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

Saturday, February 18, 2006

How to Get Your Money Eaten by a Liberian Wood Carver

A few months ago, after a number of games of Settlers of Catan, I came up with the brilliant idea of having a Liberian carve me a Settlers game out of “mahogany” as they would call it. What kind of tree it comes from is still under debate but, for sake of argument, let’s just call it mahogany. These are in-depth step-by-step procedures on How to Get Your Money Eaten by a Liberian Wood Carver.

1. Exhaust all available resources in picking your carver trying to get the most skilled carver while promoting honesty and timely delivery of product. Skill and honesty are not necessarily mutually exclusive. When all else fails just hang out in front of UN Drive Supermarket and wait 4-5 minutes. A carver is bound to hassle you for business.

2. Next you’ll want to make sure you draw up a contract so both parties know exactly what their responsibilities include within the agreement. By both parties knowing their responsibilities there is no possible way that either parties can have ANY confusion whatsoever regarding any part of the agreement or work to be completed. Ah yes, the benefits of living in a perfect world! Below are diagrams of my proposed game pieces and the contract that was drawn up and signed by both parties in the transaction. I drew up the contract so that I would give this carver character $20USD up front in order for him to buy his wood and feed his family and whatnot, a standard operating procedure in Liberia. If things went wrong I would only be down by $20USD, definitely worth the risk.

3. Stick to the agreement! After signing our agreement and sending Mr. Carver on his way it was understood by both parties that no more money would be forwarded until he brought me samples of each of the resource pieces and other small game pieces one week after the contract was signed. Once approval was given by me, $10 USD additional dollars were to be paid and the balance $40 USD were to be paid upon completion of the 80+ game pieces. Mr. Carver comes maybe four weeks later, after I had given up most of the hope I had in him, to beg me for $10 USD to buy a saw and some sand paper. Now answer me this, “What kind of wood carver doesn’t have a saw?” Apparently MY wood carver! After arguing with him for 10 minutes I refused to give him money for a saw. I forwarded him an additional $5 USD for some sand paper.

4. If you buckle and forward money once, DO NOT DO IT AGAIN! So after forwarding this character $5 USD to buy himself some sandpaper, without seeing any sign of samples or anything resembling a finished product, I once again gave up hope on ever seeing this guy. Low and behold, another month or so passes by and he finally arrives at our office with what he called “samples”. There were extremely poor carvings and you could tell that he didn’t put much time into them whatsoever. Either I must have been having a good day or he played the right card because for some reason, only God knows why, I forwarded him another $5 USD. He said he needed transport money to get back home and to buy some food for his family. That can always be a legitimate excuse in Liberia and this time I was the one that fell for it.

He technically brought me samples but I definitely DID NOT approve of them. I’m not sure which part of “these hexagonal pieces must be able to fit together when they’re finished” he didn’t understand but I’m guessing it had to do with the words “hexagonal pieces” because these looked rather like oblong circles to me. Oh well, now I have a $30 USD investment with no realizable results. Academia always teaches that positive reinforcement is the way forward but I often wonder how much time these think tanks spend in countries like Liberia.

5. If you are to follow these instructions just as I have laid them out I guarantee you that you’ll end up with no finished product and you’ll be down a few bucks! Its not the money that rubs me the wrong way in this transaction because in the big scheme of things it really isn’t very much and I know that carver character needs it a lot more than I do. The thing that rubs me the wrong way is the principle of the matter and the fact that this is a country wide pandemic. It is a much more global problem that Liberia faces and something that seems engrained in the character and morals of a lot of Liberians. If newly elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is wanting to stabilize the economy and promote long-term economic growth and peace within this country there must be an element of trust and morality established within the hearts and minds of Liberians.

Final Spiritual Note:

This carver also liked to use the excuse that he was a Christian and that God wouldn’t bless him if he ate my money. For that moment he spoke the pure truth. I do question which “god” he is worshipping though because it sure doesn’t seem to be THE God. But then again, who am I to judge. “…for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgement of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.” Romans 2:1, 2 NKJV There are a lot of people in this world who claim to be Christian but their actions speak a lot louder than their words. “And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit…Romans 1:28, 29 NKJV. Having said that we all need God equally and have all been given the ability to make decisions that will impact others either positively or negatively and which will dishonour or glorify God. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 NKJV. Whether or not this carver’s intentions were to deceive me or not I don’t know, but please pray for myself and Liberians that the truth will be known and we will all have the strength to follow it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Friday Night at Robertsfield International

I rushed off to Robertsfield International (RIA) to pick up Dave who was coming in from a three week absence while off “vacationing” in Canada. His flight was to come in at 6:50pm. I arrived just around 7pm. The weird thing was that as I was pulling up to the airport I didn’t see any sign of a commercial airliner. The only massive hunks of steel that were to be seen were two or three UN transport planes and about a dozen or so UN choppers. What I didn’t know is that the plane that was supposed to be arriving in Brussels from Abidjan to carry Dave and many others to Liberia was three to four hours late. Once the plane finally left Brussels it bypassed all the stops along the way and b-lined straight to Monrovia. All passengers going to either Dakar or Freetown would be dropped off on the way back to Brussels. Imagine how they felt! Anyways, so here I am at RIA with nothing to do for three hours not knowing whether the plane was coming in or not. It was only until after Dave arrived that I found out about the mix up and delays that were in Brussels. Trying to find out if a flight is on time in Liberia is like trying to ask a bunch of blind men which way is North. Nobody really knows what is going on. There was a highlight of the evening, if waiting at the airport wasn’t exciting enough. A bunch of Liberian Kru ladies, originally from Grand Kru County and all dressed in blue and white, who were apparently waiting for a man from the U.S. who built them a church a number of years ago, proceeded to pass the time by singing and dancing “African Style” for the whole three hours we were waiting there. There is something in the blood of Africans that allows them to sing and dance like its going out of style…but for three hours straight? They sung both songs in their native Kru language as well as the occasional one in English. Its times like this that I’ll miss about being in Liberia, not waiting at the airport not knowing what is going on, but the raw talent of these African ladies.