Refugee Family

The most recent statistics I’ve seen show that 137,093 Ivorian refugees have registered in Liberia, though the actual number could be as high as 180,000 due to the high number of unregistered refugees. The tribal conflict going on across the border remains fragile. The camp at Solo town has grown from 3000 people to almost 5000 over the last several weeks. I had an opportunity to talk with a few individuals as well as a couple families residing at the refugee camp. We wanted to hear their story and to find out how they are fairing. Communication was definitely a challenge. They speak French so we needed an interpreter. Not only that, but the Rwandan doing the translating and I definitely had some miscommunication issues. I wonder how fluently my questions were interpreted and how much information was lost in translation.

This Ivorian family of twelve shares a two-room tent. Their story, though similar to others, pierced something inside of me.

Their father, I observed had dark, contemplative eyes and an air of humble authority about him.  He had been working as an accountant for his community’s town hall, a relatively esteemed position for this society, when rebels invaded and set fire to their town. His family fled in such a fright that virtually all their belongings were left behind. I don’t know anything about their home, but can’t imagine being torn from mine is such a way.

It is difficult, he explained, to calculate just how many kilometers they had to walk from their home to reach the Solo Refugee camp because they did not use main roads. Rather, they weaved their way through the forest and from village to village seeking refuge from the rebels and looking for food. They wandered like this for about a month, sleeping on the ground and taking shelter wherever possible. Upon arrival to the camp, they were provided with shelter, food, water and a relative peace of mind.

After being settled in the camp for a little over a month, this family has already begun their own small business selling an assortment of dry food items. The father hopes to find a small part-time job in the area while they wait out the conflict back home.

Although, grateful for the provisions of the camp, they are of course anxious to return to their lives in Ivory Coast…their home, jobs and school.

On the days, especially recently, when I find myself feeling homesick and starkly out of place, I am reminded of this family who are far from home. They cannot speak the official language and are living out of a tent in one of the most rainy countries on earth. I am prompted to pray that God gives them the grace to survive these next several months, possibly years in an unfamiliar place.

To check out a short video of the camp, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is5Z_Tj2f5A

Advertisements

Grilled Plantain

We LOVE to grill. After our cheap gas grill from Home Depot died last summer, we decided to go all in for this tantalizing piece of extravagance.

The Big Green Egg is now our favorite culinary device. Fashioned after an ancient Japanese ceramic oven, this grill can bake a pizza in 90 seconds at 850 degrees, smoke a salmon for 12 hours at 150 degrees and most anything in between. We’ve baked homemade bread, roasted vegetables, smoked a 20 lb turkey and you can’t beat a T-bone off this thing anywhere. After purchasing the grill, going out for dinner became an almost rare occasion, so convinced were we that whatever we were making was more tasty, healthier and cheaper.

Before moving to Africa, we sold off much of our furniture, but needless to say, we were not about to depart with our new friend. He is safely packed away in our storage cage at Bethany. We miss him. And we miss grilling.

As I’ve said, I have not had much opportunity to cook in Africa, but that is about to change. This last week, we bought…well, an old streetlamp…obviously.

After the electrical grid was destroyed in the war, street lights no longer functioned and many of the metal shades were torn down and made into coal or cooking pots. We bought one at the local market for 5 bucks.

Tim and Francis pretending to season the chicken

Grilled plantain and pineapple. Delish!

That’s my kind of Saturday, Jack!

Father’s Day

I’ve always known that my dad is the best. As a little girl I remember how gigantic he seemed to me. He would swing me up onto his broad shoulders as if I weighed no more than a feather. I may have, a time or two, even used his intimidating size to leverage a pre-school quarrel my way.  Although, anyone even faintly acquainted with my dad would know he is the most kind and mild-tempered of men. I love my dad. He has rarely raised his voice to me, but his strong, quiet presence has always merited my respect.

Well…I suppose there may have been a few years during adolescence when we did not necessarily see eye to eye. I can see now that that was primarily because of what a wise and devoted father he is and perhaps partly because of what a dim-witted teenager I was.

I found this picture taped to the inside of a b-day card that my Dad gave me a few years back.

Like many of us, as a child I naturally assumed that my dad could do anything for no other reason than he was my dad and he just knew how. As an adult, I have come to realize that the mechanics of my dad’s intellect are something quite extraordinary. As the wheels of genius begin to turn, one can see his big, brawny hands bringing to life the workings of his mind. He seems to be able to take another’s cast off debris and craft it into something special. He saved the rickety timbers from a century old barn destroyed in a storm so that he could rebuild a piece of his history.  He’s taken old rusted scraps of metal from abandoned cars, tractors, fences and created a hydraulic woodsplitter, which in turn gives him the ability to heat our entire house for an entire winter on wood.  Pretty neat. He is well-known for his knack of salvaging tired vehicles and tractors making them purr like new. He has an incredible ability to memorize scripture, history, places, dates and to share his knowledge with others in a way that any common man can comprehend…pretty sure my big brother inherited those traits…apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

There is something comforting about coming home to the farm knowing that Dad is there, stoking the fire or tinkering in his shop. Whenever I arrive, Dad greets me with a big bear hug and the smell of smoke combined with car grease and gasoline bring on a doting wave of nostalgia.

I miss him so much and look forward to seeing him in just 33 days!!

Mouse in the House

We are presently experiencing a most unwelcome influx of mice inhabiting both guesthouses in Liberia….maybe because the rainy season has begun? Tim and I looked high and low for mousetraps, but the only ones to be found looked like they were made for a raccoon, not tiny rodents. We had a guest traveling from the States recently and asked him to please swing by a hardware store and pick us up a dozen or so traps.

And can I just say, that these are no ordinary mice! They can jump and they can climb walls, counters, tables…I’m also assuming bedposts…ugh. We asked our housekeeper what she does about the mice at her place. She explained that the rats, as she calls them, are very clever and very brave. You have to trick them. “How does one do that?”, we asked. When she sees them run under the door into her bedroom, she shoves a towel in the door crack and traps them inside. Then, she removes her clothes, puts on her rain boots, takes up her broom and she fights it. I’m not making this up! These are her words. So far, she has killed five. I’m not sure what the fight looks like. I’m assuming she’s using her rain boots to stomp on the thing and when I asked why she took her clothes off, she said because she gets too sweaty when she fights “the rats”.

By now, the traps have arrived and we are enjoying a most bountiful harvest. The Africans love it too. It seems, that some of them have never seen a mousetrap before and think it is a hilarious game. Each time another dead pest is discovered, I hear a hideous cackle erupt from the guesthouse staff.

Spain

Today is our last day of R&R. I can’t help feeling a little sad at how quickly it’s come to an end. This trip has been amazing. I’ve traveled a fair bit throughout Europe and I think I can say that this has been the best jaunt yet. The south of Spain boasts of scenic mountains with picturesque, little white towns sporadically situated throughout the range.  I found the victorious theme song from El Cid, a 1961 Charlton Heston movie (his best, in my opinion) stuck in my head as we drove along the Costa De Sol

Although the scenery has been some of the finest I’ve seen, I don’t know that that alone is what has me mesmerized. This trip would not be nearly as exotic without Tim. Sound cheesy? All right, but Tim has brought this entire excursion to life, in more ways than one. He planned the entire week from flights and train rides to historic castles and breathtaking beaches. He’s a history junky and can share with me stories behind the various sites we’ve visited making them all the more fascinating. He’s also just a good travel mate. He is patient, has a good sense of direction and is up for just about anything.

Casablanca

Our first day on holiday was spent in Casablanca. We had no idea what to expect after some of Britain’s most refined chaps from the UN in Monrovia described the Morrocan city as a complete “sh**hole”….classy. Well, I can’t say that Casablanca has been the most spectacular city I’ve ever seen, but after being Liberia for four months, I felt like I was walking into a magical kingdom where miraculously lights come on by simply flipping a switch-no generator required. Where hot showers, public trash bins, parking lots, escalators, public transportation, credit card machines, WI-FI, freeways, stoplights, cafes’, non-nescafe coffee, public restrooms greet me around every turn. It’s stimulation overload! All I wanted to do was linger in my hot shower and drink iced espresso. Tim pulled me away for at least a few hours to take in some of the local sites.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Not sure where the Brits get off. I found Casablanca to be just delightful.

Cooking

I don’t get to do much cooking in Liberia, which I confess, has been a bit of a disappointment. Those even somewhat acquainted with me already know that I love to cook and if I say so myself, have grown to be reasonably good at it. I went from catering, cooking and planning menus as a full-time job and hosting affable dinner gatherings in my home to almost no time spent in the kitchen over here.  I miss it.

Since arriving in Liberia, Tim and I have not spent more than 2 weeks in one place. We move back and forth between Monrovia and Zwedru about every other week. The Monrovia guesthouse does not have a furnished kitchen. We buy dry goods like granola bars, dried fruit, powdered milk, cereal and crackers to eat for breakfast. We typically eat out at lunch in the mid to late afternoon, then snacks again in the evening. The Zwedru guesthouse does have a fully functioning kitchen equipped with a gas stove, fridge and…a hired housekeeper/cook, completely eliminating any need for me to spend time in the kitchen.

However, the housekeeper, Oretha does not work on Sundays so on the few weekends that I have been in Zwedru, I’ve been able to put my culinary skills to work. I did NOT receive the kind response from my African teammates that I had been hoping for. My Penne with Roasted Garlic and Red Wine Sauce, my Spicy Garbanzo Bean Curry and my Chili Chicken with kidney beans and sautéed plantain were not a hit. As I looked around the table in hopeful anticipation, they quietly pushed the food from this side of their plate to the other mumbling something about how “she’ll learn”.

She’ll learn? Are you kidding me? I sawed those cans of beans open with a knife! I ripped that chicken apart with my bare hands! I “pressed” that garlic with the same knife I used to open the cans with. While I could feel an offensive force rising up from my stomach, I had only to look over at Tim who sat stuffing his face and happily enjoying his dinner causing the loathsome commotion in me to subside. I am thankful for a husband who is contented to eat crackers and granola bars, as well as any culinary creation I conjure up.

Speaking of inspired cuisine, we are off to Morocco tomorrow morning (1:30 AM to be exact) where we will spend one night and a day in Casablanca. I am looking forward to exploring the markets, enjoying Moroccan food and a bit of site seeing during our short visit. On Friday, we’ll hop across the straight of Gibraltar and spend 6 days wandering the south coast of Spain. After an intense few months in Liberia, a bit of rest and relaxation is most welcome.

We’ll try and upload a few pix along the way. Adios!