Unexpected union negotiations

Last night I was invited to dinner at Lyn Gray’s house along with Sumo, Amuchain and Baby Jon. I drove the four of us in the big truck down a narrow, rutted dusty road just north of Cuttington University. We enjoyed some good company and good food as the talk revolved around education, Liberian history, stories from the civil war era, and cute Baby Jon. Lyn and husband, Jim, have worked in Liberia for the past 15 years but were both here in the Peace Corps as teachers in the 70’s. Interesting to hear the contrasts of Liberia past and present.

As previously mentioned, I’ve been working on a grant through the US Embassy. I reviewed my draft application with Tumamee and Sumo then made revisions based on their valuable input. Since I didn’t have a chance yesterday to go into Gbarnga to meet with the Bong County Superintendent for Development (SFD), Mr. Anthony Sheriff (pronounced “sher-REEF”), I called this afternoon to see if he was available. It was around 1:00pm and he said he was in his office but would be in a meeting later. Receiving an affirmative response when asked if I could come in about 20 minutes, I hopped in the truck with John 2.

I arrived at the Administration building and started to enter when a man waved me toward the stairs, motioning that I should go up. I mentioned the SFD’s name and he continued motioning upwards. As I reached the second floor landing of this skeletal exterior concrete staircase, a crowd along with some police officers filled the hallway and the open door of a conference room. Again, I was waved into position – inside the conference room to join a meeting that was just beginning. In fact, they placed a plastic lawn chair near the table and adjacent to the Superintendent for the County (she is the equivalent of the governor of a US state so this was a prominent location…especially for a stranger). Not knowing what was happening, I knew this was “white man privilege” once again (the police officer just assumed I was an important guest) so I simply declined and was redirected to a dilapidated office chair against the wall among a group of young adult men (most of whom needed to bathe).

I spotted the back of Mr. Sheriff whom I had met on a number of previous occasions. Others at the table included the County Inspector, two lawyers, two Chinese project managers from a Chinese construction company contracted for road work in Gbarnga, and other County officials and journalists. The meeting began with the young man sitting in front of me excitedly describing the demands of his co-workers (my seat mates) and the fact that they were stopping all work because they demanded to unionize. I felt a little out of place like I was wearing a Yankee hat at Fenway Park. Apparently I had stepped into heated union negotiations with the County. All I wanted was 2 minutes with Mr. Sheriff to read and sign my letter of support for our US Embassy grant project.

Around 2:15 there was a break in negotiations and I leapt from my chair to get myself in Mr. Sheriff’s line of sight as he headed for the door. Our eyes met and I reached out for a handshake as we entered the hallway toward his office. He acknowledged me in a “I-recall-your-earlier-phone-call” kind of voice then led me to his office. We exchanged brief pleasantries then I handed my draft letter for his approval. He was satisfied. After signing and stamping his official seal with an added bonus of his personal phone numbers written as well, I was off. He promised to come visit GLTC this weekend to see our poultry farm.

My friend Rose (her Kpelle name is “Kalalee”) came for a visit. She and her mother-in-law had gifts for my daughter, Kimberly, because they heard she was getting married l this year. They wanted her to have a traditional Liberian basket and a “quay”, half of a large gourd often used in weddings to hold flower petals which are thrown in front of the bride – a Liberian flower girl container.

Kalalee with a quay (left) and basket woven by her mother-in-law, Nuay.

Tomorrow I’m off to Monrovia for numerous errands so I’ll stay over at the LCL guesthouse.

3 thoughts on “Unexpected union negotiations

  1. Kim and Chad”s first wedding gift is from Liberia. How wonderful! They will have people on two continents wishes them a long and happy marriage. Kalalee’s dress is so colorful – love her hair style.

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  2. Kalalee is stunning!!!!! Please give her my thanks in remembering my niece in such a loving way. Please let her know that her gift is a true treasure as it was made with the hands of a caring person. I have tears in my eyes at such a gift. Love Sharon.

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  3. Your visit with Sheriff, as with others, was amazing. The Lord opens doors for you… and you march right through. Good for you!

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