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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rice Harvest in Lofa County

We are working with Liberians in Lofa County to build rice swamps. We visited numerous rice swamps on our monitoring visit in early December. I had the privaledge to harvest rice the West African way...with a switch-blade. We did a crop yield estimate where an approximately 3 metre circle is harvested and then that yield is used to project total crop yield.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Exploring Liberian Culture

It was 7:30pm. Darkness had come to North Eastern Liberia and as Marcel and I walked down the heart of the central road in Foya City my mind shifted back to life in North America. Not longer than ten days prior I had been enjoying the luxuries that it provides. As my attention focused back on the scene at hand I tried to comprehend exactly where I was and how I could relish this rare moment. Dozens of young boys and girls, some of which are barely thirteen or fourteen, sell items that vary from oranges to plantain chips, from roasted cassava root to red oil-filled Liberian soup over locally-grown rice. A convoy of giant Mercedes transport trucks raise dust over the vendors’ goods as another UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) shipment rumbles quickly past. The smell of burning ‘fire coal’ is partially smothered by the dirt suspended in the air, particles that slowly line the inner walls of my nostrils. I haphazardly mention to Marcel that the average age of everybody inhabiting the streets that night must be around sixteen.

Sixteen may have been a bit of overstatement but I believe it reflects the seriousness of the situation. In reality there was a few middle aged Liberians selling random items as well as the odd experienced ‘Ol pape’ (old man) staring at the developing vista from a comfortable distance.

Having made it a goal of mine to better understand the current culture and past experiences of individual Liberians, I decided to enjoy a little snack and talk to the local Liberians. For $10LD (the equivalent to about $0.20USD) I bought both Marcel and I a roasted cassava root. It might not sound very good but it actually looks and tastes a lot like a giant French fry. To moisten our mouths and wash some of the accumulated dust in our mouths we proceeded to buy green orange after green orange from a group of young ladies selling their product from a round platter-like dish suspended twelve inches from the dirty ground below.

The young girl I bought my oranges from stood out to me. Of the three of them selling oranges, she had a baby. “Awdio la naam dan?” “What is your name?” she said in her native Gissi tongue. “La naam dan Kevin.” Our conversation in Gissi didn’t last very long as I only knew two or three very basic phrases. We reverted to her speaking in broken English, most of which I could make out, some of which I don’t know that I wanted to. I asked her how old she was and she told me that she was fourteen. Initially I was maybe a little taken back by the fact that she had a kid at such a young age but in reality that isn’t anything new to Liberians. A commonly held belief in Liberia is that if you are thirteen and not having sex then you will get sick. Hence, you have a lot of young girls, some even younger than thirteen, attributing the HIV/AIDS problem thanks in part to a belief that most Westerners would view as “na corre”. As I went back and forth with this girl, Marcel was at an arms length teaching the other kids everything from songs from the BoneyM Christmas album to ‘Borat’ian phrases like “…itsa nice”. We all had some hearty laughs from it all. It was a perfect example of the clash of cultures.

Before every coming to Liberia I was warned by certain individuals that I would probably have Liberian girls try to pick me up. Up to this point I had never encountered this, until now. As I continued my conversation with this girl, her name I cannot recall, she slowly moved off her wooden block she was sitting on and leaned forward, her baby hanging only inches above the grill she used to fry the cassava roots she sold. I also leaned in to find out her little secret. “Ma babe want to no you.” I thought I had heard it all until I heard that one. The baby wasn’t old enough to speak. How could this baby want to know me? Anyways, we didn’t stick around much longer than that. We said thank you for the oranges, hopped on our motorcycles, and sped off into the night. The best of our Foya trip was yet to come.

That story is coming soon.

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