Culture Clash

A sunny Tuesday morning…yahoo.  I’m trying my new Kpelle on the cooks and they all laugh…I’ll spell it phonetically for you: ya-TOOO-ahh (hello to just one person), ka-TOOO-ahh (plural hello to a group of people), ya-OOOON (good morning…and again if you change the “ya” to “ka” it becomes plural).  Give it a try when you see one of our Liberian friends from St. Paul’s.

I met with Bishop Jensen Seyenkulo this morning to discuss a variety of topics. His family is well (his wife Linda is in Monrovia with him, their daughter Yonger has graduated from high school and doing well – this info is for my sister, Tara, in Chicago who assisted Bishop with the adoption of Yonger years back when they lived in the States). We discussed the status of our project planning, access to the property vs. the rainy season, formal signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding”, banking and NGO issues, and the great support that is awaiting our project when I arrive in Gbarnga. I presented Bishop with the large “greeting card” that was signed by many at the Mt. Calvary “Life Water SIMG_1754unday” church picnic. He was very touched by the graphic of the cross bridging our two countries. He would like to save it and mount it in the building once it’s completed.  At this point, I’ll be bringing it up to Gbarnga to share with Rev. Weekie, pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (closest to our school property).

I set off with Albert for more errands and research.  We drove to the main Cemenco plant (Cemenco is the one and only cement provider…aka “monopoly”…in Liberia) and attempted to meet with James Gibson, another friend of James Woods. No luck but I got a glimpse of this Goliath operation with truck after truck coming out loaded with cement bags.  Occasionally there would be a smaller pickup truck with its suspension flexed to its limit, bumper nearly dragging on the road…one pot hole at it’s over!  From there we stopped at Elias Motors, hoping to see a 4-ton Diahatsu truck as a future purchase but found they no longer export into Liberia. I looked at what they carried (Chinese made “Foton” brand) and got a rather quick no-haggle quote for a 3-ton drop-side truck for about $18,500 (after a “church affiliated organization” discount).

Our next stop was the Stella Maris Polytech Bookstore adjacent to the University of Liberia campus. Quite a large campus intersecting with a primary and secondary school.  After purchasing several books for Bill Oehlkers that were recommended by another connection of his, we stopped in at the primary/secondary school and asked for a tour.  They happily brought us to the third floor library to start our tour, then past every classroom on each of the three floors, proudly showing off their facilities.  The library was quite extensive (see photo), but overall the SPS school is still our model school. IMG_3223

More visits to building supplies stores for pricing, an attempt at visiting another primary school (Mary Lauren School of Excellence rejected us), and a stop at the supermarket to load up on bottled water for my initial days in Gbarnga, then back to the compound for a meeting with Henry Wolokolie of the Association of Literacy Educators in Liberia.  His organization not only provides literacy curricula but also trains teacher in effective literacy education. He will provide me with materials to bring home when I return to Monrovia in November. We also discussed the idea of adult literacy programs in the evening and he was very enthusiastic about the idea of incorporating into our vocational training programs.

Back to my room for a bit of reorganizing all my stuff in preparation for departure tomorrow.  Here’s my room (at least my bed). Each day I would wonder if the electricity would go out before I went to bed, after I woke up, or just whenever…because it goes out every day.  Even with a generator on site, they turn off sections of the compound to save on diesel fuel. What struck me about this photo IMG_3230when I placed it into this blog is the culture clash.  Here I am sleeping under mosquito netting yet I have access to the world on my laptop. It’s probably more evident in the streets as I step into the Royal Grand Hotel for a $2 croissant and walk back into a throng of women carrying nuts, bread, pineapple or fish on their heads, hoping to sell enough to feed their families on less than $2.  Four different people approached me today and walked alongside me to tell their sad stories (most included a younger sister who was either ill or couldn’t afford school), pleading their case for my assistance.  I clearly stand out and they know Americans/aid workers have money so I’m an easy target. It’s emotionally difficult to constantly decline their obvious need. How does one reconcile Luke 6:30 “Give to everyone who asks you” knowing that “The poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:5)?

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