Monday, November 23, 2009

Parting Shots

Weather: Hot, hazy and humid, although the evening haze coupled with an occasional northern breeze suggests an early Harmattan. Otherwise, daytime temps in the mid 90sF (mid 30sC) and lows at night around 80. In the house, it rarely gets below 85F at night, and last night we lost power so-- no fans! Mid day breezes mostly out of the SW at around 10MPH. The breezes die down at night now.

A Few More Images from The Coast of Ivory

Renita is home after visiting our western neighbors for a couple weeks. Its good to have her back with us. I said last week she had a successful time. She strengthened new relationships and enjoyed her longstanding friendships with others. She came up with a few more pictures, and even a couple of her spirit-and-body numbing night motorbike ride through the back roads of Liberia.

Cote d'Ivoire's 18 Mountains Region, around Danane'. These roads are the main arteries connecting village to town, town to city. In the Northwest region, they are dusty in the dry season, an often impassable in the rainy season.

Some roads, which the locals know so well, are barely wide enough for a single vehicle to pass.

Nice evening shot of one of ACLCP's demonstration farms. Farmers come from all around for training in better methods for a variety of crops and livestock-- including snails and large rodents called grasscutters.

In the neighborhood, boys pounding something. Where's mom? Daily life in West Africa.

The roads never let you rest. While you are trying to enjoy the sights, the jarring and rattling never stops. A trip of more than an hour becomes something of an ordeal.
You never know what you'll face coming the other way. These guys almost didn't make it. Simple physics: the higher you stack the truck, the higher the center of gravity, and the easier it is to tip. Note the guy up top leaning with his arms to his right. He'd be much more helpful if he jumped off.

Much of Renita's travels around Danane was in the back of a pickup truck.

It afforded her some over-the-side shots. This wall becomes mud in the rainy season, then collapses together with the wall on the other side, making the road a three-foot deep lane of sticky muck.

Renita, leaving Danane' and heading toward Ganta-- three hours away-- last week. She handled a really dangerous ride with her typical plunge-in style. At one point they had to follow a tanker for miles, throwing up thick dust, at another point they almost flipped on one of Africa's famous log bridges-- the front tire almost wedged between logs.

As darkness falls, one last shot of our intrepid saint, bouncing and banging, sputtering and coughing into the sunset. This is maybe my new alltime favorite picture of Renita. Few shots capture her determination, passion and courage so well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

She's gone, oh, still gone

3 Hours of Bad on a Bike

If Renita's journey from Ganta Liberia to Danane' in Cote d 'Ivoire was a tiring ordeal, her return trip to Ganta was truly exhausting. Leaving Danane' from long farewell ceremonies, she arrived at the border after a jostling ride only to find there were no taxis at the border. She was in the middle of West African nowhere, it was getting dark, and she was lugging a large suitcase. The only vehicles around were small motorbikes. So for the next three hours, over some of the worst roads we are willing to travel, holding her suitcase with one arm and the bike with the other, Renita traveled the 40 or so remaining miles to Ganta. In the total darkness and choking dust of the Liberian wilderness, stopping and starting through bone rattling holes and bumps, she and her driver bounced on. I'm sure no one needed to tell her how vulnerable she was. In an area where borders don't mean a lot and Ivoirian rebels and Liberian rogues watch the roads, a little motorbike is an obvious target. But she made it. She arrived in Ganta around 9:00pm, filthy, probably a bit angry, and too exhausted to be relieved.
When writing about our work, I usually don't focus on us. The work and our activities are not about us. We are not in West Africa to have adventures, though an adventure it has been. When I tell our story, or in this case Renita's story of her battering trip, I'm really hoping the reader gets that this is really just everyday life in West Africa. The motorbikes and taxis are there every day, every night. For Liberians and Ivoirians living in the area, the dangerous, dusty, joint jarring travel is the norm. As proud as I am to part of a work that takes us to forgotten places, sometimes even hazardous places, I remain deeply in awe of the people that live in places like Danane', Ganta, and especially in-between. So many are profoundly resilient, flexible, adaptable, and strong. We are just traveling through, and these places kick out butts (literally). Yet our West African friends call these places home.
The five days of workshops in Danane' were successful, as were the many meetings that went late into the night. Renita and the board and staff of ACLCP worked hard at reaching deeper levels of understanding-- sometimes through sharply different viewpoints. When it was over, she had the sense that she had made new friends.
As I write, on Monday 16 November, Renita is on the road again-- first the three hour trip from Ganta to Gbanga, then the three hours from Gbanga to Monrovia, where she will spend another week. She'll be meeting with the folks from LEAD, visiting new business sites, and hopefully, getting some rest.

During the workshops, Renita takes a break.

Blue Boy.

I'm unfamiliar with these small, tart, grape-like berries. Any ideas?

The whole team, including the Kollenhovens, a Dutch couple from Canada, and in the green in back, Dea Lieu, director of ACLCP (Roughly translated from the French: Christian Association Fighting Poverty)

This was Renita last week enjoying a motorbike ride from one of ACLCP's board members and a pastor. After her recent nighttime trip to Ganta, she'll never look at these bikes the same way.

Accra Weather: While thunderstorms rumble just to the north, Accra remains dry and dusty. Daytime high typically in the mid 90sF, with a light 10mph SW breeze all day, then temps drop to the upper 70s to lower 80s at night. The breezes are quieter in the evening than in the wet season.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gone! Oh, gone...

She Left Me

Renita is gone. Left me Saturday. I can't really blame her. I know I'm kind of a bum. Of course, she didn't leave because of that, but I miss her anyway. She's gone for two long weeks, back to the works in Liberia and Cote d' Ivoire. In her role as regional director, she needs to maintain frequent contact with the activities in Ghana, Cote d' Ivoire, Liberia, and future West African Partners Worldwide collaborators. Our jobs both will take us away, individually, about six to eight weeks each annually. Unfortunately, though both of our jobs are regional, we never cross paths. Maybe someday back in Liberia.

This week, she is working in the northwestern hinterlands of Cote d' Ivoire, with her friends from ACLCP. ACLCP provides economic development assistance for the people in and around Danane and the 18 Mountains region. Once a center of Cote d' Ivoire's culture, the West of the country-- now governed by military groups or "rebels" operating under the banner French Nouvelles-- is becoming more stable after the recent troubles. ACLCP is a national NGO dedicated to giving Ivoirians the resources and tools necessary to stabilize communities and families as well.


Renita's part is to provide the same exceptional training that has proven so successful in Liberia with LEAD. The trainees will be community leaders, pastors and business people about managing and running a profitable venture. The full days of workshops run from today (Tuesday the 10th) until Saturday. The hitch-- Cote d' Ivoire is Francophone. The national language is French, so the entire training, including handouts, curriculum, visual aides, and power points had to be translated into French. So for the past few weeks that is what she's been doing. My wife, whose French is choppy at best, the French translator/trainer. Fortunately for her voice, a businessman from the states who is fluent in French will join her, plus the ACLCP staff will be doing the hard work of making it practical with follow up.

So back home, we muddle through without the Rock of Red Deer. I'm lonelier without her, but good things happen. I think I've mentioned it before, but when Renita's gone, the three of us seem to draw closer. We seem to look out for each other more. Predictably, we are less tidy around here with Mom gone, but the way we look at it, loosey-goosey is one of the compensations we get for being without her for so long. (Its very nice having Douglas here for three days each week. He covers a multitude of sins.)

Renita heads to Liberia next week, for all day meetings and planning with LEAD, the now model NGO she helped birth. See, she's got family all over the place, so I need to be thankful to get her when I can. Here are some shots of her world.

Rice. Nice.

In Danane. This hill is probably made of near solid iron ore.

Her host 's homey home.

The workshop opens. Next week, she's back in Liberia.

Extra! This just in! Her first Email!

Hi hon. Hope you are doing well. I got in last night after a loonngg drive from Ganta to Danane. The road was very bad, we had to wait for the taxi to fill up, the taxi had no brakes (thankfully got them fixed on the way), dealt with many immigration stops, had some issues at the border, and then had a very bumpy ride in Cote d'Ivoire. Today's training was okay - about what I expected. Some good things, some frustrating things.

There is a line up for the internet - it's 10 pm now and everyone is weary so I don't dare hog it too long.

Hope you are all doing well. I miss you and love you very much.

Hopefully I can write more tomorrow.



Weather: Mid 90sF-- Mid 30sC. Hot and bright Tuesday, less humid with a light breeze from the SW. Nighttime lows in the mid 80sF. Thunderstorms to the north, but very little rain here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Weather: Had a great rain the other day; it accomplished more in a hour for our garden than what we've been trying to do for weeks with a hose. Daytime temps in the 90sF, nighttime lows around 80F. Variable moderate breezes from the SW, as always, provide relief. Afternoons are sweltering, but mornings and evenings are often heavenly.

Note: Electricity and Internet have been off and on for a week or so, with either being off for up to ten hours at a time. Often, when one is running, the other is not. Thus the blog gets out on Wednesday. Thus is life in developing Africa.

The Way it Feels

It's always tricky to characterize a people or a culture. It is easy to over generalize, to fall into stereotypes, and to apply those generalizations to specific individuals. Just because a people group tends to exhibit a certain characteristic, does not mean everyone in the groups shares it. Not all Italians talk with their hands, not all Russians drink vodka. That said, one cannot help making general observations about a place after a period of time. A place and its people influence individuals living there over time, and an ethos, a feel if you will, is created. All places, all people groups, have a feel.

I like the feel of Ghana. I like the feel of Ghanaians.

For me, there is a contrast between the feel of Ghanaians and the feel of, say, Liberians, with whom I lived for three and a half years. Liberians, coming out of twenty five years of despotic rule which included fourteen years of instability, displacement and war, cannot help but show the effects in their daily lives. Our friends in Liberia were open, even eager to know Westerners, particularly Americans. After a time, we came to see that for many, this extroverted openness had less to do with hospitality than it had to do with the hope that in their western friend, there would be a sponsor of sorts, someone to help fund their daily needs. Liberians (Remember, there are many individual exceptions) as a whole seem to believe that they cannot make it without an other, wealthier party coming in and supporting them. It is as if self reliance has been shaken. We saw this everywhere, from the taxis sporting slogans that said "No Friend, No Money," to most of our neighbors coming to us with requests for gifts and loans, to Liberian officials siphoning off what they could from USAID grants because of their meager government salaries. I think decades of trauma have taught Liberians that tomorrow may blow up in their faces, that even the little they have today might be taken from them. I get the sense that Liberians are more fatalistic than others, that they see themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control. So understandably, they have learned to schmooze, to adapt, to seize opportunities, and to cut corners.

I get a different feeling from Ghanaians-- at least the Ghanaians in and around Accra. Since independence in 1959, they have built something-- a country-- that has remained at peace with itself and its neighbors. Even the coups were peaceful, by coup standards. The nation is strong, growing, and independent. So are the people. Where Liberians tend to hang on Americans, Ghanaians seem to ignore us. Liberians wanted our help, wanted NGOs from North America to come in. Ghanaians don't seem all that interested in what we have to offer. Its as if they are boldly saying-- and they are right to say it-- "We are doing fine without you, thank you. We really don't need you." Ghanaians seem to believe they hold their future, that they are at the mercy of no one but themselves. That makes me happy. In contrast to what we felt in Liberia, Ghanaians are more aloof, more self-sufficient, more confident, and have a more definite and clear identity in themselves as Ghanaians. They are proud of themselves. I can feel it. Of course, most of our work will not be with Ghanaians, so it works out ok that we are not being bombarded with desperate sounding appeals. But when we do work along side our national hosts, I think it will be less because they need us, and more because they see how we can simply serve the people they serve.

I need to repeat how important it is to avoid applying these general observations to individuals. Many Liberians we met are invested in sacrificial service toward rebuilding their country. We know, because we are working with them right now. By contrast, not all Ghanaians are self-reliant and independent. I'm simply saying Ghana feels different, maybe healthier that another place we've lived. And that, plus that lovely breeze, makes being here a pleasure.