Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do You Know the Way to Sanniquellie?

We met Tony about three weeks ago. He had called us after hearing about the work done here. Tony works for a NGO that works in remote areas of Liberia. His organization works to prevent child abuse, promote education, and they set up day care facilities for children while the parents are out working on the farm. Tony is focused on their objectives, but like us, he sees so much more that needs to be done. Tony is a concerned Liberian with a heart for his people. In the town where they have set up office, there are many orphaned children. The road that leads there is very rough. When there are medical emergencies, there is no way to get people out to a hospital quickly. Many women (and babies) die during childbirth.

While Tony was working on his office in February, a young lady with a three month old child came up to Tony, asking for money. She offered to clean his office, haul water, or cook for him; anything to try to earn a little money to buy food for her and her baby. Every time she would pass by, she would talk with Tony and proudly show off her baby. Tony would give her a little money from time to time.

In March, Tony heard of a girl who had been bitten by a snake on her way back from the farm. She had died within hours of being bitten. Later, Tony discovered it was the same girl who had stopped by to talk to him on many occasions. Now, her baby daughter was another orphan added to the thousands of orphans in this country. Tony began looking for someone that could take care of this child. Who would be this child's advocate and caretaker? How would this child grow up well and healthy in a place where everyone had too many children of their own to sustain? Tony went looking for someone who would be the answer to these questions and he was pointed in our direction.

After meeting with Tony, Dave asked Babs how she would feel about driving six hours to go see this child , and what day would work to make a trip up there. The baby was located in the most northeastern point of Liberia, close to the Ivory Coast border. Monday would not work: the kitchen was out of rice and powdered milk, so a grocery run was needed. Tuesday was out, as there were physicals scheduled on three prospective new children from Monrovia. Wednesday was not going to work as generator oil needed changing plus a myriad of other items needed attention. O.K., Thursday was the day.

However, Thursday morning everyone at the village had "important"needs that needed to be dealt with, and so it was 10:30 am before we were going down the road. Not a problem; even if it took us seven hours, we would be there by dark.

We picked up Tony up at his office in Gbarnga, which looked about half way on the map. We had been traveling for four hours. As soon as we left Gbarnga, the roads deteriorated considerable. When we got through a town called Sanniquellie, it was getting dark. Not a good thing. We had been traveling a total of seven hours now.

An hour later, it was very dark and we were on a road that had an unspoken speed limit of 5-10 mph. Rocks, crevices, mud holes, narrow wood bridges, oh my. After going through mud hole after mud hole, one can get a little complacent, and then you drop into one where the muddy water rolls over the top of the hood. That wakes you up! At this point, Dave was not asking Tony how much further, because he had heard "about one more hour to go" several hours ago. When we went through areas where the brush had completely covered the road overhead, it seemed as though the head lights dimmed as the light was soaked up in the darkness. The noise of the crickets, frogs, and multitude of various other insects and creatures became so loud, we found ourselves talking louder in the car to be heard over the noise. Babs was sure she heard raptors in the distance, and she kept waiting for a T-Rex to appear. (Did anyone else see "Jurassic Park"? ) About this time, Babs asked Tony if he is sure we are on the correct road. Tony replied to Babs, "I told you it was far". Dave just kept driving.



When we reached the village where Tony's regional office was located, it was well after 8pm. We were given a lighted room with a mattress on the floor. To Babs' chagrin, the latrine was about seventy five yards away from the house. We were given hot water in a bucket for a bath that was much welcomed after ten hours on the road. (What happened to six hours!?!) We were informed that the generator would go off after 11pm.

While sitting in the yard of Tony's office, some brave girls sneaked up to our circle of chairs to get a closer look at the white people. They brought their bench and sat nearby. They were scared of us. It was explained that they had seen white men before but had never seen a white woman (and now one with red hair!) After a while, Dave motioned for one of the little girls to come over to him. The three older ones pushed the youngest out front; she advanced toward him with great caution until she got within an arm's reach. Dave pulled her onto his lap. After a few minutes she relaxed and fell asleep. Now the other girls were envious.

The next morning we were up at seven. Bath water had once again been prepared. Dave had to escort Babs to the latrine. After he got her there, he thought his work was done so Dave returned to the circle of chairs where many of the world's problems had been solved the night before, only to find out that Babs was having trouble with the latch on the bathroom. Walking back to the latrine to fix this door problem, Babs pointed out to Dave that the whole village was watching. That Babs exaggerates so! Except, sure enough! the whole village had lined up their chairs and benches to face the yard where the white people were staying. Dave told Babs she better make it work this time or all of northeastern Liberia would think that white women had problems going to the bathroom!

By 8:30 am we were doing child assessments with the town officials looking on. One place we visited is one of the oldest missions in the country. It was built over a hundred years ago. This was a very beautiful site with houses and a school that had been built well, but now suffered from years of neglect. We saw several needy children. By 11 am, we were done doing assessments and bouncing our way back to Monrovia.




Back through the water, dust, sludge, rock, ruts and pot holes. A nine hour trip home (NOT six hours!). The next day our bodies reminded us that sitting in the same seat for nine bone jarring hours is not easy. Then there is the thought of the paper work, and hassles of getting good medical exams on the children, and then more paperwork.... If we pursue these children, it will mean at least two more trips to this village, and the adventure aspect will diminish expediently with each trip.

But the lives of children are at stake here so we will try to make time for this adventure again, soon. We just feel bad for our car. It needs some work before we can do the next trip. It, too, is not as young as it once was!

Dave & Babs