Getting from “Point A” to “Point B” . . .

Point A to Point BDuring the last three weeks as I presented my leadership training sessions, I often invited the participants to reflect on an activity or insight that we had just experienced, reminding them that good leaders should always take the time to reflect and to monitor what was going on in their hearts and minds. One of the techniques which I utilized was to ask them to describe a particular image, word/phrase, or emotion which may be welling up at that point and time. (Of course, they were always free to keep their responses within the silence of their hearts.) Their responses often helped to bubble up some interesting insights which, I am certain, surprised themselves along with helping to enlighten me about  their own lives, frequently providing some great “a-ha” moments for me.

So . . . I have been asking myself that same question as I write this post upon my return home. What images/words/phrases describe this latest experience in this very interesting place located in West Africa? The words which have come to me are those which I have used several times to describe the situation in this part of the world: “getting from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’”. I use these words because, one of the most profound lessons which I have learned while working in this part of the world and interacting with the people, is that it is not always that easy or simple to get from one place to another or to perform certain tasks, even the most common or seemingly mundane.  These include:

  • getting to school, work, or one’s farm (most people are on foot, particularly in the smaller towns/villages) – this often consists of walking for several miles in all types of  weather IMG_1204
  • procuring some type of sustenance: if one lives in a rural area where one could produce one’s own basic foods or find a local market if one has enough money (which may not be open every day or have limited selections), it must be procured on a daily basis (no refrigeration), it is usually available on a very limited basis (for a variety of reasons) it must be prepared, a fire must be lit to cook (no gas or electricity), etc.
  • Water for drinking and cleaning – must be drawn from a well and carried home in buckets, which may be a long distance from home – or washing clotheswater pump at a nearby stream (if a stream is available)
  • Communication – an increasing number of Liberians have access to mobile phones (if one can afford one), but not all; internet is becoming increasingly available, but is out of reach for most of the population
  • Need I continue?

Whereas, within my own realm:

  • I made the long journey home, taking advantage of some of the world’s best aviation jet planetechnology and was well-nourished throughout my time in the air
  • I drove home from the airport this morning in a comfortable vehicle on smooth, paved roads
  • I purchased a few food items at one of the local grocery stores here in Estherwood on my way home, not being worried in the least if I had enough money to pay
  • Ate food which was stored in my freezer and defrosted in my microwave oven (I have electricity)
  • Washed clothes at home with an automatic washer and dryer (I have indoor plumbing and electricity), which I take for granted
  • I am typing this message on my home computer and will soon post this on my blog (I have electricity and internet, which I take for granted)
  • Need I continue?

Thus, it is quite obvious that I have few obstacles which inhibit my ability to get from “Point A” to “Point B” in most cases of life’s most basic activities.

However . . .

I have found that the Liberian people do indeed move from certain instances of “Point A” and “Point B” quite readily, such as:

Brad and Tony eatingSharing the meager resources which they have (such as food) with guests.

Brad receiving shirtExtending great hospitality and affection.

Brad with Kohna and familyEmbracing me as one of the family.

 

What a fascinating experience these five years have been with this project. I have learned so much about the people of Liberia through the stories of tragedy and perseverance that they have shared with me, alBrad and BWI groupong with the great privilege of working alongside them.  Although I am not certain if or when I will ever once again plant my feet on their soil, I do plan on staying in contact with many of them, both personally and professionally. Who knows, I may be able to get to their “Point B” another time in the future.

Thanks to all of you who have read my blog. It has been such a pleasure to have been able to share my reflections with you.

 

 

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Time to head home . . .

 

sleepy manWe finished up another extremely busy yet productive week of leadership training at our school in Kakata. Just finished up my presentation for tomorrow at our main project office. Still have packing and other tasks to perform before retiring for the night (yep, I’m exhausted). Headed home tomorrow afternoon. I’ll give a more complete report when I get home.

See y’all soon!

 

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Coming down the home stretch . . .

 

We finished up another extremely busy week of leadership training at the community GBCC gangcollege in Grand Bassa County on Friday (yes, it was another great group) and made it back to Monrovia yesterday morning. This gave me some time to catch up on emails and the continued work on my reports. I was also able to gear things down for myself both mentally and physically this morning, albeit for a little while. It gave me time to reflect on my experiences of the past two weeks and to refocus for my last week here (we leave tomorrow morning for four days on the road at our final school).

Each time that I come here, the more I gain insight into the lives of the people whom I am serving. I often inquire of them about proper etiquette and other issues dealing with cultural competency. So far, I don’t think that I’ve offended anyone too badly! (I’m getting better at the mutual “snap” at the end of a handshake.) Contrary to what many westerners may think, this is not a culturally monolithic society; in fact, there is much cultural diversity here, mostly centering around tribal lines. The most powerful mode of learning for me, though, is listening to their stories – sometimes solicited, sometimes not. Through the training which I have been conducting over the last couple of weeks, I am hearing much – both directly and indirectly – about their experiences with governance and other involvement of living in this society for the last couple of generations. Without going into more detail, I can report that it has been eye-opening for me, to be sure, with lots of “a-ha” moments.

What has garnebola posterered the world’s attention of late has been, of course, (besides rebuilding from the horrible civil war and the country’s corresponding economic and infrastructural collapse) the recent outbreak of ebola which claimed thousands of lives. (For the record, all is clear now. We would have not been allowed entry to this country if the disease was still around.) Although none of my Liberian coworkers were lost (nor any of their relatives, to my knowledge), I have met several students and other people who unfortunately did lose loved ones. There are still billboards all around  the country which promote safeguards against the disease along with checkpoints along the road, public places, offices, and at airports which have handwashing stations and people who check your body temperature (remotely, with an electronic device).  Yes, they still go on with their lives. I am continually amazed at their resilience.fiinish line

On to brighter thoughts: I made “the big push” this afternoon and evening to get my report shaped up, with only my last week of training to add on Thursday night. Gotta get it done, since I submit my draft on Friday morning and fly out that afternoon! It’s getting down to the wire!

Since this is Mother’s Day, I would like to extend my deep love and affection for my beautiful sisters and sisters-in-law on this very special day. Of course, I wish my Mom who entered into eternity almost five years ago a Happy Mother’s Day as well. I miss you and Daddy lots!

 

Mom and Daddy 2008

Not sure about internet connection for the next four days, so until then, have a great week! I can see the finish line!

 

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Just another neighborhood, just another town . . .

This is my fifth trip to this very interesting place that is called Liberia, West Africa. It is true that I am presently several thousand miles away from home (which can certainly feel rather dizzying and almost surreal at times) and that many of the customs, sights, tastes, smells, and sounds are very different from what I normally encounter in my own home Chris speaking - Copyturf. Yet, I also have come to realize that I’ve merely landed in another neighborhood in IMG_1227another town, made up of fellow citizens of the world who must deal with the messiness of day-to-day life, just like anyone else: caring for their families, cleaning house, struggling to send their kids to school, going to (and looking for) work, laughing, loving, and crying.  As with any society, some are outright delightful people while some are not so delightful; some are highly-motivated while some are not; some pursue education for themselves and their children while some struggle to read at even a basic level. There is natural beauty and there are signs of decay, willful destruction, and IMG_1207despair. There are signs of great efforts toward peace and signs of great tension.  Of course, one glaring difference is that of the great struggles these ordinary folks must face day-day which most of us will never have to endure: rebuilding from the ravages of war and working through the renovation of their economy and good governance.

IMG_1220Yet, through all of this, they’re just folks on their own journey with their own inherent dignity as human beings.  It’s a privilege to be walking with them.

 

I hope that I’m getting it right . . .

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Goodbye to Nimba County and . . . just call me Saye.

It was three extremely busy, exhausting days of intense work at the community college in Sanniquellie, but it was certainly worth it. As I earlier alluded, I have a special affection for that campus and its people. Again, there was some sadness with the thought of possibly never having the opportunity to return there. (I also made my final goodbye the nearby water pump, taking the opportunity to feel its well-worn handle, made smooth by the thousands of pumps made by thousands of hands.)

Brad and NCCC groupAfter participants finished up evaluations and I packed up my materials yesterday, a large delegation of the college community (students, teachers, and administrators) had a special sending-off activity planned for my project colleague and me. True to form, my Liberian friends knew how to put on a great program, complete with the protocol of speeches, singing, and presentation of certificates and gifts. Not only was I presented with a nice certificate, I was also give 6 pieces of ceremonial cloth referred to as “lapas”. The cloth contains the colors of the school and messages in indigenous languages spoken in the area. I was also given a new name: “Saye”, which means “Firstborn Son” in the local Mano language. Of course, we also had lots of picture taking, hugs, and Liberian handshakes. What a sendoff! They’re such gracious people!

We left really early this morning for the drive to Monrovia. (The new road construction for part of the journey cut the time from about 10 hours to about 4 ½.) This is giving me time to keep up with my report writing and reset for the next round of training this week in Grand Bassa County. Not sure about internet availability this week, so I’ll get back with all as soon as possible. Have a great week!

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The water pump . . .

There’s just something about that water pump . . . the one on the campus at the water pumpcommunity college in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, right next to the building where I’ve done all of my training and conferences at this site. I have a special attraction to it (I even have a print of it in my office back home). I’m still trying to figure this one out . . .

Perhaps it’s because this is the location where I first performed most of my major work upon my first wide-eyed arrival to this very interesting country. I guess that I was struck by the fact that so much toil   revolves around this pump’s location – hand tilling the hilly landscape to produce food for practical experience for the students and for local consumption. It also serves as a source of precious sustenance for the local community, whose members freely pass through the campus’s porous borders. Perhaps it is the familiar squeaking sound as it see-saws back and forth to gush water into buckets, reminding me of the constant effort it is for NCCC students in fieldmost of the citizens of this country just to survive. Perhaps it’s because it is located in a beautiful setting.

It also causes me to chuckle a bit at myself from a situation a couple of years ago (I even had a blog post about it) when, while conducting a workshop in one of the nearby classrooms, I was hearing this odd, squeaky/tinny sound which I was not able to identify over the course of a couple of days. I was even getting slightly perturbed by the sound, thinking that it was someone’s cell phone. After inquiring of the teachers about the sound, they looked at me rather inquisitively and, finally, with a smile, replied, “Oh that’s the water pump that you’re hearing!” (They probably had a bit of a laugh themselves at this poor American who was seemingly losing his mind.)

So, even amid my anticipation of seeing my old friends and making new ones this week, I couldn’t wait to see my other old friend, the water pump. We had a good visit this morning and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, my final day in Sanniquellie.

I shall certainly miss you . . .

 

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Here I Am . . .

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 materialsLofa County Mountains (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 coboys near pineapples 4-22-16untry. We even stopped at the same roadside pineapple stand where we purchased a couple of those sweet delicacies. I also had the chance 3 boys behind pineapples Lofato 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 anJEP Guest housed 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 Bananas and papyaask 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 makiLeger Darius Bassng 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, IMG_1189then 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 IMG_1181better, 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 refugIMG_1188ee 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 meHPIM2554 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 eventHPIM2550 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 . . .

 

 

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