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


 “Light can shine in even the darkest places.” ~Ashley, 18

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