Monday, February 25, 2008

Jes' Drippin'

Weather Hazy and hot, with very high humidity. Daytime temps in the low 90s, but nighttime lows no lower than the low 80s, making for very poor sleeping conditions, even with the fans. No breeze during the night, but it picks up in late morning and early afternoon. Rain since December 1: about 2 inches.

The air of late has been just about as sticky and heavy as any of us want to experience, but we proceed in the midst of dripping perspiration. The slightest physical exertion is all it takes to get a body drenched.

After a successful and encouraging trip to Senegal with my other CRWRC West Africa colleagues, I returned home to a broke Land Cruiser and a spouse with hands too full. Thanks to one of our visiting guests, Todd Flier, the Cruiser was repaired (U joint) that night in time for the big LEAD conference Saturday. The LEAD conference was successful, even though we hoped for about twice the 150 folks that showed. I think the people that showed got some great tips. The President had some very interesting things to say. She is a highly articulate and intelligent woman.

Today, the visiters are past the Bong Mines region, looking at an agricultural project. If the Bong County curse has been appeased, Renita will return home with tired guests in tow in about 12 hours.

The CRWRC meeting gave me a task, which I will write about later. Right now, I need to get back home and fill in on home schooling chores. Below are a few of the activities the guests have been enjoying. The playgound is coming along fine, but I'll wait until next week to give you that "After" picture.
Visitors Dick, Mary and Todd visit with Cecilia at the Foster Town Market. Examining peppers, okra and tiny eggplants.

A walk on the beach with Todd, Trokon (I think), a kid I don't know, Enoch, Dick and Knot.

The President of Liberia sharing nuggets of wisdom at the LEAD conference.
Sunday night, at the Samuel K. Doe Stadium-- a celebration marking the 150 birthday of Providence Baptist Church. From left, Lou Haveman of Partners Worlwide, Tokon, Enoch, Eastman, Todd Flier and Mary Dekker.

The stadium is as big and good as any in Africa. Severly damaged, it was one of the first things repaired (by the Chinese) after the 2003 war. It's a matter of priorities, you know.

Monday, February 18, 2008

ReedNews Update: Fat February Edition

We are in the midst of one of our most active months, and to add crazy to hectic, US President Bush will drive by our house and be in Monrovia next Thursday. This is only the second time a US president has "officially" visited Liberia, the other time when Jimmy Carter paid a call in 1978. (FDR stopped over at Robertsfield Airport during WW2, but this was only to visit US troops.) President Bush appears to have a heart for Liberia, and he and President Johnson-Sirleaf seem to have a great relationship. The February 21 visit will completely disrupt normal life in the Capital; roads will be closed all day, and we are hearing even the cell phone network will be de-activated. This apparently is to thwart possible attack by cell phone operated bombs. I do not understand this. How many nations would allow its entire cellular communication system to be disabled due to a visit from US president? Oh well, in other news:

Item: LEAD conference, titled “The Way Forward: The Future of Small Business in Liberia,” hopes to host 300 business owners at the all day event February 23rd. Speakers include members of the legislature, the head of the Liberia Business Association, the Minister of Commerce and President Johnson-Sirleaf. Pray that the turn out matches the quality of the event.

Item: The Nehemiah Liberia Group— the US partner to LEAD birthed out of our home church—Madison Square Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan—will have representatives visiting us, as well as other Madison Square folks this week. They arrive mid-week, will visit businesses and attend the conference, and do some other hands-on kind of activities, the leave next Wednesday.

Item: I get to miss the Bush visit—I’m in Dakar Senegal from Sunday the 17th until Friday the 22nd attending meetings with the CRWRC West Africa Ministry Team. There, other members of the team from Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone will be getting together. A big part of our agenda will be a day-long discussion of the future of CRWRC’s role in Liberia. That discussion is scheduled for Wednesday, the 20th.

Item: We are any day expecting a very late container to come, loaded with books donated by many loving Canadians—including Renita’s family and packed and shipped by Active Kids Canada. We now are hoping it will be even later, until after I return from Senegal to help with the hundreds of boxes of books.

Item: So we got books coming, but what do we do with them? No problem, we identified five schools with the capacity to maintain libraries, and Active Kids funded the actual construction of library rooms. The books will have homes, and five schools will have hundreds of books that had none before. Please God, let the container come after this week!

Item: Thanks to gifts that came to us in memory of Norm Katerberg, we have been able to sponsor a project we think would have delighted our dear friend. In Monrovia, there is a girl’s school with 851 girls, but no playground. Inspired by Norm’s boundless love of children, we decided—in consultation with the Katerberg family, to use the money for a playground. It will have two slides, three swing sets, two marry-go-rounds, three teeter totters, and a jungle gym. That gets built this week as well. Norm’s son, Todd Flier, will be out with the Nehemiah group to aid in the construction.

Item: My Conflict Analysis and Peacebuilding class started last week. It is a class made up of the last twelve students in the “Associates” program in Social Work. We are working to smoothly integrate them into the BSW program.

Item: The Land cruiser may be fixed, but it has cost several thousand dollars to do it. First the crankshaft was mistakenly “repaired,” then the fuel filter pump (very expensive item on this vehicle), then we needed rotors and brake pads. But we can now drive to Gbarnga without it breaking down, so maybe the sacrifice of US dollars appeased the Bong County powers.

Item: Nikki is not pregnant.

Here are a few pics-- sorry about the small captions. Its a long story. The bottom two are of Monrovia, one looking from the north at the city, the other, same location, looking to the north at an area called West Point and the port beyond. The arrow identifies the Mercy Ship.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Continuing Saga of Enoch the Indomitable

He’s now ten, and not much taller than when we introduced you to him twenty months ago. (See May 2006 Archives). Enoch continues to be part of our lives, although the boundaries of our relationship have changed—literally.

About a year ago or so ago, just as Noah’s friendship with Trokon and Eastman blossomed, we began to have problems with Enoch. It seemed whenever Enoch and Trokon were in the same area with Noah, the two Liberian boys were at it, picking fights, harassing and generally “causing palaver” with each other. Because Noah was not actually friendly with Enoch, we began to invite the young lad into our yard less. This did not quiet Enoch down much, in fact I think it just revved him up. He continued to harass and tease Trokon, Noah and Hannah whenever they ventured out of the yard. Sometimes I needed to get involved, and sometimes Enoch actually listened to me. It has always been the case that I have held a special fondness for him, in spite of (or maybe in part because of) his incredible ability to read people so well and instinctively drive them up a wall. His uncommonly quick wit (and tongue), his resilience in the face of adversity, and his non-stop mischievousness are for some reason irresistible to me.

In time, Enoch alienated enough of us to the point where he was almost never invited into the yard, although I continued to maintain a relationship with him, occasionally taking him with me on errands, leaving food for him, buying him footwear, and giving first aid. About six months ago, Enoch, who never met a temptation he could resist, began stealing Legos and other toys from Noah on those rare forays into our yard. Eventually, after trying short term banishments, I told Enoch he was simply not going to be allowed in our yard at all unless I was there to personally monitor him. So for a couple months, we did not see him. I missed him, but at least it was more peaceful around the neighborhood.

About a month ago, in an ironic turn of events, Enoch and his old nemesis Trokon started to hang out together. Because we see Trokon daily, he brought Enoch back into our world—only this time, when Trokon came over for his after-school-til-dark visit, Enoch could only come as far as our gate. Undeterred, he promptly climbed a mango tree just on the other side of our wall and perched himself there. Then he got active—relentlessly calling out to the boys playing on the porch, calling out to me, or Renita, or Hannah-- hoping for any response. I knew I couldn’t stop him, so I began chatting with him up there from the yard. It seemed to give him something he needed. His visits are now almost daily. Somedays, he is up in that tree for hours, entertaining himself with singing, carrying on conversations—sometimes just with himself-- and laughing.

In the evenings, when we go out and sit in the yard, he takes part in the conversation from his mango tree perch. At dinner, Trokon takes some food out beyond the gate to share with him. When he has first aid needs, he comes into the yard for treatment—not as far as the porch though—and then goes back out. I still pick him up on the way to do errands, and I drop him off at the tree when we return. Little rogue that he sometimes is, I still find it impossible not to admire him. He has adapted to the boundaries—a nine foot cement block wall and razor wired steel gate—as casually as if it was a decorative white picket fence. I guess adapting is what he does best. As always, he gets as close as he can, and with that wit and humor and voice, still gets us all going from his perch on the other side of the barrier. And at the end of the day, when darkness falls and the boys go home and we head into the house, I sometimes pause and find myself looking over the yard. I know it is good that we have the wall. But lately, I'm thanking God for that mango tree.

Outside our wall, Enoch (back to us) hassles the boys whipping the grass, so Eastman goes toe to toe with him.
On another afternoon, Noah and Trokon escort the lad from harm's way.
At days end, with Renita in hammock, and I in the chair, the boy in the tree never lets us feel lonely.
Some days, we engage in heated debates regarding the dietary value of palm butter.
For medical treatment, he is allowed in the yard. Here Trokon prepares to remove what Liberians call "Jiggers" from the lad's toes. The animal burrow into the skin and lay eggs which grow and do damage. Trokon is and experienced Jigger remover...

...but its not pleasant. This day, Enoch had over ten jiggers in his feet. He screamed and cried as Trokon went to work, with Eastman observing.
Its probably good the foot is a bit blurry. Here is what it looks like post-op. I put some anti bacterial stuff on it and bandaged it, but by the next week, more jiggers had climbed into the wounds. With Enoch, self care is all about the next meal, never about avoiding jiggers. Maybe he'll remember the tears.

The other day, just outside our wall, he was playing in a brush fire. Not good, as they can get out of hand even with adult supervision...
... So I put him to work on a "Reed Road" project with Trokon as supervising contractor.
Farwell from up in a tree, over the wall, though the razor wire and across the waves.

Monday, February 04, 2008

LEADing the Market Women

Weather: After a week of very nice conditions, the heat is back on. Harmattan returned for a week, and we saw cool morning temps—the coolest, actually, in the 30 months since we’ve been here. One morning it got down to a record 60F (15C). Once again, however, morning temps are in the low 80s with high humidity. My glasses actually fogged up this morning just sitting on the porch. Daytime highs in the 90sF. Steady, light ocean breeze, and not a drop o’ rain since early December.

February promises to be one of those months where we just hold our breath and rush to the end. Both Renita and I are juggling activities. I’m teaching a conflict transformation and peacebuilding class for the Mother Patern social work students beginning on the 11th, and on the 17th I’ll traveling to Dakar, Senegal for a week of meetings with the CRWRC West Africa Ministry Team. The agenda includes discussing the future of CRWRC’s work in Liberia, and also next steps for the Reeds. Renita has her hands full as LEAD prepares a business class in Monrovia, Buchanan and the new branch in Gbarnga while at the same times gets ready for a LEAD conference on the 23rd—which, I’m happy to report, will feature a keynote address by none other than Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Add to that an upcoming weeklong visit by representatives from our home church, and we find ourselves with overflowing plates.

If that wasn’t enough for her, today Renita is right here with the LEAD team in Foster Town. The women of the FACT Community Market are among the first to participate in LEADs brand new empowerment initiative for microbusinesses. Until now LEAD has been targeting midsized businesses that could conceivably grow and employ more people. LEAD will continue to serve midsized businesses with loans and business education, but this new initiative will assist very small businesses, like those run by the women at the market. So today and tomorrow (Monday and Tuesday) the women will receive a 15 hour business skills seminar, and after saving for two weeks will receive a US$100 microloan to invest into their efforts. If these loans are repaid, the women can apply for larger loans and perhaps eventually apply to be part of LEAD’s midsized business initiative.

It is not only exciting, but satisfying to see this LEAD/FACT partnership come about. We know these women—they are our neighbors. The market was built by members of this community through FACT, the new community development group working collaboratively with friends from North America. Likewise, LEAD is a product our efforts, along with our partners and friends. LEAD has “come home” to join FACT in serving our very own neighbors. It is as if two of our children, after going out and doing good things on their own, have for the first time found reason to join forces and for a time do their good work together. It makes a parent proud.

Next week: The Continuing Saga of Enoch the Indomitable.

First, proof of coolness in Liberia.

The women of the FACT market listening to James Hilary-- LEAD's veteran. He's been with LEAD almost from the beginning.

Renita, looking serene and contemplative at the same workshop, shares pearls of wisdom gleened from living with Yers Trooly lo' these many years.

And finally, who is this kid spending hours in the mango tree peering into our yard and singing day after day? Give ya a hint... tune in next week.