Monday, January 18, 2010

Deja vu vis-a-vis Mali

I thought I wuz supposed to be in Bamako
If that title has a familiar ring to you, you have been following us a long time. Not arriving on time at various destinations is a mini-theme of ours, particularly in our blog The Reeds in Liberia. The last time we used it with reference to Bamako, Mali, the entire family was trying to get to there. It was August 2006.
Monday, I thought I would be boarding a plane for nine days in that capital city, most of the time spent in meetings with folks from the CRC's West Africa ministry/development teams. But due to a visa problem, I'll have to wait. The nice lady at the Mali embassy told me I could get the visa today, so we'll see. If all goes well, I'll write to you soon from Mali.

Yers Trooly, Tuesday

Oh, here is a link to that post from 2006:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Haiti, Catastrophe

The disastrous earthquake in Haiti resonates with Renita and me. Like Liberia, the nation was founded in the early 18th century by African slaves. Like Liberia, the nation is one of the poorest on earth. Even though it is in the Caribbean, it has a distinctively West African flavor. And like Liberia, Haiti has been virtually destroyed by corruption and civil disorder. Haiti was further hammered in 2008 by four major tropical storms. Now the earthquake. The 7.0 quake and aftershocks hit Tuesday afternoon and evening, local time, just a few miles West of the nation's capital of Port Au-Prince. It looks like almost every building in the city are heavily damaged-- most have collapsed. As I write, young girls, old men, women and children are trapped under tons of concrete and cinder block. They don't have much time to live. In their poverty and political instability, the country and citizens are ill-equipped to rescue loved ones and protect themselves from more disaster.

Right now is the time to act. The first 48-72 hours are the most crucial for rescue efforts. Our request is that you get involved. At the very least, you can support the rescue and relief efforts with your money. Both CRWRC and Partners Worldwide are active in Haiti, and CRWRC in particular has a disaster response team already at work. Please contact the CRWRC at

In Ghana, We Continue

Back in Accra, Renita and I are active in our worlds. Renita is currently teaching a week long, thirty-hour workshop for business coaches. She is test-driving the new 80 page Partners Worldwide business curriculum-- which she put together-- on a group from Hope Line Institute, a local NGO providing community and business development support to mstly women in the area. She meets everyday from 9am to 4pm with fourteen men and women who assist small and medium-sized businesses with loans. Up until now, training has not been part of their work. In fact, up until now, they have not known a lot about how to support the business men and women who receive their loans. They thought they did, yes, they thought so, until they spent their first day with Renita and the curriculum. She got their attention with her expertise on the subject, and the scales have been removed from their eyes. She's having a great time, and loves the in-house banter between the Ghanaians whenever a controversial subject is broached. Beyond this, she is learning as much as her students, as they talk about their lives and the various nuances of culture that make up the whole of Ghanaian culture.

Next week, I'll be heading North via Cote d' Ivoire to Bamako, Mali. I'll be there for nine days of meetings with CRWRC and CRWM (Christian Reformed World Relief Committee and World Missions, respectively). We have these meetings annually to bring all our teams together and address various issues. This year we are closely examining issues relating to the dangers of fostering dependence among the people we serve, and how we can avoid any sense of superiority or parental behavior. It is a hot topic. Can our "helping" sometimes hurt? If you've followed this blog at all, you already know what I think. I'll also be facilitating a conversation on how to best incorporate a "justice consciousness" into our work. The Reeds have been to Bamako before, in August 2006-- You may read all about it here:

I'll tell you more when I get there. In the meantime, please don't forget the people in the rubble of Haiti.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blue Moon Perks

It is true that if one makes a decision to stand with people in poverty in far-away places, unpleasant experiences come along for the ride. Sometimes, to privileged senses, regions characterized by poverty are not only different, but uncomfortable and disturbing. It is the beauty of the humanity within poverty that draws us in, but we often share that beauty within the context of various forms of ugliness-- including in ourselves. When one adds that this activity happens thousands of miles from home over the course of years, we understand why some might think the work is too much to ask, even of people of faith. We understand why people would rather see pictures of family fun, enjoying canopy walks, singing happy birthday, making Christmas cookies. And truly, if our lives actually were forever up to our elbows in human misery and pain, it would probably be too much. But working in West Africa has its perks, so if the sadness and struggle were all we shared with you, we would not be painting an accurate image of our activities. And though we are not here on vacation, there are times when we get a day or two off and we get to simply be tourists in West Africa.

The last couple of weeks contained those off days and we took advantage of them. You’ve already seen some images of our trip to Kakum. Now, few more images of 1) our journey to Boti, one of Ghana’s many beautiful waterfalls, 2) Two nights in Eastern Ghana, at Ada Foah, sleeping on the beach under a Blue Moon, in a futile search for sea turtles laying their eggs, and 3) our kids enjoying a retreat at a beach resort to the west. Enjoy.

First stop, the Boti waterfalls. North and slightly East of Accra, near the Volta River. This is what the twins look like during the wet season...

...and this is what they look like now. It seems like a trickle, but the camera is a hundred yards or more from the falls. Looks to be about a hundred foot drop.

This gives a better idea of the scale of the canyon into which the falls empty. That's Hannah.

Another one of those magnificent Kapok trees.

A couple days later, we were off to Ada Foah, a town about an hour's drive down the beach. We took a little boat to our destination. As we traveled, we realized we were at the mouth of the Volta, and that the shores were covered with huts.

The whole area is made up of fishing villages-- villages that that have been here beyond memory. Currently, the fishing trade and the tourist trade live in harmony, and are even mutually beneficial. Can they be so forever?

The people live their lives around the fishing boats that sustain them. The boys learn to pilot a twenty foot boat before they are ten.

Cleaning nets on the ocean side.

This is where we stayed over two nights. Our hope was to encounter one of the many large sea turtles that come up on the ocean beach to lay their eggs. We enlisted a guide from an NGO that works with the government to protect the turtles from poachers. He and his American volunteer ride up and down the beaches until 3:00am making sure they are safe. There had been turtles the night before, he said, so we thought we would certainly see them during our stay. He would come and get us when he saw them.

A lovely evening, just Renita and I-- the kids were at a retreat-- enjoying the river side of the camp.

This young man came by, dropped his traps, and in a few hours, picked them up. I imagine this is his life's work. I can't figure out if I feel sorry or envious. That night, we slept on the beach under a Blue Moon-- a New Year's Eve Moon, and waited for the turtles to come.

We were disappointed both nights we stayed. At about six, while my dear wife slept, the armada of fishing boats left, as if on cue. You can make them out in the distance; we saw twenty or so pass by our little camp site.

This is what we missed: Lepidochelys olivacea. The Olive Ridley sea turtle. At about a hundred pounds, the smallest of the giants, but still the sight of a lifetime for me. I hope I can return.

This is why they come on shore, and risk their lives. They dig all night, sometimes even making fake nests, to lay their eggs. Dogs dig up most. The day after we got home, our guide called to say that the next night, there were six on the beach in our area.

Hannah and Noah were having their own good time at a church retreat. Here, Noah looks on as one of the counselors eats baby food. Its what they do for fun at church retreats.

Hannah at the beach during Free Time. Sometimes those waves knocked the kids off the rocks. More retreat fun!

Weather: Accra weather has been consistently hot and dry, with moderate humidity. Daytime temps remain to the low to mid 90sF almost everyday, down to around 80F at night. We get a light breeze-- around 10mph most of the day. No rain.