Monday, July 28, 2008


Weather: We spent a week watching the water drain from our sandy yard after the floods of last Sunday-Monday. The weekend was lovely however, with almost cloudless skies and moderate temperatures. Nice breezes too. Monday the 28th dawned clear, but by mid morning is cloudy and still. Temps in the mid 70sF.

Last week, to celebrate the beginning of our fourth year in Liberia, Renita and I traveled northeast to Ganta, a town near the border with Guinea. We were joined by Allen Gweh, Acting National Director for LEAD. Allen invited us to visit his home church, Trumpet Baptist, in that clean border town, and we accepted the invitation. The roads were fairly bad the entire way, so the trip of 120 miles took us five and a half hours. But we got there and had a delightful time with these dedicated souls. The highlight for me as usual was lunch, where I ate gio boy, also called G.B. (with fingers of course) and soup, with some tasty jollof rice. G.B. is a courser, less gooey, more flavorful version of dumboy, the recipe of which we covered in an earlier post.

After lunch we toured a family cassava farm and some businesses, then headed back to reach home by nightfall. Thought you might like to see the sites, so here are some images.

Where we wuz...

To get there and back by dark, we left early.

On the way, a nice field of rice...

... and a lovely field of UN armored personnel carriers...

Ganta at last!
The trip to Trumpet Baptist was a bit jarring...

...but we made it. My back was killing me, thus the crooked pose.
In the church, they held a very nice welcome for the us by the leadership.

LUNCH! I'm dipping some G.B. into our soup as one of the deacons to the right eats the jollof rice sans spoon-- 'twas worth the back ache.
Allen Gweh, acting National Director of LEAD on the left, visits a potential LEAD-sponsored furniture business.

Yers Trooly joins the group for a walk through a family sized cassava field. The family in the lower right. Very nice family.

Time to head back home!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Three Years After

Weather: The week began with a deluge. From 4:00am until 3:00pm Sunday, it rained hard and steady. I measured 14 inches in my trusty rain gauge. The rain returned for another couple inches last night, giving us a whopping 16 inches over the 24 hours. Some of our neighbors, including Vera, were flooded out of their homes. Winds from the SSW at 15 mph. Temps in the mid 70sF (mid 20sC) with very heavy overcast.

Thursday the 24th marks our third year in Liberia. Three years ago, we wondered if we’d made a colossal mistake coming here. The rain, the bugs, the lizards, the spiders—and that was just in our house. Outside we contended with rogues and corrupt cops competing for a piece of us. Everything was new and very different. And in this war ravage nation, much of it seemed ugly and repulsive to our overwhelmed eyes. Even the food was bad. We felt alone and isolated. I remember one day in September, 2005. Renita and I had let the tension and stress drive us into a quarrel. I had had it. After weeks that included rogues stealing our generator, police pulling us over to humiliate and extort money every week, incessant rain, mildew, oppressive humidity, being stared at, lied to, Renita enduring malaria and I dysentery, I remember breaking down. I sat on the bed and began sobbing. Through angry tears I blurted it out, “I hate Liberia! I hate this place!” Of course, that observation never made it to the blog. That inner struggle was reserved for Renita, God and me to share. So we carried on.

It took me ten months to turn that corner. Everyone else in the family was doing fine. They had adjusted months earlier. Gradually, I began to relax too. In time I opened my eyes and began to appreciate the simplicity within the complexity that is Liberia. I learned the rules of the game. I learned “Liberian Normal.” I killed the bugs and fed them to the lizards. I made friends with the beggars, the cops and others who saw me as only an object of money. I stopped seeing them as only objects of need. I figured the food out. I learned to enjoy the humidity when it dropped a few points, the temperatures when they eased off a few degrees. I felt the wind whenever it blew and reveled in it.

Three years after those first most miserable weeks, I have learned how to love Liberia. I don’t always like it; I get angry with how people can be here, and how far this country has to go, but that is no different from anyplace I have lived or will live. I have learned about the resilience and determination of the people here who have a task to do and are going about getting it done. There is a Beauty here. There is a Wisdom here. There is a Goodness here. Maybe not always on the surface, maybe hard to see amidst the mess. But, as my friends here say, “take time.” It will come.

Of course there are still inner struggles that only Renita, God and I share. But give me some time. I’ll let you know how they turn out too.

Just another rainy day in Liberia...
Meanwhile, back in the US, the kids enjoy pie with Grandma.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Repairing the Interior Roads

Weather: Another five inches of rain last night brought our total this week to about 8 inches. Actually that's not too bad, just under the July weekly average of about 10 inches. Overcast skies most days, with variable breezes of about 10mph. Temps remain in the high 70sF, or in the mid 80s with the sun.

In Montserrado county, just a few dozen miles north of Monrovia, there is a little town of Johnsonville. Actually, there are a few towns up there. But the road, like most interior roads, are in very poor condition after years of neglect and annual rains. Roads mean commerce. Roads mean jobs. And for the people of Johnsonville, actually rebuilding their own road means jobs too.

The International Labour Organization has contracted with the people of this little village to do work that would wait a long time if it was left up to the big road building NGOs. The villagers are fixing the road themselves. You can imagine what the work is like-- no heavy machinery, just shovels and wheel barrows, and one small smoother. Every man and woman gets three dollars a day from ILO.

Another glimpse of life in Liberia. A people rebuilding their nation. With shovels and wheelbarrows.

I love this shot. In the foreground, the job is finished. Down the hill, they work. Up the other hill, the job that waits.
The hillside is shaved with shovels and the dirt is carried away. Men and women work together.
Down the road, Johnsonville men poor concrete into molds to make culverts.
Preparing the road as the laughably tiny smoothing machine does its work.
Meanwhile, back in Michigan, Hannah hugs while Noah mugs.

Monday, July 07, 2008

ReedNews Update: July Edition

With our kids, Hannah and Noah, in Michigan USA, things are much quieter around the house. We miss them both a lot, while at the same time are taking advantage of the opportunity by enjoying the simple companionship of each other. We are getting work done at a less frantic pace. Here’s a bit of the news and weather:

Weather: Heavy rains yesterday and today have dumped nine inches on our area, with more coming. The downpour was steady from yesterday until this morning—about twelve hours worth of non-stop steady rain. However, the temps are much more comfortable than in the hot season. Daytime highs are only in the 70’s—unless the sun comes out, in which case the temps shoot up and we feel the humidity. We also enjoy steady breezes throughout most of the day. All in all, except for the rain, not bad. (By the way, the heavy rains are great for very refreshing showers. Considering the way our little shower bags dribble water, I’m more than happy to run outside in the buff and catch the pouring glory. When it’s coming down an inch every ten minutes, that’s more than enough water pressure!)

Item- Renita and I had the pleasure of returning to Cape Mount County last week. Our mission was to deliver about a thousand books to the Madina elementary and junior high school. The books were collected and shipped by Active Kids Canada, who also funded the library/reading room. Even though we were there on a Saturday, about a hundred kids showed up with parents and school officials to receive the books with thanks. They had a nice program for us and a ribbon cutting ceremony, followed by the book transfer.

Item—LEAD has reached a milestone: over $100,000 USD has been distributed to over 300 Liberians for business development. LEAD's 11th and 12th classes began last week for the summer in three counties bringing the total number of businesses receiving training to almost 700. News of LEAD's work has traveled to other Liberian counties, who are now requesting that Renita and LEAD staff go and offer its training and loans. LEAD continues to wait on God and His listening people to provide the funds needed to reach these areas for the important work of economic development, which we believe directly relates to peace building. LEAD has completed its contract with the World Food Programme, working with women with HIV/AIDS, and is working with the International Labour Organization to begin solid waste management businesses.

Item-- The organizations who supply us with administrative support and supervision, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) and Partners World Wide (PWW) are discussing ways to more formally collaborate with organizations on the ground in Liberia. Along with Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM), they will be hosting a mini conference in October with interested Non Government Organizations (NGOs) to perhaps create a center for holistic collaborative efforts to empower Liberians. Working with Liberians in the field, we hope to be able to offer support to Liberians across a broad spectrum of theme areas-- community, health, spiritual, economic, justice, governance, and in mental health.

Item—I’ve already mentioned the fact that Liberia occasionally runs out of goods—tomatoes and eggs are recent examples. This time the missing item is propane, which is sold in tanks and used mostly by those of us who can afford it, to provide fuel for stoves and other appliances. So it looks like we’ll be rejoining the majority of Liberians who cook by coal pot for a bit. No big thing—it’s just a mess and baking options are limited.

Item—Speaking of fossil fuels, gas prices continue to hamstring Liberia’s recovery. The prices are about 50 cents higher than what we read in the news for the US, but of course the differences here is the average annual salary is between $1,000 and $1500US. With oil companies making record profits at the expense of the of everyone including the poorest of the poor, is this not a justice issue?

On to Grand Cape Mount County and Madina Elementary and Jr. High School-- Where getting there is half the fun.

Renita thanks the crowd for coming and reminds the students that the library is for them first and foremost.

Time to haul those books!

Aww, neither of us did much lifting, this is just a commercial for Active Kids Canada. Renita and the principal pose.

Students and Librarian cut the ribbon to the reading room.

A thousand books and with supplies. The new shelves are behind me and also on the left. Sorry I missed 'em, Art.

Meanwhile, Hannah and Noah in Michigan-- hanging out with Unca' Dave and Jeep. We miss you!!