eJournal

eJournal

Liberia

Kimmie's Liberian eJournal

When I return from Liberia, I am asked, "How was your trip?" or, "Is it great to be back?" or, from those who have been, "Have you re-acclimated yet?"

 

My new response is a silent nodding.  I feel almost paralyzed to respond.  I wish I had a crystal ball into my experience that could be transferred to all my caring friends asking this question, but instead, I am empty-handed.  I want to share everything, but words float just beyond my reach as insufficient bridges.

 

My heart is heavy and light simultaneously. The children of Africa have miraculous powers over me, challenging me in every way to rise above self, to move in the direction of love...to always walk towards this place of reconciliation and of light.

 

How could I have been given this gift?  Look into my eyes...can you see now? Look into their eyes.  This is the crystal ball.

 

At every difficult crossroad, a tiny hand will find mine, a chance meeting, magic words drift to my ears...

 

There is no question of my return, only my means.  The magnetized spirits of these girls are pulling from across the Atlantic. 

 

I have discovered that to "be" in our despair, in our brokenness, leads us to transporting possibilities, when we keep our arms wide open.

 

I had the great privileged of teaching creative writing to the students, which is ironic now that I am rendered mute.  Words are necessary, yes, but for now, I will carry their words, "you are my air...you are our mother...trusted friend...thank you for remembering...you will come back, right?...please, do not forget me...I love you..."

 

And by carrying their words, they carry me, to the place where we all are one, to the next surprise, to the place where love changes everything.

Kimmie's eJournal.16 (archived)

Journal #16

In the youth mission, we were scheduled to visit an orphanage for possible future missions.  We brought gifts of toys and books.  When we arrived, it was raining as it had been for much of the trip.  The Reverend who supervised the operations pulled up in his expensive black SUV, welcomed us and began a tour.  We walked through a large common room and into a flooded courtyard framed with classrooms.  The classrooms had nothing in them other than the students and a few broken chairs.  Most of the kids were standing or sitting on the floor.  There were no books.

After that we were taken to the boys’ dorms where I was greeted by several boys who took my hand on the off chance that I was looking for someone to adopt.  As we walked through the dark interior, viewing small rooms that contained six or eight beds, some with two boys per twin bed, I began to smell something.  There were a few shredded mosquito nets hanging from the ceiling and as we neared the end of the hallway, I walked into the most horrific site.  The bathroom was a tiny closet type of room with a toilet that was a box with a hole in it and it was filled to the brim with putrid waste.  Seventy-some boys shared this one bathroom.

Outside I turned to Buck and said, “ This is so overwhelming.  Where would you even start?  He said, “You just start.”

A blind boy named Fitzgerald found my hand outside and I stopped to talk with him and a smaller boy who was guiding him.  He told me that he loved me.  He was 14.

We were told that the food supplies were constantly being robbed and the kitchen and dining hall were dungeons of filth.  In the hallway there was a seat from an old van with most of the stuffing having escaped through the gaping holes.  Two small children sat there with dark eyes that never left us.

 I could sense that the youth were approaching maximum capacity for these hard visions but we were invited inside for a few songs.  I had a hard time maintaining my composure as they sang The Lord Will Supply All My Needs, these orphans living in squalor, who had nothing and no one but each other.  They still had faith that God was there, loving them.

As we drove away, the radio in the car was playing.  No one could even speak.  Then Teddy Pendergrass’ song, Wake Up Everybody, came on and we all smiled small smiles laced with secret and unspoken promises. Another song played and then by some mistake or from D.J. God, the song played again.  We decided to use it for our presentation when we got back.  It was a call to action.

More than anything this song provided hope and levity to an otherwise hopeless situation. I did not hear the screams of the children of Liberia during the war but they reverberate in my core.  I don’t know the desperate pain of hunger or the terror in the eyes when a former friend slashes off a limb like tall grass, like thick bush that needs clearing.  I don’t know the delving humiliation bourn of rape or the wandering hopeless confusion of sleeping under trees, cold and alone.  I don’t know the riveting waves of shock and heart stopping paralysis of witnessing your pregnant mother’s belly sliced open, the baby ripped out and the slow unfathomable death that ensued. I don’t know the pain of all of these horrors leeching into your being, a lifetime of tortured images.

What I do know is what I get from the children of Liberia, eternal hope where there is no hope, belief that in a forsaken land someone will remember, someone will come home, someone will just do something. I do know that I will never turn my back, never close my eyes. I will always come “home,” home to the people who saved me from a life of complacency, from the illusion of me helping them, from myself.

Our souls flew together like magnets, light finding light, God within finding God within, love finding love.

Fitzgerald will always haunt me as will the Bromley girls and the faces of my many friends here but you, people of Liberia, are the saviors, the miracle workers, the angels and the therapy.  You are the light of God.

Kimmie's eJournal #11 (archived)

eJournal #11

April 2, 2009, Bushrod Island, Liberia

After a few weeks of working in Liberia, I find myself more and more at home.  Sure, when I’m exhausted and the ten mile trip to Monrovia takes over an hour in the traffic, when I have been sufficiently launched through the spine cracking craters in the streets, when I am pained to numbness from people with missing limbs pounding on my car window-and my heart- when my clothes,upon removal need tongs to lift into a bucket of soap and my hair is a perfect likeness of Medusa’s, or when I finally splurge and buy a small carton of milk that ends up tasting like Bob Evans sausage….I do wish for home.

However, people here welcome me into their families and their lives- which comes with the added luxury of their Liberian meals of pepper soup, palava sauce and cassava- all with the signature Liberian spice- and I always find that I want to stay.

Two weeks ago, I was invited to attend the inauguration of the University of Liberia’s new president.  This was a steamy, outdoor event full of regalia and fanfare.  Liberia’s president Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, was also in attendance. Most intriguing was a traditional wooden horn blown at certain points during the ceremony, sounding a long, deep moan. One man told me this horn has a long tradition and was used for chiefs and kings and now for presidents.  Though I melted in my suit and we were there for a total of eight hours, including a dinner reception afterwards, I enjoyed myself immensely, moving a little deeper into this cultural immersion.

I also had an invitation to visit the schools on the Firestone Compound that are open to employees and children in neighboring communities.  These schools actually had computers, gymnasiums, libraries, physics and chemistry labs. They offered a little hope that not only Bromley, but also all of the Liberian schools, can be restored to this level someday.  I also discovered that they award college scholarships and that Bromley students (or any student in Liberia) can apply.

Driving past the perfect rows of rubber trees, curved from the ocean wind, looking like a regiment of old men laboring across the hills, the weight of their burdens bending them towards the earth, I saw Liberia, a sad yet resilient image of life in spite of everything.

But, for the majority of my days, I have been teaching at Bromley and loving every second.  They have confided much to me, and just being with them and seeing their almost feisty hope, gives me hope.

Vestergaard-Frandsen, a Danish company I contacted while in the States, came to Bromley to donate insecticide-treated mosquito screens for the window and also water filtration devices that purify any water into safe drinking water.  Their speaker engaged the students during his presentation and was met with loud applause.  He promised to remember Bromley for future donations.

In addition, a Lt. Colonel from the US Marines donated boxes of toys and sweets that his mother had sent for distribution to children in Liberia.  These will be used as the girls’ Easter treats and everyone was thrilled to receive such a gift.

The next phase of agricultural development is going well, with a new field cleared for planting cassava and a business plan in development for the palm oil project.  Thanks to the generosity of St. Philip’s in Durham, North Carolina and also leftover Mustard Seed grant money from St. James’, Leesburg, the palm processing equipment is being ordered.  Great enthusiasm surrounds the agriculture, as it is a means of sustainable food and revenue for Bromley.

So now comes the part where, having been back for three weeks, I must start looking for a way to return.  My job may be concluded, but I will never be able to get these girls, or this place, very far from my heart. In fact, if I could design a fantasy job, it would involve returning to Liberia to live and write, not so much as a sociological study, but more as an adopted family journal. I would also love to teach more at Bromley.

Just as the earthy smells, the salty aroma of the sea, the deafening rains, the vibrant colors and even the city sounds are stitched into my soul, I can’t help but wonder what Liberia will remember of me?  Will the children play a game I taught them, write a story in a journal I gave them? Will I live in the memory of a friend or in the rains that I loved?

For now, I leave with the knowledge that I must return someday, against all odds…

From Kebbeh, 20, a senior at Bromley:

What Makes Me Happy

When ever I’m in need of money

People look at me and give

Me money, but I am not happy.

 

When ever I speak, people sit

And listen to what I have

To say, but I am not happy.

 

It is God’s grace that

Makes me happy and the

Future he has for me.

 

People will like to see me

Going down tomorrow at the

Point of death and sit to

Laugh at me, but God

Will never laugh at me

Because he loves me.

I am down of the idea

Of being happy.  Only as

Far as God’s grace, I go

In life.  Let the Lord make

My dream brighter. 

Kimmie's eJournal #10 (archived)

eJournal #10

March 22, 2009

 

Sometimes I am astounded by the fact that I am actually in Africa.  I have so many friends here now, that it seems like another home, but then I will be staring out at the St. Paul River flowing past Bromley, or talking in a classroom of students, or sitting in a packed church singing, dancing and clapping to the drums and sassas of the offertory praise and thanksgiving, and I will think, my gosh… I am in Africa!

I have returned to Liberia to assist Bromley, for a sad final journey for quite some time, as my contract through the Diocese will expire at the end of this trip.  Through my journeys to Liberia, however, I have learned that the great thing about life is that you never know what is around the bend and I must hang my hopes there.  The smiles on the faces of the Bromley girls, however, make me eager to live in the moment and simply enjoy them.

From the moment I descended the airplane steps to the tarmac and breathed the rich, earthy smell of Liberia, I couldn’t believe the wash of serenity.  How could I, in the midst of such abject poverty, in a tiny country that holds the largest UN deployment in the world, feel such peace?

After a week here, I am just beginning to settle back into “Liberian time,” and the slow, methodical, relaxed ways of conducting business. The wind has been blowing up to 25 knots since I have been here, which is typical preceding the rainy season, and offers a fabulous reprieve to the 90° heat.

It always takes a few days to adjust to the rhythms of generator power, like when we lose electricity from a summer storm at home and I still flip the light switch in every room I walk into.  Here, I come back at the end of the day and think I will get some computer work done, or charge my phone and make calls, but then remember that the generator will not be on until dark. 

Instead, I am forced out of my familiar routine.  I am forced to observe more, to walk outside of the compound gates and “sit and talk” with new friends.  Maybe this is what makes Liberia seem like home. Maybe home is not a computer, phone, iPod, appliance, house or car.  Maybe home is a place where we truly learn to enjoy each other.  The day is over.  The work is done.  Turn all gadgets off.  Turn the rest of life on.

I have only been gone for 4 months, but upon my return, I see that much has changed.  The road from the airport was actually smooth!  There are road crews out in abundance around Duala Market and cinderblock walls, the sounds of hammering and even new plantings of palm and cassava are immerging from the earth. There is a slightly altered morale…as if life itself is beginning again.

Even Bromley’s spirit is better.  They have a new principal giving new structure and the girls seem a little more hopeful.  The garden that was begun during my last trip now has corn, eggplant, cassava, potato greens and peppers growing and the bulletin board just inside of the school’s entrance brags of the developing agriculture program and shows pictures of the girls gardening.

In between business and meetings in Monrovia, I have been working with the students on art and writing projects.  It is incredible to witness their “ah-ha” moments, their discoveries of new perspectives.  I see why my teacher friends love it so much.

Today was Liberian Episcopalians’ Mother’s Day, “Mothering Sunday” or “Refreshment Sunday” at the Trinity Cathedral in Monrovia. The four and a half hour service was not cumbersome, even though we were, as is typical, drenched in sweat. This Sunday, marking the halfway point in lent, is a Sunday of celebration in Liberia.  It is a Sunday to honor mothers and the nourishment and care that they provide.  As Bishop Hart said, mothers are a light, a light in the darkness, a light home.

Even now, almost six years after the war’s end, I was shocked by the prayer just before communion, “Thank you for sparing our lives.” I forget sometimes, just what they all have suffered- in fact, I cannot, in my wildest nightmare, envision it.  But, here they are, celebrating mothers, coming together, buds in the cinders.

I am learning that we can do nothing on our own and that Jesus asks us to do a simple thing…shine our light.  Even if we all have the smallest light, together we are bright.  Hundreds of people in the congregation came to the front of the church to light a candle to honor their mother.  Hundreds of candles illuminated a handmade wooden stand and a beautiful alter.

Hundreds of people in a church following the day’s theme, as we all must…”Go Light the World.”

Kimmie's eJournal #9 (archived)

I have been home for almost two months now and the Bromley girls still burn in my daily memories.  I thought I needed to wait until I returned to Liberia again to continue my eJournals, when what is happening at home is actually very vital.

On the business side of things, I am seeking 70 (!) $1000 scholarships for the orphaned girls at Bromley.  The school is now out of resources. 

Recently, I read a letter from a girl who could no longer attend school.  She wrote that she needs to sell water before she eats and that she has been offered money for sex. She said she did not want to be on the streets as a prostitute and that if she could find a way out of this place, she would be glad.  It is very hard to imagine from our vantage point, but these are the horrific realities for girls who cannot attend school.

Please stay tuned to BromleySchool.org for upcoming student profiles so you can choose a girl to sponsor if you feel moved to do so.

We also have some grant proposals currently being considered for building staff housing to attract additional qualified teachers. 

These children are hungry to learn and view their education as a gift and an opportunity to change not only their own futures, but also the futures of countless others around them.  Without the proper staff to guide them, however, these goals will be impossible to achieve. Keep them in your prayers for these potential grants.

We are also planning a big fundraising dinner on February 9.  This promises to be an amazing evening with fine food, silent and live auctions and music. Please contact me if you would like to attend.

On the spiritual side… I miss those girls!!  I would like to raise enough money to return and complete our agricultural projects and, of course, to see my friends at Bromley.

I think of them daily, wondering what they are doing, hoping that they are busy learning and not feeling too alone.  In their letters, there is a recurring phrase, “Please, do not forget me,” sometimes repeated three or four times in one letter.

I think that they believe when there is someone out there who remembers them, who loves them, even if they are separated by thousands of miles, they are never entirely lost.

I am holding the handmade, white prayers beads that I bought in Monrovia.  They were originally intended as Rosary beads, but for me, they are a link to the Bromley girls.  With each of the 59 beads, I say a girl’s name in a prayer that strings us together. 

As I roll the little beads in my fingers, I remember their faces, their fingers in my hair, their arms touching mine as we sat next to each other on a hard, concrete step-- or sometimes they hauled a desk outside for me to sit in, then surrounded me.  The little ones would fling their arms around my neck and some would take my hand and gently touch the inside of my wrist where blue veins bulged up.  They would look at their wrist, then back at mine. 

“You know,” I would say, “our skin is a different pigment, but the blood flowing through our veins is the same color.”

Love for them flows through my veins and back to them now, and though an ocean divides us, I hope they can feel it.

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