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.