Hi, friends and family. I’m finally able to access the internet. I arrived at my next stop (Sanniquellie) today and am settling in and catching up on emails. Here are my posts which cover the last several days since my arrival in Liberia. So far, so good!
4-22-16 Blog Entry
Hitting the Ground Running . . .
Well, the “poo-yie” experience continues! I had a relatively uneventful but very long and tiring journey to Liberia which ended on Wednesday afternoon. After getting a good night’s rest at the hotel in Monrovia, I reported to our project’s main office on the following morning. After greeting some old colleagues and meeting new ones, I was informed that I was to begin my travel out to the field ASAP! So much to do and so little time! After some fast and furious copying of masters of my training materials (to be multiplied at another office along the way) and a quick checkout from my hotel, we were off! The drive to our first school is about a 9 hour drive over mostly pretty rough roads, so we spent the night at a newly-built guest house in the town of Gbarnga. We were once again on the road this morning at 6 AM so that we could arrive in the town on Voinjama in a timely manner to begin the training which I would deliver.
Along the way, amid the very bumpy ride, it was such a joyful experience to once again witness the grandeur of the Liberian wilderness, especially as we entered the mountainous area of the country. We even stopped at the same roadside pineapple stand where we purchased a couple of those sweet delicacies. I also had the chance to photograph three young boys who were willing to pose near the pineapples. (Perhaps they were the same three boys which I photographed two years earlier at the same spot?
I once again had some joyful reunions at the community college in Voinjama. There are many wonderful sincere folks on staff over there. I also had the great privilege of addressing a large group of agriculture students upon my arrival, fielding questions and comments from them. I also began the first session of leadership training for their core leadership team. Both groups were fantastic and I look forward to the continuation of our training. Some real movers and shakers in there, to be sure!
Time for a good night’s sleep. Still trying to get my body (and brain) adjusted to the new time zone and the hectic schedule. It’s all gonna be good . . .
4-23-16 Blog Entry
Rhythms . . .
After a very busy but fruitful day, I’m sitting on the front porch of the guest house in Voinjama which I am calling home until this coming Tuesday. I’m hearing and witnessing rhythms of the life here in this neighborhood. I hear the drumming of some metallic-sounding instrument coming from down the street accentuated by some type of occasional singing. I witness and see the rhythms of the young man cutting grass in the courtyard with a grass knife (yes, all by hand) and his huffing and puffing (he greets me with a smile when I ask him how he is doing). I witness the rhythm of a twenty-something year-old woman and a child no older than six or seven who are processing back and forth across the courtyard from the nearby well, carrying load after load of water in containers on top of their heads. The young boy seems to be enjoying himself, smiling at me when I wave to him and singing and laughing to himself as he carries out this task. I hear the rhythmic banter (in a mixture of English and their local indigenous languages) of the townspeople as they walk on the outside of the perimeter of our compound. I am also experiencing the rhythm of clanking of eating utensils and the humorous conversation of four of my fellow lodge residents seated at the table next to me. I later became engaged in some lovely conversation with some of them, covering a variety of Liberian and American-related topics. (Yes, they did ask my opinion about our current Presidential race.) I experienced the busy rhythm of the local market this afternoon when I purchased some delicious locally-grown bananas and a papaya for the Saturday night and Sunday snacking.
I am also readjusting to the overall life rhythms of Liberian society. For instance, I am sitting outside for a reason: besides getting some fresh air and winding down from a very busy and productive day, I am also here because it is presently the coolest place on the premises, since most guest houses in the smaller towns and rural areas only run their generators (their only source of electricity) on a limited basis. In our case, the generator runs only from 6:30 PM – 6:30 AM. Our guest house fortunately has air conditioning in the individual rooms. (Please keep in mind that the majority of the Liberian population has no access to electricity . . . and they live in a tropical environment – so you get the picture.) Therefore, I’m not complaining. My laptop battery is presently running low, so I will have to take a break in my typing until I can bring it to my room for a recharge after 6:30 PM. (News update: I ‘m back in my room post-6:30 PM, so all is well in the recharging department.) I also have no access to the internet where I am and probably will not be able to access it until sometime next week.
. . . but, hey – I guess that I need to stop worrying about being so productive every minute of the day and to let things flow as they should – in a more relaxed rhythm.
4-24-16 Blog Entry
Early morning in Voinjama . . .
Sounds and sights of early morning in Voimjama:
- The pre-dawn call to prayer from the neighborhood mosque
- The gentle rustling of the air conditioner in my room
- The glistening vegetation and soaked ground in the aftermath of a nighttime rainstorm (the rainy season has begun in this part of the world)
- The crowing roosters and cackling chickens
- The voices of the neighborhood people stirring around, carrying water buckets
- My conversations with some of my newly-found friends at the guest house
- The playing of gospel music over the iPhone of one of my fellow guest house residents
- The constant movement of our ever-attentive, shy and demure staff members – pumping and carrying water, cleaning, and prepping for cooking food for the day
It’s Sunday, Brad – gear it down a bit . . .
4-25-16 Blog Entry
Embracing life . . .
I just have to write about my young friend and colleague, Darius.
I first met him 2 years ago. Fresh out of college (that’s another story which I’ll tell later), he had just joined the in-country team involved with our project, and I was making my first visit to Lofa County. Upon our first encounter, I was immediately taken by his great big old grin, his friendliness, his enthusiasm for the job, and – above all – his great willingness to make one feel welcome (I’ll also get to that later). That’s him in the middle of the picture from 2 years ago. Although I had some good chats with him during that time and got to know him at an introductory level, I have now had the great fortune of getting to know his story at a much deeper level during this visit.
As we reunited several days ago amid great hugs and the traditional Liberian handshake, I reminded him of the great homemade delicacy which he personally prepared and presented to me. It was a type of banana bread, but instead of making it with wheat flour as we do back home, the main starch is composed of rice which has been soaked, dried, then pulverized. It is baked outside in a Dutch oven-type of pot surrounded by hot coals. He presented this to me in spite of his meager resources. It was delicious, of course, and I relished every bite, especially with the knowledge of the kindness of the act behind it. I tried the recipe upon my return home, but things didn’t quite turn out the way that they should have. Well, wouldn’t you know it – with his big old grin, he excitedly presented another freshly baked product to me this morning before we commenced with our work (yes, it was still warm); and yes, it was delicious (and still is – I’m still eating on it).
As I caught up with more news with him, he also informed me that, since we had last worked together, he had married and now he and his wife are now the proud parents of a beautiful 3-week old baby girl! Of course, he had pictures to show me. To make things even better, we made a quick trip to his home after work today to meet his wife and child. What a joy to be able to share this experience of new life! The giggling neighborhood kids (well, most of them were giggling and hamming it up) also had to join in the visitation.
. . . but wait – there’s more to his story. During a visit that we had yesterday, he also told me of his experiences as a six year-old, the youngest of nine children, who had to escape his country with his family during the terrible civil war. He related to me of the perilous journey of walking for approximately one month in the cover of the bush and back roads for approximately one month until they reached the safety of a refugee camp in a neighboring country. His first year of school was spent in that refugee camp. However, that did not deter him from developing a deep love for learning. From then on, he began hiring himself out as a day laborer in order to save money to go to college. Another wrinkle to the story: after the war had ceased, he and his family were transported back to the country’s capitol (not their original home), only to see the war break out once more. Unable to flee again, they were forced to hide within a nearby suburb until second half of the conflict ceased several years later. He ultimately was able to attend college in another African country, paying for all of it himself (it took him nine years to complete his degree, but he did it).
Yes, there’s more. True to his love of learning and commitment to the betterment of himself and his country, he would like to soon pursue a graduate degree at another university. If he gets a scholarship, fine; if he does not, he tells me that it is fine as well. He’ll find the money somehow. After all, he embraces life . . .
4-26-16 Blog Entry
A great sendoff . . .
Today was the last of 3 ½ days of intensive, exhausting, yet satisfying work with a great group of students and teachers at the community college. We really pushed hard to complete our work at a reasonable time of day, and we went a little later than normal, but our group diligently worked to complete the task. At last, we came to the moment when we began to say our official thanks and farewells to all involved as well as with school administrators. Most Liberians in these situations are really gifted in delivering passionate orations, and this was no exception. What really made it special (and brought me on the verge of tears) was their presentations of an agriculture student shirt along with a hand-woven sewn Lofa County-style shirt (with traditional green and white colors) which came with a matching “country cap”. It was indeed a celebratory event with only Liberians can pull off, and the group took much delight in surprising me with these parting gifts. Of course, the event ended with many pictures, handshakes, and hugs. What a time in Voinjama! As my fellow guest house friends told me as I approached the front porch, “Now, you’re an African!”
Now, off to Sanniquellie in Nimba County tomorrow to repeat this process with a different group. I hope that the roads cooperate. It’s the rainy season . . .