Thursday, 30 October 2008


Whenever I travel back to Canada and the States, a lot of folks inevitably ask, "Is" (To which I laughingly reply, "Yes -- safer than here, at least!") But the other day I was wondering about how war ever began in this country of peaceable, smiling people. Who it is that begins a war, and what are the early days of a conflict like? The scars of war are everywhere here, still. Every single lamp post is riddled with holes, most buildings have shell holes painted over. Even our house has a couple of bullet holes, but it seems far away, long forgotten. We speak of the "three world wars" making up Liberia's 14-year conflict with a kind of textbook-like objectivity.

This morning, however, there was a rumour of war on the other side of the city. There have been no rumours before today, no sense of discontent, no announcements of groups forming against the government. So where on earth does a rumour like this come from? The biggest disturbance this country has seen in two years has been a labour dispute at the UN. Who would start a war here? The powerful elect, that's who: those making six figures but not seven in a country where teachers and civil servants make $50 per month.

Of course this morning's panic was just a mix-up -- the Drug Enforcement Agency destroying confiscated dope apparently sounded like gunfire -- but it so quickly becomes "War!" as word-of-mouth quickly exaggerates. My heart sinks a little to see my Liberian friends revert. The old fear -- and curiosity -- return quickly, the dual instinct to run away and toward. Common sense is the first casualty of any conflict, I imagine, as it becomes every man for himself. 

I pray that the majority prevails in Liberia, that a handful of the arrogant rich don't ever again stir to conflict the good and simple common man. To me this is the most urgent reason to close the poverty gap, not between Africa and the West, but within African nations as they develop.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Liberian Dictionary, Vol. I

Liberian English (pronounced "englitch") is not nearly so complex as some would have you believe. Over the next few weeks, I'll be your humble tour guide as we navigate Liberianese together. Just follow along with me, speaking the words out loud in your cubicles and dropping the phrases into conversations at the water cooler.

Words are translated into American in quotes, with phonetic pronunciations in italics.

Introductions and Polite Conversation
  • 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

Breaking. Properly.

We're always talking in soft tones about being broken, living a broken life. Heady stuff. That's another post altogether: this one's about surfing. Most of you don't care about surfing, I realize -- probably the only of you who do care were with me this morning...but nonetheless:

I woke up at 4:45 this morning -- and before I go any further, can anyone tell me why, no matter what hour I set it for, I invariably wake up fifteen minutes before my alarm goes off?? And for a bonus point why, if ever I choose to rely on my internal clock, I sleep till ten?? So anyway, I get up early (I love making coffee while it's still dark out -- reminds me of snowplowing in Canada), and a few of us drive downtown to Poopie Point. I've put off going for...well, over a year. First because of the stories of stepping over "inuukshuks" and then paddling past, um, floaters. Then I missed a bunch of opportunities simply because I was lazy--and hey, it's five in the morning, can you blame me?

But MAN, today was perfect. Today's going to make going back to the old beach breaks really awful. I rode only a few -- I should've gotten into way more -- but to ride so LONG. Ah. To finally know what it's supposed to feel like. Brilliant. And then to stay in for so long! Normally I get tired or bored or sore after 45 minutes on a beach break. We were in the water for three hours this morning. It was ridiculous.

The moral of the story? Well, I never thought surfing was worth navigating a Poopy Beach (that's actually what it's called); I never thought surfing was worth getting up at five a.m. to risk a secod bout with e.Coli ....but I'd never ridden a proper break, either. :)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


the days are getting so much better.

each time i make that choice
          to laugh, not shout,
          to breathe, not bite,
          to rearrange perspective,
life gets quantifiably better.

each time i choose my mood.

each time i remember to pray.

each time gratitude shines on me
          for where i get to be,
          what i get to do,
          who i get to walk with--
                    these are all unearned gifts.
and when loneliness comes,
when doubt comes sulking with it,
it's my choice again to trust.
it's my choice again to relax, engage, dig in
          to this wild time, short or long.

and the days are getting so much better.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

One step backward, two steps forward

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. 

I went to see her this morning, and was delighted when she refused to be held by anyone but me. (Sorry, Deb. Point: Tyler.)

On the adoption front, we're moving ahead with one of the several families that have offered to adopt Gifty. They're lovely people and have almost all of their paperwork up-to-date, meaning that as long as the embassy cooperates, Gifty should be home before Christmas. I hesitate to say that out loud, but that's my prayer...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

simple vs. easy

I'm a sucker for profundities, always have been. I like idiomatic truths; I love it when people can sum up big things in simple language. About a month ago a teacher of mine revealed that simple does not equal easy -- that the big ideas are simple yet difficult. Isn't that true: our most sublime truths can be understood in a moment yet take a lifetime of study to grasp.

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

Rubber Ducky, you're the one...

Jen: "I'm at the junction. I just got in an accident -- the brakes went out completely!"
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?"
Me: "Nothing."

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

Oh the irony...

...of a nasty head cold in the heat of Liberia. How this is even possible when I'm sweating 22 hours out of every day, I'll never know. But this morning I'm almost through it...

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

Open doors

This time last year, I only knew a couple of families who'd adopted kids from overseas. Adoption was a strange word and a foreign concept that happens 'out there'. Now it seems I keep in more constant contact with friends I've never met, adoptive families from all over the place. How this came about I have no idea, but this past week I've seen amazing fruit come of these distanced friendships.
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.