Monday, December 22, 2008

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

Monrovia is getting into the holiday spirit. The city is full of people, as folks pour into town from the "interior" for the Christmas season. Purveyors of decorated artificial Christmas trees carry them down the street for easy shopping. Dave is pretty sure this is the perfect way to purchase a Christmas tree...right in the comfort of your car! Don't have to go into any Christmas tree lot and look at 50 different trees before settling on the first one you saw. The trees come to you! Talk about customer service!
Christmas decorations are hawked on the sidewalks and people with tinsel around their necks walk through the massive traffic jams, selling some holiday cheer.
This Santa looks a little different than jolly ol' St. Nick. Makes one wonder what he has in his bag.

Most churches here will have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship services, and later in the day on the 25th, the beaches will be full of people.
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas, as the birth of the Savior of the world is celebrated everywhere, in many different ways.
Dave & Babs
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (that's us, folks!)
1 Timothy 1:15

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And We're Back!

It has been three months since Dave pulled the plug on the old satellite dish and began the simple five hour project of assembling the new dish.
Three months, three receivers, two BUCs, two modems, and a partridge in a pear tree later, it is finally up and running! Yea!

It is nice to have Internet access on site again. Although we will miss having the weekly excuse to go to the Firestone Rubber Tree Plantation
Country Club to use their Internet. That visit usually included dinner. We will miss the Chicken MaraBelle (yummy baked chicken on a bed of
Liberian spicy rice), but we will trade chicken for connections with the States any day!

Here is a picture of Dave battling his nemesis. This picture will make any OSHA safety inspector go into full cardiac arrest, but here, in Liberia, where
it is not uncommon to see four men sitting on the hood of a speeding car or two men perched atop a 30 foot metal frame, no ropes, just welding away
without goggles, Dave's safety violations see rather tame. Still, though, we do not suggest you try this at home!

Wishing you all safe day!
Dave and Babs

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Things we are thankful for:

--for dry beds at night.

--for English teachers who expected us to use proper annunciation and grammar.

--for children who actually seem to miss us! (or at least fake it well)

--for the ability to read and write.

--for wonderful family and good friends.

--for the health to work hard.

--for a rich Christian heritage.

--for the occasional Pop Tart.

--for hair coloring (thanks, Diane S.)

--for ministers, Sunday school teachers, catechism instructors, Bible leaders who taught us Truth.

--for avocado trees that are actually growing.

--for nationals who like us even when we do something really stupid.

--for internet access.

--for eyesight to enjoy the awesome Liberian sky.

--for the laughter of children.

--for air conditioning at night.

--for Liberians who model such humility and honesty in prayer

--for plenty to eat.

--for indoor plumbing.

--for sunscreen.

--for Adirondack chairs.

--for the assurance of salvation and the joy of life now.

Hoping your Thanksgiving Day is blessed and full of thanksgiving to our wonderful God, the Great Provider of all good things.

Love, Dave & Babs

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On Being Healthy...

I have been blessed with a germ-impervious body. I rarely get sick. It is a hearty Dutch model, and has served me well. When I was a kid, friends of my parents would say about my sister, “Oh, she is so pretty” and then they would look at me and remark, “And she is so healthy-looking!” Yes, that summed it all up!

When you are 6 years old, healthy-looking is good. And useful. I did not have measles, mumps, or even chicken pox, even though my siblings were hit with those illnesses. At 16 years old, looking healthy was certainly NOT the goal, but so it goes. What do ya’ do?

I am not bitter…really!

But now I find that, at my current age (you guessed it, 42!), healthy-looking is a good way to be. Except since we have arrived here in Africa 6 months ago, I have been sick 5 times! Last week, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of orphanages to screen some children. Two days later, I was sick. Like for four days! This sturdy Dutch body is apparently no match for sneaky African germs. Guess it was the flu….again. I was given a malaria-detecting test and tested negative. That is good.

Malaria is a constant concern here. Most of the nationals know right away when they have it, because it is not their first bout with it. Some have nausea, some headache, some achy joints. A fever is present, but it might be constant or intermittent. That’s one of the the problems with malaria: symptoms can vary so from person to person.

Malaria is a big killer. World-wide, it will kill millions of people again this year. Almost half the world’s population is threatened by this disease. Young children, older folks, and anyone with a weakened immune system are at greatest risk. Malaria comes up in the course of a conversation regularly, as it is a part of life here. Right now, we have two guards suffering through it. That brings the number to 14 of people (staff and children) that I am aware of who have battled malaria since we arrived in May. And it is just the beginning of mosquito season!

This Thanksgiving, be thankful that you live in a malaria-free part of the world.

And pray for those who don’t.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Little Truck That Could (Almost...)

Here in Liberia the contractor who built this village is finished with this phase of construction and is finally moving his equipment and left over material. All of us at the site are glad that we can say good bye to the construction crowd and the mess that has seemed to accumulate as a by-product of their labors. One of the things that needed to be removed was a container. It was used to lock up tools and valuable items. It has been an eye sore for as long as we have been here, prominently positioned in the middle of the facility. Today all that changed! We got the word that the truck had left Monrovia (10 a.m.), and would arrive to pick up and move the container to the contractor’s main office on Bushrod Island. Bushrod Island is the harbor area next to Monrovia where all goods are unloaded off the cargo ships. Everything comes into this country by ship! Bushrod Island is always bumper to bumper with trucks and cars.

So the truck finally arrived at about 4 p.m. The drive to Bushrod usually takes about 1½ hours by car. Of course it would take a little longer with a truck, especially when the driver does not want to chance getting a ding in his paint job or bumpers. Maybe someone can help me figure out exactly what year this truck is (or was), but my best guess is that I was about 10 years old when it was new.

This fine vehicle (‘58-‘60 Dodge?) came with a driver and 3 attendants. One of the fellows worked the crane. He sat behind the cab, in between two huge gears that were part of the crane that was mounted on the back of this trusty vehicle. One of the other guys would crawl underneath and engage the power take-off when needed. The third fellow was responsible for hooking up the cables. A well oiled machine!

Finally it was backed up to the container and cables were being hooked up. This was an arduous process as the turning radius is huge because the front wheels do not turn very much. Also, the clutch was wore out, or maybe it was because of all the oil going past it; anyway, six of us had to push when it was in reverse because the truck could not move on its own power. Woe unto you if you were down wind when the engine was put under a load; the smoke was breath-taking!

O.K.! We got it now. Small problem though: now the truck will not go through the sand with it’s load. Every able man on the site had to push to get it this far. Well, except for the three helpers! They had to sit on the front bumper in an effort to keep the front wheels on the ground. At this point, just when one thinks this is not going too bad, the truck runs out of diesel. Not to worry, there is more in the can behind the cab. The main fuel tank is sitting on the passenger side floor board. Why it doesn’t get filled before it runs out is a mystery; nobody knows! Now the injector pump needed priming; a 30 minute ordeal.

Well, it’s only 6 p.m. and the truck is cadillacing down the main street of the village, heading toward the main gate. The security guys have the front gates opened w-i-d-e. We are close, so close, to getting rid of this thing.

After a 16 point turn through the gate, it is on the road. Note the wheel that is off the ground as they pull onto the county road. That is the tire that had all the cords showing. This is how they will most likely keep it from wearing out on the way back to Bushrod Island.

This silhouette of the container going down the road is a pleasant sight for us. One has to wonder though, with it going to be very dark in one hour, and no lights on the truck or container, what are they thinking? Two weeks ago, Babs and I were coming home from the internet café and came up behind this very thing in the dark: an unlit container on a truck. Fortunately, the car in front of us saw it and then we saw their tail lights. If per chance one of his three tires that were down to the second layer of cords blows out, they will park it in the middle of the highway, since there is no shoulder to pull off on, and return in the morning to deal with it. Such road hazards are the norm here.

The Rest of The Story:

After months of talk, we were promised that by Sunday the container and all the debris would be removed from the village. The container left Saturday evening, and most of the debris had also been hauled off. It is now Sunday morning, and after church we left town, and headed inland out of Monrovia. The joke was that I should be careful not to run into the back of a blue container that may have been dumped in the middle of the road. Well, sure enough, we were not quite to Red Light Junction, (named for the red stop light that used to blink there before the war) and there it was! They seemed to have had some tire issues and now the truck will not start. They made it half way home (10 miles) in 18 hours. I have no doubt they will make it the rest of the way. The people of Liberia are hard workers and very resourceful with what they have to work with. My heart goes out to them; this has been a hard way to make $200, but that’s trucking. Been there, done that!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bed, Bath, and Way Beyond... (or, "Babs Decorates")

Finding the perfect piece of furniture...
This store is great! Note how one can even purchase fish for dinner here.

A done deal! (The lady behind me is not happy that I would not buy her bananas, but I was totally focused on buying my towel shelving).

Doubling the purchase price.
Never before have I painted against such a beautiful backdrop.

Perfection! I love it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Winter in Liberia

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Here we all are, over half way through the month of October. For the most of our lives there have been events, mostly linked to agriculture (almonds bloomed, peppers were planted, cabbage was harvested, almonds knocked, and after many loads of peppers delivered, the year was about shot) and weather that marked the year’s passing; first cold, then hot, and then things cooled off again. Here, it is very different.

In Liberia we are just finishing the rainy season. September is normally the wettest month of the year. This year was no exception. September averaged 20 inches a week for the month, raining almost every night. The school aged Rafiki children recently took a field trip to the airport. One of the places they visited there was the weather station. They informed us that the rainy season is officially over the 15th of October. So, here we are trying to remind ourselves that it is the middle of October and the year of 2008 is coming to a close.

Time always seems to go faster and faster but here, in Liberia, it is especially hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that summer in the states is over and Christmas is just around the corner for us all. Instead of cooling off as it is doing where we have always lived, here it is just hot and getting hotter and steamier. The months of June, July, and August, what we have always thought of as summer, is now our “rainy season.” We are finding out why the rain is enjoyed by those living here; it brings a little cool with it. Today, after 3-4 days of being dry, it rained 2-3 inches and was a nice relief!

When we arrived in Liberia in May and the first torrential rain storm came, we were told by the nationals “that we had not seen anything yet”, and we hadn’t. Now we remarked about the intense sun, and were told “you haven’t seen anything yet”. In church this morning there was a group of people from Illinois. They were fanning themselves and looked like they were going to wilt. We were quite comfortable. We may actually be acclimating!

October is the month that everyone here is planting their gardens. Up and down the highway we see villages preparing their ground for planting. Yes, we also will give farming another go. With the arrival of our container the 2nd week of September, we now have a lot of vegetable seeds to plant. Dave is watching the neighbors to see how it’s done here. We will keep you posted.

Wishing you a bountiful, cool fall.

Dave & Babs Veneman

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Disturbing Car Statements

Here are more car statements that we found interesting.

Kind of makes our cars in the States boring, don’t you think?
(You can enlarge each photo by clicking directly on the picture).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Bug’s Life---Here are some interesting creature specimens we have encountered so far:

Our little frog friend was hanging on the back door one morning.

This guy decided to dress as a leaf for Halloween. Good costume.

He has an attitude going on here.

Great color for a beetle: emerald!

Isn’t this moth cute?

He is less than a half an inch long…antenna included.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oops! There Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant...


Well, here we are, week three of being out of touch with the rest of the world! Our satellite dish has not been working. It is Monday evening, September 29, and today we were supposed to receive, via DHL, new components for the dish. But this is Africa, and so “the plane for DHL did not land today”...whatever that means! For us, it means still no easy internet access. Difficult to find a high-speed internet café in Monrovia.

Let’s see…what is new? A couple fellas from the Department of Forestry came by on Saturday morning to plant 55 trees. Very exciting, as this place can use all the trees it can get! Counting the ones they stuck in the ground, over 135 trees have been added to this site since we arrived in May.

The gentlemen arrived by taxi. So did the trees. It was pouring rain (of course) so we did not get a picture, but the yellow cab contained two large men and 55 trees. It was just something that you don’t see everyday!

The rainy season should last for about another month, so all the new plantings have four more weeks to get established before the faucet turns off. As we walk past the new trees and bushes, we say encouraging things, like “looking good” and “hey, you have some new leaves.”

Unfortunately, Dave has been overheard threatening some of the less aggressive plants that he “will pull them out by the roots if they don’t do something!” And then we have to go back over our sensitivity training and remember that plants have feelings too, and some are just a little slower than others! Yeah, same as people.

But we are wishing some of these trees would become full-grown overnight because we could really use the shade in the dry season. The sun is intense here at the equator!

So that is about it from Monrovia today.

Wishing you a great day!

Dave & Babs

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Vegetable Order to Remember!

One of the cooks called me into the Village pantry to show me something. As we were peering into the darkened pantry (the electricity was off), I suddenly realized that she was telling me there was a snake in there! "Exit, stage right!" As I slammed the door of the pantry shut, I said in my most adult voice, which was sounding oddly shrill, that I would get Mr. Veneman.
Dave asked the important questions...size, color, etc. Well, it was small (18 inches long) and skinny (about 3/8" diameter), just a baby snake; those were the good qualities. Unfortunately, it was bright green, which meant it was a green mamba. All the staff (cooks, cleaning girl, guards, laundry girl, and groundskeepers) agreed it was poisonous and said "be careful". Suddenly, everyone became very busy (most industrious anyone had been in days!), and no one could help Dave. Sure, let the white guy deal with the snake!
So Dave donned his boots and gloves, and welding a bonifide snake-killing stick (old mop handle), he entered the pantry. As Dave rummaged through the buckets of bananas and bins of fresh produce that had been delivered the day before (yes, that seems to be how the sneaky snake came to reside in the pantry), he suddenly realized that the bugger was behind him, skulking behind the rice bin. It was probably waiting to catch Dave off guard! Snakes are so devious!
But Dave fought a valiant fight and emerged the victor, holding the limp snake aloft. As my still rather shrill voice was voicing concern if it really was dead or just sleeping, Dave took it outside and disposed of it. I then calmly climbed down from the kitchen counter, and proclaimed Dave the hero of the day!
Just another day in Liberia!
Wishing you all a reptile-free day (except for you, Loren, and may all YOUR reptiles be non-poisonous.)
Babs Veneman

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"A Time To Weep..."

This is a hard country. Life here is not easy for the Liberians. Access to healthcare is often limited, and any infection has the potential to be life-threatening. Malaria always is a concern, as is safe drinking water, clean produce, and fresh meat.
We have been in Africa four months now. In that time, four of the national staff here at the Village have experienced the death of a close relative. Two workers lost their brothers. One brother was 42 years old, and the other one was 45 years old. Our laundry girl's sister passed away and left four little children, the youngest being only 6 months old. Two weeks ago, a groundskeeper's daughter fell and died. She was just over a year old. No ambulance, no medi-flight, no trauma center available to those out in the bush.
We have had the privilege to hear several of these people pray during morning devotions, and usually they begin their prayers by thanking God for "waking up this morning." If you ask someone how their night was, they will respond by saying, "I have life, thank God." These sayings are not trite phrases, but come from a realization that life is tenuous. Only by the grace of God are they alive today.
A thankful heart in the midst of hard times...that must make God smile.
Wishing all who read this a day full of thanking God for life.
Dave & Babs Veneman

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"A Time to Plant..."

Hi. Here are a couple pictures we took today when we got back from another expedition into "Jungle Land". We wear boots when we tromp around in the wild, grassy area at the west end of the site. Just in case of sneaky snakes. Very brave thing to do, I might add, walking in snake territory. Or stupid. Could go either way....
We were in search of the illusive "paw paw" tree (papaya). We were trying to find some seedlings, but only found big trees, too big to transplant. We have a small paw paw orchard planted (two rows, four trees in a row) behind the house, but we need a couple of replants. Two trees, which showed such promise at first, just up and died. Sad.
We did find a few crape myrtle bushes and transplanted them in front of the school. The timing was perfect! Thirty minutes after we finished digging them into the ground, the sky opened up and watered the new transplants.
This soil is very humbling for a couple of Californian farmers. Our garden seeds got washed away in one of the first rain deluges in July. Total crop failure! And the orphanage is built on a sand hill, which is just beach sand; few nutrients and the sand gets hot quickly. If something grows here, it is one tough plant! So some of the plants and trees we had high hopes for did not make it, like the paw paw trees. (sigh)
Dave located fertilizer in Monrovia; not an easy feat! He has sprinkled some by everything we have planted. All the plants smile and wave when Dave walks past. Dave is their friend.
Dave has a little nursery growing next to the house. He found some old wooden boxes, and hauled them to the house. They are now filled with good dirt from "Jungle Land" and are under the eaves to protect them from downpours. He has planted tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peas, and, of course, bell peppers. We had to purchase a red bell pepper to get pepper seed, and they are growing quite well. The challenge is to keep the ants and beetles away from the baby plantings, and believe me, in this country, that is a huge challenge!
Hope everything you plant grows!
Dave and Babs Veneman

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Today is Flag Day in Liberia. Actually, it was really yesterday, Sunday, August 24. However, as the holiday landed on a Sunday, today, Monday, the 25th of August, is the celebrated day. The president requested all institutions and schools to observe the holiday with a program, so at 8:30 am we all gathered at the flag pole. Even though there was no school today, the children arrived wearing their school uniforms. They look so good in their uniforms; so neat and tidy and orderly. Uniforms can be very deceiving!
The kids all wanted to stand in front of us and we were feeling rather loved, until we realized that they just wanted to get out of the sun and stand in our shadows! So much for that warm, fuzzy feeling of being loved!
All national employees working today were also invited to the Flag Day program. We said the Liberian Pledge of Allegiance (very close to ours in the States); sang the official flag song (yes, there is an official flag song); and then we sang the national anthemn (nothing like ours!). Prayers for unity in Liberia were offered by some of the children and staff. We ended by singing the first verse of the national anthemn again. A nice little celebration, all in all.
The mommas took the older children on a walk to the beach this afternoon. The beach is about a half a mile from the Village. That was a special treat, a walk to the beach! This evening, to finish the special day, sardine sandwiches were served for supper. Babs did not care to sample the cuisine, but Dave really wanted to taste a sandwich. He asked Martha the cook for the recipe. Guess we will be having sardine sandwiches some evening...well, maybe one of us will just have a nice salad while the other one scarfs sardines.
Wishing you a Happy Flag Day, too!
Dave and Babs Veneman

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bugs in Liberia...

Well, we are learning that things are different here in Africa. Back in California, butterflies are happy little creatures, flitting blissfully from flower to flower. Here, the butterflies are scary, the praying mantis's look like they have been taking steroids, and the beetles have claws and seem rather aggressive!
The butterfly in the picture was hanging out around a neighbor's front door. I guess the snakes on it's back are part of it's natural security system, as it's predators will think it is a snake and leave it alone. Worked for me; I left it alone! I do feel rather badly for the butterfly, though. How sad to go through life with bad tattoos, just for protection. Just doesn't seem fair. Even the life of a butterfly is hard here.
The bodies of the African praying mantis are about 6 inches long. Add the length of their spindly legs to that number, and you have a formidable bug. Not a big fan of any bug, but large, formidable ones kind of creep me out!
Which reminds me of the beetle that stalked me yesterday morning. It was waiting for me in the dining hall. As I walked around unlocking doors, it followed me. No matter where I walked in the large dining hall, he was scurrying toward me. I would walk behind him (wa-a-ay behind him) and he would turn around and head right toward me again. Creepy! Straight out of a Stephen King movie. All I can figure is that the fella' could sense fear, and knew it was a sign of weakness. He was going for the big kill! Man, I do not need to end up as a trophy on some beetle's rec room wall! And people wonder why I walk around with a can of bug spray!
Wishing all who read this a wonderful, bug-free day!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Hi, Friends.
Liberia is a interesting place, especially if you think you have a good handle on the English language. As folks who have always maintained that words mean something, the sayings we read throughout this country make us wonder about that truth. Many times we have scratched our heads, looked at each other in confusion and said "What does THAT mean?"
It is the custom to write a statement about life on your taxi....or maybe after too much happy juice, it seemed like a good idea to make a public statement! Either way, we are enjoying reading bumpers here in Africa! Makes driving much more an adventure. And we are re-thinking our earlier stance....maybe words really don't mean anything at all!
Wishing all who read this a fabulous day! And remember: A Wacted Pot Never Boil!
Dave & Babs
(click directly on each photo in order to view them bigger)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Her Excellency, Madam President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Well it has been a crazy week! We got caught in the flooded streets of Monrovia Sunday.
Monday, I was sick . Flu, not malaria, thank goodness.
Tuesday, I was still sick, and the president of Liberia dropped in for a little visit.
Wednesday, Dave was sick.
We are quite something around here! Somewhere we picked up some flu bugs that are making us miserable. I am doing better today, although very tired and light headed. Dave is fighting the chills, then fever, aches and pains, headache. Not fun stuff. Interestingly enough, those are all possible malaria symptoms! But we ran a couple of malaria tests and they came back negative, so it's just the flu.
The president's visit was interesting. Would have been better had I not been feeling so poorly, but oh well.....
Monday, we received word that she was coming on Friday for a visit, and would we have a little presentation ready for her...OK, so Joanne (our village director) called some people Monday night to set up a program (some Episcopalian Fathers, the social worker from the dept. of Health and Welfare who works with Rafiki, important people). Some decorations were planned for the dining hall, as Liberia's Independence Day is Saturday and that was what this visit was connected with, the president being out among the people of Liberia for Independence Day celebrations.
Tuesday morning around 9:30 the first truck of UN soldiers arrived to secure the site. Actually, Madam President was coming in a few hours! Forget the decorations, and forget the program! Only the Minister of Health and Welfare was able to change his schedule on such short notice and get out to Rafiki before the president arrived! Children's faces were scrubbed, songs were practiced, and clothes changed!
Soon, the site here was crawling with Liberian policemen and UN military police. There were many rifles (for the men: Dave tells me they were M16's; for the women: they were bulky, looked heavy, and really quite unattractive). Security was stationed at each building. We had our own personal policeman in our carport; he was nice; we chatted. There were men (everyone with a rifle) facing the outer perimeter of the site at all times. When she finally arrived, added to the mix were more truck loads of soldiers and her personal "SS". Dave says that was for "Special Service"; to me, it sounds sinister, like something out of World War II Germany. Too many espionage novels on my part, I am sure.
The president is a nice lady; and she loves Rafiki. From her comments, it became clear that she tours other orphanages and none compare to the standard that Rafiki has set for it's care of children. The Minister of Health and Welfare sat with her, and he spoke right to the cameras (Yes, the paparazzi was here, too) also about the care Rafiki was giving it's children. We received high praise!
The president greeted all the children, asked each one his/her name, and toured the school and one of the cottages. The children sang the National anthem for her and two other songs. They looked so cute in their school uniforms! Nice and clean, except, of course, for Benjamin, who had been running earlier, had fallen (nothing new for him!) and so his shorts were a tad bit dirty, but he's a boy, and who can resist those big eyes, that great smile and infectious laugh!
She apologized for disrupting the children's good nutrition, but she had gifts for the kids: several large boxes of candy and cookies! I love this woman!
And it was a great day weather-wise! Did not rain. Amazing.
So that was our excitement for the week. The picture included with this update is one from the Liberian press release. Dave was introduced to President Sirleaf, but I was in the back of the crowd, holding up Adam, who couldn't see anything! (Tough being only two and a half years old!)
It is just as well that I did not shake her hand. Now no one can ever accuse me of trying to sabotage the Liberian government by making the president ill!
Wishing you all a great day.
---One more thing: the biggest impression on Amos (age 6) about meeting the president? All the guns! (sigh) Boys will be boys!

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Is it raining in there? It is raining out here too!"---Winnie the Pooh

Well, it all started out as a pleasant Sunday drive. Yes, it was raining...uh, pouring, we went to church yesterday morning. The rain had started about 5 a.m. We left for church at 8 a.m. It rained throughout the whole church service. It rained during brunch. Things were getting a bit soggy!
When we began our trip out of Monrovia at 11 a.m., we encountered interesting road conditions. Several intersections were flooded, with big traffic jams, as vehicles jockeyed for position in the one lane that was on the highest part of the road. On a four-lane road, five lanes of traffic (no, we do not know how suddenly there were five lanes of traffic, either!) all competed for the one high spot on the road.
Needless to say, it was a mess! With horns honking and arms waving, everyone slowly maneuvered their way through the deep water, except for the taxis without passengers. They knew better than to try it and turned around, as they would have been swept off the road as one of their fellow taxi buddies discovered a little too late.
Going home took quite awhile. We passed through many flooded areas. Homes had several feet of water in them. A new hardware store that opened seven weeks ago was under water. We passed people carrying mattresses, household goods, and personal belongings on their heads. And the rain was still coming down!
It poured all afternoon and into the night. Finally stopped around 9:00 p.m. We are wondering what Monrovia looks like this morning. And where all those displaced people slept last night.
Oh, by the way, it is 5 a.m. and it is raining again!
Wishing you all a good, dry day.
Dave & Babs

Monday, July 14, 2008

As Carl Carper Would Say, "If It Don't Rain Today, It Will Miss a Darn Good Chance"

Well, it began raining about 6 am this morning. However, "raining" doesn't quite capture the full picture. It would be like saying Modesto was a tad hazy these past weeks. It poured from 6 am until 9:30 am, and dropped 2 and a half inches...if you can believe the "Pork N' Bean" can rain gauge. Dave hates it when it is raining so hard that the water pounds through the seams of his umbrella!
The morning's storm also included lightening bolts and thunder cracks. All in all, it was a very impressive storm, and as we are finding out, it's a common occurrence for this time of the year.
When it was finished, the whole compound was covered with water. Where we come from, water sticks around for awhile. That is not the case here in Monrovia though, and that is a good thing, as it looks like rain again this evening!
Have a good day, wherever you are!
Dave and Babs

During the deluge...

After the deluge

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Check is in the Mail

O.K., today was one of those days that does not happen all that often here at Rafiki Liberia. Well actually, about once a month. It is payday...the first of July.
A lot of preparation has gone into making this day go very easy for me by Charmaine, our accountant. This morning all I had to was go around to our 25 employees and give them their pay slip plus $600 Liberian ($10 U.S.). They then left at around noon to make the trek into Monroiva to the bank to get the rest of their pay.
It is very common to pay employees in cash here in Liberia, and Rafiki used to do that as well. The $100 bill is the most common Liberian denomination. Now that is worth about $1.66 U.S. We have seen nothing larger here. When you are paying someone for a month's work in $50 and $100 Liberian bills (60 to 1 ratio to the U.S dollar), there is a lot of money laying around; tables of it!
People come up with all kinds of unique ways to transport a suitcase full of money from the bank to the work place. The problem is that everyone knows its payday. On the way back from the bank, with a suitcase full of money in the backseat, one's thought process tends to proceed along these lines: "With unemployment at around 80%, there are a fair amount of individuals with little more to do than to think of how they could utilize these funds once in their possession."
Even when you have to slow down for the 73 year old mother of 12, grandmother of 37, crossing the street, you start imagining her pulling out her AK 47 and having her way with the company's money.
To get around all those ill thoughts that the depraved mind can come up with when under stress, Rafiki has gone through the efforts of getting employment numbers for all the employees and setting them up with their own savings account at a local bank. There was fear and trepidation as to how this process of getting paid would be accepted, as some of the employees had never been in a bank before. I understand completely. A bank is not where I go to relax either.
To every one's glee, this has been most acceptable to everyone receiving a paycheck. The $600 Liberian ($10 U.S.) they do get is to insure that they all have Taxi money to get to the bank.
So, today July 1, everybody liked me. And that doesn't happen very often. Just once a month now.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Let The Games Begin

We are playing games here in Liberia. Almost daily, we head out to the play yard in the late afternoon to play games with the children. Games such as "Duck, Duck, Juice." It is difficult for some of the kids to remember that it is "Duck, Duck, Goose" when they have never seen a goose.
We play "football" (soccer) with two coaches who head for the ibuprofen after our games (Dave and Tarry Nelson). Babs is the referee because she has the big whistle. Our teams are The Gorillas vs.The Crocodiles.
We play "Red Rover", "Follow the Leader" (Dave is the most fun leader), and run races around obstacles.
We also tried to play "Animal Upset" (a variation of "Fruit Basket Upset") but some people have had a difficult time understanding the concept of running through the circle to the opposite side instead of all over the play yard. Maybe next time we play that game, it will work better.
As the older children are on a school vacation, they have been meeting Babs in the dining hall after breakfast for some "Alphabet Bingo," Bible Cards (a matching game), and matching letters. Also doing some phonics work.
Dave hopes to teach some of the older kids how to play checkers this weekend. He is a good teacher who makes one work for the win. Just ask Jill.
So lately, games have been a large part of our life. Hope to someday teach someone here how to play "Rook", our favorite game!
Have a fabulous day!
Dave and Babs

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lessons From Liberia

Here are a few things we have learned so far, after one month at the Rafiki Village Liberia:
---You cannot kill a medium-sized spider with a screwdriver.
---When the ground is covered with ants, keep moving.
---Two year old children have attitudes no matter what country they live in.
---Palm Springs, Liberia, ain't nothing like Palm Springs, California!
---When you are clueless as to what is being said to you, even though it is supposedly English, just smile.
---In the rainy season, always have an umbrella handy.
---When you haven't had sweets in ten days, you slowly savor one M&M at a time.
---Do not get in the way of a three year old and his car.
---It is difficult to distract ten children waiting outside a medical clinic for their turn for an "injection" (immunization) while the eleventh child is inside the room, and not happy with the situation.
---Walking next to a child holding an umbrella without getting poked in the eye is a challenge.
---Screaming at a large spider (make that an XL spider!) does not make it disappear.
---Percocet helps one sleep at night (just kidding!). Being exhausted helps one sleep at night!
---Benjamin's laugh makes everyone laugh.
---God is good...all the time.
Wishing all a fabulous day!
Dave & Babs

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Gecko Named Nuisance!

Starting to get to know the native staff workers here on the Rafiki compound. Last week, I was introduced to a guard whose name was Honest. I was kind of hoping for 'Bruno,' 'Hefty' or 'Bubba,' but 'Honest' is a good name for a guard, too. Later I discovered that his name was really Earnest! This was after several days of calling the fella 'Honest!' As you can tell, I do not understand what the locals are saying much of the time. 'Earnest' is a good name for a guard, too, but in my head he will always be 'Honest.'

I do enjoy the names of people. There is a child here named Anna Blessing; the laundry gal is named Comfort; Sunday is a groundskeeper; Patience is a hospital administrator; two children being considered for placement here are named Hope and Grace (not sisters). I think this is a wonderful idea! Maybe if in the States people would stop naming children after actresses and entertainers (who usually have questionable lifestyles!) and consider naming their kids after the Fruits of the Spirit, well, maybe children would have something to live up to! Just a random thought...

Here is a picture of the school children in front of the flagpole. They begin each day at the flagpole (unless it is raining) with the Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, Lord's Prayer, and a hymn. Nice way to begin school. Then they line up and walk to the classroom. The teacher is Joanne Colvin, who also is the Village Director here in Liberia. She has a wonderfully decorated room with many books and is teaching the kids basics, like numbers and the alphabet. The children like school, and are learning how to listen and obey. For most of them, this is their first experience with school, so every behavior has to be taught.

The kids are afraid of geckos! I am feeling pretty good about myself, as this is about the only thing in Africa that I am not afraid of! Probably because of those commercials on TV with the talking gecko selling the insurance. He seems so friendly! Now don't get me wrong...I will not TOUCH a gecko, but at least I don't hyperventilate when I see one. Anyways, there are geckos sometimes in the children's bathrooms at school, and that can be very disruptive. Eight kids freaking out!

Well, that is all for today.
Wishing all who read this a fabulous day.

Sneaky Snake

Hi All,
Well, I can go home now.  (Not really).  Today I experienced something that I had heard about but never thought I'd see.  Babs has been in the fetal position for about 5 hrs. now because she experienced it also.  The director was screaming (oops.  no, directors don't scream).  She was asking Tarry and I "what is it with men and their cameras, get away from that snake."

Tarry, our next door neighbor was asked by his cleaning girl who washes his car when she has time, to move his pickup out in the driveway and she would wash it.  Tarry goes outside and gets in the pickup, looks up, and a Cobra is wrapped around the antenna striking at him through the windshield.  He then phones me from inside his what am I going to do, except get my camera?  It was a feisty little guy, about 12" long.  Whenever we got close to him, he would rear up and make these lunging moves toward us.

We, being in our shorts and tee shirts (not the official Rafiki snake gear) decided to call the paid guards to come and dispatch the snake.  They were not all that keen on messing with it either.  Matter of fact, if the women would not have been out there by then, I think they may have turned and walked.  They got a stick and put and end to the excitement.

As this was all unfolding, SanJay (the house cleaner) and Babs were huddled together 50-60 yards away consoling each other.  Some women just don't like doesn't matter what color their skin is.

See ya later,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

California Dreamin'

We went to the beach!  It reminded us of the movie "Castaway," the film where Tom Hanks is stranded on a deserted island with his friend Wilson, the soccer ball.  We could look both ways down this long, long stretch of perfect white sand, and there was not another soul to be seen!  Coming from California where we trip over people everywhere, even at the beaches (have you ever tried to reserve a campsite for Sunset Beach?), it was a rather impressive sight.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a great need for sand in Liberia.  Because of the increase of construction, large dump truck loads of sand are daily being hauled off the beach.  They have obviously not submitted an environmental impact study for this work.  They are carving out huge holes in the beach.  Not sure that is a good thing, but on the plus side, it is providing jobs for several men, as the large trucks are filled by hand.

As you look at our picture taken on the beach, you will be interested to know that "home" (California, of course) is only 7,000 miles behind us.

Monday, May 26, 2008

John, Paul, George, and Ringo (aka "The Beatles")

I saw the biggest, baddest, grossest beetle today!  It was at least 12 inches long!  It had fallen into a hole the gardeners had dug yesterday, but did not get around to planting the bush yet.  Not sure it is on their agenda for today, either...they seem to have a different agenda than do I.  Anyways, I went out this morning, innocent, refreshed, and full of happiness and goodwill toward all and I peeked into the hole to see what exactly the dirt looked like under the sand (it looks just like more sand!  amazing), and there was this monstrous beetle (at least 10 inches long).  It had long pincher thingies that looked like they could easily hurt someone.  (They can!  I asked a gardener.  He said, "You betcha, baby!" or something like that).

I screamed, as any good Dutch girl would do when faced with a beetle at least 8 inches long!  Dave sauntered out of the house, as he is not running any more when I scream, and was actually quite impressed with my large beetle (who was at least 6 inches long).  I checked with the two ladies here who have spent a lot of time in Africa and seen much more than I ever want to see, and they both had never seen a beetle of that size.  Which, strangely enough, made me feel somewhat better, as apparently there are not a jillion of them around the Rafiki compound.  Whew!  Thank goodness for that.

The gardeners told me that it came from the "bush" (I am assuming they mean the jungly-type vegetation surrounding the Village, and not some specialty plant which actually grows such large, gross beetles!) and it was probably attracted to the light on our front porch.  So you can be assured that I will not be answering a knock on my front door at night without first checking the peephole to may sure it is not a jumongous, big beetle.

Dave took a picture.  Do not worry.  No gardeners were injured in the taking of this picture!  It was attacked by ants while stuck in the hole and the ants killed it.  Man, I almost feel sorry for our 4-inch beetle, being attacked by ants like that.  (O.K., not really sorry; it WAS a huge, disgusting, mean, nasty beetle, for Pete's sake!)  and yes, it really, really was about 4-5 inches long!

That is the end of today's traumatic event.  Tomorrow, I will tell you about the lion...(just kidding!)