Let There Be Light

It’s interesting the effect of lighting. As I sat in church yesterday, I was drawn to the woman “usher” who stands in a doorway at the right front corner of the preaching point’s mud chapel.  The variation in lighting behind her, the color of her clothing and head scarf, and the deep brown skin tones struck me.  Here she is after service when I asked her to stand with her son for a photo.  Unfortunately she removed a multicolored wrap she was wearing during the service that added a bit more texture to the image, nevertheless I still love her facial tones.IMG_7003.JPG

waterbottle.jpgAfter service I changed shirts, ate a small lunch, and puttered at the school warehouse.  One of the things I’ve been wanting to do is experiment with a “water bottle light bulb” I had seen online over the years of being lost in the endless search that is Google. The basic idea is that mud homes with zinc roofs and very small – mostly obscured – windows are very very dark. I saw this firsthand as I’ve been interviewing Deanville residents and witnessing the conditions of their homes.  Go in your bathroom or a closet, cover any windows, close the door, turn out the lights…that’s what it’s like all the time, which is why no one “hangs out” inside…it’s just a place to sleep.  Anyway, the scheme for adding interior lighting (during the day, since this involves harnessing the sun) involves a 1.5L clear water bottle filled with water and a few tablespoons of bleach, a piece of zinc roofing about 9×12, a few screws, and some silicone caulk.  I hole is cut in this IMG_7013.JPGsmall zinc piece and forced the water bottle through the opening leaving about 1/3 on top and the remaining 2/3 below.  It’s then caulked/sealed in place through a hole in the home’s roof, screwed in place, and caulked more.  Water with chlorine keeps green algae nasties from growing inside so the water stays clear, allowing the sunlight to hit the bottle top and refract light to create a bright “bulb”.  I tested it on the old zinc warehouse so I wouldn’t ruin any of our new construction. You’ll see in the photo that the once dark room is now brightly illuminated by a single “water bottle light bulb”.   I can’t wait to install some of these in Deanville!

The other most illuminating event today included finishing the guesthouse electrical connection!  We hooked up the generator temporarily to the wiring from the “power house” about 300 feet from the guesthouse and the magic of electricity allows us to actually flip a wall switch and have ceiling lights come on, a small ceiling fan turn, and porch fixtures lighting the front and back doors.

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With the flip of a switch, the ceiling light and fan (yes, it’s turning in this picture) do their intended jobs…as long as the generator is running!

I spent a bit of time after the light bulb experiment visiting various guesthouses and hotels in Gbarnga to see what rooms are like and how much the nightly rate is. Most guesthouses have small rooms with adjoining bathrooms that use water barrels for bucket flushing and showers, power between 6:30pm and 6:30am, and 24 hour security…and they look a bit dark and dirty. Nightly cost is $10 US/night just about everywhere. The hotels are different in that they have running water and a/c (only at night with the generator).  Nightly rates range from $50 to $75 USD. I think since we have running water and equivalent electricity, fans and no a/c that perhaps we could fetch $35 to $40/night. A medical mission team has already approached us about needing rooms in March, however, I’m not sure we’ll have a kitchen setup or any bedroom furnishings by then.

During my guesthouse excursion, I stopped at the Passion Hotel (the largest and nicest place in Gbarnga which reaches the upper rate of $75) and bumped into the owner and prominent local Lutheran, Sampson Varpilah.  He asked about our project and I took the opportunity to explore ways we could partner with his two hotels. I’d like to have produce from our GROW farming sold to restaurants rather than relying on selling vegetables one by one as a woman roams the streets of Gbarnga or waits for customers at a market stall. Getting “exclusive” sales channels will not only improve purchase volume by a single customer but reduce costs and limit food spoilage if it doesn’t sell quickly enough.  I expanded the conversation a bit to share our hope for poultry farming at the school.  He seemed very interested in partnering for both produce and eggs.

He also explained that he runs an after school program for children that includes art, music, and sports along with a “Streets to School” program for helping keep at risk youth in school via tuition assistance. He uses profits from his hotels to help fund the programs and they now have a student band as well as a soccer league with about 10 teams in the area.  I told him one of my goals is to not have our beautiful school sitting vacant from end of class to the next morning and perhaps we could also partner to bring a version of his after school program to our Gbarnga Lutheran Training Center.  All seems very promising to me.

Today I finished all the plumbing in the school bathrooms including 8 toilets and 6 sinks, each ready for running water. My gang of boys was there again so we discussed toilets, how they work, and how to flush one since they have never used one before.  The idea that the tank would fill itself with water each time is mind boggling – no buckets?!?!?  Since foundation work for the kitchen has started, I haven’t run water through the school yet as I’m waiting to excavate our supply pipe from the water tower so a TEE fitting can be added to provide a water line for a kitchen sink.  Once that’s roughed in with a valve on it (hopefully tomorrow), I’ll be turning that big water tower valve and checking both the school and guesthouse for leaks.  It will be another big day!

I arranged a meeting in the afternoon at a leprosy center in Suakoko that is supported by a small Christian non-profit run by Eric Hanson, a gentleman I met through a newspaper article given to me by Pastor Knapp about 2 years ago.  IMG_7035.JPGEric lives in Pepperell, MA (about 1/2 hour west of my home in Chelmsford).  It’s still hard to believe I could meet someone living 1/2 hour away in the US who is working only 15 minutes away in Liberia! I met with the villagers who are doing a great job of building income-generating projects including banana and plantain trees, raising pigs, and fish farming (talapia and catfish).  This photo shows two of the four main fish ponds they hand dug about 2 years ago along with the pig pen structure in the background. As with most visits from Westerners, a large number of people turned out to see what was going on.  I felt obligated to have a picture taken of me with all their elders (on the right if you’re having a hard time picking me out!). The man in the stripped shirt in the center is Sumo Kezele (“Kezele”) whom Eric put me in touch with to arrange this site visit.  The tall man standing to his left is the farm manager who oversees all three farms (vegetables/fruit, pigs, and fish) and is one of the few paid workers. The woman next to me and several other men in the photo have leprosy and are treated by Kezele who is a nurse. Ten community homes have new blue zinc roofing courtesy of Eric Hanson’s non-profit fundraising efforts. I brought both Sumo and Sando with me so they could witness firsthand what another small community (similar in size with about 200-250 people) can do if they work together and have some sort of vision.IMG_7042.JPG

Before we left, I was mesmerized by a little girl who had a flying insect tied to a small string (about the size of dental floss).  The bug flew and flew but was constrained by the makeshift leash, becoming a child’s unwilling pest pet.  If you ever wanted your children to go outside and play or just become bored so they would be creative, give them a piece of dental floss and a bug net then have them check out this video: https://youtu.be/htaIT4OY_DE

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