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.

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