Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Saturday, 6 December 2008
Sunday, 30 November 2008
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Friday, 7 November 2008
I'm reporting from Ganta, a small city five hours' drive (or, more accurately, slalom) from Monrovia. Today and yesterday we've been assessing orphanages up here, introducing ourselves to the people and the problems they're facing.
We stayed the night at the Methodist compound, at a guesthouse tucked behind a beautiful, sleepy old stone church. Instantly you turn into the driveway, you feel the age of this place: the ancient palm trees in neat rows, the wide lawns, the sense of calm that comes of order not imposed but grown.
I woke up this morning feeling like I was back at camp, where I grew up: the stillness, the smell, thin pillows' happy ache. Only the dew was missing--despite the lovely chill that makes you want to journal in a big hoodie, it's never quite cold enough to produce dew.
I am truly blessed, and rarely have I been more keenly aware of it. Perhaps strangely to you, it's not working with destitution that reminds me of this--not nearly so much as the simpler things of the day, especially the sprawling quiet of an African dawn. The richness of experience even in routine--as long as I can keep my eyes open and my skin porous.
Because I'm with a short-term team from the States, I also have the benefit of seeing with fresh eyes things that have become normal for me. Last night after dinner we pushed our chairs back and got into hours of excellent dialogue about what we'd seen, about Liberia's outlook and the challenge of addressing not only the immediate physical needs of children, but the needs of the whole child. More and more it's not the poverty that breaks my heart -- mostly because 95% of people here are facing those biggest and most basic struggles -- but it's the de-individualization of children living in institutions; it's the lack of love and attention they receive; it's the lack of imagination and dreaming I see in them that hurts the most. And these things are infinitely more difficult to address than hunger, disease, education...
After you give a fish, teach fishing. Relief gives way to development. But after you hold a child, how do you leave him with love? How do we cultivate environments of love and holistic growth, throughout and after the emergencies? How do we encourage a mother of eighty children to raise up eighty individuals as she would in a family of five?
Saturday, 1 November 2008
Then took the other, as just as fair,
--"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, 1916
I often wonder about the other way, no more or less but altogether Other. We by nature long, I think, for that which we don't have--especially that, surely, which we've forfeit. I'm well aware and blisteringly grateful for what's in my hands, overflowing, and for the way I've chosen. (Well aware, that is, when grounded!) And I wonder too if the choice is permanent. I don't think it is, I think I could travel by that Other road, "Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubt... if I should ever..."
I'm fascinated these days with images of walking through life and the choices in frame of mind that make the difference between hiking and trudging, strolling and marching the days. I've found, as I'm sure have you, the only real companionship on the road, on the highways and byways, is God. This stage of life, I'm hiking for the edge of loneliness: a purposeful, shall we say energetic stride, but trying not to stare too hard at my feet; trying to enjoy the journey as if, as in cliché, the journey itself were the first destination.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
Saturday, 25 October 2008
- How are you doing? - "How the day?" (howda deh) - also "How's your body?" (howde bodeh). A casual greeting appropriate for strangers or family any time of day. Good responses include "Fine" (Fii) meaning great, "Not bad" (Noh bah) meaning pretty good, "I'm trying" (Ah tra-eeh) for not-so-great, or simply "Yeah" (yahhh) meaning I don't really know you but thanks for saying hi. For intermediate students, these three replies should end in '-O', for example "noh bah-O!" or "ah tra-eeh-O!". Other answers for the advanced student include "I thank God" (tank goh), or "I tell God 'thank you' for life" (Ah te goh tankyoo fo lii).
- I'll be right back. (or, Wait just a second)- "I'm coming" (Ah comii). While it would seem to mean the opposite, this is a polite way to excuse oneself in leaving, or to ask for your listener's patience while you get to your point the long way 'round. For the intermediate and advanced speaker, you should end with the rhetorical "yeah?" (Ah comiiYEEA?). This common suffix will be picked up later on in many other phrases as well.
Friday, 24 October 2008
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
When you think of coming down with pneumonia, you probably don't think it a plus. At least I don't. But for Gifty, my little stinker, it might be. After a one-day discharge last week, she's back in the hospital with a little pneumonia and a nasty cough. Despite that, her insatiable appetite is loving the regular doses of vitamin-enriched milk and the attention of a great pediatrician. I think she's still posting gradual weight gains even with the setbacks. Piko, her darling caretaker, tells me that she's been lively and playful lately as well. All good signs.
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
I've just started reading Donald Miller's follow-up to Blue Like Jazz, a much meatier but just as entertaining little collection called Searching for God Knows What. Sitting out on the porch this morning, the dawn full in my face, I couldn't help but quote whole sections of it into my journal. Great, sweet truthy bits like this one I just have to share. He's talking about how Biblical authors spontaneously break into poetry when the ideas get too big to be related by literal language. How we betray moments of truth, of love, of surpassing beauty by stabbing at them with our wimpy formulas and steps and bullet points:
If you ask me, the separation of truth from meaning is a dangerous game. I don't think memorizing ideas helps anybody understand the meaning inferred in the expression of those ideas. .... I wondered if when we take Christian theology out of the context of its narrative, when we ignore the poetry in which it is presented, when we turn it into formulas to help us achieve the American dream, we lose its meaning entirely, and the ideas become fodder for the head but have no impact on the way we live our lives or think about God. This is, perhaps, why people are so hostile toward religion. (57-59)The poetry isn't just the vehicle but is intrinsic to the meaning. I love it, and I dare you to disagree: Do you remember the story, or do you remember your Grandpa's voice and smell and the twinkle in his eye as he told it? Which was the more important?
The fundamental truths are simple. Really, really simple. But they're also extraordinarily difficult, and please don't try and make them simple. I plan on working them out for the rest of my life.
Saturday, 11 October 2008
Me: "Everybody ok?"
Jen: "Yeah, I just had to give the bus driver $25 to fix his bumper. I was going really slowly."
Me: "Ok, I'll be right there."
Jen: "Actually you can't... The whole road is closed for a soccer game."
Me: "Cramer, can you take me down to the junction on Matt's bike?"
Cramer: "Can I shower first?"
Me: "No...Jen just got in an accident."
Jen: "The policeman's still got my license."
Me: "Yeah ello, Sa."
Cop: "Yeah ello. Everyting fine, I took good care."
Me: "Yeah, thank you for taking care of ma people. The man gone?"
Cop: "The man gone, everyting fine. Only the police left now."
Me: "Ah, I see. So how the day? Big game, uh?"
Cop: "Yeah, Liberia versus Tunisia. So how best can we do?"
Me: "You have her license?"
Cop: "I got it right here."
Me: "Can I have it?"
Cop: "Yeah, here it is. So how best can we do something here?"
Me: "Let me ask you, the Liberian license, is there still some delay? Because the police can hammock me for no license, but I hear you can't even get one..."
Cop: "Big delay. American license is fine, fine. No problem."
Me: "Aha, good to know. Well, thank you sa. I will see you again."
Cop: "Ok, any time. I'm on the ground."
Jen: "How much did you give him?"
Just another day of T.I.A. moments -- dancing instead of bribing, thanking God that no one gets hurt when the brakes go out. Always fixing something... :D
Friday, 3 October 2008
Debbie's arriving today, the final piece in our amazing team. Looking forward to having her here with us, not only because she's hilarious but because we've been running into many medical questions lately and we need our expert nurse on the ground.
Newsletter's almost done. Photos to come, I promise. Sorry I've been so bad at posting pictures this time around. I'll make it up to all y'all, just you wait...
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Since meeting my little friend Gifty, I've had to wrestle through a lot of things I'd never dealt with before. For one, she's made me more paternal than I've ever felt, even when my nieces were tiny. And just as I was starting to feel really uncomfortably fatherly with this little tiny fragile ball of awesome in my arms, the doctor (a very sweet Spanish paediatrician named Elena) told me she's not going to make it. She needs a new liver, and that "just doesn't happen here."
I can tell you that any reservations I had about adoption as a partial solution to the global orphan crisis were summarily squished in that moment. I wanted her to be adopted almost as much as I wanted to adopt her myself.
While I never would have thought it possible, especially given Liberia's moratorium on adoptions, doors have been opening at every turn for little Gifty: a wonderful family has come forward that wants to give her a loving new home in the U.S., the Liberian government has said they'll do everything they can to speed her way, and with a few more doors opened (mostly at the U.S. embassy), she could be Home in time for Christmas. Then, of course, it's onto the transplant list and even if she makes a full recovery she's got a long road ahead.
For now, my hope for her has found friends in circumstances, coincidences, minor miracles. For now, she's getting a little bit fatter, a little bit feistier each day. For now, my hard little heart is a little softer for witnessing all this.
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Well today I was told that no, it's not September 15th but October 15th that rainy season ends. I thought it was safe to come back. I was wrong, apparently: this morning the rain started at 7 and by 9 there was over two inches flooding the entire yard... Doesn't help the motivational level, let me tell you...
Saturday, 27 September 2008
This is Gifty, my little prize fighter, with Piko as we transfered her from one hospital to another (also run by the excellent staff of MSF) closer to us. Since beginning treatment, her eyes have whitened considerably and her abdomen has shrunk, but she's still just over 11 lbs. at 14 months. The diagnosis is that her liver isn't working, a condition from birth that, at this point, would require a transplant to fix.
I've been spending a lot of time with Gifty this week, arranging caretakers, talking to MDs and PAs, and best of all just pacing the halls with her in my arms. I've never known a baby with such spirit before, which makes her prognosis all the harder to take. It's been a real joy to intercede for her and advocate for her, as the closest thing she has to a parent.
Please be praying with me for Gifty: for continued improvement of her immediate condition; for relocation upon discharge to a better home; and for wisdom in seeking a long-term answer for her condition.
I've tried importing the entries from my other, but it doesn't seem to be working too well, so for now at least, you can visit the old site if for some reason you want to stalk me into the past.