Yesterday I drove to Monrovia (solo ride!) and, after loading a truck-full of supplies, met James Woods at the LCL Compound. He had not eaten lunch yet, so I dropped him off at a small restaurant he knew on 15th St. and Payne Ave. while I went around the corner to purchase a tarp as it had started to rain. By the time I was done, he had lunched and we could launch on our journey to Gbarnga. He had spoken to a prospective teacher earlier that day so we stopped along the way where she is principal at a school between LCL and Red Light. She broke away from a meeting to say hello to both James and I, then we continued on…through the Red Light slow-motion gauntlet. We arrived around 6pm and James had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Gwenigale (aka “Dr. G”), the retired Minister of Health whom Pastor Schultz and I had met during our January 2014 trip together. When he returned, I shared my “routine” for meals, work site duties, blogging, and sleeping.
After a reasonably intermittent night of sleep (I’m stressed about the block trainer from whom I had not received an itinerary and training is supposed to start Monday!), we headed into Gbarnga to meet with the “Radio Gbarnga” radio station reporter to put an announcement over the airways regarding the school project and the special community meeting James had come to Liberia to initiate in order to further build community ownership of the school. The reporter ended up recording a brief interview with James which will be aired for the next 3 days. Our meeting will be held this Sunday at 3:30pm (10:30am Boston time).
After James’ radio debut, we did a brief shopping trip down Broad St., picked up John 2, then headed to the school site. I gave James the site tour while he had a chance to interact “Kpelle style” with the workers. I wanted to walk him to the nearby villages from which most of the daily dose of children and day laborers come. He shared the message of our Sunday meeting along the way. We met the women preparing the day’s noontime meal for our workers (including James who was looking forward to “bitter ball tobogi”). To see a YouTube video of the woman, Sonnie (pronounced “Sony”), follow this link:
One of the women, Mary, with whom I’ve become friendly (some have been calling her my “Liberian wife”) just had her baby boy…3 days ago. I had the joy of caressing the cheek of a beautiful 3-day old baby! It’s hard to find fresher, softer cheek skin than that! I was amazed at how tough these Liberian women can be. Mary had just given birth 3 days earlier and here she was smiling as she scrubbed laundry and hung them to dry for her family. I told her how wimpy the American women are with their invisible bikini line C-sections, 2 week maternity leaves, and husband guilt-trips for more paternal involvement in child rearing! (Yes, I’m in for it when I get home.)
After baby time, we continued to the main Deanville village by the preaching point. We had the opportunity to meet with the village chief, Winston Dean, a man of slight build whose namesake is bestowed on the village (he donated 50 acres of his land). I had met him previously but wasn’t aware he was chief (probably because I had a stereotype in my brain of someone a little more powerful looking). He is 100% behind this project and wants to help get the word out with the “village crier” (that’s not the newborn). He and James had a good discussion. I shared one of my concerns that the community have ownership of things like the well maintenance so the pump is cared for and not left in a nonfunctional state of disrepair once I, or any other “missionary” isn’t there. I knew he would understand because I was aware that the handpump near his enclave is currently “spoiled” awaiting repair. Chief Dean shared a parable about a mother who leaves a pot of soup on the fire. It is the responsibility of the children to continue cooking the soup so it does not burn or boil over and become spoiled in her absence. I guess we are here to make “soup”. I then shared a parable that Sam had once told me…sometimes the turtle needs a little fire on its shell before it moves (with my meaning being the community members may need the persuasive voice of someone like Chief Winston the get them motivated).
Since we’re discussing parables and turtles, let’s talk amphibians….When I was a kid, my Uncle Allie told me a frog joke that I thought was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. It goes like this…A weird scientist wanted to determine the effect of sequentially removing legs from a bullfrog. He set the frog on the starting line of a measured surface and told the frog to jump, “Frog jump!“. He recorded the results: Frog with 4 legs jumps 8.25 feet. He then removed a leg, repeated the procedure by placing it back on the measured surface, then gave the command, “Frog jump!“….he recorded: Frog with 3 legs jumps 4.63 feet. Again, down to two, one, and finally no legs. He placed the legless frog torso at the starting line and said, “Frog jump!” Nothing happened. He repeated the command. “Frog jump! Frog jump!…FROG JUMP!“. He recorded the results: Frog with NO legs goes DEAF!
I couldn’t help but think of this joke as I was introduced to a basket of frog parts sitting over a fire ready to be smoked for later consumption. If they could only hear me I’d tell them, “Jump!”
Meanwhile, the day laborers have continued clearing a nice area for the blockmaking machine and have begun sifting soil. I hired an additional crew to start clearing a roadway up to a high point on the property where I am planning the well and water tower for our campus water supply. There is such a variety of verdant vestiges and subterranean obstacles along the intended path that the clearing process will take days of hard labor.
I continue the easy stuff like design consultations, joking with workers using my Kpelle, playing with kids, and teaching the boys how to do PVC plumbing. Late today I received an email confirming the trainer’s flight schedule and I immediately called Mark (head driver at LCL) to arrange an airport pick up and transport to Phebe. The trainer, Simon Njoroge Karanja, is arriving Monday so I assume class will start Tuesday morning. I’m excited by the interest and am expecting 25-30 participants at the training. I’ll sleep better knowing that’s resolved.