Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Home for Christmas

Weather:  The Harmattan winds have arrived, starting last Monday.  That means every day is hazy as the air is filled with a fine sand coming from the Sahara desert.  It also means that humidity has dropped to about 55%, from an average of 75%, and the temperatures are averaging in the high 80s instead of the mid 90s. 

Greeting Hannah at the airport...
Hannah has come home for Christmas.  Those were her words - "I can't wait to come home for Christmas."  She had been saying for some time that she is homesick.  But she had lived in Grand Rapids for twelve years before moving to West Africa and lived in Ghana for only two how is she defining home?  I think for Hannah, home is Noah and I.  Home is the rhythm of our house, no matter where the house happens to be.  That is a pleasant thought - home is not a place as much as it is the people.  I know that she also missed West African food, and has already put her order in for peanut soup, jollof rice, and kiliwili.  I know that she has missed her high school friends and it looks like a good number of them will be around for the holidays.  I know that she also missed the sun as she adjusts to West Michigan winter (although she will be leaving the freezer and entering the oven - no in-between here:-).  But most of all, I think she missed us.

This is a comfort to me because I don't know where I will be next year.  Next Christmas will find both Hannah and Noah at Calvin College (Noah was just accepted), and since I will be leaving Ghana in June but do not anticipate being in North America, I will make every effort to join them in Michigan.  We will have to redefine home again, but if the people are the main ingredient, we can probably make it happen.

Ghost of Christmas past...
Of course, the glaring reality here is that not only does the location change, but the people have also changed, given the absence of Bob.  This is our second Christmas without him - without his insistence that everyone wear one green and one red sock (despite the heat!), without his great cherry and apple stuffing, without his loud singing along with Nat King Cole's Christmas album,  without him stringing Christmas lights in every possible place, without his presence that filled our home.  In many ways, we are still trying to figure out what to do with ourselves.  Last year was about survival - this year is about reconstruction.  What does the Reed Christmas look like now?

The pain level continues to be high, as I'm sure you can imagine.  When people talk about family Thanksgiving and family gatherings for Christmas, we not only miss our extended family get-togethers, traditional food, decorations, and snow, but our father and husband as well.  But we will get through it - and eventually we will figure it out.

In the meantime, I'll get some hugs from Hannah, Noah and Hannah will have a chance to debate and tease each other, and Hannah will hopefully get some sleep and a tan!
Hannah and Noah, yesterday at the airport.  If you look very closely, you will see blue hair around Hannah's neck.  Yes, she dyed the back, bottom portion of her hair blue - not very noticeable, but this is what happens when the cat is away - the mice do play:-).

Monday, December 12, 2011

White Men CAN Dance

Calvin College holds a semester in Ghana each year in the fall.  On average there are approximately 20 students - usually more females than males.  Most of the students are juniors or seniors, and many seem to be from the International Development or Social Work departments, although there is often a variety of majors represented.  I have had the privilege of getting to know the professors and students over the past three years, as they live and attend classes at the University of Ghana, and study the land and culture of Ghana.  Each prof that leads the course has a different emphasis, depending on the prof.  The Reed family has struggled with envy over the fact that this group gets four months to study the culture in depth, tour all ten regions of the country, learn the local language of Twi, take African studies and religion classes, participate in festivals, and more.  After four months they leave, having seen more of Ghana than we have in thirty months we have been here.  Hannah has been tempted to take this semester in Ghana - providing that we are still living here.
Melanie and John, in the center, with

This year the semester was done a bit differently, with the classes condensed to three days per week, and pairs of students being sent out to various schools and nonprofits to conduct various studies on ethnography (the scientific study of the customs of people and cultures).  Two students were assigned to our partner, Hopeline Institute:  Melanie Evans and John Veneklasen, who both had a special interest in business development. 

In addition to studying ethnography, these two had specific objectives for Hopeline.  The first was to conduct an impact assessment on the Village Savings and Loan (VSL) program (see earlier blogs for more info on this program) from the perspective of the individual, family, group, and community.  The second objective was to help collect some media on the program - write some stories about individuals and VSL groups and create a brief video on the program.  John and Melanie gallantly set out on motorcycles to drive with the field officers out into the villages where Hopeline Institute is doing their work.

They observed twenty VSL groups and then focused in specifically on four groups:  one made up of young adults, one women's group, one generally diverse group, and one group that had significant challenges.  In general they found that these groups work very well, with both individuals and communities benefiting, not just financially but also through trust, compassion, and the strengthening of communal ties.  They found that women especially are benefiting.  One person shared, in talking about their savings, "We are sitting on gold!" They had not recognized their savings potential before and have been able to increase their family's economic standing.  They had a lot of other great feedback as well.  These results were not surprising to us - it is what we also have seen - but to have independent persons come to do their own assessment and find similar conclusions is reassuring.  The funding for this program comes to an end in June 2012, so Hopeline is working hard to figure out how to make this program sustainable so that they can continue to reach the 4000+ persons.

We are thankful to John and Melanie and wish them success as they return to the US!

On Monday, December 5, the students had their farewell dinner and showcased their new dancing skills as can be seen in the video below.  The very first couple to do their solo number is Melanie and John. (The dance was performed outside in the evening, so unfortunately it's a little dark.  Sorry!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Take a Walk with Me

LEAD staff, guests, and farmers, gather to discuss farming.
Imagine yourself walking through bushes in Liberia, ducking under branches, following a farmer down a thin dirt path.  You have just spent a couple of hours with about forty farmers at a workshop, and now you have a chance to visit some of the farms.  You duck through the final palm branches, which have been set up as a makeshift fence, and before you is spread about one-half acre of pepper and bitter-ball plants.  The air is full of the clacks of grasshoppers and is heavy with humidity.It's about 110 F in the sun and you can feel the sun baking your skin.  And you know that if the sun is baking your skin, it is baking the plants as well.   

Plant under stress.
The plants seem somewhat scattered, not orderly and in rows.  Weeds compete with the plants for nutrients and water.   The soil is dry and dusty.  Many of the plants are small and show signs of stress; many have been attacked by various pests, including the grasshoppers who are particularly rampant this season.  Suddenly the peaceful sound of grasshoppers begins to sound more ominous.  The farmer shares that he has applied certain pesticides but it doesn't seem to be working.  You learn that he has applied the same pesticides for several years and it appears that the insects have begun to develop a resistance to them.  Survival of the fittest. 

The farmer sweats as well as you look over his farm.  He has a water source a distance away, but the only means of conveying that water is bucket by bucket.  It is dry season now and he doesn't expect much yield from this planting, but he hopes. This is his primary farm to care for; his wife is handling a rice farm on another piece of land.  

Termite mound in the middle of the farm.
You feel tired just standing in the sun, thinking about watering and weeding.  The water table is high here, and it's possible for the farmer to hand dig an open well about twenty feet down for more available access to water.  The agriculture coordinator from LEAD (who works with over 100 farmers), Zoryou, is asked why this farmer has not done this.  Zoryou shows some signs of exasperation as he expresses how so many different techniques have been taught - composting,  mulching, crop rotation, irrigation - but getting the farmers to implement these has been difficult.  Zoryou has been unable to prove the effectiveness of these techniques.  He would like to start small demonstration plots on some of the farmers land but faces challenges.  

While this is discussed, you suddenly hear loud voices coming from the path.  Apparently some other farmers from the workshop want to come in to see this farm, but there are some beliefs that if certain people look at your farm, the farm will come into some bad luck.  The farmer suddenly disappears from the conversation to join the voices outside.  You are later informed that the next visits have been cancelled as the farmers are afraid of those who will come along to visit as well.  You head back to the path, and back to the village, where you sit under a tree on a bench, and enjoy potato greens and rice with the farmers.
Zoryou and Todd studying the bean plants

This happened on my recent trip to Liberia.  It's frustrating.  Good soil, high water table, plenty of sun, lots of land, and yet such poor yield and food production in Liberia.  How do we proceed?  That is where the research farm comes in.  I've written about this in previous blogs but had a chance to see it in person for the first time.  Twenty-five acres of land to demonstrate and research new technologies and new crops for the Liberian market.  When we started talking about this project, people told me that "demonstration farms are so 1980s."  Until they came to visit Liberia, when their response changed to, "oh, now we see why you want to do a demonstration farm."  When farmers live on less than a dollar a day and only have the resources to farm a small piece of land, asking them to use a piece of that land for what is considered risky, since it is new and unknown, doesn't happen. And so we hope to demonstrate year round farming, using several different irrigation technologies.  We hope to research several new crops which are not currently grown in Liberia but our research farm advisory team believe has great potential.  We hope to have several animal husbandry projects, reintroducing animal husbandry back into Liberia.
When grasshoppers attack...

To date, we have planted about 400 moringa trees.  We have planted and harvested a high quality maize seed (called QPM) which we imported from Ghana.  The seeds from this corn have been distributed now to about 10 farmers who will grow this corn during this next season.  LEAD has made a commitment to these farmers to buy back most of that corn for hog feed, as we also have 10 hogs.  We expect to mate these hogs in about two months, and be able to sell the pigs to other farmers, and be able to provide the appropriate pig feed to allow for rapid growth.  To this end, we also hope to begin building a palm kernal processing machine for added protein for the pits.  Construction for that should begin shortly.  This small business will be turned over to a Liberian to run after working alongside LEAD staff for an appropriate amount of time.

These are just a few of the ideas and plans.  Recently Rick Slager put up a hoop house in Liberia to see whether the yield of tomatoes can triple.  He also worked with Henry, our assistant farm manager, to plant onions, garlic, and ginger, crops that are not currently grown in Liberia.  The UN has agreed to clear several acres of land for us (way to go, Megan!) which will allow us to put up dorms and a training center.  Our goal is to bring farmers to the research farm for a week, to learn, observe, and work alongside with farm staff to be able to take this practical knowledge back to their farm. 
Drip irrigation being set up in hoop house.

Much of this work and the achievement of our goals depends on funding.  Our goal this Christmas is to raise funds for the research farm and we have created a gift catalog to help achieve this goal.  Please consider this farm for your year-end gift.  For more information go to, where you will be able to safely give online to help us make strides in this work.

This compost pile is about three months old, which I'm told is quite an accomplishment because of the heat and humidity, allowing for faster composting time. 
I know.  How many people put pictures of pig manure on their blog because they think it is cool?  But I love how everything is getting used and reused on this farm.
LEAD's Research Farm current watering hole.  We hope to put in wells soon in several locations. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

College Blog, by Hannah

(written on Wednesday, November 16, 2011)

I have been at Calvin College for about three months now.  It has been a whirlwind of classes, socializing, and homework...lots of homework.  Adjusting to everything at once - the climate, the US, the college atmosphere, more independence - has not been easy.  But through the chaos, I have seen God's blessing.  I am constantly exhausted, but I have seen His promise come alive.  No, I'm not miraculously alert and awake at 8 am when I got four hours of sleep, but He takes care of me.  It's all in the details.

My third or fourth week of class, I woke up at 7 am as always, but fell back asleep by accident.  I was exhausted, and could have easily slept through all four of my classes that morning.  But for some reason, I wok up half an hour later, at 7:30 am.  There was no sudden noise, no sudden light popped on, nothing to jerk me awake.  I just woke up, in just the right amount of time to get dressed, brush my teeth, make myself semi-presentable, and rush out the door.  Thank you God.

I had to pull an all-nighter a week or two ago.  A friend of mine was having some medical issues, so I stayed up with her until 5 am.  I then decided it was pointless to try and go to sleep because I would only get about an hour and a half before waking up for my 8 am Philosophy class.  That amount of sleep is just the right amount to make me exhausted and drowsy for my class, so I just stayed up.  I dozed off for about 45 minutes, got some stuff done, and then went to breakfast with a friend who stayed up with me.  I was bracing myself for a day of difficulty and exhaustion, but then saw on my French syllabus that we didn't have class on that day.  It is the only French class that is cancelled this semester, on the day that I needed it so badly.  So I got done with classes an hour early and was able to take a nap for an hour and a half.  Thank you Father.

Yesterday, my day was packed.  I had work, homework, and Gospel Choir for two hours in the evening and was exhausted (are you sensing a theme with this word?   Yeah, college is definitely as much work as they say).  I had to stay up until around one, because of a paper due today, a quiz, and homework for French.  I got up at 6:30 am, as I've recently begun to go for a quick run in the mornings - every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, hoping thatt the exercise will both wake me up and keep me in shape.  Today is a super busy day, so I was stressed about getting only fie hours or so of sleep.  Then all of a sudden, my Communication and Culture class is cancelled, as well as my French small group, giving me two extra, unexpected hours in my day.  Thank you Lord.

Lately, I am really seeing God working in the small things of my life.  An extra hour of sleep, an extra hour to study, the blessing of friends on a rough day, peace over a stressful event.  He works in all things if we give it to Him.  Too often I get caught up in the frustration and forget that He is there saying, "I am here.  I will fight this battle for you.  You do not have to deal with this by yourself.  Give it to me, I am so much more able to handle these details and love you enough to take these burdens from you." He doesn't take everything from me, but He keeps me from drowning.  He doesn't have to move a mountain to be working and He doesn't have to send a lightening bold for me to see Him.  I just have to adjust my sight.