Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Last day in Liberia

January 28, 2012

Dear Family & Friends,

Today we visited the ministry of health concerning their water testing for our wells, looked at more sites for latrines and wells, and visited Oxfam and had them take us to their first biofill toilets.  They put them in private houses for testing.

Man it was hot today, but we got back to our hotel earlier than normal.  Life is good when you realize over and over again how very lucky you are that you were born in the USA! We leave for the airport tomorrow afternoon for our three-in-a-row flights back home.

On the way this morning I finally got a picture of the billboard of the boy who took top honors in his school.

A final note about our trip.  We have been in many homes in Africa and each time I get the same feeling.  As we went into the home where the Biofill latrine was I became instantly depressed.  It was no doubt a home built when the English were here.  The cement house had no light in the narrow hallway, making it even more depressing than looking at old, ground in, dirty concrete.  Only one at a time could squeeze in to look at the bathroom, probably the finest thing they had ever owned to preserve their dignity.  Yes, we are a truly blessed people!

Love from Liberia.  See you soon.

Jim & Karen, mom & dad, E/S Greding

Towns near Monrovia, Liberia, pictures

 Our Palm Spring Hotel, Monrovia, Liberia.  If you kept walking down in front of the hotel you'd end up at the beach in about a mile.  We found out from Prince that this is the new part and other homes used to occupy this area.  The restaurant area way to the right is where the mission president used to live.  Part of it is now the casino.  In the back they used to play basketball there.
 Some bad concrete work.
 Some good wells.
 Some stolen pump heads.  Bundor says you can train some guys to repair you well, but later they might use their skills to steal the pump.  They tell you they are taking it to repair it, but you never see them again.
 If your kids complain about how hard life is for them, show them this picture.
 Rains had undermined this well and it was breaking apart--it also showed us that they neglected to add the rebar.  
 This marketplace was quite extensive.  Behind it was a used up latrine and a pile of garbage.
 The flies that have just visited the garbage pile are now sitting on the drying fish.
 Meat for sale, what visiting flies bring is free...
 This type of well works for a private home.  It is simple to build and fix.  A rope with cups attached bring up the water as you turn the handle.  All you have to do is fix the rope if it breaks, but is not good for a large community.
 Palm Spring Resort sign.
Right across the street from our hotel is the home of Charles Taylor, who is being tried for war crimes.  Prince told us that what we see is actually just the wall and the house is behind.

More pictures, Kakata, Liberia

 This little girl was combing out the wigs (rest in the dirt) to be added to the hair at the 'beauty shop'.  Jim told this little girl that he needed one too.  He even found a blond one in a pot nearby.
 This is what those rough blocks look like when building a home.  When they plaster over them, and they often do, you cannot tell how rough the original block really is.
 Cute kids, the older kids often have a baby on their backs.
 In this village we found a man building his own latrine!  They also had dug their own dip well.  Self reliance is hard to come by in Africa!  We will probably give this town a well since they would be able to sustain whatever we give them.
 This man had made his own 'ladder'.  The little spikes that he was using to step on, obviously stabbed him in the arm.  
 A TV antenna!  It looked so out of place in this village!
 This little boy wanted to be in the picture and I could not get him to face the camera when I told the girl to stand sideways to get the shot of the baby on her back.  So cute!
A traveling hardware store!
 This is a library at a college.  They are very tied to the U.S. as you can see both their Liberian flag and ours.
 We found homemade tether ball courts all over the place.  I remember playing this game in elementary school.  Jim was having a game with a local boy.
Block business--they make about 400 a day they say.


January 25, 2012

This morning we departed just after 9:30 and didn’t return till 5:30.  We went to Kakata, which is a long drive out of town.  These roads had been patched a lot, but still there were many potholes to try to avoid.  It is hotter there because it is more inland and not near the beach where we went yesterday.  We looked at more wells that we had completed three years ago, and checked out new sites for either latrines and/or wells. After so many hikes in the heat we became quite exhausted.  I have a lot of energy when it’s cool, but in the heat I trudge along like ‘the little old lady from Pasadena’.  Bundor’s car does have air conditioning, but in the back seat I don’t get the full benefit, but at least enough to keep me from becoming a puddle.  We were so happy when we finally returned. 

Going through the heart of town back to our hotel was excruciating, sometimes moving a few feet, stopping for a long time in between.  At least Jim thought the marketplace was entertaining.  I read a book to keep me from being so anxious to get back to the hotel.  As soon as I got back I gulped down a soda pop, normally my least favorite drink.  The dirt and filth of the day seemed to be stuck to my skin and glued with sweat even under my shirt, so the shower was ever more delicious to me.

The crazy marketplace.  As you can see, not all the trash lands in the dumpster.  Old habits of tossing your paper anywhere you want dies hard.

An interesting sidelight: I wish I could have gotten a picture of a billboard, but could not get it as we traveled along.  On the main road in the heart of the business area there is a billboard with the picture of a teenager on it—he is the ‘smartest’ kid in all the schools, or at least got the best grades.  And they put his handsome face on this very large billboard!  So interesting!

 Out in the villages you see nothing but waste products in a pile, close enough to where they are living that it is a wonder they don’t all die of typhoid and/or cholera.  They defecate into a plastic bag and throw it onto the rest of the garbage.  This spot was right behind a set of latrines they wanted us to replace, and where people were living.

They would like us to replace these latrines.  We told them if they got rid of this enormous pile of garbage, we’d give them new latrines.  Right next to this pile lives a family.  This little girl below was doing something to the cassava flour and the flies, who’d no doubt just visited the garbage pile, were crawling all over the flour.  It is a wonder any of them live past the age of a baby.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pictures, Monrovia, Liberia

The man who took us around as we looked at the refugee camp.  I told him he looked very American.
Just taking a nap in the dirt...
These girls wanted their picture taken with me.  The one on the right had her own camera.

 The walls of this hut was made with the sides of the cans from their feeding program at the refugee camp.

A sign at the school in the refugee camp.

 Our undulating hallway at the hotel.

A garbage dumpster!  In the city, but no where else...

 The prettiest street in all of Monrovia.
Below, kid in a bucket, getting her bath!  So cute!

This latrine was built for the refugee camp by a lady who was running for office.  When she didn't get elected, she stop working on it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Monrovia, Liberia

January 23-25, 2012

Dear Family & Friends,

Our flight arrived slightly early and we went through customs quickly.  Our luggage showed up just as fast and we turned to see our ride standing there, Mr. Tamba Bundor, contractor.  He has worked on every project we’ve done here, even before we were assigned to Liberia water projects, but we have not worked here for three years.  We met with Prince Nyanforh, a church member who is a counselor to the Mission President in Liberia.  He was a project manager on the last project.  We will be putting in wells and latrines.

Bundor dropped us off at the Palm Spring Hotel where visiting church leaders stay while in Monrovia.  No, it is not the Palm Springs Hotel.  They tell us that it was built two years ago.  It looks a lot older, either because people beat it up, the original quality or construction was not great, or they don’t keep it fixed up.  The room is rather pretty, if not terribly convenient (where’s the desk to work on the laptop?), but it has a good mattress, an air conditioner that really works, power that stays on all day long, a hot shower, and the Internet.  They had a hard time hooking me up, but it works now and we are very happy.  There is no pool or workout room that we can find, but once again, it was fun just emptying our suitcases.  We’ll be here five nights.

We are located on the main floor.  As we walked down the hall to our room I had to giggle.  This property slopes downward and so what do you do—you have a hallway that is flat, then slopes sharply downward, then flat, then down, to the very end of the hall.  To get to the restaurant we go in and out of the building, up and down stairways as it meanders all over the place.  We noticed a casino on one side where the cigarette smoke seeped into the hallway as we went to the restaurant.  We were glad it was not smoky in there and the food was very good, even though what you order might not be available that night.  On the way to the restaurant we noticed a huge pile of very large barracuda that had just arrived.

Bundor was supposed to be here this morning at 9 AM.  He arrived at 11.  So, Jim, Prince and I twiddled our thumbs.  When I saw how far away this hotel is from where his business is though, let alone his home, I could see why.  It takes at least 1½ hours to get here from his business.  He had something come up at work that he had to take care of.  Even with our late start, we got to see a lot today.

The first thing I noticed was that there were no more potholes on the main, paved roads.  The marketplace along this road used to be one big garbage dump.  They had huge piles right on the street, like little mountains.  Now they have large dumpsters full of the garbage and it is being collected.  Even when the garbage was too much for the container, it was placed nearby, removed from the main market area where they could so easily get sick from their own waste.  It was just as crowded as before though, with people and with cars, most of which were yellow cabs.

First we looked at some latrines Bundor had put in for UNICEF to see if we wanted to use the same design.  In large areas this type will have to be used—they will have to be pumped out once a year.  In a smaller school, the other design we saw in Ghana could be used, otherwise the cost would be too great as they cannot handle a huge amount of people.  Basically the latrine system mimics the ones that are in the U.S.  We could tell that their community development had really worked after talking to the people.

When we visited this area to see their new latrine that Bundor did for UNICEF, one man told us how the entire place was littered with feces, and now it is clean again.  If anyone is caught not using the latrine, they are actually arrested and fined!  Each use has to be paid for—5 Liberian dollars, which equals about ½ cent.

We went to this refuge camp that was created during the war.  These people are a mix of local Liberians but also people from Sierra Leone and New Guinea.   They decided to stay and so they live in this mess.   They have 21 wells, hardly a latrine in sight.  Of the 21 wells, only 12 work and only 5 are clean.  They are sitting around waiting for someone to fix them.  If we are going to do latrines here, we will expect them to repair the wells and treat the ones that are no longer fit for drinking.  If not, we won’t help them because they will be waiting for their next handout and not sustain the project.  Bundor said that they are already organized into groups, so it should be easy to start community development.  Their ‘homes’ were made out of whatever they could find.  There are thousands of people that live here.

We also checked on wells we did at least three years ago.  Most were working, most had been repaired, some were not paying any money to fix the wells, but usually when it broke they have collected money to fix them.

As we walked around on this sultry day, we were grateful that a balmy breeze was blowing against our sweating bodies.  We got home by dinner and had much to do before falling into bed.  Bundor told us that for sure he would be here no later than 9:30 AM tomorrow.  We have much to do.  Kakata is a bit of a drive. 

We also looked at Prince’s house that he is building himself.  We visited Bundor’s house too, but missed his wife.  Prince purchased one acre, will build a total of four houses on the property, building his dream home on a certain spot, renting the others.

It’s going to be a very busy week.

Love, mom & dad, Jim & Karen, E/S Greding

Monday, January 23, 2012


January 21-22, 2012

Dear Family & Friends,

We spent our time in Freetown returning our rental car, swatting mosquitoes, writing reports, washing clothes, working out, swimming and eating.  We had dinner with the new office couple, Elder & Sister Randall, and talked them into taking us to church and then to the water taxi so we could get to the airport and fly to Ghana.  At first there was one boat that crossed the water, but competitors keep coming.  We were tempted therefore to take the new water taxi because it was $30 compared to $40.  After enquiring we realized that even though the new boat is roomier and even has bathrooms, it is a little bit slower.  This would not be a problem coming into Sierra Leone, but leaving and trying to be in front of the line to get on a plane is more important.  Elder Randall decided that since so many missionaries use this service they ought to give us a discount.  With the new company trying to get us to purchase their tickets, Eco agreed to let us pay $35.  In fact, Elder Randall got them to agree to let all our missionaries receive this same discount from now on.

The yellow Eco Water Taxi getting ready to take a load of people to the Lungi Airport.  When we were dropped off at the other side we looked over to see two yachts at another dock--must belong to the president or something.

This turned out to be a good decision.  Getting out of Sierra Leone and onto the plane is usually a tedious and sweaty process and we managed to stay out in front of the group.  When we got to the airport Jim got attacked by guys trying to get money to take our luggage, which we usually do ourselves.  This time Jim told the man that he’d pay him IF he got him through the airport quickly.  We were both lucky.  We ended up in front of most of the people and got through so fast that we were doing a little happy dance.  Jim paid the guy and he complained that it should be more—why is this so typical? 

One very funny thing happened after we got off the boat and onto their old bus to be transported to the airport.  On the way there is a very steep dirt hill to climb.  We got about ¾ of the way up and the bus just stopped—it couldn’t go any further!  I had visions of barreling backwards out of control down the hill.  The men on the bus quickly realized our plight and jumped out of the bus.  Sure enough, the old vehicle slowly creaked up over the top—I think I can, I think I can--I thought I was in a storybook about a train.

Because we were ahead of the pack, we were able to get matching aisle seats for the flight to Accra, which always makes us happy.  On the way over from Accra to Sierra Leone Jim got an aisle seat, but it wouldn’t recline and I got a window seat in another section of the plane.  On that flight I sat next to a young family man with three children who was traveling back to his stationery business in Sierra Leone.  We talked the entire time so that I never felt claustrophobic even when all our trays were down.  On today’s flight I sat next to a man who was not only uninterested in conversation, but kept bumping my arm throughout the flight even though I gave him the use of the armrest.  The point is that I didn’t have that seatmate when I was stuck three seats in next to the window—I was on the aisle where it didn’t matter.  After the flight all these people were shoving us out of the way trying to get past to get in the back of the plane for when they opened the back doors. I don’t ever remember this happening before.  Finally we put a stop to it—rudeness personified.

When we arrived in Accra we also were ahead of the group and quickly got through customs—another small miracle!  We quickly got our luggage and the hotel van was there to pick us up. It was a surprisingly easy day, which I had been dreading.  It turned out so well that I still feel like dancing, well, except for the fact that I can barely walk without Tylenol.  The speed on the treadmill I was using yesterday morning was either too fast or too slow.  I chose too fast…

While in Sierra Leone we noticed that both the Capitol Hotel and the Country Lodge are doing a lot of remodeling and room additions.  The manager of the Country Lodge said that people are finally beginning to invest in the country again.  They are building to meet what they presume will be future needs.

Today while the Randall’s were taking us to church we noticed that they are building nicer roads with sidewalks and even medium strips with plants!  Note that we are on the right side of a divided road in Freetown.  Look across the street to see a sidewalk.  Then they had some plants in the middle of the medium strip!  This seems so out of place in Africa!

We talked with the office couple to see how Schlehuber’s were doing.  They finally hooked up to the Internet, Marcus got the car running (he had to stop every hour on the way to Bo with the couple following them, to make repairs), and their furniture is coming on Monday.  The only thing that does not fit on the truck is another fridge.  Their brand new fridge that they brought with them to Bo doesn’t work, so someone else will have to bring them another one.  I noticed this trip that I got less frustrated.  Perhaps when we come here now we are so used to disappointments that I guess we sort of expect it.

Now if they could just do something about the garbage…
The boat landing being rebuilt is one that apparently fell into the sea. 

Tomorrow we can get up leisurely, get a ride with the hotel shuttle to the airport, and travel to Liberia, something we haven’t done for at least two or three years. 

See you in about a week.

Love, mom & dad, Jim & Karen, E/S Greding

Friday, January 20, 2012

More pictures from Kenema & Bo

We saw this chart stuck on a wall in a village, so we knew hygiene training was going on there as this was one of the teaching tools they use.
This is also a rare sight anywhere in Africa.  It is what every third world country needs  to prevent cholera--a garbage  truck collection system.
It is not often you see a piece of construction equipment in Africa.
We came across this cement pour in Kenema. We wanted Jonathan to see what we meant by  real, hard  concrete--it is poured wet and has lots of cement in it.  Africans usually mix their cement in the dirt and put it on too dry, causing it to crumble.
This little girl immediately hugged her new 'baby' right to her .
The clinic ladies standing in front of their very nice, new building.
Amarachi about to deliver more baby blankets to several women at  this  clinic.
We love to see wells at clinics because they keep them so clean.
This worker was so far down that I had to grab the crossbar and  lean over the hole  to find a way to take his picture.
Searching for diamonds.  It is too bad that the people of Sierra Leone do not benefit from their country's rich resources.
Another blanket for another baby.
New blanket for a baby soon to be born.