After my early morning blog ended with me going back to bed, I overslept my intended wake-up time to get ready for church services. Knowing Liberian time as I do, there was a good chance I’d still be early. The only problem was I didn’t have baby Foton yet and it was now pouring rain, making a motorbike trip out of the question. I looked out the porch windows at the raucous rain meditating on my next move. The next option was getting a car taxi on the other side of the highway from Phebe’s entrance…again a rather soaking solution if I walked there. I noticed a Phebe Hospital van drive by and decided to hail it on its return trip from our one-way road. The rain subsided as I ran across the mud-laden lagoon they claim is a road and waved down the driver – wet white guys easily catch people’s attention in Liberia. He happily hauled me to the highway taxi zone but taught me that when the taxi is parked facing left (south), they’re only intention is to get a customer interested in the most profitable fare to Monrovia. None of the vehicles faced right (north) – my desired direction to Deanville. George, my newfound driver friend, offered to drop me off. And away we went.
I arrived at the Deanville preaching point around 10:45 in plenty of time to catch the tail end of a Bible Study scheduled to end at 10:00. As I said, I’m getting to know Liberian time. The service went as most do with a generous portion of Kpelle worship songs and two offering collections. I was asked to bring greetings, which I did from Pastor Schultz, St. Paul’s (Providence, RI), and the Gbarnga Mission board members. By 1:00 we reached the benediction and the sun was now shining.
I met briefly with Sumo after services and made plans to meet with him and Kebbeh on Wednesday to discuss our hopes for a school opening in February, employing them as teachers, school curricula, student registration, banking, etc. Tomorrow John 2 and I take baby Foton into Gbarnga for some service before I head back to Monrovia (probably Thursday) to buy supplies and meet with Hawa Norris (Joe’s sister) who is helping us become registered as a “local NGO” (non-governmental organization) so we can finally open a bank account on behalf of Gbarnga Lutheran Training Center.
I spent a couple of hours visiting with my Deanville friends, trying to ask basic life questions like: How much does a live chicken sell for? Do you have birth certificates for your children? Is there a written record of child vaccinations? How do you say “chicken
egg” (FYI – I got two very different versions depending who I asked…no wonder Kpelle is so difficult to learn!). I have come close enough to now feel comfortable asking to enter their homes to see how they live. There is one home that has five rooms each ranging from about 8′ x 8′ to 8′ x 10′. There are five families living here: two with 5 and one each with 2, 3, and 4 family members for a total of 19. Sando lives in one room with her daughter, Dusu and her niece (now orphaned after Sando’s 21 year old sister died a couple of months ago). She basically has a single mattress in the room (covered by mosquito netting) with barely enough space to walk around it. All three sleep together. Behind the door is a former rice bag converted to wardrobe storage for all their clothing. The mud walls are decorated with an even pattern of white-paint imprints from the sole of one of Dusu’s sandals. The ceiling has a woven reed mat which is bulging in the middle while a 12″ square window creates the illusion of illumination – it’s dark enough in daylight that I needed to use my iPhone light to look around. All of this luxury for just $25 US per year rent. The other families’ accommodations are not much different except many don’t have mosquito netting.
There is a small common space inside that can’t be more than 3′ x 6′ where a bag of charcoal and steel stove resides. Sando cooks inside with this and claims there is no smoke (despite the blackened ceiling). Many women and children suffer from respiratory illness caused by indoor wood/charcoal-fueled stoves – just another benefit of being a mother. I noticed a pot of about 10 small boiled crabs. Sando explained she caught them in the water nearby, however they have no rice so the family will not eat today. Every meal has a base of rice with a “soup” poured over it. Apparently this is so critical to a meal’s success that they’re willing to go hungry before eating just crab alone. The family of four living in this 5-bedroom “suite” consists of a mom and dad who are mutes who try to communicate with their own form of sign language. Fortunately, “it takes a village” to raise children because they have two little girls under age 5 that must be learning language skills from everyone else.
I had a chance to speak with Mother Sackie about the GROW women’s group that has been farming our property. The results have been disappointing thus far. As she puts it, “The group has become small and people don’t come often. Many of the women are weak.” In this context, she’s complaining they are “lazy” and “unmotivated” because they do not see well the future benefits of some early hard work. The initial harvest of corn, okra, beans, and onions netted them about $50 US which has been put back into buying more seeds. When asked about the seed packs I delivered last time which were donated by Hope Seeds, she said many germinated but then died. There are a number of factors that could contribute to this including poor seed storage before planting (particularly in this hot humid environment), improper soil preparation, insufficient watering, lack of compost and mulch, etc. so this could be hard to pin down a single reason for the failure. I’m hoping to introduce a “Foundations For Farming” (originally called “Farming God’s Way”) method promoted by ECHO International (www.echo.org) which outlines effective sustainable farming techniques for places like Africa.
It will be a very full first week. Hopefully I can keep on my head all the varied hats I’m trying to wear. (sorry I can’t upload any photos tonight for some reason)