August Activities

It is graduation season in Liberia, with many students having completed their course of studies, successfully passed final and country wide examinations now being able to receive their diplomas. It is a time of much celebration here. Many parents parade their new graduates around dressed nicely standing in the back of a pickup, sitting with upper bodies through passenger windows or standing on seats with their upper bodies through sunroofs. It is common for families to host large parties as well. From a North American perspective, many of the high school graduates are quite old, reaching into their early 20’s. It is easy to understand why there is much celebration when someone finally graduates.

Sadly, there are many that do not graduate from high school. Speaking with a friend who is a teacher here, there are quite a few that do not make their studies a priority. Several try to find an easy way through the country wide finals by copying off other’s work or buying answers in advance. Inevitably they are found out and failed. Kind of reminds me of the parable of the ten virgins, with five being wise – keeping their lamps full of oil and wicks trimmed, and five being unwise, not taking care of their lamps. When it was time for the marriage celebration the unwise virgins tried unsuccessfully to purchase oil from the wise, with the oil perhaps representing years of preparation made by the wise which effort and preparation cannot by its very nature, be shared with anyone else.

Our weekends continue to be quite busy with Saturday having Trudy teaching classes on self-reliance for four to five hours and Rick meeting with members of the Branch. Sundays are a bit of a blur as well with Trudy teaching a youth class during Sunday School and helping teach people to read and write after church. We are always glad when we get home and can sit down and take stock of the week. We are grateful we are here doing this.

We have been finding that the exercise room can be a dangerous place. In the couple of months we have been in our new apartment we have made time to exercise most weekdays. As a result we are finding that our clothes are not fitting as well as they use to. Trudy has already had to have a dress remade and Rick will soon be looking for a hammer and nail to punch more holes in his belt. You really need to be careful when you exercise, there are always consequences!

Recently we had a friend return from a visit to his home in Calgary. He mentioned that his “honey do” list at home included some gardening projects. We had to pause a minute to remember that it is summer at home and all too soon there will be leaf raking with snow following quickly on its heels. Funny how quickly you can become acclimatized to the relatively constant warm to hot weather when living near the equator. I imagine that we will be wearing sweaters and coats well before anyone else when we return home.

We appreciate hearing from friends and family at home. Time marches on. Since we have been here a number of friends and family members have moved to other locations, a few have passed away, a few have become sick. Others have had children born and all are missed, but as we indicated earlier, this is a good place for us to be. Our experiences continue to refine us and hopefully make us better people. It is difficult to think of what else we could be doing that would have as meaningful an impact for good on others as serving a mission in Liberia. We encourage all to look for such opportunities in their lives. From our perspective, it is hard to go wrong when you are serving others. Take care.

July Update

It has been several weeks now since we have posted anything new. We are enjoying our time here and the people that we serve. This continues to be a great blessing in our lives, well worth any inconvenience or perceived “sacrifice” on our part. I thought you might enjoy a few photos that we have taken over the past number of months to give a bit of a sense of what life is like here.

We see all sorts of clothing as we travel around. When the temperatures dip down to the low 20s, many wear what we could consider to be late fall or early winter jackets at home. I particularly like this one that we came across driving to church one Sunday morning

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The best deals on clothing usually can be found when you go “wheelbarrow shopping”. Trudy recently purchased a beautiful top near where we live for less than $1.

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Transportation is always a challenge, so we often see people hanging on to something while they get a ride standing on a bumper, or sit on top of load being carried in a vehicle. This picture shows part of a family going home after church and another group of people gathering to go home in a pickup truck.

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People generally disregard weight when loading their vehicles, volume (ie. How much can you pack in, strap on, pile up) seems to be the determining factor. This photo has a small taxi loaded with bags of charcoal (which is used by almost all of the population for cooking).

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A particularly bad stretch of heavy rains resulted in significant flooding of some low lying areas and resulted in the closure of the main highway to the airport. While the highway was closed it was necessary for us to make a detour of 20-30 miles in the wrong direction and then cut across the plantation to get to church. We did not mind as the drive was beautiful and much of the detour route was on the best highway in Liberia. A few times we did get behind heavily loaded vehicles which crept along the unpaved/heavily potholed dirt roads. As you can see in the picture, the challenge we faced was trying to get around these vehicles which would drive all over the road in search of smaller potholes.

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People frequently use a piece of fabric as a cushion and carry heavy loads on their heads. This starts at a very young age, and it is common to see little children carrying goods. This photo illustrates the big load for the big person and a smaller load for a smaller person.

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We also come across rather random items. On one Saturday some time ago, we had a bike taxi driver put some chickens in a row and take pictures of them. If you look closely you may see another set of feet sticking out of a backpack on the motorbike.

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Procrastinating Procrastination

We are starting to get into the rainy season in this area of Liberia. In many ways it has been a welcome relief from the dry and dusty days that we have experienced for quite some time. No doubt that a few months down the road we will be longing for a dry spell… Funny how life is like that, so easy for us to live for tomorrow rather than enjoy what we have today.

There has been a lot of windshield time for us over the past few weeks. Most of it relates in one way or another to taking care of or moving missionaries. We really enjoy the time that we have with them. One such occasion recently occurred after a fairly heavy rain. After considerable time inching our way in heavy traffic, we found what the source of the problem was – a pothole. Not just any pothole mind you, this one stretched across the entire road, and in places was probably six to eight inches deep (it was difficult to judge because the hole was full of water). At this location the road is wide enough for between four and six vehicles, depending on their size, and traffic going in our direction was being forced into a single lane by on-coming traffic which was using the balance of the roadway. It was interesting to watch how people approached the pothole. Some were quite cavalier (which frequently ended in near disaster…), while most went fairly slowly over the edge and into the unknown. Many followed the vehicle in front of it. In the former category was a pickup truck that tried to steer wide to avoid the hole. Unfortunately for him, he found out the hard way that there was a deep open drain channel on the side of the road that was hidden under the muddy water. There was quite a crowd of people that were trying to lift up the front end of the truck to get the wheel back on the road. In a similar vein, a motorcycle taxi and his passenger found out what happens when the front wheel drops into a hole and suddenly stops moving. Fortunately for them the semi that they had just cut in front of was not moving quickly and was able to stop…

As you can imagine, traffic was backed up for a long way in both directions, with this being the main road connecting a large portion of the region to the central part of Monrovia. From what we understand, the pothole had been there for quite a while, so those that used the road on a daily basis would have had long delays in both directions. It reminds me of a poem attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of the rider the battle was lost,

For the want of the battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

Had the pothole been taken care of before the rain, there would not have been the long lines and seemingly endless time lost by those in them. Has great application to our lives. If we tend to issues, apologize quickly, procrastinate our procrastination, etc. we will be able to avoid many of the self-dug pits we seem to fall into. The experience also points to the need to be very aware of who we are following, and similarly, who is following in our footsteps. Is the path we are on leading to where we want to go? Is it a path that we would want others to follow us on? If the answer to either or both of these is no, the time to make a change is now. Life is too short to waste time going in the wrong direction. Such change may be hard, will likely require work/effort on our part but so very worth it!

We hope all is well with you. We are still busy and Loving Liberia…

Things That Go Bump In The Night…

We have had an interesting 24 hours. Last night, after Trudy had gone to bed and I was just about to get in, we heard a loud series of crashes which gave us quite a start. It only took a moment to realize that the mirror and attached shelf in our bathroom had fallen. When we turned the lights on we found quite a mess, with shattered glass all over. Fortunately, none of the glass hit us and we were able to clean it up with only one small cut. We were very grateful that it happened when it did. Had we been in the bathroom at the time, the outcome would have been much different. As it turns out, the string (who knew you could hang a mirror with a string tied between two nails?) holding the mirror had given way leading to the mirror’s demise.

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A few hours later, sometime around 6 this morning, we heard a very loud and somewhat heated argument outside. Turns out one of the other tenant’s was having an argument with someone over money. It did not last too long, and we needed to get up anyway…

Towards the end of church there was a series of loud noises and then some commotion at the back of the big room that serves as our chapel and then as classrooms. It appears that over time the fill material under a portion of the tile floor had settled or been undercut somehow, leaving the tiles without proper support. Something triggered a sudden shift in the tiles and a fair sized portion of our once smooth floor was now not so smooth with a few tiles lifted, broken or pushed down. Again, the timing was a blessing as earlier in the day we would have had some infants or toddlers sitting or lying on the floor in that area. I guess it is just another welcome to West Africa kind of day!

That’s My Name!

Since we have arrived in Liberia, Trudy has wanted to start a class to help teach people in our branch how to read and write. Illiteracy is a significant issue, particularly for women. A few weeks ago, she was able to hold her first class, with a handful of women attending. Each person received a small study book that has been developed in West Africa, a composition notebook and pen. As Trudy wrote the name of one participant on her book, she exclaimed “That’s my name!” She does not know the alphabet, how to read or write, but she had seen the combination of letters forming her name enough to be able to recognize it. Brings tears to the eyes.

That first class they were introduced to a few new “friends” (letters), learned their names and were able to arrange them to form some simple words. The joy she felt seeing these dear women take the first halting steps into a new world is beyond words. As the word of the class has spread, more and more have wanted to attend and we will likely form a second class to help accommodate this and keep the size small. She has two great local women that are helping which is great, especially for those whose first language is not English.

We are finding ourselves very busy. Monday – Friday finds us in the mission office and then we typically spend most of Saturday and Sunday out in the branch which is 60-90 minutes away, depending on traffic. I try to meet with people and Trudy frequently spends a good deal of time waiting in the heat for me. She has a much harder job than I do. I am grateful for her willingness to endure the wait. This schedule is one of the reasons for our blog not being as frequent as we would like.

What is in a Name?

We have found many people with interesting names in the few months that we have been here. A few examples: Prince, Princess, Angel, Moses, Emmanuel, Aloysius, Comfort, Godspower, Success, Promise, Mercy, Handsome, Decent and Marvelous. I can see in my mind parents looking at a newborn bundle of joy and blessing such with a name that expressed their joy and hopes for the future of the child. Perhaps they hoped to instill in the child the desire to live up to the attribute described in the bestowed name. Maybe they had a memory of someone special in mind and desired to honor their life by naming a child after them.

As I think about hopes, traditions and meaning of names given to children, I remember the names given to a young child many years ago: “And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). It was later written of Him: “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities… and with his stripes, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

At this time of year, we remember the sorrow and suffering in Gethsemane and Golgotha and the hope and joy found on that first Easter morning: “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come see the place where the Lord lay”(Matthew 28:6). For any and all who have lost a loved one or are going through difficult challenges, our hope and prayer is you will find peace, comfort and joy in the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Happy Easter!

Come and join in with what could be the world’s largest sing-a-long of Handel’s Messiah (see link below).

http://mormontabernaclechoir.org/messiah/live-stream.html

 

Leaping Through February

Wow, where did the month of February go? Even having an extra day did not seem to help keep it around. Our comfortable routine was interrupted a couple of weeks ago when Rick was assigned to lead the Harbel Branch. A “Branch” is typically a smaller congregation in a remote area or an area where the church is relatively new. We are looking forward to getting to know the members better over the coming months.

In recent weeks we have also found ourselves in very dangerous territory. The first incident occurred as we were taking a walk one morning and came across a lady rolling out dough near the road and making twisted sweet rolls. Rick quickly pulled out the appropriate number of Liberian dollars to purchase fresh cooked in hot oil cinnamon and sugar coated sweet bread for breakfast. In a similar incident a couple of weeks later, we stopped in at an ice cream/fresh pastry shop on our way home and sampled several of their wares. We are not sure if we will be able to navigate around these locations in the future so it could be quite dangerous to our health…

We had an enjoyable “Valentine’s Day” supper together at a restaurant on February 13. It is only a few steps from the office and sits right on the beach/Atlantic Ocean. With the large open windows, it was like sitting on a covered patio which could be located at any tropical resort in the world. A bit of a flashback/look forward to what Liberia was/could be again. It was a lovely way to spend time together.

View from our table

View from our table

We are a very long way from home

We are a very long way from home

A “family” of geckos has decided to come and live with us. We have named them Geico, Stubby (lost part of his tail), Princess and Prince (which are fairly common names here). Of course we have no idea if they are related or what their sex is, but it is fun to have some insect hunters living with us.