “baby fix” by stealing the lil’ dumpling for hours on end. The baby’s name is… Renita. This is the fourth kid that has been named for my dear wife, while I on the other hand, am batting zero in the “named after me” department. Yes I’m jealous. I keep telling myself it’s because her name is so unusual and mine is so common. But the truth is my wife is a honkin’ saint, and me, well, I’m something else. She, they love. Me, they laugh at.

--Changes: The Foster Town Market is accepting applications for a superintendant. The truth is the market has been suffering under the effects of “management by committee,” and needs a paid point person to do the job. In addition, there remains a small group of very disruptive women who are doing what they can to sand bag the whole operation. They never accepted the fact that they were not placed in charge to run the operation from the beginning, and are now actively engaging traditional magic women to cast curses on everybody involved. It’s a real spiritual battle, but the faithful women of the market are holding prayer vigils and some of the disruptive ladies have actually repented and begged forgiveness. It’s going to be all right.

--Changes: The little piggy we received from the Kataka farm in the spring is now a hundred fifty pound hog and growing. We are planning a community pig roast the end of the month. This of course means the hog will get killed and butchered right here. Many of our Liberian friends are clamoring to do the deed. We’ll let you know what happens.

--Changes: Speaking of the Kakata farm, we took a trip last Saturday to see how the rice planted over the last few months is doing. (See April 2007 Archives, "Kakata" post for a "before" view.) The farm, co-owned by our friend and local pastor Augustine Zar, is one of the places some of you are supporting through your contributions our “community development fund.” Because of these gifts and the hard work of this large extended family, they will not only have food to sustain themselves, but they are employing a number of farm hands and they will be providing rice, eggplant, pepper and cassava to local markets. On the path to the fields, we passed about arm's length from a four foot long cobra in the bushes, about chest high. It slithered off before the boys could get to it with their machetes.

--Same: Nikki, our two year old female mutt turned actress, was not pregnant. We think the introduction of a male dog into the yard got her hormonal juices flowing. She produced milk for two weeks and actually appeared to be growing. Noah, a hopeful believer to the last, finally admitted the truth the rest of us had accepted when he realized we were three weeks past the gestation period for a dog. We believe she will become “available” sometime after the new year, and we’ll see what Max and she can produce together.

--Same: The humidity is wrecking more things (dvd player, padlocks), and I’m dripping.

On a trip through the city before heading out to the Kakata farm. Monrovia's main road by the end of the rainy season. We keep our fingers crossed for the promised rebuilding.

Our way along the path to the rice. This was taken just after our encounter with the cobra; you can see how easily the creatures can find places to hide.

We break out of the brush and we get a panorama of the rice fields.

Renita and Rev Zar discussing the progress and process of farming rice. The rice n the far left is ready for harvest.

Yers Trooly Grokking the Groovy Glory of Green.

This is what happens when we leave for the farm. "Are they gone? Can we come in now?"