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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