Kevin in Liberia

Its Purpose: to raise awareness of current social, political, ethical, and spiritual issues within a relief and development context in Liberia. Its effectiveness is simple: It relies on me, the author, to provide insightful, and often debate-sparking material that will encourage you, the reader to get engaged through comment contributions, emails, and promoting others to read, re-think, and respond to the important issues discussed.

I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom. ~ a prayer by Blaise Pascal

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The 1st Few Days in Liberia - A Shocker

05.21. 2005

After an unbearably long flight I stepped off the plane into just brutal humidity, most likely 30C and close to 100% humidity, definitely not what I’m used to back in Canada. When I arrived at the airport I looked around for either Jonathan or Dave who were supposed to pick me up but they were nowhere to be found. After fighting the crazy Liberians for my place next to the baggage belt I finally saw them making their way towards me. Ok, now I have my bags, now to get out of this zoo. What a joke! I finally made my way outside and onto the curb and borrowed some guy’s cell phone for $4 USD and called Jonathan. They were only 4 minutes away. What a relief! When Jonathan and Dave arrived I went back inside the airport in order to track down our surfboards that I brought over with me for Equip and myself. After paying the customs guy off we escorted the boards out of the airport and preceeded to load them on top of the Land Cruiser. Let me say one thing, in a third world country such as Liberia, a country with such a huge UN presence, every third vehicle it seems tends to be a Land Cruise/Rover.

First impressions about Liberia when flying into the country:

  1. How many of the houses were literally reduced to rubble with trees growing from the inside.
  2. How many IDP (internally displaced persons) camps there are within Liberia. White tent after white tent in a uniform pattern, row after row. Some of these camps held over 100,000 people and some still upwards of 40,000 IDPs.

Well, I’ve been in the war torn country of Liberia for about 3 days now and what a 3 days it has been. I thought I knew what poverty was until I stepped foot into Liberia. Hearing stories of the war stretching 13 years previous were pretty gut wrenching. The office where I’m currently at is a couple blocks down from a church where, during the war, over 1000 people died in a massacre that was plainly beyond my comprehension. Jonathan told me that his mother met a guy who survived the massacre. He was hiding behind the organ and the killers only saw his feet. The only reason that he survived is because when they chopped both his feet off he didn’t say a word, he just kept his mouth shut. This is just one of many stories that just blew my mind.

Thursday the 19th of May started off by trying out the new surfboards. Development work isn’t ALL work, we need to mix in a little fun in there as well! The remainder of the day, probably close to 10 hours of it involved painting the house I’ll be staying in for my stay here. Dave’s philosophy is basically “you’re going to have to build the house you’re staying in.” This house is pretty sweet because of its location to the beach, about 100 yards, but the fact that it is absolutely trashed isn’t too appealing. We’ve gotten it painted now and sprayed with anti-bug spray to keep the malaria-infested mosquitos at bay so things are looking up. Sleeping on 3 inch foam mattresses might take a while getting used to too but its really not too bad at all. What is the worst is when its 30C at 2am, now that is bad.

Friday, May 20 consisted of my first flight on the UN helicopter (Ukrainian MI8) up to the northeastern village of Ganta where Equip has one of their clinics. Stepping off the helicopter made it seem like I was stepping into Vietnam or something during the Vietnam War. UN Military were everywhere with their machine guns ready for any intruder. That division of the UN Military were called BANBATT (Bangladesh Battalion).

I met a couple of other Canadian missionaries named Jody and Sarah who seem like they are extremely cool individuals. They both manage the health project up in Ganta and the overall running of the medical clinic up there. Jody cooked us dinner that evening which was very scrumptious and included pasta sauce with a freshly slaughtered Guinea Foul which I watched lose its battle a couple hours previous. It was pretty nasty if you ask me but very tasty I must admit. A Guinea Foul is pretty much like a turkey for any of you who don’t know what one is, I sure didn’t! While in Ganta I got to visit the clinic where the sights were, again, gut wrenching. This is the stuff you see on TV. Well, lets put it this way, this is the stuff that they don’t want to show you on TV. It would take way too long to describe what I saw but I hope some of my pictures paint a vivid picture in your mind. Also, while in Ganta, we went walking through a rubber forest. Rubber is on of Liberia’s main exports. Firestone has a HUGE plantation here and somebody is capitalizing from it and it is definitely not the people of Liberia. It was either Dave or Jonathan that told me that the income distribution in Liberia is something like 1% of the people in Liberia own 90% of the wealth. It’s a pretty sickening stat if you really thing about it.

Saturday, May 21 consisted of a long bumpy ride back to Monrovia from Ganta which took approximately 4 hours. Its funny to see these kids, no more than 7 or 8 years of age it seemed, setting up these “road blocks” with chopped down trees. Their sole purpose is to charge a toll to people traveling the road. What is even funnier is the pure disregard for these kids and their efforts. As we slowed down approaching one of these stops a car coming the opposite direction just drove right through one and busted it straight down. I guess the kids will just have to build another one! We were almost prepared to bust down our side as well but they moved it in time. People try to make money doing anything over here! We arrived back in Monrovia in the evening and ended up going to a Baptist missionary family’s house for dinner and Napolean Dynamite!

Not to scare anyone or anything but there are a few rumours going around about what is going to happen with the elections in October. One of these rumours is that Charles Taylor, deported dictator, is funding a massive uprising that will go down during election time. We’ll see what happens with that. Anyways, that was one of the things I’ve heard….among other things.

As far as job duties are concerned it is sounding like I’m going to be doing a lot of the duties that Jonathan is doing right now plus a few other things. The major things on the go right now are creating a financial reporting system for these different projects that are on the go right now as well as something for future projects. Another project that is pending is one related to the ex-combatants that were funded by the previous government. These people, sometimes 7 or 8 years old were paid and given weapons to go and kill people. The project that we are writing a proposal for has to do with reintegrating them back into society by providing training to teach them how to make an HONEST living etc. Just imagine what we’ll have to face if we can’t provide their paycheques on time or just something of that nature. This job is going to contain a lot of those sorts of situations and its going to be a challenge for sure.

Well that’s a bit of an update…the main difference here is definitely the level of poverty and the amount of carnage there is here from the war. Earlier today, Sunday the 22nd, I looked on the desk here in the office and saw a couple pictures of dead bodies. This is DEFINITELY not a walk in the park!

Take care and keep praying for me!