Sunday, 26 April 2009

Lowest of the low v. The least of these

"Why did you bring us here?! These people don't have any money--why'd you bring us here?!"

This is what the one armed robber said to the other as they tore up an orphanage just a couple of days ago, threatening the matron and older kids. The matron's reply: she chastised them boldly like boys:

"What kind of place do you think I'm running here? I sell cool water. Maybe I make a thousand a day [US$15]. I put 600 in the generator and 200 for plastic bags. You want the other two hundred?! Take it!"

That's about three bucks. Who steals three dollars from orphans?

It's tempting to say, That's Africa. It's tempting to think Liberia's sliding backward. At least that this generation is seriously messed up. But I think it's (sadly) a little more universal than that -- that the most vulnerable people are robbed or abused or forgotten on a daily basis, no matter the country.

The important thing is, everyone's okay, no one got hurt. And I hope that word goes around the criminal community that--surprise!--orphanages aren't a good take.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


(Just found this new-to-me poem, "Birches", in a book of Robert Frost borrowed from a friend. Beautiful. Enjoy.)

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Liberian Dictionary, Vol. 2

Alright, you've had plenty of time to practice the day-to-day basics of Liberian English. Time to graduate on to useful phrases. (And by all means, if you have any requests, email me and I'll come up with the Liberianism...)

To start with, here are some easy, common ones:
"Monkey jam, eat pepper." (You gotta do what you gotta do.)
"Through crab, crayfish drink water." (Corruption Friendship
has got to filter down and spread around.)
"Your delay is not your denial!" (There's always tomorrow.)
"When elephants fight, it's the grass suffers that suffers."

Then there are the catchy but not-so-useful taxi bumper slogans...
"Poor no friend", "Simple mistake, you out!", and "Take time with my living".

Serious bonus points for the person who can tell me what "7-11 Chicken Egg" means. That was a mystery for a lonnnng time...

Next week: text messaging!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Happy Easter!

Woke up this morning to a fiery red sun dancing in the palm tree and barbed wire outside my window. Not so strange--my morning routine of coffee at dawn with Bible and journal is perhaps my most treasured possession!--but there was no snooze button this morning. I jumped out of bed, leapt at the thought of what today stands for--this whole day, I've been dancing within and without, celebrating with wild variety the empty tomb. Going to have to be point form, because it was THAT GOOD!
  • A traditional service complete with hymns and white gloves -- but still African at FOUR HOURS LONG!
  • An enormous meal of down-home cookin': Mariel's roast chicken, rolls and stuffing by Ashley, roast potatoes by yours truly, Christy's pineapple casserole (!), with a death-by-chocolate fudge cake and ice cream to top it all off! (Who says you need tryptophan to enter an Easter coma?!)
  • My inaugural round of Catch Phrase -- stressful!
  • A long evening splash in C's pool, complete with watching that fiery red sun set through palm trees, just like it came up.
  • A hot shower. (If you don't know, this is a bi-monthly extravagance at best -- HEAVEN!)
And so I hope you've had a wonderful Easter as well, full of family and food and good times. I hope Spring is brightening around you, wherever you are. Life is indeed rich.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Camping in the rainforest

Last weekend I and a few friends had the great privilege of camping and hiking in the second-largest patch of primary rainforest in West Africa. Our guides were wonderful, and taught us to call antelope, follow elephants, track and ambush poachers, and of course the finer points of machete slashing.

It was absolutely stunning, even the 11-hour drive each way. See the rest of the photos here. Happy Easter!

[Ed. 4/11: For the narrative account including coordinates, see John's blog post.]