Friday, June 27, 2008

Liberia Update (Vol. 6)

[I usually don't post my updates on here...I usually send them through email. But, Yahoo isn't cooperating, and I'm sweating like crazy in this internet cafe, so I give up!]

First of all, I want to apologize for my recent lack of communication. Between my spotty internet connection, and being very busy these last few weeks, I haven’t had the time to sit and write an update, much less get to the internet to send it out. It’s hard to believe that I only have a few days left in Liberia! I left home 3 months ago, not knowing how long I’d be in Liberia, and now I’ll be home in 4 days! I can’t believe how quickly these last few months have gone by. I know that so much has happened at home while I’ve been away, but I wouldn’t trade these past 3 months.

This week started out with a bang—in the sense that I spent Monday and Tuesday in bed, feeling quite miserable. Of course I couldn’t leave Liberia without having sinus problems. My body decided to wait until my last week here to keep me in the bed for a few days, so I was left with only 3 days to get everything wrapped up before I leave. Needless to say, I’ll be spending at least my Saturday working. By Tuesday, I think I reached the point where I just wanted to be at home, with the ability to lay on the couch and watch movies and eat popsicles (hey, it sounded really nice at the time!). The good news is that I’m starting to feel better, and I can breathe again! Just pray that I will be healthy for the flights home. You can also pray that I will get a seat on my flight from Brussels to Atlanta! I’m flying standby, and I know that once I’m actually headed home, I won’t be the least bit interested in spending the night in Brussels. I will be leaving Liberia on Monday night (4:30pm Atlanta time), and will arrive in Brussels at 5:10am. The flight to Atlanta leaves at 10am, which puts me in Atlanta at 1:40pm on Tuesday. I can already say that I’m not looking forward to the trip home—airplanes are freezing to someone who’s been without air-conditioning for 3 months!

Since I haven’t felt great these last few days, I’ve pretty much reached the stage where I’m ready to come home. I know I’m going to miss Liberia once I’m gone, but there are a lot of things that I’m really looking forward to—like being with my family and friends, going to my church, eating vegetables, drinking a glass of ice cold water, sleeping without a mosquito net hanging on my feet, flushing a toilet with the push of a handle, and most of all just blending in to a crowd. There are so many small things that probably sound totally crazy, but it seems like it’s the small things that I miss. I can handle it being hot or not having running water or being without electricity—but it’s the little things that make life “normal” that I seem to miss the most.

I will say though, that today as I was delivering food to two orphanages, God really allowed me to see the beauty of Liberia and her people, which I had momentarily been blinded to. Even after waiting in Red Light Market (the craziest, most hectic place in Liberia) for 2 hours to buy food, and dealing with a very ridiculous police officer, God reminded me that His creation is beautiful…and that I actually get to live in this place and experience it all. Sometimes it’s hard to not get wrapped up in what you need to accomplish, and it takes alittle extra effort to really sit back and enjoy the world around you.

I confess, this last week has been difficult for me to focus on God. We have been incredibly busy trying to make sure we get everything taken care of before we head out, and I have failed to take the time out of my day to really sit and listen to God’s voice. It’s a weird feeling when you realize ‘hey, I haven’t heard from God today…and it’s my own fault’. Most of the time, I feel like it’s incredibly easy for me to hear God’s voice when I’m in Liberia—much easier than when I’m at home, because I feel like there are fewer distractions here (no TV, no internet, no mall, limited finances, etc.). But after being here for 3 months, I think that I’ve started to create my own “Liberian distractions” like sleeping in, or rushing out the door in the morning to get something done or playing with the kids in the neighborhood instead of coming in early for some down time. I think going home will help give me some perspective, and I will be able to spend some time thinking and reflecting over these last 3 months. I’m also looking forward to not living next door to a nightclub that blasts obnoxiously loud music every night…that alone makes me unable to focus and think!

Beyond all of that, I have absolutely enjoyed my 3 months in Liberia. There have been some rough patches and uncomfortable days, but I can’t complain. I go to bed at night with food in my belly. I have a roof over my head. I have the best family in the world at home waiting for me to come home. I have spent time with an amazing group of people doing God’s work for some pretty incredible children. I have a God that loves me and never leaves me. And because of my time here, I am more in love with Him.

I feel like this sounds like a goodbye letter, but I guess this will be my final update from Liberia for now. As of right now, the plan is for me to be home through August, and then I will be heading to back Liberia in early September. I would really like to do some speaking/sharing/fundraising events while I’m home (I will be in Arkansas sometime in July for those of you there), so if you would be interested in hearing about what God’s doing among orphans in Liberia through ORR, then please let me know. I will go ahead and say that I have not made any decisions as far as committing to ORR for 2009, and I think that being away from Liberia will help me to really hear from God about the future.

I want to thank all of you for all of your prayers and support during my first 3 months in Liberia! It’s true when I say that I can’t do this without each and every one of you! Your encouragement has meant so much to me, especially when things haven’t been easy. In case you’re wondering, I will send out my June newsletter after I get stateside, and I will also be doing a bunch of blog updates with pictures since I’ll have a real internet connection! Boy do I have some stories for you! Thank you again for everything, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

Love from Liberia,

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Pink Latrine

For those of you who get my monthly newsletter, here is a picture of the completed latrine at Mother Wleh's! I spent last Friday afternoon painting away in the hot Liberian sun. The latrine was supposed to be red, but you have to love Liberian paint! I've been itching to do art with the kids, so we decided to get the kids involved, and let them put their handprints on the bottom! We had alot of fun! Mother Wleh's children now have 4 brand new latrines and 4 shower blocks! That's Mother Wleh in the picture.

Bomi Lake

So this past Sunday, we were kind of stir crazy at the house, so we decided to take an impromptu road trip to Bomi Lake. It’s a good 2 hour drive from Monrovia, but Bomi Highway is hands down my favorite drive! Just take Bomi Highway from Monrovia, towards Sierra Leone, and when you get to Tubmanburg, go left at the fork in the road, and then just follow the painted rocks. The drive is beautiful, the lake is beautiful…and there’s a fantastic view from the top of the hill!

The lake itself is actually a source for bottled water, so it kind of seems weird that they let you swim in it, but the water is awesome! It has a beautiful blue color, it’s fresh water and it’s only alittle cooler than bath water. The only downside is that I was looking forward to escaping Liberia for the afternoon, but the part of Liberia that I wanted to escape existed at Bomi Lake. I’m referring to the Liberian man who’s convinced I’m supposed to be his wife, and won’t take no for an answer. I had to pull the ‘that guy over there is my husband’ card, and even that didn’t stop him…he said he would fight for me, haha.

I will say that the UN Pakistan and Nepalese battalions have camps set up there, so Borat and speedos are walking around everywhere! It’s a nice area though…little gazebos and even a diving board! It was a nice afternoon outing, where you could just relax and cool off…until the UN guys started acting creepy and trying to take our pictures. If you drive to the top of the hill, it provides for a great 360-degree view! I highly recommend taking a day trip to Bomi Lake sometime. If anything, you get a great drive and you get to get wet and cool off at your destination.

The Liberian Whop

So someone generously sent me a little video camera so I can bring some videos home with me. I've been filming things, and was finally able to experiment with uploading the videos to the net. I present to you a kid at my favorite orphanage, doing my favorite dance!

Victory 2010- Liberia vs. Gambia

Back on June 1st, I went to my first professional Liberian football (soccer) game. There had been serious advertising to increase ticket sales, and the match was sponsored by the cellphone provider Comium. There were 4 types of tickets that were for sale—the cheapest seats went for 200 & 300LD. There were 2 types of VIP tickets—one for $20USD and the other for $50USD! With each ticket purchase, you got a scratch card (aka minutes on your cell phone)—a 200LD tickets came with a $1USD scratch card. If you were a big spender, and dropped $50USD for a ticket, you got a free cellphone. Anyway, I was not about to get taken advantage of, so I decided to take the cheap (and greatest possibility to have something to blog about) route, and bought the 200LD ticket. My theory was that for about $3USD, I would get a day of entertainment, at least a few stories to tell in the end, and if it was a miserable time and I wanted to go home, I wasn’t wasting a bunch of money. I also brought along Ian and Amanda, who were visiting us to check out ORR’s ministry…and our chief security guard Momo came along for protection.

For days, our security guards kept asking me about going to the game because they wanted to make sure I was really going to “go around the field”. They kept telling me that I should buy a VIP ticket. First of all, there’s no way I would spend $50USD on a ticket to a stupid football game, but I’m poor and talk about a waste of money—to put it into perspective, $50USD can feed about 20 kids here for a week! And, the jacked up ticket prices exist because of all of the UN/NGO people here, and I refuse to fall into that trap. Everyday, the start time of the game changed too—first it was 7pm, then 6pm, then 5pm, then 4pm. I’m still unsure of what time the game actually started at. The guards also kept telling me they were going to “be on the field” around 11am, which sounded ridiculous to me! I didn’t want to sit out in the hot sun (if I would have paid 300LD, I would have been under a covering), listening to super loud Liberian music, and dealing with the constant “white woman” thing. Oh, and I should tell you, we were instructed to bring nothing with us except for our ticket and a water bottle, because anything else would probably get stolen (so, once again, I have no pictures for you). I did cheat and brought 50LD in case I got hungry, along with my phone…just in case…but I kept them in my inside pants pocket away from the pickpocket posses. I did have to swat away a few hands.

Anyway, we decided to go to church with some neighborhood kids, and then made our way to the SKD Sports Complex around 3pm. When we were about a ½ mile from SKD, the rain drops began to fall—which was a good thing, because apparently if it’s raining, that means that Liberia will win. We got dropped off in front of SKD and it was a total zoo! Lines and lines of people standing in the rain, with the ground flooded with water and trash. Unfortunately, because we were white, we were quickly escorted to the front of the line; I think they assumed we were VIP. I hate it when I get special treatment here, because I’m not here to use my skin color as an advantage…but I have to admit, I was grateful to not have to wait in the rain with the hoodlums. We stood outside the stadium’s main gate for probably 15 minutes while Momo talked with the UN peacekeepers and LNP; all the while, people behind us were either angry that the white people cut, or telling the UN & LNP to let the white people in. Too many people were pushing up against the gate, so they wouldn’t open the gate to let us pass through. A Nigerian UN peacekeeper finally told me that they would let us in, but that Momo couldn’t go in with us. I was fed up by this time, and showed the man that we all had tickets and forcefully told him that we weren’t going in without Momo because he was with us and he was there to help us. The Nigerian guy started yelling back at me…something like “fine, then none of you will go in”…and I told him that was fine. The LNP stepped in and started to push us through the gate…everyone got through except for me…and people started to push to try to get through the gate too. By this point, I’m not liking the situation because I’m beginning to picture stampedes and trampling. Ian and Momo turned around and picked me up by my upper body and lifted me up and I crowd surfed over the gate!

Once we all made it through the first gate, we began to walk around the outside of the stadium to pick a gate to try to find seats (mind you, it’s still raining). We immediately realized that the place was absolutely packed, and that we should have listened to the guys and come earlier. I’m talking so packed that people were climbing the spotlight poles to see the game! We walked all the way around the whole stadium, trying to find a gate that wasn’t completely packed—getting an actual seat inside the stadium was completely out of the picture. We had an offer to sit in the VIP area, if we were willing to dish out some money—but we had 150LD between the four of us. We ended up going to Gate 1, and Momo and Ian stood up with the crowd in the breezeway so they could somewhat see the field, but they mostly relied on the jumbo-tron. Amanda and I stood outside the gate in the walkway. We made friends with a guy who’s a visiting professor at UMU (the only other white guy around), and we unfortunately made ‘friends’ with some really obnoxious Liberians. I spent the whole game turning down proposals, giving marriage advice, explaining why you can’t approach me the same way you approach a Liberian woman (another blog topic in itself), what I was doing in Liberia, why I believe what I believe, etc. etc. etc. They had had alittle too much sweet wine, and were adamant on being in love with me and wanting me to be their wife—I was completely annoyed! We had planned to leave when there was about 15 minutes left, just to avoid any angry fans or possible riots. We ended up staying until the end…the game ended in a tie—1 to 1….probably the most peaceful way for the game to end. After everyone began to file out, Amanda and I decided we should at least see the field, so we headed inside. I saw the field!

We walked home from SKD (15 minute walk), and most Liberians couldn’t believe that the “white people were walking and not driving”. By the time we reached the house, we were told that some people had died at the stadium. The next morning we heard that 9 people had died at the game—the final tally turned out to be 10. Most of the people died from suffocation or from being trampled. The paper also talked about a handrail collapsing on a staircase and people “falling to their deaths”, but I’m pretty certain that is false. I saw the collapsed handrail when I got to the stadium, and there was no commotion around the area or anything. There has been talk that Comium printed more tickets than what the stadium could hold…and also that people had photocopied tickets…not to mention how many people just bribed their way in. Anyway, it’s really sad that people lost their life from spending their Sunday afternoon at a football game. I started thinking about how at home I never show up at Turner Field for a Braves game and think that I might not make it out alive. It’s a pretty crazy thing to think about! There’s another game this Sunday, and supposedly things have been done to prevent over-crowdedness like last time. I’ve also been told that they won’t sell any tickets until the day before, to cut down on counterfeit tickets. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to take another try at seeing a Liberian football game. I’ll let you know!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Went to Prison!

Last weekend I had the privilege of visiting the Monrovia Central Prison. I’ll go ahead and tell you, that place was like hell on earth…in terms of the temperature in that place! I don’t have any pictures, sorry—but it was an experience! One of our security guards is involved with Prison Fellowship, so he had been inviting me to go with him on Saturday morning for months. Since Andrew’s dad is involved with Prison Fellowship through Mercy Ships, and our visiting team was interested in going…we loaded up the car and headed down to Monrovia Central. If you ever go to prison, don’t choose this place!

Last Saturday, the prison had 818 prisoners—33 of them were women and 50+ were youth. The prison is built to house about 300 prisoners, so try to imagine how crowded the place is, and think about it being even more crowded! Imagine sleeping standing up, and it being ridiculously hot, and if you’re lucky there’s a bucket in the corner.
Out of the 818 prisoners, 53 of them had an actual trial and conviction, and the rest had not even had a trail yet. Some of these detainees have been in the prison for years and some because they can’t afford the $25USD bail. I saw a small boy (probably about 10 years old) walking around, and I thought maybe his Ma was the cook or something….nope, he was a prisoner…and he was 11 years old! Everyone was in street clothes, well, street rags, and some were locked up, but most were free to walk around. I’m still not sure how they decide who can roam around and who can’t. I will say that I didn’t feel scared or unsafe (more like a white woman walking into a room full of about 800 Liberian men, all wanting me to look at them and say hello and shake their hand). I’m not sure if that’s because there weren’t handcuffs and jumpsuits involved, or if Liberian prisoners are just friendlier. But I showed up thinking there’s no way in heck that I’d volunteer to walk into a prison at home, but the people here weren’t scary.

After I got the full tour, and visited the youth and men’s blocks, I went to the women’s block. The atmosphere between the men’s blocks and the women’s block was totally different. I think a lot of the men had lost hope…you could see it in their eyes…but we tried our best to quickly encourage them and give them a tiny piece of hope. (I’d feel pretty discouraged if I was wrongly put in prison, I had been there for months, had not had a trial, and couldn’t afford the $25USD bail—wouldn’t you?) I walked into the common area for the women and they were seated on wooden benches around the perimeter of the room. The singing, dancing, drumming and sa-sa-ing began! We had a church service…a Liberian church service! The women were happy, and sang with such conviction. Talk about still praising God, despite your circumstances! Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes of singing, I had to leave. I really wanted to talk to the some of the women and hear their stories. Maybe I’ll have the chance to go back sometime. Pray for the people who are wrongly being held in the prison. Pray that justice would prevail, and that people would get a trail…a fair trial. Pray for the ministry of Prison Fellowship—that they would touch the lives of prisoner’s for Christ.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Photo Essay #2

This is the easiest way to let you get a glimpse of what I've been up to. Let's see how many pictures the Royal Hotel will let me upload....and how long it actually takes...

Ok...scratch that. I can't get any pictures to upload...argh!

I will try again tomorrow.

You can add that to my T.I.L. list!

My Apologies...

I know many of you have been worried, but I'm alive and well!! The internet cafe has been closed for 2+ weeks, so we finally decided to venture into town to do some internetting tonight. I'm going to try and do as many updates as possible while we're here.

Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement!