Today is malaria pill day. Every Sunday evening, after our popcorn, Tim and I swig back one dose of Mefloquine, which is an antimalarial agent. Common side effects include dizziness and dream hallucinations or nightmares. Fortunately, I can say that we have not experienced any of these adverse symptoms.
The warning on the side of the bottle reads: Call your doctor immediately if you experience mood changes, such as new and worsening feelings of sadness, depression or fear.
Hmm. That’s curious…. Wouldn’t most anyone moving to a corner of the world where malaria pills are required experience unusual feelings of sadness, depression or fear?…also known as “culture shock”? Riveting…
Thanks a million Dr.Murphy. I’ll be sure to give you a call…
We will be returning to Zwedru this week and conducting our first agro-business training seminar. The participants who successfully complete the two-day training will qualify for a jumpstart grant, which include both commodities and cash.
In preparation for the distribution of the grants, we have been researching a variety of products, which would qualify as sustainable agricultural inputs. We visited an independently owned rice farm called Arjay about an hour north of Monrovia. They have been working to develop types of rice specifically for Liberian farmers. We looked at a blend that has been designed to grow during the rainy season. It takes only 75 days from planting to harvest and can be done without the use of power equipment. The projected yield is 100 fold, meaning that one-kilo of rice seed will average a gross harvest of 100 kilo finished product. Pretty amazing, eh?
SFL has purchased 400 lbs of this particular blend to be distributed to low land farmers in and around Zwedru who are eligible for the grant.
We also came across a family who grows bread fruit (looks like durian) and convinced them to give us a sample. We’ll boil and roast the nuts inside for an extra source of protein.
I keep thinking about Japan. I cannot fathom what these people are facing. It must be bewildering to go from the monotony of contemporary everyday life to mass chaos and devastation in just a matter of seconds.
As I view striking images of cars floating and collapsed buildings, I question how I would respond if a similar catastrophe assaulted my own community. These past several weeks in Liberia have revealed a side of me not often exposed.
The earthquakes in New Zealand and in Japan have perhaps struck a nerve with me because I come from a comparable socio-economic condition. Those of us from similar backgrounds are not accustomed to fighting for our survival.
I wonder, being sunk in a much higher level of poverty, how the Liberian people would endure such a crisis.
I look around and observe people fighting for their lives on a daily basis. They are already in survival mode. We have, at times, stereotyped those in poverty as lethargic…even lazy, but not Liberians. Statistics indicate that Liberian unemployment rates are among the highest in the world (85%). How accurate this is, I don’t know. What I do know is that even those who are not gainfully employed find ways to contribute toward a better society.
Even beggars find obscure ways to earn handouts. Everyday, I pass men along the side of the road who fill potholes with gravel, hoping that someone may stop and give them a few cents for their effort. Paraplegic war veterans will hover around large markets assisting with traffic control. Small car wash stations are established along creeks and ponds offering quick and quality service in exchange for pennies. Although these individuals may not have recognized employment, they are working hard.
If such tragedy confronted my home community, I hope and pray that I would be able to respond with as much tenacious determination and perseverance that I see in these people.
Here are a few shots from our stay in Zwedru. It is difficult to imagine that in this day and age, there are actually people who live in mud huts without electricity and without running water. As I walk from the guesthouse into town, I feel like I am in a national geographic documentary.
The truth is, there is no electricity in all of Liberia that is not powered by a generator. The electrical grid was destroyed in the war. As a result, the nights here are dark and light is somewhat of a luxury. Without a constant supply of electricity, items such as refrigerators and freezers become very impractical even for the elite who may be able to afford a generator, but who may not wish to run it 24/7. Everyday that passes, I find areas of daily life that I have thoughtlessly taken for granted.
Tim gave his first microfinance presentation at a town hall gathering in Zwedru on Saturday. There were about 10 local authorities present and 75 or so of the neighboring community who attended the information session. Although, English is the official language spoken in Liberia, we have found it, at times, tricky to communicate effectively. The Liberians seem to have a hard time understanding us and we them. They often stress the last vowel in the word and drop any remaining consonants. For example, “water” becomes “wata” or “dog” is pronounced “daw” and “salt” becomes “sal”.
So, after a few minutes of blank stares from the audience, one of the local government officials stepped up to translate from Tim’s English to Liberian English. It was rather amusing and went something like this.
Tim: The initial beneficiaries for the microfinance program will be gifted jumpstart grants.
Translation: WHITE MAN SAY, “DESE NO LOAN! DESE IS GRA!”
Tim: Soooo, although initial recipients have no obligation to repay SFL the principle, there is a cost.
Translation: WHITE MAN SAY, “DESE NO FREE MONEY!”
Audience is silent.
Tim: Um,ok. The expectation will be that instead of repaying the money, the cost will be hard work, the sweat of your labor and your determination to persevere.
Translation: WHITE MAN SAY, “YOU MUS WOR HAR! YOU SWE AND LABA! YOU MUS TO PERSEVA!!!
Round of applause from the audience.
Despite losing at least some of the information in translation, the meeting was a success. We have over 40 female agro-business owners signed up for a business-training seminar. Completing the training will qualify them to receive the jumpstart grant at the end of this month. These women will gain general business acumen in this two-day training and will submit their own business plan at the conclusion of the seminar. We are excited to work with these Liberian entrepreneurs.
This morning, we were astonished to discover that our guesthouse had been invaded by a swarm of termites during the night. They had found their way in through the cracks in the windows and doors. There were literally hundreds of these vermin shedding their wings and mating on our living room floor. Thankfully, only a handful made their way into the bedroom where we were sound asleep, completely oblivious to the crazy love fest going on outside our door.
Our housekeeper swept up the mess, but I noticed before she disposed of them, she took the time to put the wings in one bucket and the bodies in another. Before I could ask what she planned to do with them, she proudly informed us that she would fry and salt them for a very special treat.