Two Shirts – A Thanksgiving Story

One of the things that we have the opportunity to do is assist young men and young women in applying to go on a mission. These young people are full of excitement and filled with the desire to serve. One of the things we have them do before leaving is to bring their suitcases into the office a couple of days early so we can review with them what they are bringing and to weigh their suitcases. Recently, one of these young men came in with his suitcase and excitement and as I had him go through it, discovered that he had one white shirt, one pair of dress pants, a couple of pairs of socks and some exercise clothes. He indicated he would be wearing dress clothes the day he was leaving and that was it for his two year mission. Two shirts, two pairs of pants for two years. It broke my heart as I thought that this was all he had/all that he could afford to carry him through his mission. It reminded me of the story of the widow’s mite from Luke:

And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had. (Luke 21:1-4)

Such is the faith and desire to serve of many in Liberia. As we have been here the last few weeks, it has been nice to be able to take a step back and reflect on our lives and on the lives of those that live here. It has accentuated for me the difference between our “First World problems” and those of the “Developing World”. We have daily reminders of what people here don’t have, things like homes that keep the elements and critters out, clean running water, sanitation systems, adequate food and the list goes on and on. But what we also see here, is the light of love and life in their eyes, the smiles that readily appear on their faces, the joy they find in family, etc. Children making happy noises run and play and find joy in what they are doing. We have a favorite hymn that we sing in Church: Count Your Blessings. The third verse and the chorus reminds us of our need to take a step back:

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you his wealth untold.
Count your many blessings; money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven nor your home on high.

[Chorus]Count your blessings;
Name them one by one.
Count your blessings;
See what God hath done.
Count your blessings;
Name them one by one.
Count your many blessings;
See what God hath done.

As we take time on this day of Thanksgiving, let us be mindful of all that we have been blest with and look for opportunities to lift another, give a smile, a hug and find joy in our journey rather than fuss over what someone else has that we don’t. God bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

Construction in Liberia

It is interesting to see how things are built here. It appears that most structures are built of some form of concrete. We have not seen any cement trucks in operation (although we do see a parked one each week as we head out of town to the church branch we attend) but we do see people mixing it by hand or with small mixers. Some of the larger buildings use rebar in the vertical columns but we have not been able to see if the floors use them as well. Presumably that is the case.

Cement Mixer

Cement Mixer

 

Note the Rebar in the Columns

Note the Rebar in the Columns

We frequently see bamboo or wood poles used to support concrete floors that are under construction or for scaffolding. Muscle seems to be the way materials are lifted, although we have seen winches with electric motors being used occasionally as well. It does not appear that there is a lot of construction going on at any time, although there are several buildings that are in a construction phase. It may well be the case that as some money is gathered, work is undertaken and then is stopped when the funds have been used.

Wood Posts Supporting Forms for Next Floor

Wood Posts Supporting Forms for Next Floor

Shoring up the Next Floor

Shoring up the Next Floor

There are also a lot of buildings in what I would call the downtown area that had been completed but during the time of internal conflict were stripped down to the concrete shell. It may well be that some of these structures could be re-completed and used if there were sufficient demand and interest to do so.

The climate must make it difficult to construct things. During the rainy season, hundreds of inches of rainfall is dumped in the space of a few months. Being near the equator, temperatures remain fairly steady and warm throughout the year. With that, mildew and mould are ever present and would provide another challenge to builders and those trying to maintain buildings. During the dry season, we understand that it gets quite warm and the humidity level remains high (think of Houston in the summer). That would make it tough on people that are providing the labour to do the construction work.

One thing you don’t tend to see is the use of personal protective equipment such as hard hats, steel toed boots etc. Culture, cost and climate likely are significant factors as why this is the case. It is similar off the worksite as well. A good example is the use of helmets with motorcycles. We have seen a few actual motorcycle helmets being used by bike drivers, some use what appear to be old football helmets, however the vast majority of drivers do not use helmets and we have yet to see any passengers use them either. I suppose this will change over time, but unfortunately there will likely be a number of people injured or worse before the use of PPE becomes the norm.

 

Driving Liberian Style

As I mentioned in an earlier post, driving in Liberia is quite different. One of the things that has been most surprising is the number of vehicles on the road. It frequently seems that it does not matter what time of day it is, but you are waiting as traffic inches along. We don’t live very far from the mission office, perhaps two or three miles (I have never measured it). Recently it was Liberian Thanksgiving and there was very little traffic on the road as we drove to the office. As a result, it took on order of ten minutes to get there. A couple of other times this past week, it has taken well over 45 minutes to get home, all seemingly due to traffic volume.

One of the things that struck us when we first arrived was the near constant sound of horns. Generally speaking, the mototaxis and taxis use their horns to look for customers and with the large number of them, particularly the mototaxis, there is a near constant chorus of horns. Some have taken to use different sounds to help them stand out from the rest. Many of these sound surprisingly similar to what we would typically associate with police vehicles at home…

Many taxis are yellow just like home

Many taxis are yellow just like home

One of the things you constantly need to watch out for is the sudden stops made by taxis to collect or drop off passengers. Other than a couple of major roads, most roads are fairly narrow and as a result, when a taxi stops it frequently blocks the lane of traffic following it. Most of the time this happens, vehicles just go into the opposing lane of traffic to get around the taxi. This can sometimes be a bit of a challenge for the people trying to get out of the taxi, which in the compact car version will typically have four to six customers each going to different locations resulting in the need to use doors on both sides of the vehicle to exit or enter.

The drivers here are very good at using all available space to move things along. It is not unusual to have one or two more “lanes” going in a given direction than what we would be used to on a similarly designed road at home. It is quite amazing to observe how the mototaxis are able to make forward progress when the rest of the vehicles are stuck. It is easy to see why people hire them to go from one place to another.

Typical morning traffic

Typical morning traffic

Driving in the dark adds another dimension of challenge since a number of vehicles do not use or do not have functional headlights and there are usually a lot of pedestrians walking along the side or trying to cross the road. Fortunately we do not need to drive much after dark.

With all of the challenges outlined above, we are constantly amazed at how well things go. Drivers can be quite courteous, generally making it easy when trying to cross several lanes of traffic or make a left hand turn. Very few intersections are controlled by lights or stop signs, but drivers have figured out a way to get through without running into one another. As we watch it reminds us of precision driving teams that have vehicles passing through an intersection from four different directions at the same time without running into each other. We are learning that it actually can be quite fun driving here…

 

Smell No Taste

A short distance from the Roberts International Airport is Unification Town. It had historically been known by the name of Smell No Taste. During the second world war, a large contingent of troops were stationed near the airport to guard it as well as the Firestone Rubber Plantation, which is close by. As you can imagine, when cooking for a large number of troops, the smells from cooking food could easily drift beyond the perimeter of the base into the surrounding community. With the base being off limits to most Liberians, the settlement became known as Smell No Taste.

This past weekend the church convened a special conference for members and other interested people in Liberia. Speakers for the conference were individuals that have responsibility to provide leadership to this area of the world and beyond. By way of background for those that are not overly familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in the same organization that existed when Jesus was on the earth, including having Prophets and Apostles. One of the visitors was David Bednar, one of the twelve Apostles. Referring to the visit of an Apostle to the conference, one of the early speakers made reference to the story of Smell No Taste, which the people attending the conference knew and understood. He then indicated that on this day they could both smell and taste the fruit of the gospel. It was a great introduction to the conference. On order of 4,000 people attended, with many traveling a long distance. All were uplifted by the messages given.

The two couples in the mission office, along with three of our friends, put together an informal lunch for the speakers at the conference. It made our day when one of them saw the treats Trudy made, asked if they were “no bake cookies” and then said they had “died and gone to heaven”. We put together some snacks for later in the day when they would be traveling to the airport and waiting to begin the flights home. Let’s just say that Trudy’s chocolate chip cookies were inhaled rather quickly. Apparently there was at least one sweet tooth in the crowd… On a more serious note, it was a great experience for us to have some quiet time with the visitors, receive counsel, instruction, encouragement and thanks for our efforts. It was something we will remember for a lifetime.