Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Most Amazing Rescue in History...(by a "guest blogger")

The Annual Christmas Pageant was a smashing success! The kids performed for two neighboring villages and despite distractions (a few talkative audience members, a couple friendly dogs, and a handful of roaming village chickens, to name a few), the show went on without a hitch! The children sang from the heart and lines were recited with gusto.

Robert and I enjoyed being part of the pageant this year. The kids' excitement was contagious, and even in hot, muggy conditions, it really started to feel like Christmas.


Walking hand-in-hand with one of the group's slowpokes, I ended up at the end of the pageant caravan. As we walked from one village to the next, I could look in front of me and see every child and adult involved. I began to think about the word "rescue." When someone asks Robert or me what my parents are doing in Liberia, we rarely use the word "orphanage." Instead, we say, "They are working with an organization that rescues orphans in Liberia." We have learned to word it this way because the word "orphanage" seems to conjur up pictures of hundreds of kids packed into sleeping quarters together. "Orphanage" does not really explain that the organization that Dad and Mom are working with is committed to true rescue. These are children pulled from the depths of horrible situations and then given love. Their needs are met with a loving home environment, health care, nutrition, education, and the good news that Jesus loves them and is their ultimate security.

As the little slowpoke and I made our way at the end of the line, it struck me that these rescued children would be performing the first act of the most incredible rescue ever staged in history. These kids, dressed as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, and the heavenly host were going to perform the Christmas story for a group of people who had perhaps never heard this true tale of rescue. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue us---to pull of from the depths and show us love like we had never known. How undeserved and how amazing!
From Liberia, Merry (belated) Christmas, and Happy New Year!
(Kari---Dave & Babs' daughter)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dress Rehearsal

So this is the scene:

Two shepherds sock each other in the arm when they think the director is not looking in their direction.
Mother Mary giggles at Angel Gabriel instead of acting frightened.
Narrator #4 always loses his place in the script.
Caesar Augustus will not raise his voice, and so the decree is only heard by his bodyguard.
The innkeepers all memorized the same lines.
Joseph and Mary do not want to stand next to each other.
Two of the wise men have to go to the bathroom.
And Angel Gabriel keeps sneezing.

Yes, it is a typical Christmas Pageant Practice!

But then it is time to sing "Silent Night" and as the children gaze on the little baby Jesus, they are perfect angels!

The Rafiki Traveling Roadshow Christmas Pageant will be performing for local villages this week, with the premier performance being delivered on December 22.

It is Christmas and we are blessed among peoples. Hoping you can say the same!

Merry Christmas!
Love, Dave and Babs

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Always something to see...

Here are some interesting sights we encounter as we travel around Liberia:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A "More Often Than Not" Day

A.J. and Gabriel with Grandpa, Grandma, aunties and uncle.

Today was one of those typical "I'm going to get some work done" Saturdays. The difficult-to-work-with child care director had a list of items that she had given me Friday night that would only take two or three hours to knock out. So, out the door bright and early! I am gathering up a few tools and I run into my lovely wife who informs me that the dining room septic tank is backed up and running down the side walk. This is not the first time this has happened, so I know the routine: call the maintenance guys to pull the covers off the tank and we will have this fixed in a jiffy. No problem.

We just get the covers off and the gate guard informs me that there is a gal there to apply for a job. She has an appointment with Mrs. Veneman at 10 a.m. It is now 8:30 a.m. Mrs. Veneman is having Bible Study with the mothers until 9:30am, so I guess that leaves me to escort her in and get her an application.

While I am walking her to the clinic, where she can fill out an job application, some family members arrive at the gate to visit their two nephews/grandsons. These boys have been at the village for six months now, and grandpa, grandma, uncle, and two aunties want to see how they are doing.

So after I get the potential new hire situated at the clinic desk, I escort the five family visitors to the dining hall and inform Mrs. Veneman that visitors are here. Interrupting the Child Care Director in the middle of her Mother's Bible study is not a high productive move ordinarily, but there are exceptions. She is happy to hear about the family visitors.

Back to the house to get an application for the girl applicant; back to the dining hall to see if our five guests are doing OK; and then back to the septic tank, that is conveniently located in the middle of the dining hall, the clinic, and my house, to deal with the two yard maintenance guys who have been watching me walk back and forth, while leaning on their shovels. I tell the maintenance guys to get the pump and pump some of the water out of the tank so we can possibly see where the obstruction is while I go back to the clinic to check on the potential new hire.

Babs, now done with her Bible Study, is with the family visitors and calls me to please get the camera and take a picture of the boys and their family. So, back to the house to fetch the camera with a stop at the septic tank to answer some high tech questions about why the stuff is not running downhill at the moment. With camera in my hand, I head back to the dining hall and take two Ansel Adam quality pictures of Gabriel, A.J., and their extended family, and I am headed back to the house to print and laminate two award winning photos for the family to take home with them.

Back to the dining hall to deliver the pictures. The maintenance guys again leaning on their shovels is not lost on me. I am beginning to think these guys must have trained with CalTrans. The family is incredibly grateful for the pictures, and so thankful for the care being given their two precious children. We are confident that one of the boys, and possibly both, would not be alive if it had taken two weeks longer to get their paperwork through the Ministry of Health. Even after the boys arrived at the village, they scared us at how long it took for them to respond to good nutrition and meds.

As Babs and I walked this family to the gate after the visit was over, the grandfather said that if he dies now, he will be at peace because they did the right thing by letting the boys go. His wife was doing a Liberian dance, thanking Jesus that their boys were alright. All this is happening while the maintenance guys are leaning against their shovels (again), wanting me to come over and talk to them about the septic condition (again). But that is not to happen yet, as I head to the clinic to interview the job applicant to determine if she would be a fine addition to our staff. The maintenance boys look quite dejected.

The 23 year old applicant has completed her application quite thoroughly. We find that she has finished high school and speaks understandable English. Babs thinks she would like to hire this candidate for the kitchen, so that means another trip to the house for the whole hiring kit (paperwork). On the way by, I make a stop at the septic tank and the "boys" and I embark on some genius level conversation about why the stuff is going down the sidewalk instead of the drain pipe.

After the trip to the house to get the hiring kit, I am back at the clinic explaining what it means to be an employee here. Little things, like actually coming to work, and letting someone know when you need to be gone for three days to attend a wedding or funeral. The one rule that is quite precious to me is that after each pay day, an employee is expected to come back to work even though there might be money left over in his pocket.

Following our little talk of why we pay employees once a month, it's back to the house to print off her passport photos so she can get a police clearance letter. I bring the photos to her in the clinic. The master plumbers are now tired of the whole septic tank thing and inform me that they are going back to what they were doing before (cutting weeds). I inform them that if they can leave the whole area as they found it before starting on this project, they can go. They concur, but first it is time for lunch. And they leave for lunch. They will finish the septic situation after they return.

And so goes my morning. Nothing accomplished that I had on my list. This is a normal day.

Have a good, productive day!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Count Your Blessings

Thursday, November 4, was Liberia's Thanksgiving Day. We had a simple Thanksgiving service with the Mothers and the children, and then we headed to the ocean.

Here are some of the things I am thankful for:

I am thankful for a cloudy, almost-cool day.
I am thankful for a fun, safe time at the beach this morning with all the kids and mamas.
I am thankful that Manny saw his first kite flying and was almost overcome with excitement.
I am thankful that Isaac actually got a kite up in the air for a few minutes.
I am thankful that A.J. did too.
I am thankful for the sweet spirit of children who shared toys and played together.
I am thankful for Faith's laughter, as we jostled our way home on bumpy roads.
I am thankful that Dave can fix almost anything (this I was thinking as we were bouncing over those roads!).
I am thankful for eyes to see the thunderclouds billowing over the ocean; to see glowing sunsets and green palm trees.
I am thankful for ears to hear the birds calling, the frogs croaking, the crickets "cricking", and the children singing.
I am thankful for internet connection in order to be able to communicate with folks I love back home.
I am thankful for a dry bed, for a cozy house, for shoes, and for plenty of food.
I am thankful that I can read.
I am thankful that I own a Bible.
I am thankful for good hymns that tell of God's faithfulness to His people.
I am so very thankful that I am one of His people.

Wishing you days full of thanksgiving this November.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Name Game

The cooks at the village call me "Mother". The children call me "Mrs. Veneman" or "Mr. Veneman" or "Mistress Veneman". The Mamas here call me "Sis Barbara". The people in the neighboring villages call me "Oma" (for Old Ma. That used to hurt my feelings, until I was informed that it is a sign of respect. OK, whatever! It still is painful!). The guards just call me "Sir!"

My real name is Barbara. My parents named me Barbara with the intent of calling me "Babs" as they liked the cute nickname. And so, since birth, I have been called "Babs". Only the bank, creditors, and telephone solicitors called me Barbara.

Until I came to Africa.

Liberians have a difficult time pronouncing "Babs" so I soon learned it was easier to introduce myself as Barbara. It made life smoother, as when I call myself Barbara, I do not have to repeat my name several times as confused people try to pronounce that odd, foreign name of "Babs". Barbara is a name that is more familiar to them, although it is not real common in Liberia. The nationals we see regularly call me "Sis Barbara".

(Where is she going with this, you wonder.) Well, Melvin, our social worker, had a baby. A sweet baby girl who is four months old now. She is darling. And Melvin named her "Barbara". Hm-m-m-m. We are not sure how this works here, but we might be on the hook for four years of Liberian college tuition someday! Rats.

On the other hand, I think Barbara Kiazolu is a good name! She could go far with a name like that.

Wishing you a wonderful day, without creditors or phone solicitors!
Sis Barbara

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sneaky Snakes

The girl rushed into my home and announced that she had seen a green mamba in her house. Of course, Dave had just driven out of the village, and technically, I was the person "in charge". So I bravely grabbed a bath towel ("Why a bath towel?", you ask. I do not know! It was handy!) and I called Zubah the guard.
Zubah, carrying a shovel, and myself, carrying a bath towel, carefully entered the house. We headed to the back bedroom, where the vile creature had been last seen. Brave Zubah looked under the bed, under the rug, and slowly opened the closet door. I supervised his movements from my perch on top of a dining room chair in the hallway (yes, holding my towel).
There was a lot of clanging and banging as Zubah located the disgusting critter in the closet, and beat it with the shovel. Zubah is my hero! This is not the first time Zubah has saved me from the deadly jaws of a snake. Once he saved me from a twelve inch garden snake. (I probably could have handled that one myself, except I forgot my towel.)
Zubah carefully searched the house for more snakes, but did not find any, and I thanked him as he carried the still writhing behemoth out the door (it was about 24 inches long). All was well again in the village. Yes, I had everything under control!
Later that day, I was back in the girl's house, reliving the life and death experience for Dave, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another green mamba, as it was tucking itself behind a broom in the corner of the front room. (And me without a towel!) I calmly rushed out of the house and allowed Dave to do his manly thing and kill that creepy crawler. It was not quite as long as the first one, but it was thicker. Now Dave is my hero.
Have a wonderful, snakeless day!
Love, Babs

Friday, August 6, 2010

Melvin update:

Just a quick note here:
Melvin got sick. He claims it was malaria, but I am not sure.
Melvin eats monkey...Melvin gets sick. Coincidence? I think not!
Stay well!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More Shopping With Melvin


We went into the interior to check on three children whose father died last year. Melvin, our social worker, went with us to do background checks and to help with transporting the children to the local clinic for medical exams. The area we ventured into today was Melvin's old stomping grounds. He grew up in a village in this county. In fact, the physician's assistant who helped us at the clinic was Melvin's cousin.

As we left the clinic, Melvin asked if we could make a small detour on our way home. Melvin assured us it would only be a fifteen minute detour.

Thirty minutes and twelve hard, bumpy miles later, we arrived at his home town. All the villagers were happy to see him! Everyone knew Melvin. He was greeted with shouts, smiles, handshakes, and hugs. They gave him a large bag of garrah (ground up cassava root that cooks up to the texture of oatmeal) and a dead monkey. Yes, you read that correctly! A dead monkey. Dave dutifully stashed the garrah and the monkey in the back of the Land Cruiser.

We then headed back to the main road, but first we had to stop beside a stick jammed in the dirt by the side of the road. It had a plastic bag tied to it. "What is this?" was hardly out of my mouth, when Melvin jumped out of the car and ran about ten feet into the jungle. He returned with a large sack of fufu. His sister had stashed it by the side of the road and marked the spot with the stick/plastic bag. Another gift for Melvin. Fufu is fermented cassava root. It has the texture of play dough; in my opinion, play dough tastes much better than fufu. Now, the car smelled like rotten cassava. I jokingly made some comment about having a little monkey stew with the fufu, and Melvin almost got giddy with excitement! Apparently, monkey stew over fufu is the best!

One more stop before we reached the main road...for two large sacks of charcoal. Melvin is a bargain shopper, and he always gets a good price on charcoal when he goes away from Monrovia to buy it. The price is especially good when he and the charcoal-maker are childhood friends.

The back of the vehicle was now full. We delivered the children and uncle back to their village, and we headed home to Monrovia with Melvin, monkey, and fufu. It was a good day for Melvin. But a bad day for the monkey.

Wishing you all a good day, enjoying whatever foods you like best!

Monday, July 26, 2010

More Rain...



It is raining.

As Liberia receives about 200 inches of rain a year, I guess this is not unusual. But it still seems novel to me that it is pouring rain so hard we cannot talk to each other in the house as it is too noisy. And it is July. Back in California, it is hot and dry. Here, it is hot and wet. Even after two years, it still seems odd to me.

The rivers are all swollen and running fast. The swamp land is flooded. Now would be a good time to survey land for a prospective land purchase, as one could tell if it floods. For those who did not do their homework, there are newly-built homes that are surrounded by large bodies of water! One fellow down the road recently built a four foot wide cement sidewalk to the door of his store. He built it about eighteen inches tall. There was such a large lake around his new store building that customers could not come in, so the new sidewalk goes to the edge of the highway.

The roads have become muddy rivers. People walking down the road get splashed on by cars driving by, as tires hit mud puddles. Walking anywhere becomes a challenge to stay clean. The mud is slick, red, and tenacious!

In this current storm, it has already rained for thirty hours straight, without ever completely stopping. At times, it was ferocious, with strong winds and deluge downpours, and then it would calm down for a few hours to a steady drizzle before again getting angry and unleashing another round of unrelenting precipitation. We have new streams on the village site today, and the regular drainage streams are overflowing. It is a rather impressive Liberian storm.
I do not mind the rain. Neither do the frogs, as there is a constant symphony coming from the swamp area around the compound. They all sound happy; it is a choir of throaty, cheery songs.

Hope you all stay dry today (oh, that's right! You will stay dry...it is July! I forget.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So Many Children...

Last night we got word from our social worker that signatures had come through from the Ministry of Health on a child that we have been waiting to pick up for the last two months. This morning, at 6:30 am, I met the social worker to get the signed documents. The boy’s family did not have a phone, and the neighbor’s phone was answered by someone who did not speak any English, so I then drove into town to notify the family that we would be back at 10 am to do the final paper work and to take the boy to his new home. I returned to the village to collect Babs and the house mother who will receive this boy into her cottage. The three of us drove back to Monrovia. We parked the car on a dirt lane that had not seen a vehicle in many days. As we approached the grandmother’s house where this young man was residing, a crowd started to gather.



It is not too often that white people visit this area. We were a novelty! A few minutes later, our social worker showed up so we could get down to the business of getting their signatures on the documents. Aunts, uncles, and grandmother were all there, with the exception, of course, of the uncle who is the boy’s legal guardian. This uncle was working on a pipeline project a few miles away. Things were explained to the relatives and papers were signed. Grandmother offered a prayer for the boy. Now we were off to get the signature of the legal guardian. As we piled into the car, the little boy’s Grandmother began to cry. Grandma knew the reality that she would probably never see this grandson again. He will only be an hour away, but when every dollar is spent on food and necessities, the chances of Grandma coming to visit are “slim to none.” There will be no money for a taxi ride.
Now, where is uncle? How do you find a man in the middle of a work crew when you don’t remember what he looks like? Once again, we just played the part of “stupid American” and everyone was helpful. We have had lots of practice of playing “stupid American” here in Liberia. Uncle saw us coming and climbed out of the ditch to greet us. He was pleased to sign the documents turning over his nephew to us. He now had one less mouth to feed on his wage of three dollars a day. He shook hands with his nephew, and we headed down the road, to a new life for this little boy. So, one more child has been removed from the masses of children that are left to live in squalor, lacking the basic necessities of life.


We try to not get overwhelmed by the many children we see living in hopeless situations. What makes this possible is that we see God’s hand in the process of acquiring new residents for the orphanage. We see how God places specific children in our path, and then God orchestrates the pieces to make all the investigation and background checks happen. He assembles the people necessary to make the decisions to change these children’s lives. He moves bureaucracy and governmental agencies to action. He causes family members to be in agreement. All these events are certainly by His doing, as in this country, few people agree about anything, and to get government agencies to complete paperwork is very difficult. Our new resident will be fine. He already was playing “football” (soccer) with his new brothers this afternoon. He enjoyed a good lunch; was delighted with an afternoon snack; ate a hearty supper. Clean pajamas and a cozy bed. This place is alright! We cannot help every child. But we are privileged to be able to help some of them. And what a thrill to see God at work in children’s lives.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Turn Left. No, The Other Left!

Here are some more interesting vehicles we see as we move around Monrovia.

We feel sorry for anyone who is trying to learn how to drive in this town, as often traffic laws seem to be "for the other guy" and the lines painted on the roads are just suggestions, not really lanes. We do give student drivers a lot of room on the road. We are not sure what seasoned drivers are going to do, so a student driver is really a scary thing!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Born to be Wild

Motorcycles have become a big thing here in Liberia in the past two years. When we first arrived, there were few bikes on the road. The Chinese begin importing them into Liberia, and now motorcycles are everywhere.
The bikes are relatively cheap (about $900) and often a entrepreneur will buy a bike and hire a young man to drive it for him. The driver gets paid per day and and for a fee, taxis people around town. It is a prestigious thing to be a motorbike driver. One must have nerves of steel, reflexes of a cat, a sense of immortality, and probably the intelligence of an artichoke to drive a motorcycle on these roads! These guys are crazy!
Sometimes, there will be three, four, and even five people on a motorbike. Often a young child will be in front of the driver, and other children will be sandwiched in between adults. Other items transported via bike include: lumber, bags of coal, baskets, vegetables, brooms, and fish. We once spotted a full drum set being taken to church Sunday morning, and we have also seen a goat on a bike. We managed to get a picture of the chickens and ducks (fast food?) and the guy with the keyboard on his way to Praise Team practice.


Friday, June 4, 2010

"Bridge Over Troubled Water"

I consider myself a rather supportive wife, who over the years has silently (yeah, right!) and graciously (hah!) suffered through many of Dave's "good ideas". I have gone chukkar hunting in Nevada when I was eight months pregnant; I have gone fishing in
northern (unpopulated) California when I was eight months pregnant; I have sat on the back bumper of a AMC Hornet to give it traction on a muddy hillside; I have flown in teeny airplanes; I have climbed ladders, sat on roofs, ridden in trucks bearing over-width loads; I have driven in remote Mexican areas; and now I am living in Liberia.

However, I refuse to drive over bridges that do not seem very safe to me. Plunging into a raging river/stream in a foreign country without Medi-flight available is not my idea of a good time. Since we have been here, I have chosen to walk over some of the bridges rather than ride over them. It seems like a a good plan that one of us be able to tell the authorities what happened! This suits Dave just fine, as then I can take some pictures of him in the Land Cruiser, creeping over the unsafe bridge. He always seems so pleased. What it is with men, anyways? Are they nuts? My theory is that estrogen causes rational thinking, and testosterone...not so much.

Wishing you all a good day. Be safe and, fellas, be reasonable, O.K? For pity's sake, think it through!

This is what I get for not writing the blog on fun and exciting bridges that I was going to write.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day


Today is Mother's Day.
Mother's Day is taken quite seriously here in Liberia. Most churches had nominations and voting weeks ago for "Mother of the Year" for their particular congregation. Today, in churches all over Liberia, the winners of those ballots, as well as ALL mothers, were honored in worship services.

Today was a day when ladies dressed up in their finest dresses. Many women had new outfits for the occasion. Matching shoes and handbags, hats or head wraps, lace, brocade, satin, bright colors, big jewelry...it was a good day for those of us who enjoy a well-coordinated outfit! The ladies of Liberia looked very lovely today.

I felt a little dowdy in my brown skirt and apricot blouse! I was hat less; not wearing heels; no necklace or dangling earrings. I had felt pretty good about myself before I left the house this morning, but inside church, I looked rather plain next to all the gorgeous women in the building!

Our mothers at the village were all dressed up, too. And the kids were excited. Before breakfast, they had given their mothers cards and gifts they had made at school this week. The children knew it was going to be a special day at church.

Hope your day was special and memorable, also.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Down By the Sea

Living half a mile from the ocean gives opportunity for regular walks on the beach. Coming from the California central valley, this is a treat to often stroll the sandy edge of the ocean. From time to time we take some of the children with us on these outings. The kids are losing their fear of the water. It is fun to see them enjoy getting their toes wet, and of course, it is always fun to slide down a sand dune! Here are some pictures of our most recent beach walk with a cottage of boys.


Sunday, April 11, 2010


She sobbed in my arms for forty minutes. She had arrived at the orphanage 48 hours earlier, and all of a sudden it became too overwhelming. I let her cry; just held her and rocked her. I had no words. Life is hard sometimes, and in her six years, she had learned somethings about heartache. She never knew her mother; ma died giving her life. And seven weeks ago, her daddy died. She had since been living with an auntie, who did not have enough time, energy, or resources for another child. Auntie had even less food. Life was not all that great with auntie, but it was all that she knew. Now she was in a strange place; it was so different, and she sobbed for the loss of her previous existence.

As I sat with her, I thought how typical this was of many of us...or at least me. I get comfortable and used to a certain routine and way of life. It might not be great; it might not be the best; it might even be bad; but it is what I know. So even if something comes along that might be better, I can be rather resistant and hesitant and experience a sense of loss. O.K., there could possibly even be some kicking and screaming involved!

She finally calmed down and we continued to sit in silence. It was good to just be together. Then we talked; about her new dollie, and about her favorite song. When she was ready, we joined the rest of her new family outside. It was soon lunch time. I watched her get in line for the dining hall, all evidence of sadness gone. Sometimes, one just has to let it all out and acknowledge that things are difficult and life is scary. That seems to work for me, too. Here, in this place, I find myself many times sitting in the lap of God.

That was four days ago. Now, she is enjoying life. She has played dodge ball; made a paper butterfly; ran relay races; learned how to play "Duck, Duck, Goose"; enjoyed story time; memorized the words to the song "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round". Today, it was a joy to see her laugh as she attempted to bounce a large ball to her team mates and do "The Hokie Pokie". She is figuring it out that sometimes change is good. Sometimes, change is the best thing!

She still has her sad times, when she misses her daddy, but the big meltdown is past, and life is not so overwhelming now. She does not know it yet, but someday she will: God has His hands around her and it will be O.K.. She can sit in His lap anytime she wants!

Praying that you, too, know where to go when life gets to be too much!
Love, Babs

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Big Scary Day

This month we accepted fifteen community children to attend the village school. They are the sons and daughters of some of our employees and they range in age from five years old to eleven years old. These ladies and gentlemen fill out the classes that we have going now with the children who live at the orphanage. These day students have been placed in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, or first grade.


In the first picture, you see some of the new students being led by a security guard to the dining hall. This was scary, coming into our compound; some of these children had never had any contact with white people. They were led to the dining hall where they were told a little about our village and the classes they will attend. Paperwork was completed.

They were given a tour of the school and the facilities were explained. Yes, it’s called “Bathroom 101”. This was really scary! What would happen if you fell into the white well while someone pushed that silver lever? Perhaps you can remember the fear invoked, starting a new session at school when you were a new student. Having to use the bathroom did not tend to make you relax in your new setting. Well, in two or three days, the scariness of the commode has been conquered; it has become all fun and games, and the excuses to go to the bathroom are quite resourceful.

The other thing that happens the first day they come to the village is that they are examined by a doctor. Ministry of Health says that all employees and children that are involved in an institution such as this one must have a physical exam and regular checkups. A U.S. doctor who was volunteering in Liberia for a couple of months agreed to come out to our village and exam the new students.

In the second picture, there are four kids waiting for their exam in our clinic. Babs came in with a camera and asked the girls if they would smile for a picture. They were not in the smiling mood, and just stared at Babs. So Babs tried to be funny, hoping to solicit smiles. Finally they looked at each other and giggled about the strange white lady. None of this is lost on the two boys in the background. They find the whole thing hilarious. I think we have some very normal kids here.

Hope you can smile at whatever is going on in your day today.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Ohn Mine Goodness!


From the communities surrounding our village, there is a group of young men who have formed an athletic association. Early in the evening, several times a week, they practice football (soccer) in a sand lot across from our village. They challenged the employees of our orphanage to a friendly game of football. And we accepted the challenge!

Some guards, a cook, and a gardener made up the heart of our team, but we were a few members short, so friends of the guards (read "ringers" here) filled in the open spots. Dave wanted to play, but as the village health manager (and his loving, caring wife!) I told him that he could NOT play soccer with those guys! I have watched them practice, and is anyone else aware that soccer is a full-on contact sport? Only without the protective pads and helmets of American football? Oy! I reminded Dave that there is no Medi-flight helicopter here in Liberia. So he became the unofficial team captain!

A day and time for the game was finally agreed upon by both teams: a Sunday afternoon. Of course, two days before the Big Match, I was informed by the official team captain who is our Head Of Security (also officially known as "Supreme Commander"...no, I am not kidding here; that really is his title!) that our team needed uniforms. What?!? He must have noted my reaction (this is why he is the Supreme Commander, as he can read body language so well), as he then suggested that at least the same color shirts for the whole team would be good. Which is still a daunting task here in Liberia...fifteen matching adult shirts?

But we are resourceful people, and off we went to town, in search of matching shirts. With the help of some Liberian personal shoppers, we finally found new white tee-shirts in the market at Waterside. We stenciled our village initials on the shirts. They looked quite nice, and the team was pleased to be wearing official game shirts.

It was a fun game, with our unpracticed but very spirited team putting on a good show. We attracted a little crowd of spectators, some of which were children and mothers from our village. The mothers enjoyed cheering for our High Commander whose name is Charles. Now Charles is a very proper man and a bit intimidating in size and demeanor. But that did not stop the mothers from yelling at "Charlie" to make a goal! Wow! Never before thought of him as a Charlie.

There was a man at the game who had a bull horn. He graciously did a running commentary throughout the game. His favorite phrase was "Ohn Mine Goodness!" as the ball flew from one side of the field to the other. The crowd cheered every good kick and block, no matter which team executed the play. It was an enjoyable afternoon with our neighbors. Of course, we let the athletic association win (which really means we got slaughtered!). Bottles of water and good natured remarks were exchanged at the end of the game, and our team promised to play them again!

Monday, it was back to work as usual. All the team shirts were handed in, and "Charlie" was Charles again. The medical clinic was a busy place though, as I handed out Ibuprofen to our battered and hobbling football players. And the theme that kept recurring in conversations throughout the day was "Next time, we'll show them!" The competitive spirit is alive and well in Liberia!

Wishing you all a good day!
love, Babs

Monday, March 1, 2010

Very Vexing

I am vexed! This is a normal term in Liberia. We hear it all the time: Comfort is vexed when she cannot open the washing machine; Isaac is vexed that he is not able to go to school yet; Benjamin is vexed because it is not his birthday. Dave had a gentleman tell him that he did not want to vex Dave. And now I am vexed!
Why, you ask? I paid over $8 dollars for three navel oranges! They were big and juicy and looked so yummy; I had to have them. But what a shock at the checkout stand! It was hard for us to take, spending over $2.60 per orange, as we have lived pretty much our whole lives with access to wonderful fresh oranges we pull off our own trees. In fact, our sister in law has the Best Orange Tree in Stanislaus County, and she sometimes would let us have some of HER fabulous oranges.
On this shopping trip, we also paid $4.62 for two bell peppers and $6.70 for four zucchini! No, we do not often buy items like this, but sometimes we just crave fresh fruit and vegetables that are familiar and it is very exciting when one finds them in the supermarket! Just so you know, we opted to NOT get the box of Froot Loops for $36, nor the bag of Nestle's chocolate chips for $18! That would have been just too vexing!
We will savor and enjoy every tasty bit of our extremely over-priced, but "worth-every-penny-because it feels like home" oranges, peppers, and zucchini!
Have a great day, and enjoy the produce aisle at your grocery store.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Big, Scary Spider...

I do not move too quickly first thing in the morning. I never have been a ball of fire right out of Sleep Land, but as I get further from my original birth year(sigh), it seems I am even slower. Well, this morning, I discovered something that gets me going!

After rolling out of bed, I stumbled to the sink and washed my face. As I pulled the towel off the rack and lifted it to my face, I found myself eyeball to eyeball with a racer spider. I guess he was napping on the cozy 100% cotton. Racer spiders get pretty large...just a little smaller than my hand! And they move FAST (hence the name "Racer" spider). They are pretty harmless, but that thought does not compute well before 6:00 am.

I screamed, and scurried into the bedroom and leaped onto the bed. Poor Dave! He was still in Sleep Land, and this was definitely a rude awakening. Apparently the racer spider was as disoriented as Dave, as the spider headed in the direction I went. I am still screaming, and Dave, now quite awake, is trying to tell me that the spider is trying to get out of the light and into the dark bedroom. I do not care WHY he is following me....I just know he is hot on my trail. And moving fast (almost as fast as I moved). It now looked like a very bad movie: the spider was back lit in the opened bathroom door (someone forgot to slam the door shut when she escaped the nasty spider's evil clutches the first time!) and he paused to locate his prey (this possibly was only my perception). He then proceeded to head straight for the bed. Did I mention racer spiders move very fast?

Luckily, Dave does move quickly in the morning, and he hopped out of bed and smashed the spider as it made it's final approach. Dave is my hero! And I will always check the back of my towel now before drying my face. I do feel a little bad about the spider's demise, but it was either him or me! One of us had to go... that bathroom ain't big enough for the both of us!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

And She Goes On and On and On...

Every once and a while, Babs jots some of her closest friends and family a “little”note that just goes on and on. I thought that I would paste sections from one of her notes on the blog (and add some pictures) so more of you could empathize with those folks that dutifully read these letters and then respond with encouraging words time after time.


Saturday night

Hi, all.

I will start this tonight, knowing that I will have to finish it tomorrow. Probably, as I write this, many of you are attending Frances’ funeral. Thinking about you all today...especially Al and Patty, Noel, and Shea. Frances was a special lady.  

It has been another very busy week. We are in the process of opening up the school to day students. We are going to accept children of employees first, into our kindergarten and new first grade class. We will add a new class every January, and that is how we will grow the school. The children have to fit certain criteria, like know certain things to qualify for kindergarten or first grade (numbers, colors, alphabet, shapes, etc.) so we are in a screening process. This morning we were supposed to interview about 8 children with parents. One child with her older sister showed up. Tomorrow afternoon, we are supposed to see three more children. I suspect we will be seeing the rest of the ones tomorrow, also, who did not show today. Your browser may not support display of this image.  

We received delivery of school uniforms for our kids this week, and then some of the uniforms had to be altered. It is bad when the necks are too small for the heads to get through the jumpers, and arm holes are too snug! We changed tailors again…third time: first guy could not deliver anything on time EVER, and the second guy delivered early, but his workmanship stunk! This last tailor delivered on time, and mostly his workmanship was good. Just need to get the neck holes and arm holes a little larger! 

Also, we recently received a delivery of school furniture for the new first grade class. Some of the desks rock 'n' roll a bit, and the tops of a couple of them are quite friendly (they wave), but all in all, for what craftsmanship is available here, it is good stuff.  Today, white boards and bulletins boards were delivered. The rooms are looking great.  

We do have a teacher problem. Like we do not have enough teachers! Miss Roberts retired after the December term was finished. So we have Ms. Rennie, a national teacher, and Julie McKeighen, our educational director. That is it for four classes right now. There is a fella who has applied that looks quite promising, but he needs to find a copy of his teaching degree. The war really messed up records here. Many records were destroyed. He thinks there might be a copy of his degree at his old homestead in Kakata (three hours away from here). Of course, he is not working, so he does not have income for a taxi to get to Kakata...

Anyways, I will be teaching the pre-kindergarten class for two hours every day this week. Hopefully, by the end of the week, another teacher will be in the works, and I can slip out of that role. It has been fun setting up the room, and getting materials organized, copying worksheets for the kids, planning learning activities...yeah, I know...I should have been a grade school teacher! So that is fun; however, I really do not have the time for this! There is a huge possibility that we might receive another child next week. And that takes a lot of time. I have to prep the mother, and dig up clothes, towels, bedding, shoes, etc., and then have to watch him for medical issues and just be around close by, as he adjusts to life here. And then of course, there's the paperwork...

Your browser may not support display of this image.He is 3 1/2 years old, and been orphaned for only two months. His dad died before he was born, and his mom died in November from malaria. This place will be a huge adjustment for him, as his uncle got him from deep in the bush, and he still just stands by the road in town to watch cars go by. It is a novelty to him. He is a cute guy, and pretty with it. He has never been to school, but knew several colors, and could count to five with a little prompting. I think his momma may have taught him as best she could. Momma was only 19 years old when she died. Dave and I made the jaunt inland to screen him, and take him for a medical exam. He only has an ear infection, some lung congestion, is malnourished and anemic...pretty healthy considering what we have been getting lately!


Ok, the latest news on our newest arrival. Timothy, age 22 months, was pretty sick when he came three weeks ago. He just finished his second round of antibiotics, and is feeling much better. So this is the big news:  he is walking...a lot. He decided yesterday to take some steps on his own, and then he decided that this beats crawling, and today he was walking every place he could! And always with a big grin! It is too cute! He laughs often; except this afternoon, he was ticked that he had to stay in his crib for rest time.

I think he thought he should be allowed to walk around the house while everyone else rested.  He was still pouting about it after rest time was over. I went to the palava hut to talk to his momma, and he was standing to one side, looking away from us. Ma told me that he was angry, and called his name. He turned his head toward us, but closed his eyes so he couldn't see us! Both Ma and I started to laugh, which he did not like either! But it was pretty funny! Yes, I think we may have a strong willed child here. That's ok; we like them with spunk! 

And, I saw three dead snakes on the road yesterday! Yikes! Yes, you are saying, "Well, Babs, at least they were dead" and I AM thankful for that fact! Except, what if they really were not dead, but only pretending, so they could grab on to our tire and flip themselves up into the undercarriage of our car, and sneak up to the front seat and attack my scantily clad feet (flipflops!)? Huh? Did you ever think of that?!? Because I have!   

Julie and I made a foray into the local market on the Firestone plantation this past week. As we were driving up (still some distance away, though), Julie remarks, "Oh, this is like Shipshewana!" I laughed! I have always wanted to go to Shipshewana, and almost did go once with Aunt Loretta when I visited her in Michigan, but I never got the impression that Shipshewana was ANYTHING like the Harbel outdoor market. After purchasing four pairs of used children's shoes, several yards of material, never locating shoe laces, having small children poke us in the butt to get our attention, arguing with two men over the price of a pair of kids' Nike's, and having a saleslady try to make us feel guilty for not buying shampoo from her, I think Julie might re-evaluate her comparison to this market and Shipshewana. I am not sure that it is even right to use "Shipshewana" and "Harbel market" in the same sentence.  

One day this week we entertained the Episcopalian bishop and her entourage. She is from NYC and was visiting Liberia for several days. The Episcopal Church donated the land here for this site, and they wanted her to see the facility. Nineteen people came for this visit. They almost outnumbered us. Julie made a nice program for the kids to present, and the kids sang and recited well.  As the visitors arrived at snack time, we had a yummy dessert ready and served them with the families. It was nice...many of the guests sat at tables with families and visited with them. Then they had the village tour.  

One of the ladies from NYC who was traveling with the bishop was in a wheel chair. Our kids were fascinated. Three year old Obadiah could not keep his eyes off of her. He was like in a trance! The kids had never seen a wheel chair before!  I guess when you think about it, where would they? So I asked her to talk about her chair and show it to the kids. She was great! Talked about how she gets around NYC with her motorized wheelchair (this one was a push one), and then she had her picture taken with the kids. When she was leaving, she gave Nehemiah a ride on her lap to the car. Great fun! The bishop was a nice lady, but her friend was the big hit as far as the kids go!

  We have been showing "The Sound of Music" after supper again this week. It is back by popular demand!  This is the fourth time we are showing this film since we began showing movies regularly to the kids (since last August). They love this movie...so do I! We all sing "Sound of Music" songs during the day (The mothers forbid singing during the movie! Rats!) It is fun to hear the kids singing "How do You Solve a Problem like Maria?" and "I am Sixteen, Going on Seventeen". Ben laughs before events happen, like when they all fall out of the boat? Ben starts laughing as soon as he sees the boat come into view. He loves movies! He really gets into the emotions...even of the cartoons we show. I love watching Ben. 

It is dry and dusty here right now. The road that goes past the village is dirt...red, silty dirt, and there are taxis and sand trucks that barrel along way too fast. The dust just billows up and drifts into our buildings. It is gross. Everything has a coating of fine, red dirt on it. I know that I can hardly believe I am saying this, but we need rain. It has been several weeks since we had a good shower. We are due. 

Dave has had several plumbing projects this week. He had two sinks leaking in the men's staff bathroom (there are only two sinks in the men's staff bathroom!). As he was working on them, the main sink in the kitchen began leaking so badly we had to shut that sink down. And then the shower in the woman's bathroom began leaking. Plumbing fixtures are junk here. Dave tries to replace things with a better quality junk, but it is difficult. He has a pretty good attitude about it (usually). "It is what it is." 

Well, I need to go! I have some lesson plans to study. Wow, can you tell I needed to chat? Thanks for letting me bend your ear (or eye, or whatever).  

Oh, one more thing...what have I learned about God this week? Well, He enables us beyond what we ever imagined we were capable of doing, and He is the "Great Stretcher Of Time", as we do not have enough time to do it all, but He somehow makes it all get done enough to keep this place afloat! Amazing!  

Have a great week. Missing you. This "conversation" would have been much more fun face to face.

Lots of Love, Babs