Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Starting to Look A Lot like Christmas

What makes Christmas for you? Is it the music, or the shopping, or decorations, or parties, or cookies, or the special Sunday school program? Here, we have it all!
"O Come, All Ye Faithful" is belted out in music class by the first graders, and the dining hall is quite festive with the Christmas tree and paper garland draped from the ceiling. It is the end of school, so there will be a special program for the parents of the day students with lots and lots of cookies. The average Liberian does not get to eat cookies ever, so our homemade treats are a big hit!  Oh, I guess the biggest thing missing here is shopping. Dave would say that is certainly not a big loss, but one of us is feeling slightly retail deprived.

Is it the weather that makes it feel like Christmas...snow or overcast days with rain or fog? OK, we do not do well in the weather category. It is hot, and mostly sunny and dry, with the occasional thunderstorm thrown in every few days. The humidity is high, so it is sultry and steamy. Not a mitten or scarf in sight! No. It does not feel much like Christmas.
Is it the gifts that you enjoy about Christmas? The children have been making Christmas presents at school for their mothers. Fingers slathered with paint. Glitter, glue, crayons all working their magic into wonderful cards. Amazing creations out of paper and wood and ribbon. Excitement and enthusiasm for the special projects crafted with maybe more love and enthusiasm than talent. Gifts wrapped in hand decorated paper. It is a time for secrets and smiles.

Is it time spent with family and friends that make the days special for you? We miss our family very much during the holidays. This is our fifth Christmas away from home, and it is no easier this year to be far from those we love most. But we are surrounded by sixty five children and forty two employees, so we are certainly not alone!  And it is a busy time, so the days fly by. Accumulating and wrapping gifts for the kids takes many hours, and special meals and treats must be planned and organized. As children make gifts, we help supervise craft making and we clean up a lot of paint. Christmas Day itself will be full of activities and special food, and as it will be a skeleton work crew, we will help the kitchen staff that day.

One thing that makes it seem like the holidays here are the Christmas birds. White cranes arrive early in December, and their appearance officially marks the beginning of the holiday season. When the first Christmas bird was sighted around the seventh of December, there was much excitement on the village. Christmas was coming!
Another activity that marks Christmas for us is the Annual Traveling Christmas Pageant. A few days before Christmas, the children perform the story of Jesus' birth to the neighboring villages. It is a fun event, with angels, soldiers, shepherds, innkeepers, magi, and prophets making the trek through the sand with Mary and Joseph. Dress rehearsal this week went well. Shining angels smiled and the wise men sang their solos beautifully. Mary dropped Jesus, but quickly scooped him up and held him close. 

We hope that whatever makes the season special for you will be present in your celebrations. But mostly, we pray that King Jesus will be in all your celebrations. No matter what the weather is like, nor how many miles separate us from loved ones, or no matter how "unChristmasy" it feels, none of these things change the facts:  Jesus was born;  He walked this earth; He died for us.  Wow. What a Savior!   

Merry Christmas!
Love, Dave and Babs

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I have tried to be a good sport about the unusual and various creepy things that live in this country. For example, when the green mamba came into our house and slid under MY side of the computer desk, did I immediately yell and scream and write a nasty blog about it?  OK, maybe I screamed a little, but I did not write about it.  And when the guards finally killed the black cobra which resided under the container, I was rather calm and level-headed about the whole incident. (The guards ate it, by the way!  Ick.)

When fire ants attacked my feet, I was careful about which words I uttered (children were listening!). When another green mamba climbed up on the window sill of the supply cottage, I remained relatively sane and collected (children were watching!). And even the giant cockroach that nonchalantly sauntered out of the laundry room did not phase me. Nor did the gnarly-looking beetle that Dave stepped on in the driveway. A bat in the dining hall? I was a model of peace and tranquility. See? I have come a long way in my tolerance of creepy things.

But yesterday's incident was too much. I met Ratatouille.

We knew that we had a rat problem in the kitchen (don't ask how we knew), so Dave set out super-duper strength rat poison. And this guy had definitely found it. I came into the kitchen at 7:00 am, happy and cheerful (like always!). I greeted the kitchen crew, and went over to the medicine box on the counter (like always). The kitchen crew was watching me closely. As I opened the box to drop in my keys, I glanced to my left, and there, two feet away, on the counter, within arm's reach, was a nasty, large, hairy rat, gazing at me with his beady little eyes.  This rat was particularly ugly, as far as rats go. I screamed.  And rightfully so. I had been set up by the kitchen crew. They knew Ratty was there and they thought it was hilarious that I kind of freaked. 

Due to the super-duper poison, Ratatouille was in no shape to move, but he could roll his head back and forth, like he was trying to intimidate me. And it worked. I screamed again and ran. I called my big, strong, hunky husband to come and take care of dying rat. He called the security guards to come and take care of dying rat. (So much for visions of hunky husband riding in to save me!) The kitchen crew was still laughing when the guards took Ratty away. And guards Peter and Alphonso are my new heroes (Humph! Too bad, hunky husband!).

My heart finally calmed down, and the kitchen crew sanitized all counters, and life went back to normal. Except that my exceptionally loyal kitchen staff told and re-told the story of me and Ratatouille all day, to everyone and anyone that would listen.  I suspect that I also was the hilarious story told over many cook fires last night. No problem. Just between you and me, the kitchen staff might not be getting a holiday bonus this year!

Wishing you a great rat-free day!
love, Babs
(No Christmas presents in the stockings of these gals this year!)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Before children can come in to the village to live, certain requirements must be met. For example, they must be true orphans, or abandoned children, or vulnerable children who have been made wards of the government. Another requirement is that they must be free of communicable diseases (as any orphanage can become a hotbed of illness very quickly), and there are some age requirements.

We here in Liberia have added another requirement to the list: they must be cute!  We believe that we have some of the best looking kids in Liberia living at this village. Maybe the best looking in the whole of Africa! It's quite possible.  Here are some pictures of a few of the little girls, hamming it up for the camera.  They are just cute! Wouldn't you agree?  Now, if only they would always act as sweet as they look...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shop Class 101

            Take six boys, three broken fans, six screwdrivers, two pliers, and one rainy afternoon. A recipe for a good time!  With Dave supervising, the boys dismantled the fans into piles of screws, cotter pins,and various pieces of metal.  Dave showed the boys the difference between a Phillips and flat head screwdriver, and he demonstrated the correct technique to use a socket wrench.  An interesting, educational afternoon for the boys and a fun time for Dave.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Public Service Announcements

Public service announcements here come with pictures, as there is a large percentage of the population that is unable to read. Here are some public service messages that were painted on the walls of a large medical clinic.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

We Have Talent

We had the first ever Village Talent Show last month. Heidi and Joanie (our mini missionaries who were here for the month of June) helped the mamas of every cottage organize some sort of talent (OK, maybe "entertainment" is the better word, as "talent" might be too strong a term for what actually occurred!).
The evening began with a info-mercial, where Mr. Veneman's early morning beauty routine was explained. Basically, this skit consisted of Babs sitting behind Dave and mashing toothpaste and cereal into his face! This was enjoyed by pretty much everyone but Dave. Next on the program was a rousing rendition of  "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" sung by a group of boys. They changed the whole flavor of the song by singing it slowly and almost with a funeral dirge-type feel to it!  No one smiled, and it was the most serious rendition of "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" that one could ever hope to hear. 

Next, a cottage of girls put on sunglasses and sang the song  "Lollipop, Lollipop". Several of the lollipop girls really enjoyed the choreography and danced their hearts out! It was very fun. Many children recited Bible verses, and some cottages said their Bibles verses in unison. One older girl led her sisters in a church choir type song, which was nicely done, and another group of young girls sang some Ghanaian songs taught to them by their mama.  Mama had lived in Ghana during the war, and while she was there, she learned some children's songs with motions.

A group of marching boys robustly sang "Seventy Six Trombones" and Heidi and Joanie lip synced the song "I Can Do Anything Better Than You".  All the kids did a nice job of displaying their "talent" and there was only one case of serious stage fright. We are pretty certain that little Patience will not be a contestant on "American Idol" any time soon.

 We have pronounced the Talent Show a success, and we have proclaimed it to be an annual event! Yes, Liberia has talent.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hip, Hip, Hooray!

It seems that at the beginning of the rains, we often get snake sightings. This year has been no different, with a small black cobra sitting on the school steps, a green mamba at the clinic sidewalk, and several garden snakes here and there. One snake in particular caused a commotion as it decided to visit a palaver hut that was full of children. Heidi Hollander (our niece who is helping for the month of June) accidentally kicked the snake as it stealthily sneaked along the brick walkway. It was an exhilarating moment for Heidi! But Mama Rebecca was all over the situation.
Here is an epic of this magnificent feat of courageous valor.


Here is a story of a woman so brave;
Her courage and daring are remembered this day.        
She risked her life to save those all around;
Thought not of self as she went into the fray.

A calm, normal morn it began with all unawares
that evil and treachery were nigh underfoot.                                                                                
A simple misstep and a snake in the air,
and so the conflict Rebecca undertook.

Bea jumped on a bench, Makatee screamed.
There was shouting, yelling, arms all a’frattle;                                                  
But with calmness, speed, agility, and poise,
Rebecca scooped up her broom and stepped in to do battle.

She danced and twirled and beguiled that snake.
Her speed was incredible; her aim straight and true.                         
A hit, a nudge, a sweep of the broom;
The snake struggled no more, the battle was through.

We hail thee, Rebecca; our hero for good.
With no thought for self, you saved us from tears!
You will be remembered as A Great Snake Killer!
And so it is to you that we give a rousing Three Cheers!

Hip, Hip, Hooray for Mama Rebecca!
By the way, Dave and I have very different recollections on the length of that snake!  Dave might need new contacts.  Hope you all have a "Rebecca" on your side today!  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Just when you thought is was safe to go out at night...

I have put up with a lot of disgusting things here. Like sneaky snakes and monster spiders and cruel ants and R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size). But this latest creature is just too much! A large boa constrictor has been sighted on our property! Up in the area I fondly refer to as "JungleLand", a guard spotted a large boa slithering under the fence. It was about fifteen feet long (or maybe it was twelve feet long. The guard was a little rattled. I do not care! Fifteen feet, twelve feet...anything longer than, say, two inches, is too long for me!)
Am I the only one who saw the "Harry Potter" movies? Big snakes are problems! And what about the classic movie "Anaconda"...or "Clash of the Titans"? Actually, I am not sure if there was a big snake in "Clash of the Titans", but it looked like a possiblity because of the trailers I saw.  Anyways, regular sized snakes are scary. And big snakes are really scary.
Of course, Dave's response was totally different than mine. When we were told of the boa, I screamed, I jumped up on the sofa, I might have's all a blur. Dave grabbed the camera and headed to "JungleLand". He did not find it, but he has assured me it will be back. Fabulous.
Now, as I move around the compound, especially in the evening, every little thing spooks me. I am a mess. Jumpy, jumpy, jumpy. Dave thinks it is funny, but I am not amused. Neither is my sofa.
We will keep you posted about the boa. If Dave gets a picture of it slowly squeezing me 'til I lose consciousness, he will post it. If I get a picture of it trying to swallow Dave, I will post it.
And the adventure continues...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Grow Dirt: $800; Competent Truck Driver: Priceless!

It seem such a simple thing: just deliver ten loads of "grow dirt" to the village. We needed some good top soil in order to begin some serious vegetable gardens. The village is situated on a sand hill, and that stuff will hardly grow anything! We have NEVER had so many crop failures as since we came to Liberia! As farmers, it has been a bit demoralizing. And quite humbling! We needed some good soil.

So a dump truck was hired to bring in the dirt.

At 4:30 pm, after the ninth load, the driver got in a hurry. He left his dump box up as he started to leave the village to get load number ten. And he snagged the electrical lines overhead. As cables do not stretch, this small little error resulted in six electrical poles being pulled over, and one pole snapped off at the base. And of course, no power for the village! The truck driver hopped out of his cab and walked up to Dave. "Bad luck, bad luck," he kept saying. That was not really what was going through Dave's mind right then!

For the next five hours, Dave pulled electrical poles up straight with the Land Cruiser and propped them with boards. In the dark night, he climbed ladders, untangled cables, and spliced wires. He managed to restore power to the dining hall/kitchen at 9:30pm. The frozen fish in the freezer spurred him on!

Two days later, he was able to restore power to the cottages. The mamas thanked him that their ceiling fans worked again. Dave is officially the village hero!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Children + Water = Fun

This past week has been busy (again)! We had two holidays, back to back, so we had to plan special activities to keep fifty six children occupied. Oh, boy!

Wednesday was Decoration Day. It is sort of like the U.S. Memorial Day, as Liberians honor their dead relatives. The day is a family day, with extended family members gathering at burial plots for weeding and painting the tombs and remembering.

We used the day to walk to the beach. It seems that every time we go, we have a few children who have not been at the village very long, and they have never before seen the ocean up close. For some children, seeing the ocean for the first time is kind of scary! But it does not take too long and they are enjoying the outing like all the others. Sticking toes in the cool water, chasing sand crabs (somehow, Caleb always manages to catch one!), building sand castles, and scouring the beach for the "perfect" shell are great ways to enjoy a holiday from school.





The ocean was beautiful. Some local fishermen in dugout canoes bobbed on the water just beyond the breaking waves. Birds dove into the surf looking to score lunch. We met a village employee carrying two nice fish. He HAD scored lunch and he was on his way home to cook it!
The walk back to the village was on a dirt path through an area that is overgrown and jungle-like. The kids saw a herd of goats, some guard dogs, and many kinds of birds. It was a fun day for a beach walk.

Thursday was J.J. Robert's Birthday. Good ol' J.J. was a past president of Liberia. To celebrate his day, we had Pool Day. The blow-up pools were set up and filled via several garden hoses. Good natured water fights occurred; "holding one's breath underwater" contests were held in some pools; some serious "swimming" was attempted; the biggest splash-makers were noted; more water fights ensued. A small football was tossed from pool to pool, and little George (age two years) spent his time trying to empty a pool, one cupful of water at a time. Yes, children + water = much fun!











Wishing you a splashing good day!

---Dave & Babs

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Not Your Ordinary Construction Site

A new school building is being built at the village. There are many things that one doesn't normally see at a bulding site here. Like the homemade ladders, and the septic tank that was dug and formed six weeks ago, but never has had a lid built yet (it is empty, but it is also an eight foot drop for the unsuspecting person walking at night!).

And then there is the monkey. He is a pet of one of the construction workers so he is on a leash. The kindergarten teacher asked to have the monkey moved to another place on the site, as her class (easily distracted anyways!) had a difficult time ignoring the chattering creature next to their windows. I am not a big fan of the primates, and this guy is not a big fan of white women, so we both try to pretend the other one does not exist. So far, it is working.

But the most interesting item so far on this building site was the bomb. It was discovered as the guys were digging a trench between the new and the existing school buildings. Someone's shovel hit something hard. Looking closer, it was an 81 mm. mortar shell. They tossed it out of the trench, onto the sand. Dave gingerly carried it away from people and buildings and he called the U.N. authorities.

Someone immediately came out to make a report. ("Found: one bomb.") We were told to make sure that it was in a secured place so our neighbors could not take it away. Apparently, this is a real problem with unexploded ordinances. People are unaware of the danger, and take them home.

The next day, several trucks and an ambulance pulled through the gate. The U.N. personnel were Pakastini explosive experts. (I think there might be a joke here...) Soldiers with rifles stepped into place around the perimeter of the area. The shell was moved into the jungle behind the construction site. There was some discussion; sandbags were brought in; wire was laid out into the jungle; there was more discussion; we were all told to move back; a loud whistle blew; and finally a large explosion. It was rather impressive. The blast threw rocks, dirt, and leaves onto the roof of the new school building. We silly Americans applauded the Pakastanis, who smiled back at us silly Americans. The crater in the jungle was about eight feet in diameter and trees surrounding the hole were scarred.

And now all the boys here at the village have a new goal: to become Pakastini explosive experts! What's not to like about a job like that? Bombs, playing with matches, loud explosions! A truly great occupation.

Wishing you a nice, quiet day.