Monday, October 27, 2008

Leaving Liberia, Part Two

The Importance of Leaving Well

Tis the end of October, we leave in three weeks plus, and still Renita and I are fully ensconced in Liberia. We like that. We wish we did not need to leave. The work here is so energizing-- and in a world so big that it is easy to wonder if one can make a difference, Liberia is a place that invites people to do just that.

We are not spending any time on thinking about leaving—we will begin that process next week, although some folks are already thanking us for our time here. No goodbyes yet, and I’m dreading those coming moments.

Mostly, we want to make sure we leave in the wisest, most healthy way possible. On that personal level of course, that means actually saying farewell to all the people who have touched us and allowed us into their world. But professionally, leaving well also means that we do our part to ensure that the work we helped start has the best chance for continuing. So we just do not have time for thinking about leaving. Here is what we are working on:

Regarding Renita’s work with LEAD
Lead is going strong as Renita continues to work with National Director Allen Gweh. We are thrilled that Karen Bulthuis, a volunteer from Partners Worldwide, has arrived to provide business and technical training as well as monitor LEAD's actual impact. This will provide continuity between Renita's work and the hoped for coming permanent staff in 2009.

Regarding my work with the Mother Patern BSW Program
The program is in its second year, running without a hitch and growing. There are now over 50 students in the program. In January, the professors from Calvin College with teach two courses in an "Interim" session. I hope to be able to fly back from the US to join them. Later in the year, Dr. Judi Meerman of Kuyper College will join the staff to help them prepare for their internship program, and perhaps lend a hand in the classroom.

Regarding Our “Together Work” with the Foster Town community
The community development organization in our area, FACT, is alive and working on more ways to improve this neighborhood. Currently, they are active in trying to establish a much needed adult education program as well as offering more workshops for their neighbors. They will be attending the upcoming multi agency conference below, and they are hoping to broaden their network.

Regarding the future of CRWRC/CRWM/PartnersWorldwide in Liberia
The Christian Reformed Church in North America is interested in discussing with potential partners the feasibility of initiating holistic collaborative efforts to empower Liberians. Working with Liberians in the field, CRCNA hopes 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. On Thursday, October 30, CRWRC-CRWM will be conducting a mini conference with selected potential partners to discuss the feasibility of various models of collaborative work in Liberia. Joel and Jeannie Huyser, long-time veterans of the Christian Reformed World Missions, will be joining us for five days, starting today. They are bringing a model of collaborative ministry and development work from Nicaragua. We've invited two large, very well known Liberian development NGO's-- the Christian Health Association of Liberia (CHAL), and the Association of Evangelicals in Liberia (AEL), as well as LEAD, Providence Baptist Church, and our own little Foster Town Association for Community Transformation (FACT).

Thus our current doings. We’ve got a few pictures of life around here taken within the last day or two, buthonestly, in all the hub-bub, we keep forgetting the camera.

Joel and Jeannie Huyser, just off the plane from Nicaragua via some time in Nigeria. This picture taken about two hours ago (2:00pm GMT Monday.)

Ok, this picture was not taken in the last couple days, but we wanted to get one of Renita and Karen Bulthuis, LEAD's new impact monitoring consultant. If we tried to get you a current shot of these two, it would be a blur.

As I said, some groups are already toasting our mutual friendship. Here is our local church saying "We love you" Sunday.

Both Renita and I got clothes out of the deal-- dress for her, shirt for me. A Liberian tradition.

Here's Yers Trooly delivering his last workshop in Liberia for at least a while. Here last week with ladies from various parishes on helping skills.

Sigh. how are we going to part with little Renita?

...and what are we gonna do with these three? Stay tuned...

Weather: Hot, mostly clear and bright in the day, with some late morning cloudiness as the sun heats up the Atlantic. The clouds clear and we are getting nice sunsets. Rains usually come late, around 1-2 in the morning for an hour or so. Day time temps in the lower 90s, evening lows in the upper 70s.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Eastman Kodak

Weather: We are enjoying an abrupt transition from a very wet five weeks. Some scattered thunderstorms, but mostly sunny and hot. About an inch of rain has fallen in the last week. Day time temps in the upper 80s, night time in the mid 70s.

Even though we are theoretically preparing to leave in a month, we are still fully engaged in Liberia work. Renita and I are in reality preparing for a visit next week from Joel Huyser, representing the Christian Reformed Church in conversations with potential partners about future work in Liberia. More on that later. I just came back from my last (I think) workshop for Mother Patern. It was nice facilitating a great learning process with this group of Catholic women. But there is not enough time to tell you about it right now because Renita needs the car to go to a LEAD Board meeting. So, I thought I'd provide you with a photo exposition from 13 year old Eastman Morris. I gave him our camera and told him to go take pictures-- that was it. Here are some revealing images-- I call it "Eastman's World." Enjoy. More news next time.

Our next door neighbor girl Kopo-- a possible crush?
Boys and trucks.
A couple of friends.
I guess Eastman was hungry. Liberian "oranges." This is as orange as they get. They are peeled for the customer, who sucks out the juice and tosses the pulp.
A lovely shot of a mother's hands. This is Odelle, with her son, Success.

A wonderful and somewhat sobering picture of Eastman's sister Dbow inside their home.
An Eastman self-potrait with little Vera.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Liberian Cuisine Part Four: Palm Oil

Weather: Partly cloudy and humid, with scattered thunderstorms and evening showers. Daytime temps in the 80s, night time lows in the upper 70s. Light breezes from the East.

Throughout Africa, and all over the world, palm oil is extremely popular. The oil comes from palm nuts, is then refined to remove the deep red color and distinctive taste, and sold to virtually every market on Earth. In the United States, you can find it in just about every store in prepackaged baked good, and it is often used to make the “crème filling “ in products like Twinkies or Oreos.

In places where palm trees actually grow—and of course we are not talking about coconut palms, but palm nut palms—you can also find unrefined palm oil, or "red oil," as it is called here and elsewhere. Red oil has a strong, musky flavor, much stronger, for instance, than olive oil. It is used frequently and liberally in most Liberian dishes.

For the first two and a half years of our time here, we used red oil sparingly, in part because we only liked it in certain dishes. We preferred purchasing “vegetable oil” from the city stores. We’d buy vegetable oil in five gallon containers and go through them surprisingly fast.

After a while we learned two things that caused a change in our eating behavior. The first was our Monday-Friday cook, Vera used between a cup and a cup and two cups of oil in every dish she cooked for us. The second tidbit was that the copious amounts of oil we were consuming was not merely vegetable oil, it was in fact refined palm oil. This caused us to conduct some research, and the results surprised us.

While there remains some controversy around palm oil, both the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association have suggested it is a fairly unhealthy oil as oils go and ought to be avoided when possible. The problem is its saturated fat content. Saturated fats are associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, and when it comes to saturated fats, palm oil and red oil are leaders of the pack. Note the following chart from a nutrition and diet book. The red line indicated Saturated Fat, the gray section indicates more healthy Monounsaturated Fat, and the yellow and green sections healthy Omega 6 and Omega 3 oils, respectively. There is a key at the top of the chart. Note the "palm oil" column.

And if you really want to go crazy, consider "palm Kernel oil" This comes from inside the palm nut. This is what palm kernel oil would look like on that chart.
Incredibly, palm oil-- red or refined--contains more saturated fat (51%) than lard. Palm kernel oil contains even more- 82%- more in fact than pure beef fat or butter.

In this age of claims and counter claims regarding foods, we know we do not know everything regarding palm oil. But we think we know it is ok if we follow the advice of the WHO and the AHA and avoid it. Soybean and other oils are available in Liberia, but they are very expensive (One liter costs around $10.00) . Yet this has additional advantages, as we use even less now because of the costs. We wonder, however, about our Liberian friends. The average life span is 48. We do not know a lot of old Liberians. How much of this is due to a lifetime of consuming red oil? Yet really, what choice do my Liberia neighbors have? What does a calorie-deprived people do when the choice is an affordable, calorie and flavor rich oil, or no oils at all because of some unforseen danger called "saturated fat?" So while it is easy for us to pass on palm oil, it is really impossible-- unthinkable-- for our friends.

Palm bunches, freshly cut from the tree.

Sold everywhere on the street.

Pounded into palm butter-- Vera will rinse out the pulp in the blue bowl, then boil it down.

Red Palm oil sold at the Foster Town Market. Note several tables are selling it. About $2.00 a 1.5 liter bottle.

Trokon displaying the beloved saturated liquid.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Long Two Weeks

Weather: The month of September was again the wettest month of the year with about an average of just under 20 inches a week for the four weeks. One week saw 30 inches. It rained almost every night, less in the day, but whenever the sun peeked through the overcast, it was steamy. October shows some sign of drying up, although this morning we’ve received over two inches and it’s still raining. Hi temps mostly in the upper 70sF to low 80s, except when the sun shines, then mid 80s. Light and variable breezes.

Renita is in the US attending a conference and talking about LEAD to churches and relief agencies. During these two weeks I’ve been a complete domestic with home schooling, shopping, and trying to keep the house at least organized enough so we will be able to make it presentable when the lady of the house returns. It is not easy to be the only adult here; Renita and I share the duties, and she handles the stuff that tries my patience like the frequent banging at our gate. But the people on the other side of that gate are the reason we came, so it’s good for me to be tested this way.

I also need Renita with me as we finalize our exit strategy from Liberia. Our plan is to leave by November 20, go to North America for six weeks, and then continue on to our next home by January 20. Moving is hassle enough, moving to another country requires an organizer like Renita. Fortunately, we travel light.

The two weeks sans wife and mother have given the three of us who remain a chance to draw closer and feel like a unique unit. I’ve had more time to listen to Hannah and Noah, get to know them better, and see in more detail how they’ve changed from the little kids I knew. My parenting theory is that unless parents are willing to change as their children do, they will begin to drift apart. Kids are like anyone else—they want to be known and understood. As they grow, they change, they develop. As the years go by, they become different than they were in many ways (although they maintain core elements.) If parents don’t “re-get to know” their kids periodically, they will lose touch with them, and their children will rightfully feel less and less understood and appreciated. The kids will drift, complain of being misunderstood, and parents often respond to this by either trying to apply more controls or by trying to reason with their children. But neither of these tactics work if the parents are still dealing with the “children that were,” not the “children that are.” Nobody like to “be reasoned with” by somebody who thinks she knows you, but doesn’t.

But enough of my theories. We continue to await Renita, much beloved and needed wife and mother. The house is messier, we can smell a dead lizard that the cat brought in but require her nose to find it, the school routine is probably too relaxed, I keep forgetting to take my doxy (anti malaria medicine), the floor is a bit sandier than usual, but we are hanging in there.

Daily kid activities while mom's away: pilfering our palm nuts...
Pummeling the neighbors...

Hitting the bottle-- here Eastman drools over palm oil...
Opening boxes packed for our move...

Noah ready for night time rogue activity whilst Hannah prepares for partying... (ok, ok, it might have just been a Halloween dress up thing, but it adds to the drama)
... And all the while, Mom from her hotel balcony in Michigan observes all with yet another of her top-secret resources...