Trying to adjust to a 4 hour time zone difference, I’m up early pondering the day. Yesterday’s arrival was filled with the joy of being welcomed “home” to Deanville and the excitement of seeing our school approaching its intended use. But, sprinkled amongst the smiles of friends reconnecting, is the harsh reality of life in Liberia.
Before visiting the school, I sat with Lavela who came down from his home in distant Lofa to greet me along with some of the Deanville villagers. Next to him was one of the other workers whose brother just died in a vehicle accident. One woman whose name escapes me (not because I don’t remember it…I just can’t understand what she’s saying when she tells it to me!), handed me her newborn…another “baby nellay” (“nellay” is Kpelle for beautiful) for me to swaddle…another mouth to feed. I talked with Rose about her basin of fish and learned how she buys a “plastic” with 50-60 fish for $1,100 LD (about $11 US) and sells them for $30 LD each. Some are sold “raw” while others are “dried”, which looks more like smoked to me. This nets her $400 – $700 LD (about $4-7 US) for two days of walking in 90 + degree heat with the basin on her head yelling “fish $30, fish $30”. For just $2 a day, most of us pampered Americans would either quickly wilt in the sun or just plain give up from the smell. Let’s face it, a Filet-o-Fish sandwich at McDonald’s costs a full day’s wage in Liberia-but alas there are no golden arches here.
As our little band of children paraded along the path to the school site, I conversed with Sando (aka my “Liberian wife”). Back in June when my friend, Eric Hanson, made a trip to his project at a leprosy center in nearby Suakoko, he delivered a couple of packages for me. One contained photos and $20 for her – a small cash gift to us living in wealthy Massachusetts yet to Sando it represented 2 weeks of selling greens in the market. She expressed her thanks and shared how her daughter, Dusu, has enjoyed looking at the pictures. We talked about frogs. I heard an unusual screech-owl-meets-amphibian sound coming from the rice bog not far from our path and commented to Sando. She explained, “We have three kinds of frogs in Liberia: bull frogs, croaker frogs, and screaming frogs. We eat the bull frogs and croaker frogs, but not the screaming frogs.” Children catch frogs for a family meal. I tried to remember the last time one of my kids came home with a screaming frog for dinner and I told them to put it back because we don’t eat that kind…and I couldn’t. Sando went on to talk about her health. Shortly after I left in April she became ill and went to the clinic. She couldn’t afford the fee so our contractor, Lavela, helped cover her costs. According to Sando, “My blood didn’t have water.” By that I assume she meant severe dehydration. She is well now but it underscores how different our lives are. From screaming frogs to “dry blood”, there’s still a cultural chasm to span.
The roosters are crowing but I think I’ll close my eyes for a bit before getting ready for church services…more to come tonight.