Thursday, February 28, 2008

Shadow of a President

The traces of President Bush's visit to Liberia still remain, here were just two of hundreds of billboards noting the visit.

Cultural Difference Part II

Yesterday I had the oppurtunity to get out of the office and move 3,000 text books from the Visions in Action office to the Montserrado Learning Resource center. I welcomed the physical task, even if the heat and humidity was near unbearable. We transported the books in a small toyota pickup and had to make 4 long trips to finish the job. The first trip there were four of us who went and moved boxes. the second trip one of the guys went and sat in his office and recruited two more people to come with us. for the remaining 3 trips myself, and the two new guys, moved all the boxes of textbooks, while the driver sat in the vehicle. Everyone was surprised that I would get out and help move the books.
There is a heirarchy here that doesnt exist as much in the States. Drivers, think they are only hired to drive, and managers think they only supervise, the maid panics if I wash my own dishes, stuff like that. I have talked with Peggy about this and she agrees and has given me other instances, and she says is a common trend in a lot of developing countries. She said that people are shocked to find out she doesnt have a driver or a house keeper.

Cultural difference Part I

Sadly, Last week one the local administrative assistance passed away last week and left two daughters and the rest of her family. The office has been in shock and she will be missed. I have noticed a few differences with how families here handle the death process. This is based on one tribe's way of doing things and is not how all Liberians handle things. The funeral setup is not just a family thing, coworkers, classmates, friends, everybody involved with the person sits in and has a say. After the death, friends, family, and community come to pay their respects by 'sitting on the mat' which is figuratively the last place the late person had been. They come sit on the mat to meet with the spirit of the person they are honoring. The family is required to feed all the people who come to the mat. This is very different than what I am accoustomed to, as folks prepare meals for the family goign throught the tradgedy. Funeral costs are about the same here as they are in the states, which is outrageous.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Could you teach here?

This is a picture of C.D.B. King Elementary school in Monrovia. This school received a smal lgrant from USAID to repaint and fix a few things. This is by no means the worse school I have been in, in fact its one of the better ones. Could you teach here? could you learn here? Kids do every day.
This school has newly painted walls which is a much needed imporvement.
Some schools that I have been in only have tarps for roofs, and have no furniture. Imagine a tarp for a roof in a country that gets the 5th most amount of anual rainfall. Electricity, venthilation, and cleanliness are non-existant in most schools. Some of these schools make the delapodated school of my childhood seem like palaces. Starkey Elementary's library is bigger than most of these schools.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This too is Liberia

If you caught any of the press about the President's visit to Monrovia Feb 21st you may have noticed something he didnt offer Liberians that He offered Rwanda and Tanzania, money. These countries are receiving 70 Million and 150 Million respectively. Liberia was left off the list because it has failed to meet good governance standards as corrruption is still a huge problem facing this current governement. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has done much to improve this country but is slow on clamping down on the rampant corruption. However, I think Madam President has done much to help this country, but it will take more time to change the way government is run here in the capitol city of Liberia. There are a few trials going on now over legislators who are charged with corruption, hopefully these wil begin to set the tone of how this governement should operate. One story, dates back to last year when the USAID started renovating the capital building, the legislators took all the furniture home. Now that the building is rennovated they started complaining that their is no furniture. This is the state of things...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Give Me Give Me"

Ive reached the 6th week mark in my stay in 'Mamma Liberia' (as named by a text I recieved from the cell provider calling for citizens to keep Mamma Liberia clean) and have seen a lot, but also seen very little. Sorry for the paradox but one thing that I have seen in Monrovia is begging, scamming for money and an expectation that they will recieve something from me. I am torn, because I believe it is my duty as a Christian, and as a decent human being to help those in need. However, there are situations that I tend to stay away from and some I help, here are some examples,
The other day after playing tennis (you do anything to find exercise to avoid sitting in your compound all day) my partner and I decided to walk back from the apartment compound with the tennis courts to her place of work, about a five minute walk. We walked by a group of 5-8 year old girls who instantly began to say "Give me!, give me!" The had their palms out expecting something in return, we didnt have anythign but our tennis gear, and my friend looked at them and held out her palm and said no, you give me, which caused both sides to errupt in laughter and giggles. It breaks my heart to know the extreme level of poverty here.
Another example and tragedy, is the amount of amputees that flood the streets, most are amputees from the civil war, and the others due to poor health care, They usually gather around shopping centers and surround you once you leave your vehicle and expect money. once you make it past the amputees, you are surrounded by pirated DVD salesmen and other salesmen who sell everything from pillows to dog leashes and everything in between. There is at one of the supermarkets two amputees that tag team, one (missing an arm) opens the door , while the otehr (with out legs) holds a box for donations, I usually leave my change with him, mostly out of thanks for not being in my face about it. It is a sad state because even the Liberians are shunning the amputees to try to forget the civil war, so they arent hired, and thus forced to beg to a society that doesnt want to see them.
The last kind of scam, i have no sympathy for and it involves someone coming up to you telling you that they have a "insert family member here" sick and they need money, I had a guy just this morning as a I walked to work follow me then finally catch up to me to tell me his story, Thankfully it is a short walk and I was able to leave his company right as he asked me for money.
I want to help, but the big daddy complex of America will solve all our problems drives me crazy,Liberia can't be healed until its own people help each other...Its a tough subject to talk about because its amazing how little these people survive on...

The President is Coming

The long awaited day of the president's visit to Liberia is almost upon us! It has been a crazy week as plans are scrambled to be completed to only be changed by the embassy and the whitehouse team due to security reasons or time constraints. I actually have been volunteered to stand at the front of the auditorium tomorrow and check people's names off and make sure they match the ID card, They needed an American to do this, so here I am. as of yesterday I was actually volunteered to stand on the bus andcheck people off, but like everything else with this visit, things change. More and Likely this will all change five more times today, along with every other plan. I heard a fact that President Bush's visit is costing more than the total amount of USAID money poured into Liberia. So is the visit worth it? For Liberia, I think it is, The international recongition, as well as the increase of funds can only help. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Startling Facts

As I have been writting reports and success stories, I have come across some facts that have startled me. During the 'Presidency' of Samuel Doe, a little under 50% of the population had any formal education. for 20 years it was like this, then Liberia was plungedinto an 'uncivil war' that destroyed what was left of the education system. Families stopped sending their girls to school, which is common in impoverished nations, and this only leads to the increase of violent crimes against women. After reading Three Cups of Tea , where Greg Morteson makes it his life's ambition to build schools that allow girls to attend in Islam centered Pakistan and Afghanistan, I can see how much education is important, to all. The US education system is not perfect, far from it, but I begin to see how blessed I am to have the privledge of public education. I wish that as an elementary student we could have seen different cultures schools or lack of. I think it would have great impacts on our children and teach them at an early age how important education is, instead of just focusing on standardized tests. I think it would be amazing if U.S. schools would 'adopt' a needy school or community in another part of the world and donate money(pennies), books, clothes, and other necessities. Then set up means to connect the schools via satellite or internet or just photos if the school doesnt have electricity to run such amenities, to see where their donations were going. Would we change the world? probably not, but you could start giving kids a global perspective. Ok back to work!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Visual Stimulation

Here in Monrovia, and out into the other country, signs and phrases are painted on everything from taxis to walls to carts. This particular sign is right outside my compound, gently reminding me that even here in Monrovia I can have a home. Many are informational such as "Wash Hands after pupu" (which has a picture of a guy 'puing' and "Violence leads to Jail" or "Peace not Guns" portraying a busted AK 47 over Liberia. There are also signs that say "Rape is a Crime" and "Don't beat your Wife" with graphic pictures describing the scene. Most of these informational signs about sanatation, civil obedience, protection from malaria and the running stomach are sponsored by USAID. I wonder how they are precieved to the illiterate in the population, who the signs are targeted to. When they see the picture of the guy 'puing' do they think to wash their hands? or when they see the picture of the guy raping a girl or beating his wife, do they think, I wont do that. These crimes as well as robbery are on the increase. I doubt this is caused because a high percentage of the population is illeterate, but its an ironic situation, and very sad. We hope that with generations of school children learning to read and write that crime will go down, as they climb out of poverty.
The signs on the taxis range from religious statements like "small is much when God in it" to statements of perplex ideas. My favorite one so far is "Man suffer, Woman Enjoy" The taxis are also adorned with huge bumper stickers and the sticker of choice is a huge picture of Maddona with her name written above it. Its on about two-thirds of the taxis I see. The Taxis all have license plates that start off TX - #### so I always think of Texas when I see one. About a quarter of the taxis are broken down and being repaired on the side of the road or in route by pushing by standers. The term personal taxi doesnt exist, and one could share the taxi with up to 7 people, not includeing the driver! With gas and food prices so high, the taxi drivers can affoard to take one person at a time. I should start writting down the phrases on back of taxis or the names of churches.
During the seige of Monrovia in the 90's the poor rebels came into Monrovia and painted their names on houses and other things that they 'claimed' and thought that when they returned they would take ownership as they were promised for fighting. Now most of the walls say, "Don't pepe here" , or "Only dogs pepe here!"

There are many carts and wheelbarrows that roam the streets looking for their next sale. My favorite are woden carts that have a picuture of a head of a cow that has been removed from its body and its looking at you almost with a smile on its face with the caption "Cow Meat" I havnt bought any of this meat, but will soon get a picture of one.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lacking Schools

I am currently reading 3 Cups of Tea, which I recommend, about one man who fails to climb K2 but stumbles across a poor Balti villiage in Northern Pakistan. He sees a bunch of kids doing multiplication tables sitting in the dirt, without a teacher and promises to build a school. It is inspiring and as I have visited a few schools here in Monrovia the need in Liberian schools is great. But before I think that education will take root here, the poverty level will have to decrease, in other words kids have to not be hungry before they can learn. The rebuilding of Liberia is a huge task, and it is sad to think of the how Liberia came to be in the despair it is in. Warlords with no regard of human life, along with greed, drugs, and violence destroyed this economy, as well as the familes and individuals who bear the scars. I have met many different people who are involved in many different projects, with goals ranging from education to re-electrifying Liberia. It is all needed and each project depends on the other to help their own project improve. After seeing the money that is poured in here, you hope that it will take root and grow a sustainable society here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Surfer's Paradise

I know I posted most of these on my flickr account but I just wanted to share withevery one the beauty of Robertsport, I hope to go back there soon. If there was any infrastructure, it could become a surfing heaven for tourists. But that vision is a long way off as Liberia slowly rebuilds. The promising thing is I see potential here, its just going to take Liberians realizing it and this will take much time and education. Along with getting people above the poverty line, getting electricity to the people, as well as running water. However, there seems to be a bad case of "big daddy complex" over here, as a lot of people think the US will keep funding Liberia. This too will have to change before Liberia wil be able to stand on its own two feet.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dangerous Jobs

The Creative Office is being painted today and I am thankfull that I am not a painter here in Monrovia. They are painting a ledge on the third floor and have three ladders bairly connected together to reach the height! The conditions of the ladders are such that I would not wnat to climb on one of them if they were standing alone and not attached to two other shoddy ladders. Its an amuzing site, but I also am concerned for the painter's safety! I guess Ill just keep a close watch on the ladder out my window and if it falls go administor first aid! Most of Monrovia is being painted in order to beautify the city which is in dire need of something to help its image. Little by little it is picking up the pieces from a decade and a half of devistating civil war. The scars are still deep and visable. At least the Painters have a job, unlike most people in Monrovia, I dont know the wage but it probably isnt much...but maybe enough to buy rice and minuets for their cell phones...

Good to be back...

I have started work today and am back in the Creative Office which is on Randall Street. As some of you know, I spent a half week with most of the Creative staff at a workshop in Gbarnga. They are all friendly and welcoming and honestly enjoy having me here. I like that. I am one of them, I am not a boss, or just another American, but they have accepted me, they teach me Liberian pronunciations, and have taught me the Liberian handshake, and yes every liberian knows it and uses it. I have started working on Staff Biographies and should have them finished by the middle of next week. I realize that I will remain busy for the rest of my time which will keep me from getting home sick or too worried about things back home. This is good. I do miss Texas and my friends, but I am loving the experience that I am having here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Busy is spelled F-e-b-r-u-a-r-y

I am nearing my one month in the country of Liberia, and the new month has already altered my day to day routine. Friday the 1st I was able to witness a festive event as previously described in my blog. I am going to work with VIA as their Communication Volunteer in charge of designing the 2007 Annual report. There are problems to this, the office is in Sinkor which is all the way on the other side of Monrovia from my residence and I dont have my own means of tranportation. Also since it is just a volunteer position, taking the taxis and providing my own meals will be costly by the end of my stay here. Gas prices have doubled since I have been here, and many blame the governemnt for purposly doing it to rid the road of all 'junkers'. Seriously that was reported in one of the newspapers today. So working is new but I am glad to undertake a task and feel 'purposeful' over here.
February is shaping up to be a busy month not just for me, but for the whole of Monrovia! Everyone here is gearing up for the VIP visit from the POTUS(President of the United States) on Feb 21. Roads are being repaved at a feverish rate, which means traffic is at a stand still,and The education NGO's are getting ready to host the President or the First Lady to their education sites as education is the main focus of the event. Because of this NGO's are also stressed and are in need of help, I have been hired by Creative Associates International, Inc. to assist the Cheif of Party and Senior Educaiton Manager in certain tasks preparing for the visit as well as producing success stories about the visit. I am torn about leaving Visions so soon but I might be able to produce the annual report in my spare time, but the idea of working for pay and in an office that is walking distance is much more fesible. I plan to talk to the director of VIA about possibly finishing the annual report in my spare time or on weekends. It will be interesting no matter what I spend my time doing, and am looking forward to pouring into my duties. Because of this visit things will only get more choatic as the visit date approaches. Hope everyone has had a great super Tuesday!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Local Games

I have observed several of the Liberian kids playing several different games. The first that caught my eye is what the kids call toil, or at least thats what i think they call it. its basically tether ball! My 2 summers as Activities director much of my time was spent re-attatching tetherballs so it made me chuckle. the other is lapa which is like dodgeball, one kid is in the middle with several pairs of lapas, or flip flops and the other kids throw a 'ball/sand bag' at the kid in the middle, every time they miss the kid in the middle arranges the lapas in anyway they seem fit. They have to dodge the ball. if the kid is pegged, the thrower gets to go to the middle and starts the arrangement all over.