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.

Kimmie's eJournal (archived)

November 24, 2008

Brussels, Belgium

I arrived to snow in Brussels and people walking around in fur coats with Chanel handbags buying Belgian chocolates.  It’s like I am floating in space between two worlds. As sadness over leaving the girls at Bromley threatens to overtake me while I spend seven hours in the Brussels airport, facing yet another eight-hour flight home (the last leg was 9 ½ hours) I need to add some levity… so this is what I have come up with:




“How to Drive in Liberia”

1.     (The most important rule) Blare your horn at every opportunity meeting a minimum quota of 100 times per 5 minutes.  Do not forget to alarm women with small babies walking on the side of the road, taxi cabs trying to merge into traffic, teenaged boys pushing hundreds of pounds of water in a wheelbarrow, trucks trying to turn around as if they have anywhere else to go (unless, of course, it is you who are trying to turn around in which case blow your horn back at the cars blowing their horn at you.)


2.     Blast the repeating BBC News on the radio until you have memorized each and every word of the day’s headlines



3.     Make sure your passengers are so hot that they can’t breathe, sweat is dripping from their skin and clothes so profusely that they need a bucket, they are turning a strange color of chartreuse and scarlet, they are bordering on losing their lunch and when, because of the engine heat, when they open the door, the 95 degree air feels like air conditioning


4.     Because of the new law, buckle seatbelts rapidly and only when approaching policemen


5.     When angry, drive 85 mph launching passengers to the moon when you encounter potholes


6.     Play “chicken” when passing


7.     Come as close as physically possible to motorcycles without actually hitting them.


8.     When truck won’t start, open hood and stare


9.     Do not turn truck off or it will not start


10. Have a constant, animated conversation with drivers around you as if they can actually hear you






1.     For Malaria: Scrape Pig Root, cut it into small pieces, put in water and let it sit.  It will drive the malaria away and also drive the cold from your back.


2.     Migraines: use the same process as above but soak in liquor instead of water


3.     Joloboh Leaf- (this is very bitter)- boil it, drink it and it will “run your stomach”


4.     For vomiting and diarrhea -Virginia Tree Leaves- chew them with palm kernel


5.     Chicken Pox and Measles- Pigeon Peal Leaf- pound it in mottle with white chalk and mold into a ball.  Rub on skin


6.     Typhoid- African Pineapple- wash it but don’t peel, cut, boil, drink the water it makes.




            African Pepper Sauce


“Grind the peppers, small onions and small garlic.  Put pot on the fire.  Add little oil.  Burn oil.  Add peppers and small-small water.  Let it fry good.  Put in seasoning cube.  Let it steam good to cook seeds with just small (a little bit) of fire.”



So, God IS great and before I left, with the help of a friend from the National Episcopal Church in New York, I was able to fund the garden for Bromley, purchase all the tools and seeds and pay to have the land cleared, the beds laid and the project supervised by our agricultural expert.  The garden will be used solely to feed the girls and they will help take care of it and learn a little about horticulture. They were so excited, especially when they saw the land actually being cleared.  It was happening and not just being discussed!


Also with a pledge from my church, St. James’ Episcopal Church, the palm harvesting and oil production will be initiated.  This will help generate a small amount of money for the school, which presently has a huge financial deficit. Michael will help oversee this project until I can return.


The piggery and poultry will also have to wait on the back burner until I return, but we are moving.  We are moving!


More good news…on the morning I was leaving Liberia, my friend’s father invited me to breakfast and named a professional who might be able to develop a master plan for Bromley free of charge.  He will have lunch with him this week.


Also…out of hundreds of people on my plane from Liberia to Brussels, I sat next to a lady who is a Bromley Alumnae.  She said this was her first time back to Liberia in 26 years and she wants to help with something but was so overwhelmed. She has volunteered to help me find alumnae and claims to know many in the states!


 She had fond memories of going to school at Bromley, telling stories of everything from baking their own bread, lining up for inspection in the morning then marching two by two to the “principal’s stairs” for the pledge of allegiance and the raising of the flag.  She talked of dances where a neighboring boys’ school was invited and how they had to remain a certain distance form the boys while dancing.  She also talked of the “kaka-kola” or the spirits at night.  This is apparently a word passed on by generations of students.  Rumor has it that Bromley was built on a cemetery, she said, so the word came from the footsteps followed by a scraping sound they heard at night.


We both agreed that it was no accident to be seated together (a “so-called-coincidence,” as Father John always says) and she assured me that she was still in touch and would help me reassemble the group.

So much good has been set into motion.  In one of my first eJounals, I said I felt like I had jumped into a river and was willing to be swept away.  My new enlightenment is that the waters take me to people I would never have met otherwise.  The waters surround me, sustain me and transport me on the journey God means for me to follow.

On my last day at Bromley, I sat with the girls, who all had long faces.  They played with my hair, held my hands and spoke of my return.  An extended good-bye ensued, lasting almost an hour, during which time I managed to keep it together.  Hawa, the little girl who said she cried for me every night, stayed away until I was about to get into the truck and then came running up to me, wrapped her little arms tightly around me and would not let go.  This last hug set free the oceans of tears that had been hovering under the surface.  I told them everything would be okay…getting better every day…and I assured them of my return, although I am not even sure how this will happen.  But it was a promise, so it must.

As the truck pulled away and I hung out the window, frantically waving back to all of those girls with tears streaming down their faces, I knew I would find a way.  The words “my calling” sound inconsequential.  The only significant truth is…these are the girls I love…and that is enough. 

Kimmie's eJournal (archived)

November 19, 2008

Bromley Mission School, Liberia


I am writing from Bromley as I have spent the past weekend there celebrating the school’s 103rd Birthday!  Maggie Johnson, the person who first brought me to Liberia, her home, arrived a few days before and we gave out all the student and teacher goodie bags.  Everyone was elated to receive the gifts, especially all the hair bows.  Thank you everyone who contributed!  They have already written a thank you note that I will bring back with me.

Saturday, a neighboring high school, B.W. Harris, in Monrovia, came for a “baseball” game (played with a kickball and no bats,) and Bromley conquered 16 to 10.  The girls also played volleyball and there was African music blasting all day, even during the game.

I got a little sunburned or a “sun rash” as the girls called it as I sat outside with them, so thrilled to see them having fun, laughing, dancing…not a typical scene at all.  The Bromley Board provided a picnic of hotdogs (Liberian style served cold with a BBQ sauce,) biscuits and cookies.  I stayed late into the evening like that stubborn party guest who just won’t go home, but I just didn’t want to leave them. 

This is the hard part.  As I drove home that night, knowing I would be leaving within the week, I felt the sadness seeping in, like a cloth thrown on a spill, feeling heavier with every mile of dirt road trailing out between us.

Sunday, they had mass and Monday, November 17, Bromley’s actual birthday, they had a talent show and then a dance.  Michael was the D.J. and I was mesmerized by the rhythm they all possessed.  Even the four year-olds could put any American to shame on the dance floor.  Soon faces were dripping with sweat and clothes could have been wrung out, but they never fatigued.  They rocked the house until the last song, still begging for more.

At one point, I stepped outside to catch the river breeze and was followed, as usual by a little knot of girls.  They all sat with me on the step, eating avocados from a tree on the property that is ripe with them.  They also braided my hair and, wow! Was that so much cooler!  I wish I could have it done everyday.

Also big news: yesterday Nets for Life finally came to Bromley, educated the girls on Malaria prevention and distributed 120 insecticide treated nets to all the boarding students.  This was a very exciting day indeed, one that will potentially save many  lives.  Not one of the students at Bromley has not either had or known someone who had, or died from, Malaria.  Now every student has a net to hang over her bed.  Many thanks to Minnie, Wloti and the entire Liberian Nets for Life team!

Today, Maggie, Michael, Juanita and I are going to Bromley to celebrate all the November and December birthdays, a tradition started by Maggie several years ago.  She is bringing cake, which is a huge treat for the girls.

As much as I miss my friends and family at home, I am really struggling with leaving all of my 187 “play daughters” at Bromley. As some of you know, the girls often ask someone to be their “play mother,” which is a guardian angel of sorts.  I think they put much more weight into the title than we think they do.  As Rev. Mary said, in Africa, words are sacred.

 Driving past all the decrepit buildings, the homes with walls of woven reeds and roofs of scrap trash weighted down with rocks, all sights that horrified me when I first came to Liberia, I started thinking that one could adjust to this life.  I have become accustomed to no electricity, running water, TV, internet, AC.  I have adjusted o a deficiency of simple pleasures like turning the tap and being able to drink the water or brush your teeth, flipping a switch any time you want in order to get light, instead of stuffing every available socket with various camera, cell phone and computer batteries when the generator comes on well after dark.

Perhaps I am just romanticizing the situation, but I don’t think so.  I have been interviewing the students for a video presentation and when they express their ambitions and their feelings of privilege to be receiving even this restricted education and when I look into those faces so full of hope, as if  we (all of us who have spent time or given financial assistance here) could actually save them, then I know....yes, one…I… could adjust, even find joy, through the hearts of the children in Africa.

Maybe someday.  As they say in Liberia, “By God’s grace.”

Kimmie's eJornal (Archived)

November14, 2008, Bushrod Island, Liberia

I made an interesting discovery while touring the Bromley property.  They have resources right now that could bring them instant revenue.  They have a plethora of palm trees, the fruit of which is falling to the ground and rotting when it could be harvested with a minimal expense.  In fact, it was harvested and sold until the wars closed the school.  They only need to clear the area, purchase some equipment and obtain the manpower. From the palm nut almost no part of it is wasted and the palm oil that is made can be sold on the market for profit to help cover the scholarship and operating deficits. For roughly $5000, the whole project would be up and running and funded through the time it would take to generate a profit. 

Though it is far from solving all of Bromley’s needs, it is a start, and if they never start how can they arrive? I read something once that has become my motto: If not now, then when?  If not you, then who?

This is such an exciting prospect to me because it is exactly the type of activity that could set them back on the road to self-sufficiency.

I also obtained an estimate from an agricultural expert for the planting of a garden and learned that this is the prime time to plant as it is just after the rainy season.  The students would help maintain it and learn a skill in the process.  They could have gardens for each grade and take pride in their produce and participation in the school’s survival and their own educations. For under $1500, Bromley could have a garden, the tools to maintain it and, most importantly, food for the girls!

While finding the funds before I leave in one week seems impossible, I know that God showed me all of this for a reason, so I will put my nose to the grindstone and keep the faith. 

God IS great after all!!

Kimmie's eJournal (archived)

November 9, 2008, Bushrod Island, Liberia

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving in Liberia and probably the most meaningful Thanksgiving I have spent.  Thanksgiving in Liberia is all about…well, thanks.  You get up.  You go to church.  You reflect on your blessings.  You bring the fruits of your labor to be blessed and auctioned, the proceeds of which all go to the church. No turkey.  No feast.  We simply breathed the air that was thick with gratitude.

Rev. Fr. Victor M. King, Vicar at Trinity Cathedral, in an impoverished country where most people would find it impossible to be thankful, encouraged the congregation to do just that.  He said that we all woke up and we all came to church.  We were all given the gift of another day, of life.

“Life will be difficult,” said Father King. “We are assured of that.  But- someday- the light will shine!  And, if we want Liberia to rise again, if we want her to shine, this cannot be accomplished without first stopping and giving thanks for what we already have!”

“Amens” resounded from a congregation largely comprised of people who live without running water, without light, without electricity.  People who live in houses where a bed is a mattress on the floor, a kitchen is a smoky room with a small pot of burning coal, where furniture, if you have any is shredded almost beyond recognition.

Liberians echo “Amen” for a different reason.  As my friend, said, “In this country, we are just so thankful for peace.”  She told me her personal story of escape when the rebels took her house, of losing everything, of friends and relatives taken in car trunks to executions, of being lucky enough to be packed on a fishing vessel for five days with a baby, of watching the black smoke envelop her beloved city Monrovia as she drifted out to sea, of living as a refugee, but still…of living.

I have heard so many horror stories.  I really cannot begin to imagine how one ever recovers from living through this, or if one ever does.

Today is Sunday, three days later.  I went to church, then to Bromley to do absolutely nothing but sit and talk, as one of the girls requested on my first trip to Liberia almost one year ago.  We sat outside with a strong breeze wrinkling the surface of the river.  Solace surrounded us with long, comfortable silences alternated with many quiet questions about life in America.  They told me of their ambitions to be a pilot, a nurse, an engineer.

What I did not tell them is that Sunday in America is quite different for those of us caught in the Northern Virginia frenzy of  schedules and soccer games and meetings and shopping and television.

What I did tell them was how much I loved sitting outside on a hard stone step with them and how much I loved them and was grateful to have them in my life…I told them all of this without saying a word…just by being there.  They are my Thanksgiving.

I have not seen television at all since I have been here, not even for the election, an event that would have had me riveted to the TV.  This taught me that no matter how many hours I would have spent watching the coverage, at that point, it would not have changed the outcome.

What changes outcome in general is action.What will change the lives of these girls is action.  I was teaching a writing class last week, incorporating a request from Rev. Mary.  The room was packed and noisy, so in order to regain order I asked the students if they would rather act out the play I was reading to them.  This got their attention and they fervently volunteered to play the various roles. 

I had not taken into consideration just how far behind these girls were in their education because of the school closings during the war.  I was soon mortified however when I listened to these girls (ages 12-16 in this class) struggle to read the words.  It took so long to finish a sentence that the meaning was lost, but still I let them continue.  I let them continue because they volunteered to do this, because I wanted so desperately for them to believe in themselves. 

They finished to loud applause, an applause that will haunt me long after I return home, an applause that will provide the percussion in my heartbeat to never stop trying to find them help. I always want them to have the luxury to hope, the conviction to dream.

I will close with a prayer that Buck Blanchard, World Missions Coordinator for the Diocese of Virginia, sent me off with…

Disturb us, O Lord, when

We are too pleased with ourselves;

When our dreams have come true

Because we dreamed too little.

We arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.


Disturb us, O Lord, when,

With the abundance of things we possess,

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.


Disturb us, O Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wilder seas

Where storms will show your mastery

Where losing sight of land

We shall find the stars.


We ask you to push back

The horizons of our hopes

And push us into the future

In strength, courage, hope and love.


We ask in the name of our Captain

Who is Jesus.


                        ~Sir Francis Drake, 1577

eJournal #3. 2008

Last week, I learned that palm nuts are harvested for making oil to eat, to cook with or to burn.  Normally my ultra-paranoid toxin-conscious American self would run and hide from eating a fruit that was cooked in a substance that doubles as fuel, but somehow, in Liberia it seems right.

 What doesn’t seem right is that Bromley has hundreds of palm and rubber trees ready to harvest, as I was told by the grounds maintenance man who has worked there for 23 years as a teacher for most of the time.  This is instant revenue with little cost up front.  He also told me of his idea to have each class have a garden…brilliant.  I will continue to investigate what can be done.

I learned all of this walking the property grounds where the ruins of missionary houses and barns were dotted along the riverbanks.  I had a vision of a thriving, productive school community.  It is within grasp.

I delivered the white church dresses that Frank donated and the girls are so proud that when I photograph them, I notice they had not removed the piece of paper (used to identify the recipient) with their name written on it.  It was till pinned to their dress.  Since I arrived on a Saturday morning, their hair is not yet plaited, but they don’t care.  They wanted me to take the picture. 

Some of the girls’ shoes are in horrible condition.  Coral had on two mismatched ill-fitting broken flip-flops.  Michael told me that the rainy season ruins shoes, but I think the lack of supplies is the problem at Bromley.

When I drove through the gates of Bromley that morning, it was laundry day and the entire front lawn was covered in drying laundry.  I looked like a party and the aftermath of a hurricane all at once. The spiky grass propping the clothes off the dirt and the scorching sun made quick drying time, I’m certain, and people have been drying laundry outside all over the world for much longer than inside- but today it seemed so symbolic of the flung-out-to-dry feeling some of these girls hold inside.

One of the Bromley girls, Charlesetta, asked me to come live with them forever and another, Hawa, wrote me a note saying she cries for me every night and she dreams of me and my daughter, Gabrielle, when she sleeps.  Where does one put all of this?  I wonder.


A few random images:

Sunday football (soccer) game outside the compound walls.  The goalie is wearing ripped yellow flip-flops but still manages to defend the goal magnificently, the grass is knee high in places, the palm trees sway in the background.  I have come to watch Billie and Bor Bor play and am not only the only white person among the spectators but also the only girl.  I make loads of friends, just the same. Walking to the field, Billie showed me a shortcut and I was mortified when we emerged in someone’s back yard and two people were covered in soap, in mid-bath.  They didn’t seem to even notice me as I averted my eyes and walked quickly past.

Driving home from dinner at night the streets are crowded with people walking across the bridges and through Duala Market and dark except for vendors in shacks still open for business burning candles in gallon sized glass jars or wedged in among a pile of garlic on a wooden table.  The soft glow is mesmerizing and inviting and I wish I could stop.

Remember the plantains from my friend?  Well, Juanita’s cook, Joe, asked me if I would like him to fry some and when I said YES! He served me an impossibly large platter full. “Now what?” I thought, but they were still warm and caramelized crispy on the outside, soft and sweet inside…I ate every single morsel.

A storm approaches as I am working in my room.  The palm trees are impossibly chartreuse against the charcoal sky.  After the clouds unload, I walk to the gazebo in a world that is fresh and dripping, where rose petals are scattered along the walkway as if waiting for a wedding.

On the streets of Monrovia, a beggar approaches the cars and bangs on windows with his arms, both of which were amputated at the elbows, a common practice during village raids during the war.  He stands in the middle of the street shaking his head so that it is obvious he has an itch.  He throws his arm up over and over to no avail.

I am sitting outside the gazebo in the compound where I am staying listening to the rising tide lap at the cement barrier looped with razor wire in front of the house. I am concurrently thankful for the reprieve and guilt-ridden because of it. Dark, pregnant storm clouds hover above the horizon and I am so grateful for the strip of fading blue sky below them that allows me to witness a tangerine sunset.  I watch two men in an ancient dugout canoe glide with stealth through the water, trolling their lines for fish- a fascinating art to witness.  When I look up again, they are gone and I know they are near but they have slipped into the shadows now.  I am disappointed I can no longer be a spectator but reassured somehow of their presence.  I suppose this is not unlike how I will feel when I leave Liberia.

Day gives way to night.  Tree frogs screech like whistle-blowing cops on a power trip. The strobe light of  heat lightening flashes behind the sliver of a crescent moon with Venus just below it, dropped like a tear.

Kimmie's eJournal 2008, #2

Wow.  It seems like I have been here forever in some ways and in other ways like I only just arrived.  I had a very busy week.  The Bromley Board met for the remainder of the strategic planning on Tuesday and I have been trying to compile the document ever since.  

I have made so many sweaty trips back and forth to town (sometimes several a day) that I have begun to lose my bearings.  I am slipping into that too-far-from-home mode.  I forget what the date is; I am losing track of world events; when my daughter called and said she was going to a Halloween party, I felt so displaced. Halloween?  Fall?  I am on another continent where time runs at a different parallel- so much so that it might as well be another planet.  Time here is not turned by the seasons (other than rainy season and dry season, although by my judgment, it is simply always rainy season). It is turned instead by the turning of one steamy day melting into the next, by work days rolling into weekends, by rainy afternoon storms fading into brilliant, velvet starry nights.

When I was at Bromley on Friday, I took the tailor from town with me. A Solar Light for Africa participant from this past summer’s mission trip to install solar panels at Bromley, Frank, donated the funds to purchase white church dresses (traditional uniform for Sunday) for the girls at Bromley who did not have them.  Since it was United Nations Day and therefore a holiday, I could just be with the girls.  We talked and played their circle games (where they were very entertained by my in-adept skills) and we made balloon animals until our fingers were raw.

 Walking around the decrepit campus with buildings consumed by mold, seeing the classrooms where chalk is a luxury, looking at the unsanitary, peeling foam mattresses, some only ½” thick, on which the girls slept, peering into the “kitchen” with its dirt floor, open flames and large cooking cauldrons, I felt so overwhelmed.  What could I possibly do?  How does one even begin to change this?  Where do you start?  But I suppose that is rhetorical at this point because, as my friend Buck offered on the last mission when asked a similar question, “You just start.”

I distributed everyone’s pen pal letters and have already received many responses, so those of you who wrote letters can look forward to that.  Everyone asked about every single participant from the last mission and they said they would like the same group to return.  They miss their friends. 

I know the feeling.  In fact, last night I was feeling quite lonely and a little blue.  However, I went to St. Thomas’ church in Monrovia this morning and instantly felt better.  I also extracted my grandmother’s Chinese paper fan from my purse and although she has been dead for many years, felt her presence.  I bet she would have never imagined that after all this time her granddaughter would be saved from melting in Africa by her little fan.

Again, I felt like I had an instant family connection and even though the service lasted four hours (this is not a type-o) and I was wrapped in a Pashmina shaw (no bare shoulders in church in Liberia), and every time I stood up I had a stream of sweat drip down my back, I was comforted to the point of tears. But as The Rev Dr. Herman Browne preached today, it is not always easy to praise God when times are tough, when you want to send your children to school but have no way to get them there; when you know you need to feed your family but have no way to do so.  But, he explained, we have life.  We have life! And, we have a choice…to make Liberia a better place or not.  He believed it could be done.  And so do I.

Later in the day when I was visiting with my hostess’ visiting friends who were asking me a million questions, I was told, “Oh, honey! You are Liberian now!”  So it is.

I have learned several more blatant rules in Africa on this trip: one does not wear shorts unless it is Saturday, and one actually relaxes on Sunday (!) and usually Saturday night.  I also had the pleasure of visiting Barne’s beach where the ruins of grand houses from bygone pre-war eras would break your heart.  I made friends with an 11-year-old boy named Loves (which I finally translated after we both wrote our names in the sand) who wore a dingy shirt worn with holes and was collecting shells like me.  He approached me and held out his hand full of treasures from the sea and said, “Do you want one?”  I chose a tiny white scallop shell and spent the next hour helping to fill his little hand with even more shells.  I gave him a plastic bag I dug out of my backpack and he carried his shells in it like I had given him a golden box.  He said he would put them in his room, although I knew that “room” held a very loose definition.

Here on this beach of skeleton houses and hotels, where you could almost hear the ghosts of the people who were murdered here and where, walking on the black and white marbled sand my footprints behind me changed the color.  If I stepped on white sand, my footprint would turn black and visa-versa.  How metaphorically perfect.  We do leave footprints.  No matter what color.

Kimmie's eJournal (archived)

Wednesday, October 29, (President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson’s birthday), Bushrod Island,


So, today I spent a humid morning on the Gazebo working on the compilation of Bromley’s strategic plan. The breeze kept me fairly comfortable compared to yesterday when my clothes were plastered to me as if I had just walked out of the St. Paul River.

Yesterday was one of those (if you are American) extremely frustrating African days beginning with driving into Monrovia, NEVER any easy task, waiting in the car while my friend and trip facilitator, Michael, tried to (unsuccessfully) print something from the internet, driving to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet a very generous contact who offered to take me to the Immigration Office to get my visa extended without extortion. He also offered to print the document, but after a security process to enter the building where the president works, in the end, his Internet service was down. Instant Internet service is something I definitely take for granted at home. So, we left and proceeded to the Immigration office, which was under renovation and therefore dark and very close, to find out that I needed to come back later. (I must say thank you to my contact however, for ensuring that my return would be hassle-free). Then we went to the Internet cafe to try again, still without success. Then we went to the tailor to pick up the girls’ dresses and were told to come back on Friday. Then I went to the American Embassy to inquire about a USAID grant and Michael’s visa (he wants to come to VTS next fall) and was told to come back later. By this time it was about 500 degrees and I was nearing my expiration date being jolted through the mortar pocked streets. We then proceeded to a Bromley Board meeting and after returned to my house then back to the Embassy where I left the documents I obtained on a counter behind some kryptonite door out of a Superman movie. Then, we began the painfully long drive back outside of the city in much traffic to do some computer work. Finally when Nathaniel and Michael camto take me to dinner, the nearby restaurant was closed. So we trekked back into the city to get sandwiches to go. Sheesh. Still makes me tired. Okay, it is funny now, especially to those of you who have been to Africa.

I usually work outside because the generator is cut off at 7 a.m., so the limited light in my room is not sufficient to stare at a computer all day unless I want to be blind when I return home. It is usually cooler outside than inside anyway and Juanita has wonderful porches. I have been feeling the stress of not producing the written strategic plan as quickly as desired until it dawned on me today that the plan could be finished at home if it needed to be. My Bromley girls, however were here before me for only a brief period. For those of you who are familiar with me and my lists and my plans…I know! I must sound like an alien!

When my computer battery ran out, I headed off to Bromley.  Nathaniel and I stopped for fuel at a small roadside stand where 4 glass gallon jars of gas were funneled into the running car while I prayed we would not blow up.

When I got to Bromley, I received tomes of letters. The girls keep asking me for more names of people to write to, so if any of you would like to receive a letter, please email me! Right now, my melting brain comes up with a few names that (sorry!) will probably receive a million letters apiece.

Every time I walk in the door, the little ones all latch on to me, literally holding whatever they can- my hand, my elbow, my pants, my shirt- and we walk around together as one little bunch of grapes. I love it. The older ones come to hug me and wait until the little one dissipate to come sit beside me or just hold my hand.

I try to arrive near the end of their school day so as not to be too much of a disruption. Today we went upstairs to the empty dorm room and played ball since it was dumping rain outside.

Earlier, on the way to Bromley, Nathaniel drove me to Duala market, a big muddy puddle of muck with hundreds of street vendors selling everything from yams to plastic buckets and rusted car parts. He knew just the place to take me for composition books, or copy books as the students call them. I got 48 books for $10, so that I could actually give each girl a book to keep for use a journal. Tomorrow, I will buy more if I can. At 2 p.m., I taught a writing class that was supposed to be optional for juniors or seniors but every two seconds the door opened with another student dragging a desk in until the room was bursting at the seams. This was an optional, after-school class, mind you.

The focus for today was journaling, where I explained they could write whatever was on their mind, draw pictures, collect wild flowers, and write letters. We then moved on to "story starters." I had them all write one sentence to begin any story of their choosing. Most of them were very conservative like, "I love the Bromley Mission School," or "Today I walked to the market." I did get one, "Today was the best day of my life."

When I explained that their stories could go wherever they wanted them to go, that there were no rules in this type of writing, that their imaginations were an endless ocean of adventure and magic, I silenced the room. Big, incredulous eyes stared back at me, and as my Dad always says when we are thinking hard, "I could smell the smoke burning."

They especially loved the idea of no rules, which ironically made them do whatever I asked them to do. I always said they could pick and choose from the writing suggestions I wrote on the chalkboard, but they all stayed long after their dinner bell until I had to physically remove myself so they would not go to bed hungry. I told them we could start a writing group that they could continue even after I return to the US. I cannot wait to read what they wrote tomorrow.

These girls are so hungry for knowledge, the expansion of the horizons in their narrow worlds, brand new possibilities for their futures and any and all attention we anyone gives them. As Neil, 17, said on our last mission trip, "these kids don’t even have textbooks and we complain that we have too much homework."

Yesterday, my little friend Billie came bursting in my room after school to show me his Batman costume. I didn’t even know they celebrated Halloween in this way, but apparently it is just school parties- no trick-or-treating, which is a very bizarre tradition, when you step onto another continent and consider. We played football (soccer) in the driveway, which was quite comical as I was wearing flip-flops.

We then went for another walk outside the compound gates. Everyone knows me now (probably as the crazy white lady who waves to every single person she passes). Just as we were about to re-enter the compound, the older lady I pass every day, who calls me "daughter" and is always dressed in the most vibrant colors, handed me a rather heavy plastic bag. This woman, who sat on a stool in a mud shack all day, selling a few items to the rare passer-by, had given me a bag stuffed with beautiful yellow plantains. I have learned from a previous mistake that it is insulting to politely say, "Oh, no, I couldn’t," so I thanked her profusely and huge tears dripped down my cheeks when I walked away. Liberia remains a place of pure emotions openly shared, of overflowing hope and of kindness like none I have ever encountered.

I am writing in near darkness now on pad and paper, waiting for the generator, so I must stop. I will close my eyes, see the African faces I love, and find light.


 So, I’m back in Liberia! But, to start at the beginning…Reverend Mary volunteered to help me at Dulles Airport, a gesture that made navigating six suitcases and a guitar possible.  (I feel I must add a disclaimer here- the suitcases were not all for me.  I took the supplies that St. James’ had collected and the guitar was for my Liberian driver, Nathaniel, who explained on a previous trip how the rebels had destroyed his guitar but that his mother had told him that someday God would bring him another).  So, after all the bags were finally checked, after Mary and I said a tearful goodbye, after I bumped my way down the plane aisle dragging my oversized carry-on bag and guitar, after looking down on the popcorn clouds for seemingly endless miles,  my stress began to subside.

Just before I left, I realized I had been home for just a little too long. Not that I don’t love home but, I am so hypersensitive to waste and conservation when I return from impoverished Liberia and recently I had slowly begun to go numb -maybe just in the extremities- like the fingers and toes when frostbite begins to kill one’s flesh. I found myself running the shower for just a little too long, leaving the computer running all night, not consolidating trips to the store, cooking too much food and forgetting to freeze it, resulting in throwing out leftovers.  Simply put, I was falling back into the complacency of my Northern Virginia life, back into the place where I am not a threat to evil.  I was falling back asleep.

Was it scary to return to Liberia alone? You bet, but I have jumped back into that river of faith and am willing to be swept away.

After over 24 hours of travel, I arrived on Friday night, jet-lagged and bedraggled to an excited bunch of  Bromley teachers, who made the long drive to the airport to welcome me. When I stepped from the airport to smells of damp vegetation, wood fires, fruit and mud, my smile widened.  The smells of Liberia.

After we were all in the car, laughing and reminiscing, I received a phone call from the Bromley Board chairwoman who said, “Kimmie, I have a small problem.” I held my breath. She told me the apartment in Monrovia that I had rented and paid for was no longer available.  The UN tenants did not move out after all. Before the panicked questions in my head consumed me, she told me I would be staying with Juanita, a Liberian friend I had met on the last trip. Upon my arrival at Juanita’s compound on the great St. Paul river and after my steaming bowl of fish soup, I knew this change was a blessing in disguise. Not only am I staying with a friend, but am also secured in a compound teeming with security. As Juanita welcomed me back after I told her how thrilled I was to return, she said, “What is it about Liberia? It really gets into your heart.”

This is exactly how I feel.  Even in the midst of such abject poverty, I am surrounded by warmth and love. In Liberia, everyone longs to come to America, but I don’t really think they would like it for long. It seems to me like, on some level, your heart would always long for this place.

My first night, it rained, that deafening Liberian rain that wakes you and holds you in its grasp and I felt, in many ways, I had come home. Early the next morning, before work, I sipped my coffee on the wide porch with the steamy air abated by the cool breeze from the river and listened to the tropical birds chattering and screeching from their Palm tree perches. The river was completely still but for the dripping of a few large raindrops plopping into the river like some Feng Shui fountain for which people in the United States would be way too much money.

After breakfast fish gravy (spicy!), cassava, papaya and pineapple with my new friend, Billie, my host’s seven-year-old son and my constant companion at the house, I was driven to town to meet with Richard, the Bromley Board member responsible for the organization of the strategic plan.   The following day we met for an all day strategic planning retreat, beginning with a two hour church service with lots of incense, 100% humidity and absolutely no air movement. This service was originally designed to be abbreviated and incense-free to allow sufficient time for planning, but hey, this is Africa, a place where all plans are merely suggestions. I learned this on my last trip when my “schedule” was rearranged hourly until I finally threw it out.  I was told over and over again by my Liberian friend, Michael, “Don’t worry.  We’ll work it out,” which also becomes synonymous with having faith when you think about it. Because of the lengthy service, we took only one break during the day and ended at 7:30 PM with prayer.  The day was very successful and we all felt energized by the ideas and dedication towards the restoration of Bromley School.

Regardless of how things have not worked out as planned, how “African adaptations” jolted me from the very first hour on the ground, I know I am where I am supposed to be and, in fact, these easy attitudes are exactly why I love it here.  I also feel the warm, familiar embrace of the Episcopal Church and the traditions which instantly create a family 6000 miles from my home church. Even if I am uncertain of measurable results at this point, I know that, like Rev. Mary’s story of the rescued starfish on the beach, this is only one fish and one place, but at least a few girls in Africa know that they are loved, and that is all that matters.


Blessings to all,


By Kimmie at 7:31am | Add comment

Liberia Solar Light Mission   Edit

October 13, 2008

This past July, I traveled to Liberia, West Africa with a great group of teenagers to install solar panels for Bromley School. Thanks to the expertise of Solar Light for Africa, the mission was wildly successful. We worked hard, laughed much, and made new friendships that will last a lifetime.  All of us were deeply touched by the girls at the Bromley School.  A little kindness and a little love...that really can change the world. 


As Rev. Mary, our fearless leader so wisely prayed, "Thank you for laughter, which crosses all languages.”


From the youth...


“All the problems of Liberia can be seen through the eyes of the children. But no matter what the conditions, people are people.” ~Neil, 16


“We bonded with the girls and that helped them because now they know there is someone out there who cares about them.” ~Michelle, 16.


“I won’t be taking anything for granted anymore, especially flipping a switch to get light or taking a hot shower.” ~R.J., 18


“Some of the most haunting images for me were the houses in the city.  They were basically just sticks.” ~Gabrielle, 17


“I want to give more time to mission work, to people who don’t have the opportunities I have all the time." ~Harrison, 18


“A lot of people ‘know’ that kids are struggling in Africa, but not many people get to experience it.  You finally realize what you have." ~Liz, 18


 â€œLight can shine in even the darkest places.” ~Ashley, 18

Liberian eJournal 2010, Kimmie

January 3, 2010, Red Hill, Liberia

New Year’s in Liberia

I have returned to Liberia, which marks my sixth trip and 18th week in the past two years.  The drive from the airport is always an adventure, once a bumpy chiropractic adventure, now a white-knuckled ride of “running,” as Liberians refer to speeding.  The most stress from this ride comes from pedestrians darting in front of your car, daring fate…or your brakes.

The smells of burning wood and sweat greeted me as welcomed friends and I was pleasantly surprised to see a small sections of Duala Market with single glowing light bulbs hanging outside- electricity!  The farther we drove away from the city, the light bulbs were replaced by the orange glow of candles warming the market tables., with people moving among the shadows.

 I have been able to accomplish quite a bit despite some transportation challenges.  In fact, my first full day here my driver, who was scheduled to arrive at 8:30 (a.m.) did not show up until 5:00 (p.m.).  I had carefully composed my lists and to-do’s and had essentially plotted a very scheduled and productive day.  After stressing for quite some time over the no-driver situation, I finally gave up and decided to have a late lunch at a restaurant just down the street mysteriously called “Martha’s Elbow.”  Here I ate some of the best crispy fried chicken I have ever had, sat under a tree whose bark was covered in thorns, along the St. Paul River, and slipped, almost indiscernibly back into “Liberian mode.”  Where, exactly, did I think I was?  New York City?  Washington, D.C.?  Northern Virginia?

So, I simply sat by the beautiful St. Paul River looking at flowers growing in juxtaposition to a wall lined with razor wire at the top, and was transported.  I remembered that in so many ways, I was home.

I did have a bit of excitement when a viper dropped out of the bushes but was soon “eliminated” by a broom handle beating, the most common means of snake abolition.

This transportation mishap was a blessing and though I did not accomplish what I had originally planned, the day was not without achievements.  I was gifted with the reminder that life pours out like thick syrup here.  I met new friends, invaluable contacts and conducted an interview for the video project I am here working on, where I heard words that brought tears to my eyes and brought me back to Liberia with finality.

Because of the limited availability of airfare, I flew into Liberia right after Christmas, which afforded me the opportunity to experience a Liberian New Year’s Eve.  New Year’s Eve here is not about sparkling jewelry, fancy dresses, champagne, balloons, Auld Lang Sein and romantic kisses.  It is about a prayerful thankfulness to God for bringing you through another year.  Almost everyone in Liberia attends church from 11:00 p.m.- 1 a.m. so that “God can meet us at the new year.”

At the Cathedral there was a crèche in the sanctuary with flashing colored lights, and I was welcomed by many old friends even though I was the only white woman in the building.

Bishop Hart preached a poignant sermon giving thanks to God “for preserving us.” He said we were blessed to remain in his presence for the last few minutes of 2009  and were sanctified in new life for 2010.  He encouraged Liberians to stop being afraid, that fear hampers our common life with God.

At midnight, though the service was not over, the whole city erupted with church bells and cheers and then a silent, reverent joy- even in the dark, unspeakable corners of sadness. 

At the sound of exploding fireworks, a Liberian friend sitting next to me almost jumped out of his seat, and continued to do so with every successive discharge.  Although I would never profess to understand this trauma, I reached a new level of empathy for how profoundly one is scarred from a life with the constant sound of gunfire, and my tears would not stop falling.

Silently, from the pew behind me, I felt someone almost indiscernibly touch my hair.  She continued to gently run her fingers through it until I turned to see her hand outstretched with a tissue.

Bishop Hart told us to learn to love our brothers and sisters and to love ourselves.

He said, “Do you want to get love?  Get up!  Go!  You are well.”


Outside on the streets a chanted song rose in the humid night,

“Happy New Year, me not die

 Oh, ah, aye,  me not die.”


By Kimmie at 9:03am | 6 comments

Bromley Mission 2009   Edit

November 16, 2009

This mission trip to Bromley marked my fifth trip to Liberia, having spent thirteen weeks there in the past two years.  Needless to say, Liberia has taken permanent residence in my heart.  In fact, I was brought to tears many times from friends calling and saying, "Welcome home, Kimmie!"  This is exactly how I feel.  Home.


I also felt tremendous joy in introducing my friends to the extraordinary girls at Bromley, to their teachers and their caretakers.  What an honor.  We were all profoundly affected. We hold memories of successful work, but also of voices rising in song, laughter floating up like bubbles, profound conversations, tiny hands finding ours, and of eyes that hold a deep joy even in the midst of such hardship. 


The theme we chose for this mission came directly from words and visions of the school's founders, carved into the walls of the Julia C. Emery Hall over 100 years ago, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6).  The primary focus of our mission was to provide the Bromley teachers with professional development, utilizing critical thinking skills and communication through visual art and oral and written language.


This particular mission came as a direct result of the requests for professional development from the teachers and staff at Bromley. For months and months leading up to the mission, all the participants put their expertise- and their hearts- into planning.  We also collected and shipped 49 boxes of teaching aids and school supplies and carried 13 extra suitcases packed with mission materials to leave at Bromley.


Teaching seminars, small group work and team-building activities for the teachers coincided with many student art projects designed to not only offer interpersonal social skills and teamwork, but also to address the hunger for creative channels, which was expressed on my last trip. We also gave out certificates for successful completion of the program, Mission T-shirts, and goodie bags (provided by the congregation at St. Philip’s, Durham, NC) for all the students and staff. 


In addition, one of our missioners, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Pulmonology, Allergy and Immunology at the University of Virginia, Dr. John Hunt, was able to conduct preliminary assessments of medical needs at the Bromley Clinic, the J.F.K. Medical Center and ELWA Hospital, a project that has been developing over the last 10 months.


The results were rewarding and enriching for everyone, and even more than the successful project, we continued to build relationships.  As Buck Blanchard, World Missions Coordinator for the Diocese of Virginia says, "It's the people, not the project."


Everyone came home with many letters of thanks and love from the staff and the students, which will help carry us all through our own challenging times at home.  On our last day, filled with songs and cake and tearful goodbyes, I told the girls that I felt a little sad, but I thought I could speak for the group when I said our hearts did not feel heavy.  Our hearts were light because they were filled with their love and their light. They are lights in our darkness, stars in our night and they will always remain in our prayers.  Then, we all sang, "This Little Light of Mine," and clapped and cried and laughed. Hide it under a bushel?  No possible way!


Just as the students and staff at Bromley take comfort in knowing there is someone across the ocean who remembers and loves them, we feel exactly the same way. It's as if we have brushed fingers with angels and in so doing will never be completely lost.  Hand-in-hand we can do so much.  Isn't it so exciting to dream of where the next step will lead?



A special thanks to all the missioners who worked selflessly to provide a lasting impact on The Bromley Episcopal Mission School:


This year’s members of the mission team included Rev. Kate Bryant, Assistant to the Rector for Adult Ministries at St. James’, Leesburg, five individuals with a total of 142 years of accumulated professional experience in education (Diane Bell, Nancy Chapin, and Elaine Nunnally of St. James’—Leesburg, VA; and Laurraine Landolt and Paul Miller of St. Peter’s—Purcellville, VA); a world-class pediatrician, Dr. John Hunt, from Church of Our Savior—Charlottesville, VA; a professional with 30 years of information technology experience, Judy Hall, also from St. Peter’s—Purcellville, VA; and a professional with 15 years of experience in community development, Donna Rewalt, from St. Philip’s—Durham, NC.  

Liberian eJournal from Kimmie, 2010

I am in Liberia again for my ninth trip in what has now been three years. Walking down the airplane stairs, though exhausted from the long journey here, I inhaled the damp, dusty smell from a recent rain and the somehow not unpleasant sweaty smells that greet you in the customs line, and I was exuberant.  Perhaps it is smell association and not the actual smells, that remind me so much of a place and people I love.  Of home.


As we sped along the dark road leading away from the airport, we almost slammed into what I later deduced to be “traffic cones” but to the untrained eye, looked like clumps of tall grass, (root ball and all) in front of a disabled vehicle- an instant reminder that we assuredly were not in Kansas anymore.


Waking the next day to the sounds of the village outside of my window coming to life- to roosters crowing, children screeching, birds chattering, I peeked outside of my curtains.  I observed a women passing with a bunch of potato greens on her head and another woman brushing her teeth beside the tall corn.  Neither of these would have been particularly remarkable except that I had never seen this much produce planted in this location, which has become very familiar to me over the years.  I could feel the energy of renewal.  I smiled at the lush squash leaves thriving in the tropical environment, at the people sitting and talking to one another, at the thrill and honor of being able to share this experience with friends from home, perhaps even in the camaraderie that Liberians and Americans share, both striving to connect with both known friends and new.  There is solidarity in connection.


For those of you who have read my previous eJournals, this one will be a little different.  I am traveling with a group of friends, including my daughter, Gabrielle Haeringer, 19, who is a second year Global Justice major at James Madison University, Scott Dwyer, 27,  a Senior Research Specialist in the division of pediatric respiratory medicine at the University of Virginia,  Mike Davis, 28, a Senior Research Respiratory Therapist and Coordinator also for the Hunt Lab at UVA, and Dr. John Hunt, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Allergy, Immunology and Pulminology at the University of Virginia.  I will let them tell their stories…

Kimmie's eJournal 2011

There is always something new to learn in Liberia.  Always something to feel.  Always new friends.  First, for anyone who has known my hair in Africa (or most other times at home, actually), I posted a picture in the film strip above, drawn by the five-year son of Eric, in whose restaurant Trusted Angels has invested.  It is quite accurate.


For the other pictures, I will post most of them when I get home as I neglected to bring the connector from camera to computer.  The pictures I have posted are from my iPhone.


We have been filming the newly revived palm project at Bromley, an agricultural project that was established to harvest the 700+ palm trees planted on Bromley’s property, a project that I have been so excited about since my early trips to Liberia as it offers a road to self-sustainability.   Trusted Angels contributed to the project on this trip and it was also largely funded by St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Durham, North Carolina.  Expecting this to be rather straight forward, I arrived with camera in hand.  Ah, but this is Liberia.  I should have known.


The first stage, the “slicing” of the palm nut bunches from the tops of forty to fifty-foot trees was filmed by Gabrielle, Scott and Mike before their departure, as two of us were still ill.  This is a process of tying a rope around your body a scaling the tree to the top.  Not an easy task.  At all.  The stories I heard from Jeremiah, who performed this harvesting were quite alarming.  “I met a cobra (deadly) at the top of that tree,” he said, pointing out the tree.  “Don’t worry, Sis Kimmie,” said Nathaniel, who also helped, “If you leave them alone and cut very carefully around them, they will not harm you.”


Apparently snakes enjoy hunting from their kingly vantage points, so they are abundant in palms.  Nathaniel also pointed out a Yellow Mamba (also deadly) just above the spot where John was seated on the ground, helping to pick the nuts (more on this later from him).  “Sometimes they drop,” he said dramatically raising and dropping his arm.  “Just so.” 


They also took me to see a smaller snake that had been killed earlier. “This one is slow poison,” said Richie who has been overseeing the project, “It takes a long time to die.”


During the next stage of the harvesting, the nuts are dried for a few days and then taken to a cement pit and crushed.  The pit is then filled with boiling water which allows the “palm butter” to rise to the top.  Once the water is cool, one person stands in the thigh high water separating the crushed nuts at the bottom and tossing the shells out on a pile of dirt.  Another person sits beside the pit and scoops the palm butter from the surface into a bucket where it is then taken to a large metal barrel, heated from below by bamboo fanned beneath it, where it is boiled once again, rendering the rich, orange oil.  At the same time palm kernels were being crushed in a newly acquired machine that four men operate, then boiled, both processes working in tandem.


Palm oil is a valuable food product and used for cooking many dishes by almost everyone in Liberia and while we have been here, 15 gallons have been produced and provided to Bromley for the girls’ consumption. Meanwhile the inner tiny nut of the palm kernel is laid out on a tarp to dry and will be cracked and processed in a similar manner to produce an even more coveted clear palm oil that can be sold for a higher price at the market

 Much work.  Much progress.  I am going to Bromley tomorrow to witness the next batch of slicing for myself.


What I noticed as soon as I started to descend the hill which led to the palm processing pit, was that many people from the Bromley families housed on the property had gathered to help.  There were teenaged children who enjoyed the new machine, dancing and singing as they turned the crank, mothers nursing babies, or feeding small children on blankets on the ground and of course, all the people required to crush and stir and scoop and watch the fire.  I could see that this was more than a project that supported Bromley, but also a project that revived community and pride.  I repeat, this is SO exciting for me as I have been hoping and lobbying for some time, but I saw that this was more.  It was exciting for them.  And that is what matters. 


This has been a particularly challenging trip for me as three of us have been stricken with various illnesses.  I have been sick with Typhoid for the better part of it.  Sickness is strange when you are away from home and, perhaps because of too many relentless days of fever, I started to feel a bit lost, or that I had lost something. I had trouble finding my purpose.


On the way to church yesterday, I re-focused my attention on my surroundings sliding past my car window- on the sweaty faces waiting in long taxi lines, on a woman with her hair tied beautifully in her head scarf but with palpable sadness in her eyes walking towards…what? I watched a 2-year-old wedged between two men (all without helmets) on a motorcycle darting between the cars and crowded streets of Duala market.  I had trouble finding my breath.


In church, the glowing primary colors of the stained glass window behind the altar greeted us in cheerful defiance but was juxtaposed with the remaining windows, which seemed duct taped together.  A newly ordained Liberian priest gave the sermon and the first words out of his mouth were, “First, let us stop and thank God for our life.  Thank God that we have breath to breathe and the strength to get here.”  Those words transported me to an almost out of body experience where I left my self-consumed thoughts of loss and I could feel the souls around me, hear their breathing.  Even after years of peace, these people had experienced true loss, on every level and they still found gratitude in the simple yet magnificent gift of life.


The first mission trip I led to Liberia in 2008 was to install solar panels at Bromley School and our theme was, “You are the Light of the World.”  This sermon was on light. “Be a light to the world!  Lights give brightness in darkness.  Let your light burn before men, as individuals, in communities and for your nation.”  He spoke strong words of living lives as examples, of no stealing and no cheating, and I thought that these were the words that would bring true change to Liberia. 


At the end, the church erupted in spontaneous applause and the Peace followed soon afterwards which rose in a joyous, cacophonous mix of drums and singing and greetings.  The very first song sung was, “This Little Light of Mine,” which was significant, as we had sung this song last week with the orphans in Buchanan.


School has been out for winter break, but one of the Bromley girls found me at the end of the service and hugged me hard not wanting to let go.  I didn’t want to let go either.



After church, we went to watch the soccer game of a teenaged boy whose education is sponsored by Trusted Angels.  I bought an orange from a woman we passed walking to the stadium because I was still unable to eat much and the orange looked just right, and as soon as I approached the seating area I gave it away in pieces to the small children with penetrating eyes who came to sit by me. I handed my camera to a young teen who had planted himself immediately next to me, showed him how to use it and let him have fun.  At the end of the game, (a victory!) we offered a ride to the boy whose game we came to see and he asked if we could also take a few of his teammates home.  We agreed, opened the car doors and within two seconds every available cubic foot of space in the 5-seater Nissan Pathfinder was filled with 14 soccer players…plus John and myself.  They told us they did not have a football for practice, no football at all, so we gave them funds to buy one for the team. I smiled to myself a deep and authentic soul smile as I was smashed in next to the boy coach who climbed into the front seat and was refilled and restored with the original overwhelming feelings of love that accompanied me on the first trips to Liberia.


My mind drifted back to the strong yet soft and clear voice of an orphaned child that Bromley’s principal had “taken in” sliding through the walls, singing, “Turn, turn…”


I prayed for despair and discouragement to leave me and for a new song to fill my mouth.


I laughed to myself and with the sweaty soccer players finding camaraderie, community and even love through the sport of “football. ” I watched the destitute film strip in the fading light beyond my window and I thought- let it in, Kimmie.  Let it in.

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