Monday, February 28, 2011

Shim Needs Some Earplugs

Do you remember when they tried to invent a word to take care of writing her/him/he/she? I think they called that word 'shim'. Anyways, I don't think it became popular. (When I filled out my immigration form in Liberia, I checked the male box instead of female - hence this weird tangent.)

Anyway, we just landed in Chicago! It's been a long couple of days with lots of crying babies and assorted body smells but it's nice to be back in the U.S. Getting a coffee at Starbucks is my current highlight. We have a few more hours here and then we'll be home. Thanks again for everyone's thoughts and prayers for our trip. We all appreciate it!
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Winding Down

Yesterday we spent the day packing, reading and hanging out. We were picked up at 3pm to head downtown for a celebration with the staff from the Liberia Fistula Project. We went to a restaurant on the beach. Once we determined what they had and didn't have on the menu we ordered our food and drinks. I had a Club Beer, kinda like Bud Light or something. They didn't have any fish in stock so I had a salad (coleslaw-ish) and fries. The staff gave us a presentation of gifts - dresses - which involved them talking about us a little bit, unwrapping our gifts for us and putting the gift on for us. It was a fun tradition to be part of. And my dress was orange!

This morning everyone headed downtown to do some shopping but I stayed behind to get some things done. It's hard to believe that we start back home tomorrow night. We will go to church tomorrow morning and then to brunch at the Royal Hotel. We will then have some time to kill before our 9pm flight. I am looking forward to sharing pictures on here when I get back. Thanks to all of you who have been following along with the adventure!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hot Pockets

Today we traveled around to different villages to visit fistula survivors who had been reintroduced to life outside the rehabilitation center. We were seven people in a pickup truck bouncing down the road. We were able to see four of the five women we went looking for. They all seemed very happy. They were all using the trade skills they learned in rehab. Their families had accepted them back. We were glad they were doing so well.

During one of the visits we walked up to see a building that was going to be a new Forestry building. They had started construction before the war but it was looted and now sits vacant. We talked to one of the guys from the Forestry service and we asked how far away the pygmy hippos were - they only live in Liberia. He said they mostly live in a park a day's drive away. He also told us that there used to be a mini zoo right next to where we were standing, but the people had had to eat all the animals in there during the war to survive.

The people here are so welcoming. Two of the women we saw today gave us gifts of food for just visiting. It was hard to take things from people who have so little. Everyone we've met along our way has been so friendly to us. People are willing to share very personal stories with us as well. Tomorrow the Liberian doctor is taking us all out for a night on the town - complete with Club Beer!

It's hard to believe we only have three more days here. Looking forward to seeing you when we get home!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What are you doing in July 2012?

Today we went to the school to talk to Emile, our host and the Principal of Lott Carey School, about details on the plans for a summer camp here in a year and a half. I had the opportunity to ask him lots of questions about logistics, ideas, the best ways to do this and what his hopes for a program like that would be. Since the kids get out of school in late June they have little to nothing to do until school starts back up in the fall. This leaves them home alone or on the streets vulnerable to abuse, sexual activity, drinking, etc. and doesn't keep them prepared for school in the fall - a lot like in the U.S.

My hope is to bring two teams to lead camps for two weeks each. I spent the afternoon surveying students about the areas of interest that they were most interested in. From the 120 kids I asked here sports, science and music are leading. There is a lot more work to do but the most critical step will be finding the right team of people to come and lead these themed weeks of camp. We talked about doing the the sessions as two weeks for the 3-10 year olds and the second two weeks for the 11-18 year olds. Think about it and if you're interested in learning more about coming along for this let me know.

The next two days we are going to be visiting the Ministry of Health and a community or two where fistula survivors have been reintegrated back into life successfully. Due to the stigma and smells involved with fistulas, many victims are cast out of their marriages, their families and their villages. It will be exciting to see them being successful with their small businesses and hopefully happy as well.

It's hard to believe how fast time has gone here, how we've adapted to ridiculous heat and humidity, know when the generators will be on and off and have learned so much. I'm coming to the point where although I have journaled everyday, taken lots of pictures and videos and have been able to blog a lot - I still feel like I haven't captured everything. You will just need to come and see for yourself!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Tellin You O

So in our second week, Ashley and I have decided to learn Liberian English. After meeting the people from the Liberian Fistula Project on Monday morning, they told us that the patients probably wouldn't understand us. I felt bad that we would possibly appear as intruders to them, unable to communicate.

We drove out to a rural hospital and were greeted by welcome signs. We went to the operating room and were given scrubs to put on. After adding face masks, booties and hair shields, we went into the O.R. where a woman with a fistula had just been given a spinal block. Then the surgeon showed us what the fistula was and we watched the entire repair standing behind him.

It was pretty incredible to watch and certainly wasn't something you would have access to in the States. It was hot though and I had to leave at the end because I thought I might pass out. Then we assisted with an exam of a new patient, in which I accidently handled urine without gloves, oops. After that there was one more surgery performed and we headed back to the house.

Today we visited the Fistula Rehabilitation Center and were treated to a big presentation of the work that was being done by the organization. The survivers also did a skit for us about how people get fistulas (mostly obstetric for girls 11-20). We had a tour of their buildings and got to see all of the stations where the girls were learning a trade. The saddest thing was an 8 year old girl who had been raped a year ago and had a fistula as a result.

Tomorrow the doctor and nurse with us will go out and do more surgeries. Kathi will go with them to hold the patients hands as they have their operations, since they are awake the whole time. Ashley and I are going back to the Lott Carey school to work on a couple of project planning things.

Overall things have gone well - we are well fed, rested, healthy and safe. It rained like crazy last night, the first rain since we got here. We found out also that our flight on Sunday is back on so we should be home Monday night, as promised. Thanks for checking in!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Great Debate

On Friday we visited an orphanage. They have 72 kids living there. They were so excited to have visitors that they followed us around on our tour of the grounds while two or three of them held on to each of our hands and arms. The orphanage was nice and the kids seemed like they were doing well. It was sad though because the government has put a hold on adoptions due to abuse of adopted kids being a problem they were seeing.

After that we went back to the Lott Carey school and painted the faces of the very shy nursery school kids, most of whom are 3 years old. We then attended the high school debate in the auditorium. They were debating whether pre-primary education or college was more important to your overall education. It was a rowdy display of forensics and audience participation. After school was out we went to the beach for a swim. The water was warm and the wind made for some big waves. We left tired and covered in sand.

On Saturday we went to the market and did some other shopping. It was insanely busy and took us forever to get downtown and back to the house. The rest of the day we relaxed and tried to stay cool.

Today we went to church which lasted for almost three hours. We sang a lot of songs and listened to a mighty sermon. We got our clothes from the dress maker last night and I wore my skirt to church. It is so hot here but don’t worry Dad, we’re drinking lots of water. We will be at different fistula clinics all next week so I am not sure if I will get to check in or not. We heard a rumor that our flight on Sunday might be cancelled by the airline due to it not being full enough.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Did you see that wandering Jew?"

Kathi asked us as we were driving down the street between some errands. Emile, Ashley and I were confused. I was thinking, "Um, that's kind of rude. How would you even know that person was Jewish?" Kathi continued talking about the "wandering Jew" being like the one in her house and we all slowly realized that she was talking about a plant. We all had a long bout of laughter and continued down the road. It was good to laugh so hard you almost fell over after having a lot of serious and hard thoughts about everything we were seeing around us over the past four days.

Yesterday we visited an organization called THINK (Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness). The organization serves girls who were victims of rape, human trafficking, gender based violence and child soldiering. The residential home we visited serves 25 girls in a 9 month program that teaches them job skills, helps them complete a high school equivalency program, counsels them and teaches them how to raise their babies who are with them in the program. The day there started out with them singing songs and introducing themselves to us. It was a little akward but as soon as they started showing us what they were learning they were smiling and laughing. The cosmetology girls were doing our hair and the sewing girls were showing us their dresses they were making. The girls learning pastry were working hard on a batch of shortbread that we didn't get to taste. :(

We were asked to stay for lunch and the girl I ate with shared a spoon with me. She insisted on tasting it for us first and brought me tissues to wipe my hands off at the end. The girl Kathi ate with told her that no one had ever stayed to eat with them before. It was such a small thing but it made a big difference to them and to us. We hope to go back on their Saturday night for a thing they call "Chu Chu" where they make up things to entertain each other. We figured if we showed up with some of the glow stick bracelets we brought they'd be stoked.

The rest of the day we went to the grocery store, did a little shopping and put together the care bags for the women we are visiting with next week at the fistula clinics. It's going to be a great weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Paint Me Pretty

Yesterday we spent the day at the Lott Carey Mission School. We interviewed Emile about the school and his vision for it. It was very inspiring to hear about his hopes and dreams for the school, the teachers and especially the students. We then made a small presentation of the items we brought and the Editor In Chief of the campus paper interviewed Kathi. He wanted to know if this was the only school we were visiting on our trip and if this was the only presentation we were making - he was very proud of his school.

After the tour of the compound we were told that we were going to show the teachers how to use the face paints we'd brought. We then ended up painting over 120 first, second, third and fourth graders faces. We are three of the least artistic people. So we painted stars, lightning bolts (my contribution, but no one seemed to know what they were), hearts, smiley faces, stars, flowers and butterflies. The kids loved it. At the end of the day the teacher kept telling them that school was over and to go home but they didn't want to leave. There are so many possibilities for the school. I can't wait to start recruiting friends to come back with me in the future!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Driving Miss Daisies*

The adventure continues. We spent yesterday at Rick's Institute visiting the compound that Kathi used to live on when she was in high school. We went back to some of the villages and visited some friends of her parents. After that we went to the market to get food for breakfast and lunch meals, dinners are provided by the guest house. We then went to the dress makers house and got measured for some clothes that should be ready on the weekend. On our way back to the guest house - which is about a two hour drive in crazy traffic - we drove by the US Embassy. Ashley was filming and a guard saw her - we were stopped at a checkpoint and she had to go inside and give her "particulars". They let us go with the camera, just had to erase the footage. We made it back to the house, ate dinner and stayed up journaling, reading and playing games.

This morning we are back at Lott Carey Baptist Mission School and will be taking a tour of the campus and meeting the students. Later we are going to an orphanage. On our way to the school we were stopped at a checkpoint and they wanted to see our passports. The guy driving got us out of that. Things are definitely a little crazy here. As for the internet - we can have it at the school but we were told they pay $550 a month for it after paying $4200 to get it hooked up. We are lucky to have the school to check it at.

We've been drinking bottled water but I switched to the UV treated water I am making with my water purifier. Hopefully it works as promised. Thanks for checking in!

*When Emile was driving us around the city he said he felt like he was driving Miss Daisies.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let the Adventure Begin

We are here! We slept pretty well, even through a break into the generator house where batteries were stolen in the middle of the night. We are heading off to explore the village where Kathi's parents used to live. Hope to check in soon. It's very humid here - very different from Kansas City!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Made it to Liberia. Got through security safely. Very hot. Need some sleep. Peace!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

+ One

Things are all ready to go for our departure tomorrow. I had a few shaky (emotional) moments today - mostly when I took my engagement ring off to leave at home, but for the most part am doing well. I am nervous and excited about leaving. Last night we had a last minute addition to our team. My friend Charity, who is in the 2nd grade, gave me her "Flat Charity" to take on our adventure. 
The note from her teacher informed me that they just read a book called Flat Stanley where this guy has a bulletin board fall on him, which makes him flat and then he discovers all the great things about being so small and portable. (These are the things I am missing out on by not having kids in the house.) Anyway, the book is pretty cute and their assignment for school is to have someone bring their person somewhere and write about and photograph their adventures. 

I am pretty sure this flat person is going further than most of the other 2nd graders flat people (they suggested taking the flat person to work, the beauty parlor, farms, stores or airplanes) - not that I'm competitive or anything. I am mostly excited that these kids will learn where Liberia is on a map! I am hoping to bring back my flat person in a tiny Liberian outfit but, shhh, don't tell Charity.

I plan on trying to post while I am away, so hopefully I will be able to check in soon. Until then, take care my friends!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Slowing Down

I fell down the stairs this morning. I caught myself halfway down on a spindle and saved myself from plunging headfirst into the coffee table. I jammed my thumb pretty bad and have been moping about it all day. I am annoyed when I seem to hurt myself at inopportune times - like hurting my thumb right before I have to do a masterful luggage juggle - or slicing my foot open when jungle rot is a threat. Either way it makes me pause and think about why I hurt myself in the first place and it's usually because I am rushing.

My executive coach last week told me that I should try some quiet reflection time to think about my work more intentionally. Brian tells me all the time that we don't have to "go faster" in the car because we're not in a rush. I think I've felt a sense of urgency to rush all my life - which I realize is probably why it seems to go so fast and why I still think in my mind that we're in January 2006. So, I am vowing to try harder.

I had lunch today with the lovely ladies mentioned in this post and found myself losing track of time. I felt in the moment and never once looked at my watch. Tonight I went to dinner with Brian to celebrate Valentine's Day and the food came out slow and I didn't even care. Even though it sadly made us miss the first installment of the film festival I had so been looking forward to, I felt like I needed to stay in that moment to create that memory to hold on to over the next couple of weeks. I can't say I will always be successful at slowing down but I certainly won't get any better without practice.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Storm Before the Calm

Tonight my fellow travelers and I got together at Kathi's house to go over the final preparations. We packed tons of school supplies, hygiene items, movies for the kids at the school and toys to take with us. We have 7 checked bags and 6 carry-ons going with us so we will not be traveling light! I think we should have everything we need. I am almost ready - still need to get together a few things at home, get some money and buy snacks.  They'll be nice and fresh!

I was starting to get a little nervous tonight as Kathi talked about the possibility of people taking our things at the airport - not passengers but airport officials. I keep forgetting that they are still rebuilding their police force. I forget that I have little concept of lawlessness - or at least a place with no one to enforce the laws. I will breathe a deep sigh of relief when we've made it to our guest house. Thank you to all of you who are praying for out safety, we appreciate it.
L-R: Ashley, Kathi and me (thank you Brandon for the photo!)

In other news, tomorrow night is the first installment of the International Film Festival in the Crossroads - so check it out Kansas City! The first film is about Burma - Brian just read me the film's synopsis and I am hoping it's not as gruesome as it sounds. Hmmm, we'll see on that one I guess. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Home Stretch

As the cold snap and record snow falls envelop the U.S., I checked out the weather channel for temperatures in Monrovia - the next ten days are all in the 90's. This will be a nice break from the cold, but that is definitely going to be hot! 

In the annual address on Monday, President Ellen Sirleaf told the legislation, "Liberia faces a momentous national choice between sliding backward or surging forward." As refugee camps are being built for the 30,000 displaced Ivorians and preparations for elections in November are being made, there is uncertainty in the air about what is next for the nation. I hope for peace and safety for our travels.
After this weekend I am almost ready to go. I am mostly packed, have only one more type of batteries to purchase, purchased new songs and t.v. shows for my iPod, figured out how to use the water purifier, determined that Liberian power outlets are the same as in the U.S. and have only a couple more things to finish in the way of trip preparations. I now need to get work stuff in order and get the home stuff figured out and I will be all set to go. Hard to believe we're almost on our way. Such an adventure awaits!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Journey

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." -- Confucius
View from the classroom window.
I spent this last week in Colorado Springs at the Center for Creative Leadership where I took part in a course called "Developing the Strategic Leader". There were 19 participants from all over the world from different industries, experiences and backgrounds. The week was centered around self discovery through assessments, one-on-one coaching, peer feedback and a giant business simulation which allowed us to work together while developing strategies. It was an intensely rewarding week. I wanted to blog while I was away but in all honesty I didn't even have time to check my e-mails. Plus, it was nice to have a break from outside distractions. The people I met were fantastic, the lessons we learned were numerous and the week left me tired in a way I haven't felt since I came back from Madagascar. We had a lot of fun, forged friendships and ate way too much great food.

At first the timing of this course with my personal and work schedule seemed a little overwhelming with leaving for Liberia in just a week, but I am glad I went because I will have some additional time away from my normal life to reflect on what I learned about myself, my organization and the things I need to work on. Thanks for stopping by!