Thursday, February 25, 2010

Weather: Very hot, day after day. Daytime highs in the mid 90sF (mid 30sC), night time lows in the lower 80'sF, mid 80's indoors. Days begin humid, then less humid and breezy by mid afternoon.

I Got Just Enough Energy to Slap Somebody

These are the Dog Days of the hot season. Everyone is tired, drained by the constant wilting temps and unforgiving nights. Everyone slows down. The kids have had it with school and are ready to be done way too soon. Hannah has a cold. Noah is having a tough time getting up in the morning. I'm finally past getting cured from malaria, but there remains a fatigue that is only exacerbated by the heat. To top it off, we've been without power the better part of two days, so the nights have been a true test of character. We have a generator, which goes off at bedtime, and as soon as that happens, the fans die and we instantly begin a sweat that lasts until I start up the generator at 6:30am. Really, we face the evening the only way we can. We adapt.

700 miles to our West, Renita is doing some adapting of her own. The inveterate introvert is playing host, guide, and troubleshooter to a group of North Americans interested in the work of LEAD. In addition, she's been conducting workshops in four counties to hundreds of LEAD program participants. Her travels have kept her away from the internet and even from opportunities to snap some pics, so the ones below are all I have. Those of you who have stayed with us for a few years will note with interest that Renita was able to drop in on Trokon and Eastman last Sunday. Eastman is faithfully attending school, but Trokon is not. He admits to being bull-headed, but this time it may mean he gets sent back to his mom in the bush. Which may be the best thing for him anyway.

So Renita will be in Liberia another few days, then head off to Cote d' Ivoire, which looks like it will remain stable enough for a quick visit. Maybe then she'll get us some images from her experiences. Until then, we get these few pics to hold us over. And pray that the power comes back on.

Here are a few folks working to rebuild this little corner of the world: Theo, Derek, Renita, Rick, Allen, and James.

At the Monrovia workshops, the US ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks.

Madam Ambassador talks with a guest, in the back is Paul Olsen, head of USADF in Liberia.

Up in Gbarnga, thanks to the USAID grant, staff can now visit dozens of sites a day-- this little 150 scooter does the job.

Renita and guests visiting one of LEAD's many participants-- this a cabbage farmer out standing in his field.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

O! Thou Foul Worm

This week, I ought to be writing about our lovely trip to a little community about 70 miles north of Kumasi. I ought to be telling you about the trip up there, the landscape along the way, the great people we met and the nice time Renita and I shared together. I ought to have pictures too, of smiling faces and food and trees and coal pots and hills and green.
But I don't. We were supposed to leave last Wednesday morning for a flight to Kumasi then overland to our destination. But we didn't.

The fever started Tuesday out of the blue, and I knew the trip was in jeopardy by that afternoon. As often happens with Malaria-- for that was the diagnosis-- after a few hours I felt better. But I knew the night would probably be worse. And it was. Fever, chills, fitful sleep. On Wednesday morning, we called our host and cancelled the trip. I began my treatment of artesunate amodiaquine-- and had little idea that a cure could feel worse than a disease. I would learn the truth soon.
Malaria itself has a fairly predictable course until it either gets cured, goes into hiding or kills its host: strong flu-like symptoms, body aches, regular cycling fever, low energy, sleep disturbances-- pretty miserable stuff. However, it must be treated quickly because of the chance of developing life-threatening complications. I wasn't worried, just very disappointed that we missed our trip.

Artesunate amodiaquine, on the other hand, is less predictable. It was the medicine I chose, because it has a reputation of being powerful against several types of Malaria. However for me the side effects, concurrent with the Malaria it was combating, were terrible-- intense stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, vivid repeating dreams with little sleep, anxiety-- Thursday night and Friday night may have been the longest and worst nights of my life. By Saturday, the Malaria was definitely dying but the medicine, with its lengthy half-life, was thoroughly enjoying the new clean house. The stomach pain lasted through the weekend and is just know hinting at leaving.

Ok you get the idea. Today is Wednesday, and we have US guests Rick Slager and James Nowell here for a bit before they leave tomorrow with Renita to Liberia. I'm feeling better but still not back 100%. I get sleepy and my stomach bothers me, so I miss out a bit on the fun. Like today for instance, Renita is out with Rick and James touring a village about an hour away, and I'm convalescing. Actually, for the first time in a while I've been muster the juice necessary to write something, so that's progress. Just in time too, because Renita will be gone for two long weeks.

Anyway I've got no pictures. Maybe when Renita gets back later today, we'll maybe be able to share her and James' and Rick's village visit. As for now, time for a nap.
UPDATE-- Here are a few pictures from Rentia's trip this afternoon. Just a few hours ago.

As always, a formal welcome by various representatives.

Guests James (L) and Rick. Observing as they go.

Visiting the ladies' farm.

They look pleased with the cassava crop! Great shot by Rick.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Things are Heating Up

ReedNews Update:
February Edition

The hot season is upon us full force, and now, after months basking in the relief of a non-Liberia climate, I must say that Accra and Monrovia are feeling very similar this time of year. True, there is an afternoon breeze here, and I don’t think the humidity is quite as high as in Monrovia as we are several miles from the beach. But hot and humid it is. The daytime temps are consistently in the mid 90sF (mid 30s C), and slowly drop to about 80F (27C) by morning.

Inside the house, the temp rarely falls below 85F (29C), so you can imagine our bedtimes. We are thankful for the fans, but at these temps one does not feel cool, just not as hot as it would otherwise be. We are debating getting an air conditioner, and I mean debating, with the men on one side and the women on another. Its an old argument-- how much relief should we allow ourselves while so many we seek to serve live without. We all agree its a matter of stewardship-- but of what? You can guess who is taking which position.

We have also started what will be the busiest season of activity in a long time for the two of us. With a week in Mali still fresh on my mind and plenty of work to do because of it, we are preparing for two and a half months of frequent flying:

February10-12-- Renita and I fly northwest to Kumasi, Ghana's second-largest city, and from there travel overland to a village of some interest to Renita in her Partners Worldwide role as facilitator of economic development. We want to see what the Ghanaians are already doing and learn from them, then maybe discuss how to work together. I'll be along to learn and provide comic relief. It is rare that we can do something together-- this gets us both out of Accra and more into that other Ghana. Romantic, huh?

February 18- 28-- Renita begins her two week visit West. First stop, Liberia, where she'll be heading a seven-person delegation of North Americans to visit the various offices of LEAD inc, which is humming along nicely. She'll be delivering "Business as Mission" and "Customer Satisfaction" workshops in four cities, which means bumpy dusty travel, first south along the coast to Buchanan, then northeast from Monrovia to Gbarnga and Ganta.

February 28- March 5-- Renita heads with a guest to Danane' Cote d'Ivoire to meet with the folks of ACLCP. Again this will be overland on very poor roads, but at least the roads will be dry. They'd be looking at more appropriate technologies for agriculture. She will not be returning on a motorcycle..

Click on map below to see a larger version.

March 7-16 About as soon as Renita gets back, I'm off for eleven days to Nigeria, mostly in Makurdi. I will be facilitating conversations with church and community leaders to name injustice/gender/cultural issues which stand in the way of various development initiatives-- and how these can be effectively addressed in sustainable ways without creating dependence. The exciting thing about this for me is the possibility of using conflicting perspectives to bring about greater understanding.

March 16-18 I hope to do some visiting in Jos, not only for personal reasons, but to discuss ways the CRWRC may be able to be more strategic in the sectarian violence that has claimed so many lives there recently.

April 5-17 Yers Trooly will head up to Dakar, Senegal, where I will spend time working with the board of one of our partner organizations, as well as the church leaders of the denominations represented in the board. Our hopes are to bring greater clarity and functionality to a drifting group that needs so it can better serve the many villages in its charge. In addition, I hope to be visiting another agency serving adolescents, and perhaps offer a participatory workshop on reducing stigma and prejudice. .

Of course, in all of this we'll keep you in the loop. And we'll let you know how the "Great Air Conditioner Debate of Aught Ten" turned out. Stay Tuned.

click on this image.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Back From Bamako

Sorry it’s been a while since I put finger to keyboard; been away from easy access to ya’ll. Let me bring you up to speed. I returned a couple days ago from Mali, where the West Africa Team of the CRWRC got together to talk work-related things over and offer the latest of what we are learning to each other. I’ve now jumped back into work in Ghana, and find Renita preparing for her two week journey to Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire in mid February. As for my week in Mali, this is my second opportunity to spend time with my colleagues there, and my sense of the place and people is solidifying.

Every country in West Africa is unique, and I naturally compare them with each other. My “base line” for comparison is Liberia, for a couple of reasons: first, Liberia is where we began our African adventure together and second, Liberia represents the most underdeveloped nation in the region—it ranks at the bottom of the poverty and misery indexes. So my standard is low, but I know it’s not going to get much worse where ever I go. It is ironic then, that I find Ghana—the most stable and developed nation in the region—more like Liberia than struggling Mali. In terms of development, Mali too is a very poor country, but at least like Ghana, many of the roads are smooth, and in the capital, the utilities are reliable. In fact, the water and power in Bamako, Mali is more reliable than it is in Accra, Ghana. Accra loses power every day, for a few minutes to a few hours, an has water running 5.5 days out of 7. Mali’s utilities are up and running on both counts with only rare interruptions.

It is the culture of Ghana and Liberia that strike me as similar to each other, and also quite different from Mali. Liberia and Ghana are coastline Anglophone countries, hot and humid, and also heavily influenced by Anglo-American values. People in and around the Capital cities dress casually, blue jeans and tee-shirts are common, and there is also a decidedly consumerist and materialistic ethos. Even though both nations are poor by North American measures, success still seems to be related to the accumulation of things, so big houses, big cars, and the latest technological gadgets, from plasma HDTV to smart phones, are all status indicators. Both Liberia and Ghana are dominated by Christian influences, and both have many who follow the “prosperity gospel.”

By contrast, hot, arid, dust-covered, land-locked Mali is much more heavily influenced by Muslim forces. Although consumerism is making inevitable inroads, the people of Bamako dress and carry themselves less casually, more conservatively. Islam is everywhere. The five-times daily call to prayer echoes through the neighborhoods, a ever-present and hypnotic reminder that here, Allah and His Prophet dominate. Mali is also Francophone, which of course is another major factor that separates it from Ghana and Liberia. I liked the people I met in the streets, enjoyed trying to communicate with them, and happy to see their delight mirror mine as we connected over the simplest things. I liked the dry air, which even on the hottest days kept my clothes free from perspiration. I am happy to report my body’s natural evaporative cooling system works wonderfully well in Mali.

Mali’s dry climate is one reason why so many in this country are hungry. Around Bamako, the land receives about 40 inches of rain annually, most of that falling from June to September. (Compare that to Monrovia, Liberia’s 200 inches a year). But up in Tomboucto, less than half of that falls each rainy season, and for eight months the land sees virtually no rain. Crops frequently fail, and throughout Mali, thousands of forgotten little villages endure steady misery.

The WAMT meetings kept us focused on addressing hunger, poverty and other justices in West Africa, and even greater injustices in Europe and NorthAmerica. For my part, I was able to introduce some ideas to the team that I hope I’ll be able to nurture and grow over the coming months and years. I don’t pretend that what I am doing-- or even what CRWRC in West Africa, or Renita and Partners Worldwide is doing-- will impact more than a small percentage of lives in a world where billions deserve better. But I remain committed to doing the little I can. I am grateful that we are on this pathway of discovery, that we get to see more of the world as it is, and grateful that we can no longer insulate ourselves from it. Mostly I'm thankful that I have a hand and the will to lend it.


I took the picture on the left in 2007, and the one on the right last Wednesday. Its the difference between the wet season and the dry.

Tis a panorama of Bamako, city of 2 million, taken from hills in the north.

A side stream of the Niger River, all dried up. Shale was everywhere.

A lonely little garden near the Niger River-- which was actually behind me.

Yers Trooly, presenting on Justice and its inevitable but sometimes annoying partner, Conflict. I think I was pretending I was John F. Kennedy at a press conference-- pointing while talking.

The West Africa Ministry Team, minus most of the staff from Nigeria. By the end of the week of meetings, we were feeling a tad testy.