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(Click on Pictures to enlarge)
March 1- We arrived in
Monrovia about 3 pm.There was, of course, a crowd waiting for us on
the dock, including our advance team,
friends we made last year, various churches, politicians & officials. There was also a half dozen ex-Mercy Shippers who served with us
in Liberia last year. This country touched our hearts so much that many who've left the Anastasis have either come back for a short
time or moved here permanently. The Peet's were on the dock, as were the newly married Colbys, Ben and Natalie. The long-termers
onboard were just happy to be back in Liberia again! We'll have to wait a day or two before we can leave the ship, but after 8 months
in Tema, it's nice just to breath in fresh air. We look forward to the newcomers learning to love Liberia as we all did. At right is my
'dock-marking' project from last year.. Ships traditionally spray-paint their name on docks that they visit, so I thought I'd do a classy
one. Next to that, I'd intended to write "Final Outreach Nov 05-May '06" but never got a chance to. Coincidence, or God's plan?
Swimmers!- In my new capacity as Ship's
Security Officer, I'll be protecting the ship
and dock from 'swimmers'...criminals who
swim across the harbor at night (and day!) to steal what they can from us. We managed to arrest one on the derelict barge at the
end of our dock, sending a strong message to the "criminal community" that we would not tolerate any illegal activity while we're
here. As of March 17th, We've arrested 7 of the swimmers, most of which were just those trying to stow away on vessels here. I'm
keeping pictures of those caught, so I know who repeat offenders are. There's a couple at right, with swimmers in 'action' at left.
March 23- We had some bicycles stolen last weekend. What was scary was that they were stolen right off of the
ship. We had stopped standing 'swimmer watch' just the night before, so I have a feeling we're being watched, the
criminals lying in wait until the opportunity arises for them to sneak onto the dock, or in this case, the ship. Taken
were two children's bikes that had just been purchased by their parents in Ghana. I spent the day seeking out some
possible access points to the ship and stringing up some more razor wire. We'll be adding a few more lights to the
dock, hoping a brightly lit dock deters the criminals. The highlight of the day was a surprise visit by Harris, who we
removed a 7 lb. facial tumor from last year. He became the 'poster boy' for our time in Liberia last time around, and
those of you who were on board (or received the Mercy Ships newsletters) will certainly remember him. He is doing
well, although he needs some added surgery, as you can see from the picture. The sign at right simply says "Don't
Take Down" ...a sort of psychological experiment put up by our own Bowie Buverud, just to see how long it would
stay up before it's taken down. Hanging outside & surrounded by razor wire, I think it'll stay for a good long while.
March 17- Back to the Bong!
Mines was not only the best trip last year, it was one of the
best trips ever.
New crew were asking me about 'the train trip' months before we even got here to Liberia. It entails strapping our
Land Rovers onto the flatbed of a nearby train, traveling two hours to Bong Mines, a huge semi-abandoned mine
that's Liberia chief source of iron ore, and spending four hours swimming around the 'quarry-turned-lake' before
taking the Rovers back to Monrovia. We're going to organize it so there's a trip every other weekend, which entails
establishing a good relationship with the people who operate the train, as well as the rail yard manager. About 12
of us spent the day working out the logistics of the bi-weekly trips, as well as enjoying our own trip. Our head of
of transportation, Joe Stoltzfus, set up guidelines for vehicle use, while our food services manager, June Fontes,
worked out how to supply meals for forty people who'd be missing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mike and Gordie
offered to take turns organizing the trips, freeing me up to explore other adventures. While the crew love these
excursions, for those of us who supervise them it's more like 'herding cats'. Still, the trip is awesome. Two hours
on top of the Land Rovers through lush jungle and isolated African villages. The top row of pictures show the
view from the train, while the bottom row are pictures of Bong Mines, as well as my meager 'photoshopping skills'.
March 26- Happy Chaitra Dashain!-
My security team consists of three Gurkhas,
which are a Nepalese
paramilitary unit attached to either the British or Indian army. I'm constantly impressed by their vigilance,
their patience, and their attention to detail. Between the three of them, they have over 60 years of military
service. The excellence of the Gurkha force has earned them a good reputation worldwide, and are often
contracted out for security in everything from embassies to bodyguards. Our contracting company, G.M.S.,
(Gurkha Manpower Services), supplies cruise ships with security. Most difficult for our men is the distance
from home and length of service, away from their families and friends. This will be lessened in Liberia by
the presence of a Nepalese FPU (Foreign Police Unit) down at the end of our dock. They're here as part of
UNMIL, serving as an interim police force until the L.N.P. (Liberian National Police) are ready for the task.
My guys often spend their days off over there, visiting with their fellow countrymen, relaxing and eating
delicious Nepalese food. Nepal is situated between India and China, & the food seems to blend the best
of both worlds. The base commander invited the Captains family & I over to celebrate 'Chaitra Dashain',
a Hindu holiday celebrated in late March. We spent several hours there, eating, drinking, watching a DVD
of last years celebration in Nepal, & touring their camp, which they've done an incredible job of designing
and decorating. Unfortunately, I can't post pictures for you to see! I've been to the Nepalese camp a few
times, now, and I enjoy my time with them. At the risk of 'stereotyping', Nepalese seem to combine the
efficiency of the Chinese with the hospitality of India, with an impressive dose of humility I've rarely seen
in people. I look forward to spending more time with them. Below is a photo of me along with my team,
Min Gurung, Khim Khatri, and Ganesh Gurung, our security force until July. Keep us all in your prayers.
March 30-Destroyers & Duikers- No, it's not a new game from Milton Bradley. A French Aviso,
the Commandant L'Herminier (F971) has docked in the port of Monrovia today, as part of it's tour of
West Africa. I'm going to try to get over there in the next few days. Read more about the ship here.
Meanwhile, we all went out for Thai food at Bangkok Spice, the best restaurant in Monrovia. A good
meal can be had for $10, and it's probably the most popular among crew, and certainly my favorite.
The restaurant actually has a tame duiker wandering around it's 'Japanese-garden style' grounds. So
tame is it, it wanders the tables looking for handouts and licking your fingers. He's become almost
as popular as the restaurant itself. Also on the grounds is some sort of African raccoon, though he
only comes out after dark, slinking around the walls, keeping his distance from all the customers.
I think it's actually a civet cat, as there's no such thing as a 'African Raccoon'. I need a better look!
(Disturbing Image Warning!) We had the past 4 days
off for Easter. While most other crewmembers
went to the beach today, I took a group of newcomers to downtown. I got the sad news Friday that the Ducor
Palace would be torn down, and I got a paper in town with the story on the front page. I stopped by the hotel
to see my friends and make sure that they were okay. Many of the people living there have begun packing up,
and I saw a few couches and wardrobes on the curb, waiting to be picked up. Residents have begun moving
in preparation for the government evicting them within a month or two. It's been happening all over town, as
President Johnson-Sirleaf has called for an end to squatting as part of her mission to 'rebuild' Monrovia. Last
weekend saw the shantytown known as 'Waterside' torn down, keeping me on edge in case of a riot starting.
A picture of the cleared neighborhood is below. After the Ducor, we stopped by a market downtown, where
a stork could be bought for a mere 10 USD! "Why you sell stork?", I asked. "To eat, of course". Ah, Liberia.
After the market, we spent a half hour exploring Palm Grove Cemetery, a huge graveyard made of cement
tombs right downtown. The sheer size of the cemetery makes it hard to miss if you're downtown, & it seems
to dominate many city maps. I never got to see it last year, so I made it a priority today. We saw the tomb of
Liberia's first president, JJ Roberts. It was, like everything else of value in Liberia, surrounded by razor wire.
I asked my 'tour guide', Sonny Boy, what people would want to steal from a gravesite, but he had no answer.
Palm Grove was in the worst state possible. Tombs has cracked open and were spilling dirt all over. Many of
the tops had crumbled, allowing the rain to wash away the dirt and expose the contents. Bones and skulls
shared the tomb with trash thrown there. Taking a picture of the skull at bottom left, Sonny Boy asked me,
"You want I should fix it for the picture?" "Umm, no." I did have him lift a few coffin lids for me so I could
photograph the...errr, 'contents'. Sonny Boy showed me a messy area under a clump of trees, telling me
"This is where the people were living. Bad people" I assumed he meant during the civil war, as I knew the
cemetery was often used as cover, due to it's many hiding places and strategic location. When I got back to
the ship and read my newspaper, I realized he meant recently. Very recently, as a matter of fact. The LNP
had just raided Palm Grove the day before, arresting 13 out of the (alleged) 1000 people who had actually
taken up residence there, earning them the nickname 'The Living Dead'. While I'm sure the number was a
fraction of the '1000 people' described in a recent article, they had nonetheless made a mess of the place,
with open tombs filled with trash, and the few trees cut and mangled. Monrovia is slowly coming back to a
thing of beauty, but it will take much work. People will need to be relocated, buildings refurbished, land
reclaimed from the many shanty-towns that cropped up during the long civil war. Villagers flocked to the
'safety' of the city when their villages were ransacked and razed...and now, as Liberia enters a period of
peace, they are slowly returning home, dismantling their shacks, & emptying the shantytowns & refugee
camps. This is probably why there has been little outcry from the people as they are getting evicted from
their 'homes'. On her recent visit to the Ducor, Mdme. President refused to even get out her car, due to a
'stench surrounding the place'. Read more about the evacuations here. Please keep the people of the Ducor
in your prayers, and I really do apologize for the macabre (and fairly depressing) post this time around.
My Church- I attend church at Providence Baptist Church in downtown Monrovia. It's Liberia's most well-known
church, and for good reason. It was the first church in the nation (built in 1822), it's Declaration of Independence
was signed there, and a good part of Liberia's history centers around here. There are stone tablets on the walls
to commemorate these events, & tablets to list the pastors of the church dating back to it's inception. Providence
B.C. is rife with history. They even put gas lanterns along the walls, and a couple of 'gas lantern chandeliers' hang
from the ceiling, though all use small electric bulbs to produce the lighting. Click on the top right picture to see.
Providence B.C. has a large, modern structure in back of the original building where they hold their usual Sunday
service at 10. I go to the 8 AM service in the original building, which they keep up for historical sake. The church
is pure Southern Baptist, and if you've been to a black Baptist service down south, you'll feel right at home here,
right down to the congregation shouting "Preach it, brother!" throughout the sermon. They even have their own
baptismal pool out front. Having attended more black churches than white throughout my life (and usually down
south), I enjoy attending church there. The service is only 2 hours long (as opposed to 4), and only one offering
offering is taken, which clinches the deal for me. I'll miss it when I go. You can read more about the church here.
As I've said before, the most popular church in the city is Monrovia Christian Fellowship. Founded by Eugene
Christian Fellowship of Eugene, Oregon, 'MCF' is the church of choice for missionaries, N.G.O workers, ex-pats,
UNMIL soldiers from all around the world. The UNMIL Public Relations director, a Ghanaian, even speaks there
on occasion. As you can see from the photo bottom right, the street in front of the church is lined with dozens
of SUV's from UNMIL, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Samaritans Purse, and, of course,...Mercy Ships.
Interesting night. Our good friend
Alicia Robbins got a rather unpleasant
welcome her first
time to Africa. Keith Brinkman had just picked her & two others up at the airport. Heading back to the ship
after midnight, Alicia saw ‘sparks and flame’ directly underneath the console on the passenger side. Keith
saw an ‘orange glow’ emanating from under the console and immediately pulled over the vehicle to the side
of the road. They began looking for a fire extinguisher, but there was none in the front seat. They removed
the luggage from the back, but weren’t able to locate the fire extinguisher, either. By now the fire had spread
rapidly and the four moved a good distance from the vehicle in case of explosion. A passing UNMIL vehicle
vehicle had seen the fire and stopped to offer assistance. They brought the three women home, while Keith
remained near the vehicle until Joe (our transportation manager) and I arrived. I got woken up around 1 AM,
and we were on scene by 0130. We had brought a towing strap 'just in case', but it was pretty it wouldn't be
needed. The Land Rover, as you see, was a total loss. Joe and some other returned the next morning and
muscled it up onto our trailer. Of our 20 or so vehicles, this was actually one of our newer ones. Thank God
no one was hurt, and there were very good responses on everybody's parts. Joe was unable to locate the
cause of the fire, as you can see, but suspects it was electrical, possibly due to 'rats chewing on the wires'.
Land Rover #326 now sits in our warehouse nearby while we sort out all the legal messes it comes with.
April 19- The
eviction of the
residents of the
Ducor Palace continues. A friend & fellow
crew member from Liberia was listening to UNMIL radio this morning, and he told me
they were doing an interview with some of the residents. One of the residents actually
mentioned me, telling them how I had started Mercy School and asking the government
to allow them to finish this school year. 'Old Ma' has been doing a pretty good job this
past year, and I sympathize with her desire to clear the city of squatters. Still, I pray that
the people getting evicted will be able to find housing, or make it back to their villages.
This is a difficult time for the people of Liberia...please keep all of them in your prayers!
April 26- Busy week. My
friend Orla from the Gambia is visiting me, I've been putting together a
for our upcoming screening next week, and our marine surveyor is coming this week for what is to be our final
survey! I had planned to spend part of the weekend at the Ducor, but the surveyor wants all of the Emergency
Teams to remain onboard all weekend in case he wants to see a drill. Thanks. From the local papers, I know it
was looted the other day, of what little remains of the old hotel. Most of the people should be out by now, but
some remain. For now, I'll post some pictures from my bike trip last weekend. I went for a ride with our Irish
anesthesiologist, Michael. We went through Dualla market, over the St. Paul river and along the coast to a local
beach. On the way we stopped off at the Irish UNMIL base, where I've received many invitations to go since we
arrived here. We took a small small tour around the base (which they share with a Pakistani Battalion), and had
lunch with the base Commandant. Below are a bunch of photos I took along the way. There aren't very many
new road signs around this year, so I've started collecting the bumpers around Liberia, which are often painted
with some sort of 'quasi-Christian' idiom. Also below are a broken down mini-van turned 'herbal shop', the 'God
Bless My Boss' dump truck (one of my favorites!), and the 'Friendship Pays' filling station. And, of course, yours
truly outside the base, right next to old Hotel Africa, which once matched the Ducor for 'nicest hotel in Liberia'.
May 2- The busy week
continues. Our very capable Patient Services Coordinator Ans
Rozema & I did
a final recon at Antoinette Tubman Stadium (or ATS) in preparation for the screening tomorrow. I met
with heads of UNPOL & the LNP, both of whom will be supplying us with a platoon as an extra security
measure. We'll also have 4 nurses doing a 'pre-screening' starting at midnight until 6 AM. They'll weed
out the potential patients from the ones we're not able to help, and will be accompanied by 4 men from
the ship to keep them safe. Despite the stadiums location next door to an Army base, downtown is not
a place you want to be from midnight on. This is our first outreach at ATS. Last years screening at JFK
hospital caused some problems for them, so this year we requested either the stadium or the Army base
next to it, Barclay Training Center. We got ATS, and what a blessing from God. It's obviously designed
with security in mind, judging by the amount of fencing and partitioned seating areas. We'll be able to
not only keep patients who are declined surgery out of the stadium, but segregate each affliction in it's
own seating area for screening and registration. Between the stadium's great design, the UNPOL & LNP
forces, and our own manpower & experience, I can envision a smooth screening tomorrow. Keep it in
your prayers, nonetheless. In other news, The Africa Mercy is less than three weeks away. I spent a day
last week under the water, marking & measuring three of Freeport's eighteen (eighteen!!! ) wrecks, sunk
right where the AFM will be docked. Only one of these makes us nervous, due to the amount of timbers
sticking up out of the mud. The Port Authority came today & hauled the offending timbers out of there,
making a nice, clear berth for our sister ship. This is just a small fraction of the craziness this week has
given me-besides the usual new crew arrivals, ships functions, and standard security concerns, we've got
a pastors conference this week, some upcountry screenings, Charles Taylor news, a rabbit purchase that
keeps falling through, continuing evictions at the Ducor, and another swimmer invasion, this one by a
Chinese swimmer I'll tell you about it when things slow down-possibly late next week (Just kidding). In
other news, my favorite (and maybe the only good) restaurant in Monrovia closed it's doors late Sunday
evening. Bangkok Spice served exquisite Thai food for less than $10 a meal, and it's Japanese-garden
style grounds and tame duiker made every meal an experience. Sunday night it was packed with NGO
workers, embassy staff, UNMIL officers and native Liberians all coming for one last meal. Sadly, they've
been robbed so many times they no longer want to continue the business and are returning to Thailand.
There is obviously a dearth of decent restaurants in Liberia, so this is the 'end of an era', in my book.
Below are pictures of ATS, the wreck removal, and one of our dock at the best time of the day...sunset.
May 3, Screening Day- The Screening ended
about an hour ago. We expected anywhere from 2000-4000
to show up, but we had about a thousand, total. Smaller screenings around the country the past few months
kept the numbers down, as did eliminating eye screenings from the program. The team who worked through
the night helped shorten things as well. We had help from female LNP cadets, and from the Indian UNPOL
contingent that's been so much in the Liberian news lately. It made history as the first all-female force to ever
be sent out by the UN. A dozen of them visited the ship a few weeks ago, and I'll be visiting their base in the
next week or two, and they've promised me Muttar Paneer for lunch, one of my favorites. We filled most of
the surgery schedule, though it's always good to have a few slots available just in case. May 3 is 'World Press
Freedom Day' worldwide, which Liberia celebrates with marching bands, some of whom passed the stadium.
One of them was even playing 'When the Saints Go Marching In', just like home. At the bottom left is one of
Monrovia's fixtures, Solomon. I've seen him many times, hand-peddling his handicap bicycle around the city.
I saw him watching us from across the street, so I walked over with our head screener. To add to his many
problems, his foot, which was amputated, is not healing properly. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do
for him but pray, which is what I did. Locals tell me they heard he used to work for the electric company,
and his condition is due to getting the full brunt of some sort of 'electrical explosion' when disconnecting the
power from somebody's house. He seemed in decent spirits, as he has no doubt resigned himself to his fate
a long time ago. Nonetheless, his condition has always seemed like a tragedy from afar...from close up even
more so. I returned to the ship mid-afternoon to find a 'pile of ship' on our dock. The final wreck has been
cleared, and the other side of the dock is now ready to berth the Africa Mercy...due to arrive in just 19 days.
Screening Video- Our
own Debra Bell put together a short video of
the recent medical screening for the Africa Mercy, IOC, & other Mercy
Shippers to watch. She worked through the night to get it ready to up-
load for them, and did a fantastic job. Click on the link below to watch.
I'm in it, about a minute & 1/2 in, carrying a women whose legs were
too deformed to walk. A car pulled up to the curb and just dumped her
out of the car, where she just sat there, alone, afraid, & unsure of what
to do. Unfortunately, she had been like this her whole life, and we were
unable to do anything for her. I felt such a great pity for her, watching
her as she scrabbled around the screening area like a crab, while dozens
of eyes watched her, trying to maintain her dignity through the ordeal..
Medical Screening - May 3, 2007
Small Mercies- This week I got a
9 pm call to report to the gangway immediately, as
there was a
swimmer in the water headed our way. Despite repeated warnings from our security staff and some
UNMIL soldiers on our dock, he kept coming. As he got closer, we saw he wasn’t Liberian at all, but
Chinese. We helped him up the pylons onto the dock, and I sent for Ya-Fen Lin, a Taiwanese nurse
on board, to translate. Over a cup of tea, he told us his story. His name is Mr Li. He’s from the fishing
vessel across the way whose captain died 3 weeks ago. The only ones on board are him & a Korean
man, his boss, who often leaves for the night, putting out a ladder so he can reach the dock. They’ve
been living on rice & fish they’ve caught over the side since the captain died, waiting for a new one
so the vessel can leave. Some criminals have attempted to access his vessel several times, always held
back by the 2 watchdogs on board the boat. This time, they saw the Korean man leave and they took
their chance. They got onto the boat & hit the dogs with sticks to frighten them. They attacked Mr. Li,
three of them. While the details are fuzzy, it appears they left, and Mr. Li got into the water and swam
over to our vessel. He was afraid and fed up. He didn’t want to go back onto the boat even though we
offered to bring him back & have the soldiers search it. We brought Mr. Li a change of clothes & some
food. I brought out a mattress, and we rustled up some linen and a pillow. I pushed some benches
together and he spent the night under one of our screening tents. The next morning, I brought him
some breakfast. He was awake & pacing the dock...he had even made his bed. A Korean crew member
called the Cho's, some local Korean friends of hers who are Christians, and they promised to look after
him. We took the Zodiac over to the vessel and let him gather his things. His boss had returned and
said the boss had offered to hire some locals to help protect the ship, but Li had had enough. He went
downstairs and came up a few minutes later with all his belongings, two small bags. He got onto the
zodiac and didn’t look back. Back on the dock, I gave him enough food for the day, a Mercy Ships bottle
of water, and $15 USD, all that I had in my wallet. Bowing, grateful and humble, he headed down the
dock, on his way down the road to the Cho’s house, and hopefully to a much brighter future.
Jesus asked, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into
the hands of the robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10;36-37)
Week In Review (May 14-May 20)- Not one of the better weeks I've had as
SSO, certainly one of the busiest.
Friday, I got a call from a friend who works 'in security' here in Liberia. There had just been an act of piracy nearby.
The 3,500 ton cargo vessel 'Tahoma Reefer' had been anchored off the coast of Monrovia, awaiting repairs due to a
fire onboard the ship in August. 25 pirates boarded the ship brandishing machetes. They assaulted the crew and
forced them to jump overboard. They then took the vessel under tow and were last seen en route to Cote d'Ivoire,
our neighbor to the east. I was asked about the feasibility of using our Zodiac as a possible means of intercepting
the pirates. I declined, due the distance, the condition of our boat, and of course, the nature of the work. You really
shouldn't try to apprehend pirates in an inflatable boat. Nonetheless, they were exploring all options. Unfortunately,
the Liberian government lacks the resource for coastal law enforcement. The vessel was last seen headed east. It's
feared that once it crossed the border to the Ivory coast, it would be unable to be recovered. Read about it here.
Sunday- It's the last hurrah for the Ducor, as the last of the residents trickle out in preparation for the government
sanctioned eviction. I helped my friend Parline Peagan move from his ground floor 'apartment' to a similarly-sized
room in nearby Congotown. 'Congos' are slaves that were freed after the ships they were being transported in were
seized. Rather than transporting them back to their country of origin, the U.S. would simply bring them to Liberia,
where American settlers would 'adopt' them, teaching them a trade, 'Christianizing' them, and even making them a
member of their family. Congotown grew out of that community, sort of the first 'suburb' of Liberia. Parline will be
living in a 15' X 15' room made of thatched palm and a zinc roof. He'll share it with a couple of family members. I
understand why so many took up residence in the Ducor. It was solid, safe, and protected from the elements. You
kept your room as clean as you liked, despite the piles of garbage outside. I went into as many rooms as were free,
and was moved by the touches of home left behind. I'll do a post on this next week or so. Below you see some pics
of the move, including Parlines old home at left, and new one at right. I was amazed at how much actual furniture
some of the residents had, including bed sets, bureaus, & even couches. They paid around $300 Liberian ($6 US)
to live there. The president has announced the Libyans will begin refurbishing the Ducor in 2 weeks, on June 3rd.
Monday- A very disturbing night. At around 4:30 am, an intruder boarded this ship and entered three rooms before
escaping into the harbor. He also had a machete. One of our female crew members awoke to find him rummaging
through her drawers and closets. The Holy Spirit was with us that night...the first cabin entered was the worst cabin
he could have entered, the Duty Officer. Upon accidentally awaking the officer, the intruder exited the room quickly.
knowing something was amiss, but not knowing what, the officer went to reception to speak with the night patrol and
ask for a sweep of the ship. When he got to reception, he asked reception to call cabin L10 and check up on her, but
'didn't know why he asked that'. A minute later that cabin called and said the intruder had just left. They found him in
our bookstore, pulling shirts off the rack. He ran outside to the bow, and over the side. Nobody was hurt, and about
$150 in money and items were stolen. The crew is understandably nervous, & I am increasing our security to make it
impossible for an intruder to enter the ship at all. We have also added extra watches all night, from 10 pm to 6 am.
Tuesday- I had supper at the Nepali UNMIL/FPU camp across the way. I always enjoy the company of Durga,
the commanding officer, and helped him to create a blog, which he will use to talk of his endeavors outside
his job, including the recent building of a Hindu temple in his hometown of Katmandu. Unfortunately for him,
internet UNMIL provides for them blocks access to blogs, so while he can write & publish it, he can't read it!
Wednesday- I went for supper at the Indian UNMIL/FPU. There are three FPU's in Monrovia, & the Jordanians
are the third. In attendance were 20 or people, representing Nepal, the US, Germany, Pakistan, Jordan, & India.
We had a delicious supper that matched any Indian restaurant I'd been to. I even got to have muttar paneer two
nights in a row. If my chow hall had been like this, I would have never left the Navy. The hijacking of the ship
and an escape from Monrovia Central Prison (all three take turns guarding it) that day was the talk of the night.
I finally got a chance to thank, in person, the people who helped us with security the day of the screening.
Thursday-Friday- The spaces in between were spent typing reports, increasing security, collecting ID badges
from all the day workers who left this week, mapping out a security plan for the remainder of our time here,
fixing door locks, inspecting our night watches, and getting ready for the imminent arrival of our sister ship,
the Africa Mercy, which has left Tenerife, and is headed for Monrovia, after 7 years of preparation. It was all
over the BBC last week. A quick Google or YouTube search will give you all the information you want on it.
In other news, I finally got the scoop on the movie being filmed around town. Johnny Mad Dog is a
movie about an African Civil War and child soldiers, but it doesn't take place in Liberia. Rather, Liberia
(& more to the point, the old bridge in Monrovia) stands in for the Democratic Republic of Congo, which
experienced many tragedies similar to Liberia. There's little online about this French-made movie, but I
suspect it's a film version of the book of the same name by Emmanuel Dongala, who lived through the
experience of the war in the D.R.C. Big thanks to Shelby, who solved this mystery for me on her blog.
Rabbits!!! Yes, we've got rabbits on the dock. Our own Jutta Meyer and Kate Beck have extended the boundaries of
Mercy Ships' vision and they've explored several different projects for helping the people we serve. Kate's specialty is
beekeeping, while Jutta's is rabbits. They've also explored raising snails & growing mushrooms, among other things.
Teaching orphanages these things allows them to produce their own food, and gives them an opportunity to make a
little extra money by selling the extras. It also gives us a chance to play with the rabbits! Their first attempt, Adam &
Eve, failed to produce the needed heirs. The new couple, Abraham & Sarah, in keeping with biblical themes, are with
child (err, 'rabbit'), and we're hoping Abraham becomes the 'father of many nations'. We've also managed to get some
baby rabbits, much to the delight of the ships children. There's a short, but cute, video of feeding time on the right.
May 23- The day has finally arrived! After 8
long years, the Africa Mercy arrived in Monrovia for it's first outreach ever.
I got the job of taking the zodiac out to pick up my friend Kelly, a videographer for Mercy Ships. I clenched my jaw and
gripped the wheel, and managed to hold the zodiac against the ship, maintaining a speed of 6.5 knots so we could get
Kelly & her equipment onto the zodiac. We zipped around the ship, shooting from all different angles. The ship docked
& we all spent hours reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. I saw friends I hadn't seen in years & years.
I won't bother telling you every little thing that happened (like our ships horn getting stuck on for 10 minutes), I'll just
let the pictures speak for themselves. Most of these pictures aren't mine, & I can't credit them, as so many photos were
taken that day, I could never find who took each one. It was pretty big news, and there's plenty of links here, as well...
we made the BBC, & even al-Jazeera! What was the day like? In a word, Glorious. I've been trying to get an hour or
so to update the site with these pictures, but I've been so busy, I'm just now getting around to it, nine days later. In
addition to the AFM's arrival, I've had to deal with rewriting our security plan, briefing their crew on security in Liberia,
attend all of the meetings and celebrations associated with their arrival, deal with a new crop of swimmers, the piracy
incidents in the port, & an armed robbery at one of our worksites. I've been shuttling all the Executive Guests around,
doing airport runs, setting up security for the transfer of everything on this ship to that ship, training my Gurkha's on
their new duties, attending an awards ceremony (more on that later) and a bunch of other things I just can't seem to
remember at this late, late hour. I have literally worked 12 long days in a row, and I plan to spend this weekend doing
nothing but updating the website and maybe relaxing at the beach for a few hours. Thank you all for your patience!
May 28- President
another visit, her third. I dodged a bullet, as it wasn't my
ship she came to
see! I was responsible for dock security, which wasn't a problem considering the UNMIL troops, LSP officials, LNP officers, &
of course her own Secret Service staff on hand. We had more security on the dock than crew members. Having been here for
her first two visits, I was more interested in the security aspect of the operation. Discretion forbids me from publicizing too
many details, but it was an enlightening day, to say the least. There's been talk recently of plots against her, and in Liberia
you can never be too careful. Guards, both military & civilian had every inch of our dock covered, going so far as to climb
on top of our containers. Pics below. Center one is my favorite. M4 assault rifles and 3-piece suits...a winning combination!
May 30- we had a
vessel sneak out of the harbor this past week. It left at 2 in the morning,
as everyone was
sleeping. The M/V Aimi had been here about three weeks & had been loading scrap steel all that time. It owed
the Port Authority about $100,000 in port fees, which it left without paying. An uproar was raised from UNMIL
to the executive mansion, with enough finger pointing to go around. In the end, the LSP Director and his two
deputies (including my contact) were suspended and face possible arrest. The AFM arrived the next day, and if
all that wasn't crazy enough, I had UNMIL, LSP, LNP, and Port Authority up and down the dock all day, looking
at the Nigerian Ship across the way. They suspected it of waiting to sneak out as well. I told LSP we'd keep an
eye on them as a favor. Sure enough, a week later, the ship began hauling up their anchor at around 4 pm. I
got on the phone to friends at UNMIL & LSP and let them know ASAP. Within 5 minutes (no exaggeration),
I had about 50 people on the dock from every alphabet soup organization you can think of. UNMIL, LSP, LNP,
LPA, etc. They called the tug over, I set out a ladder, they all piled on board, and the tug zipped across to the
ship...where they spent 20 minutes rounding everyone up and searching the ship. They returned the crew the
next day and moved the ship to a more accessible dock. The Aimi is the second ship to disappear from Free-
port in the past 2 weeks (see entry below) , and the president is hopping mad. Freeport is the talk of Monrovia
these days, and butts are being chewed all over the city, no doubt. The next morning, the police action was on
the radio, where mention was made of 'Mercy Ships acting as security lookout for the port'. Whoops...I didn't
see that coming. Nonetheless, I guess we scored a few points with everyone...I just hope the president was
listening! The funniest thing about this whole ordeal? Our swimmer watch saw the Aimi pulling of the dock &
turning around preparing to leave. She watched the ship for a while, then said to the Night Patrol, "That ship
must have a really good captain....he didn't even need the tug to get off the dock." Little did she know!!!
May 31- After 2 weeks of 12+
hour days, I took a few hours today to attend the inauguration of
Karkhi Memorial Park,
which my friend Durga has been busy constructing at his camp. He's the Commanding Officer for the Nepali F.P.U. I spend so much
with. I know of his passion to give his men a worthy project, & his desire to honor those who've lost their lives in service, & it was
a blessing to see both come to fruition. He's spent the past 3 months turning a red clay base into something much more. He had a
bronze shadowbox commissioned, planted grass, landscaped his camp, and built fences, walkways, and a circular brick base for the
shadowbox. They painted the camp & even built a three-dimensional model of the Himalayan Mountain Range (including, of course,
Mount Everest, or 'Sagamartha', as it's known in Nepal. The inauguration of the park coincided with a medal ceremony, presenting
members of both Nepali FPU's with UN Peacekeeping Medal. The ceremony was attended by no less than SRSG Alan Doss, the head
of UNMIL. The ceremony lasted about 2 hours, & included speeches by Mr. Doss, Durga, & Inspector General Sanad Kumar Basnet,
who'd traveled all the way from Nepal. In addition to the medal presentation & memorial unveiling, they also had a demonstration
of the Nepali K-9 unit and a wreath-laying ceremony. Luckily, I'd thought to purchase a Liberian wreath the day before in Congotown.
Due to a lack of flowers, Liberian wreaths are comprised of scraps of cloth sewn to resemble flowers. I even managed to find one in
the UN colors of baby blue and white. There had to have been officers from two dozen countries there, from Argentina to China. As
always there was no shortage of delicious Nepali food on hand, and I had my fill of mutter paneer and chicken curry. Afterwards, we
spent some time with Gen. Basnet and Krishna Kumar Tamang, Nepals Senior Superintendent of Police, who'd accompanied him here.
We extended an invitation to visit the Africa Mercy, which they did the following night, taking an hour or to to visit the hip. This was
possibly the most enjoyable day I've spent in Liberia so far this year, & also a welcome break from the stress of the past two weeks..
The Jesus Film- One of the things we do at Mercy Ships is showing the Jesus Movie. The movie, known simply as 'Jesus',
could easily fill a whole page in Guinness with all the records it's broken. It's been seen by more people (6 Billion), translated
into more languages (1026), and has been shown in more countries (all of them!) than any other film in history. Filmed in
1978, it was brought to life by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. A team of 500 scholars & Christian leaders
labored for 5 years to bring the story of Jesus to the big screen. After earning a paltry four million dollars at the box office,
'Jesus' began it's life as a missionary tool. Linguists spent years translating it into different languages and dialects. Funds were
collected to cover the costs of projectors, screens, generators, and other expenses. Teams of workers often have to hike over
rivers & mountains and through dense jungles in nations around the globe to show the movie in places that have no books,
no paper, no written language. It was the first and only movie many of it's audience had ever seen. Finally, the Jesus film is
responsible for leading over 230 million to Christ, the most important record of all. I remember watching the film at church
when I was nine, and didn't see it again for almost twenty years. When I was on board the Caribbean Mercy in '96, I helped
with a showing the town square in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, dubbed in Spanish . I didn't see it again for ten years, when I
went along on a showing in Liberia, in English this time, & it took me back to the first time I saw it, at Trinity Baptist Church.
Gone are the days of scratchy 35mm film, rickety screens and wonky generators. We've got a DVD, a ViewSonic projector,
and a solid generator set aside solely for the regular screenings we have twice weekly around the area. We partner with a
local church who provide a pastor and people to help pray with those who need it. The photos above show you a typical
screening here, with the setup, a rapt crowd, and a post film altar call. The last picture says it all. I love these showings, &
have been along on a few. It gets you out of the city, as most of the showings take place in villages some distance outside
Monrovia. Where illiteracy is high & there's a scarcity of bibles even among Christians, the film really brings to life the story
of Jesus. Liberians response to the film always makes me smile. They all clap when Jesus first appears and again whenever
He performs a miracle. They gasp audibly and begin chattering when Satan (in the form of a serpent) appears to Jesus in
the desert (Luke 4:1-13). But their favorite scene? Without fail, the biggest response is when Jesus feeds the miultitude
with only a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. There's never a shortage of applause when that happens on the screen!
If you'd like to know more about the Jesus Film Project or sponsor their work, head over to their website, JesusFilm.org.
Not too much to report. We're a bit 'cut off' from
ministry these days. The only Liberians we see are the 15 or so who
work on the ship and the dock guards. We've been so busy transferring everything over to the Africa Mercy, I think some of us
have forgotten that we're here for an outreach. The few patients who wander onto the dock are turned away and told to come
back next month. There's not too much left to transfer, but we seem to have run out of room! We have been stacking all of our
remaining cargo into a warehouse nearby we've rented, but even that's filling up quick. Some joker suggested leaving the ware-
house unlocked one night- we'd have all the room we needed the next morning. Ho ho ho. We're also making plans to sail the
Anastasis to the scrap yard next month, and I'll be going along on the sail. We're keeping the date & destination a secret. If the
general population of Monrovia finds out the day we're leaving, we can expect a swarm of people attempting to stow away with
us. Destination isn't really important to them...when you live here, pretty much everywhere is up. Swimmer attacks are rising,
as they no doubt know the crew has moved over to the AFM. We had 5 last night, and one on our dock the night before. One
of our guards spotted him and alerted the guards. The swimmer pushed a barrel of oil into the water & jumped in after it. We
messed around with searchlights for an hour or so, but when it was obvious he wouldn't go any further than the next dock, we
put boat in the water and gave chase. We recovered the barrel, but lost the swimmer. Turn out the barrel was full of gear oil &
was worth about $500. Chalk one up for the good guys. At least they know we're watching. The satellite was removed from the
Anastasis today, so it's officially 'communication-free'. Lack of crew has given the ships cockroach population a fresh, new bold-
ness, and we've been battling them like crazy. Hmmm...what else is new? My good friend Alicia forwarded 'The Front Fell Off'
to a few of us on the ship, so it's been making the rounds, cracking everyone up. We all haven't laughed this hard since that
Berlitz commercial made the rounds last year. Click on both links for a good laugh. So, that's all the news I got to share...
Transfer Photos- I haven't posted any,
despite the fact it's been the central focus of both ships. Want to know what
the past month
has been like? Take a look at the photos below. I've been too busy to post any pictures, but our crack communication team has spent
the past month or so making a visual record of the proceedings (in between moving their own things, of course). I copied some of
their photos to show what it looks like. We hit a snag late last week when we ran out of room on both the Africa Mercy and our local
warehouse. The Africa Mercy saw it's first ever patient yesterday (eye surgery), & has officially come online. Yours truly is at top left.
The Week In Review- A few points of
interest for this week. The crew is all moved over, save for 20 or so of us,
who will remain onboard in case of a fire or security breach. they've shut off the A/C, and yes, it is hot. We put all
of our work on hold while we all spend 4 weeks transferring everything from the Anastasis to the Africa Mercy. We
are hauling everything off, box by box, tool by tool. We only have 2 weeks or so to go, and we're actually ahead of
schedule. I moved all my stuff to the AFM this past week. I won't move into my cabin for 6 more weeks, but I used
my free time to knock out the move in about a day. As I said, I'll remain on the Anastasis until early September or
so. I did move into another cabin, as the lack of crew has given those of us remaining the choice of cabins to live in.
Before anyone had a chance, I grabbed cabin #1, where Dr. Gary Parker & family were living. The Parkers are our
longest serving members, at 23 years, and their cabin is prime real estate. If I'm going out, I'm going out in style.
It also has a front and a side porthole, so I get a bit of a breeze flowing through, dropping the temperature to 75.
-My Gateway class said farewell to Jeff Siver, who rode down on the ship three weeks ago and headed back to
the IOC this week. The Blanchard's are leaving Mercy Ships and moving to Houston, Texas next week, as well.
-Our rabbits gave birth this week, and the 'many nations' we'd been hoping for will have to wait. Our Sarah gave
birth a litter of only two baby rabbits early Friday morning. Luckily for us, rabbits breed like...well, rabbits.
-Finally, below is a picture of what it the deck department for the next month or so. Oregon's own Jon Leischner
has returned, & this time he's brought his dad. Jon & I arrived on the ship a day apart in Cape Town two years
ago, but after several months, he left to begin medical school. Also back is Dirk-Jan Hartzog and Dan Connors.
A fine crew to finish the Anastasis, & no less than Matt Baumgardner is returning in a couple weeks for the sail!
The Last Week- What
does the last week on the Anastasis look like? Here's what it looks like to me.
We had to do one last dive, as the
propellers needed cleaning and the strainers for the intake valves had to be removed. An uneventful dive, which is what you want when
it's a work dive. When it's a sport dive, not so much. Our own David Little painted over the logo on the side, as we're on our way to the
scrap yard soon enough. Our rabbits are on their way to maturity & getting bigger by the day. Still, not so big they won't fit in a pocket,
as you can see. The medical department celebrated the opening of Deck Three (where the operating theaters, wards, et al. are located),
with games, demonstrations, snacks, and of course, mock surgeries. There's two of our Gurkha's below, playing with the clowns and get-
ting ready for some surgery. Finally, at bottom right is the current medical staff, including dental, ward, pharmacy, OR, supply, crew clinic,
and X-ray. In the photo is 'Boo', an inflatable penguin who seems to keep popping up in various workspaces and photographs on the ship.
June 28- One last time at
the Nepali FPU camp next door. They invited the three Gurkha's and myself
a farewell dinner. I said goodbye to Durga, Soujanya, Rabin, Rhagav, and the rest. They are returning to Nepal
themselves in a month, so this may be the last I see of them. I will miss their friendship, their hospitality & their
delicious food. I can only hope their replacements are as good. It was also, sadly, farewell for my Gurkha's. I
presented our three with a certificate of recognition and thanked them for their service these past few months. I
have been honored to work alongside them and hope I will see them back. There they are in the picture at right.
They are, from left, Min Gurung, Khim Khatri, and Ganesh Gurung. Min & Khim would like to return, but Ganesh
is attempting to secure a position with Princess Cruises, a big step up in pay and benefits, no doubt. Keep it in
your prayers, and all of them as well. They'll stick around the dock long enough to see us depart, then they're
off to the airport. I sincerely thank you for your service, friends, and may God bless you in all of your travels.
August 11- The Anastasis has
been delivered to the buyer, and I will be returning to the Africa Mercy
in a couple weeks. For an online journal of the Final Sail of the Anastasis, please visit MVAnastasis.com.
This is the last entry for awhile. The
Anastasis departs on the morning of Friday, June 29th,
headed for what is to be it's final resting place in overseas. I will be out of contact until early August,
when we return by air. About 50 of us will be making the sail to the scrapyard, and I ask you all to keep
us in your prayers, that the journey would be a safe one and a memorable one. See you in a month! eric
August 30- Ok, back on board
a week, now. Been a busy week, too, what with orientations & welcomes and
learning the ship and all that.
The AFM is not as confusing as the Anastasis (few ships are!!), but much larger inside, so there's more to learn. A lot happened while I was
away, and not much of it was good. First of all, we lost a crew member. A young man in the dental department lost his life while swimming
at Cooper's Beach. It appears to have been a rip-tide, the same thing responsible for the death of two crew-members in Sierra Leone a few
years back. Colin Carroll was young, only 21, and from Rusk, Texas, about an hour south of the IOC. I didn't know Colin, only spoke to him
once or twice, as he was on the Africa Mercy and I was busy on the Anastasis. I do remember a quiet, friendly young man who seemed to
possess a wisdom beyond his years. More on the tragedy here. The second tragedy was the death of a patient on board. I'm afraid I didn't
get much info about this, but I believe it was a VVF patient who was already in very bad condition. We tried to bring her strength back, but
from what I understand, she was already very far gone. Also, about three weeks ago, a body washed up alongside the ship and was spotted
by crewmembers, but, again, I don't know much of the details. Finally, there has a been a rash of thefts from the dock the past two weeks,
& security on the dock has been slipping. I share the frustration of the current Security Officer, Jan Tuinier, in trying to keep the dock safe
from thievery. "Trying to squeeze jell-o" is a phrase that comes to mind. I'll fill you all in on all the other matters and tell you more about
this new ship in future posts. As for now, I'm working with Jan, trying to get all of the Africa Mercy's new door locks all sorted out. thib
The Taylor Trial- Can't really talk about Liberia without what's happening in Den Hague right now. Charles Taylor is on trial there,
facing a 654-count indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the conflict in Sierra Leone. He's pled
innocent and is now boycotting his trial. As much as Liberians try to disown him , the fact remains that Taylor was elected with 75%
of the vote in an election that was the 'most observed' election in history. Granted, many voted for him under duress, as Taylor said
he's 'restart the war' if he lost. He won, and kept his promise by not restarting the war. The people in Sierra Leone weren't so lucky,
as Taylor simply shipped it north (quick synopsis here). Talking with Liberians, you learn he's still got no shortage of supporters in
the country, as evidenced by the billboards that have popped up at 20th Street in Sinkor. They proclaim his innocence & even direct
you to a website devoted to such! Yes, click over to Fortaylor.net for a dose of pro-Taylor propaganda, complete with a comments
section, where sentiment seems to be 2 to 1 in favor of 'the stubborn one'. His many years as a warlord were spent by exploiting
Liberia's many natural resources and enriching himself in the process. A shrewd manipulator of the people, Taylor won their hearts
and minds through his many well-timed feeding programs and 'prayer rallies', even building a school in the process (see below).
In 2003, As the world cried for his arrest, he fled to Nigeria, who then stated that they wouldn't submit to world demands unless
Liberia wanted to try him; in that case Nigeria would return Taylor to Liberia for trial. President Johnson-Sirleaf made such a plea
in March of 2006, and Taylor was caught a few days later trying to sneak into Cameroon with a car full of money. Upon exile to
Nigeria in November 2003, Charles Taylor famously proclaimed 'God willing, I will be back!', & his supporters at 20th Street seem
to share this sentiment, broadcasting it on one of their billboards. Silly people, don't they know he already has come back?
Don't Take My Word For It-
In this day and age, it seems everyone and their dog have a blog, website, or
some sort of online journal.
With all of us being so far from home, and experiencing all that we're experiencing, there's plenty to write about, hence, there's plenty of
blogs. I've no space to list every Mercy Shippers blog, but here are a few of the more prolific ones to be found aboard the Africa Mercy-
Africa Mercy Engineering Blog- That's right...the second-best department on board the Africa Mercy has managed to put together a blog
of their (mis)adventures in the engine room. Made up of profiles of it's members, difficulties faced, and their ongoing water plant project
in White Plains, this is a good blog to see what our Engineering Dept is up to. If the hard working deck department ever manages to find
enough free time in our schedule to put together a blog, I will let you know. Until then, enjoy reading this blog from Chief Richard & Co.
Mercy Watch- Rob and Denise Miller have what is probably the best of the blogs. An informative, varied, & up-to-date blog is one of the
best 'one-stop' places to find out what's going on. Their recent 'Stories to Share' post gives a good overview of the programs on board.
The Peet Family- Left the ship last year and lived here for a year, working with Equip. They've returned to the ship, now, and their time
in country has given them a good view of not just what's happening on board, but also around the country, as well, making it one of my
favorite blogs. Olly and Sally, along with the Chapmans and the Ecklunds, have adopted one of the countless orphans in Liberia, as well.
The Mercy Ships Academy maintains several blogs, one for each grade level up to grade 6. Even the Africa Mercy Nursery has gotten into
with a blog consisting of the toddlers adventures & pictures of them. Ex-crewmembers can click over and see how big they've all gotten.
Not all of us are on board. Long time Mercy Shippers Rene & Marianne Lako run the Vesico-Vaginal Fistula clinic we have in Sierra Leone.
Vesico-Vaginal Fistula's occur when the mother is unable to receive a c-section, and the resultant birth punctures the bladder and causes
her to be incontinent. Such women are shunned by their families and villages due to the smell, and this surgery gives them a new start.
Finally, Kelly Strong is a videographer in the comms department. She's got a crop of good videos worth watching at her myspace page.
Not enough? Well, then-stop by and see what's new with-The Parker Family, Keith Brinkman, Lorah Styer, Megan Petock, Nicole Austin,
Kirstie Randall, Jutta Meyer, Becky Weinz, Justin Ray, Nathan Mielke, Joy Hancock, Frieda Schmidt, and Marius Prinsloo at the IOC...
This cartoon says it all...
Sports in Liberia- Also
known as 'football'. Outside of a 'small small' basketball stadium downtown,
sports here seems to consist of
football, or 'soccer', as the yanks say. Having been onboard for two years surrounded by foreigners, I've taken to calling it football, as
well. I also call french fries 'chips' and gas 'petrol', too- just like the Brits. Of course, they call erasers 'rubbers', too...something I can't
bring myself to do. Anyways,...football. Football really is the worlds game, played by boys from the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta
to the dusty fields of Mali. Liberians play it more than any other sport, by far. When it comes to watching sport, football wins again.
The league of choice leans towards European Football, and English specifically. Arsenal and Chelsea are the most popular teams, with
Manchester United & FC Barcelona trailing. As you can see below left, some even name their businesses after their team of choice, and
it's quite common to see 'Mr. Arsenal' or 'Chelsea Man' painted on a taxi bumper. AC Milan is also a popular team, as Liberia's greatest
export, George Weah made his name there. He was the first (& only!) African to receive the European League's 'Footballer of the Year',
and became a philanthropist here before making an unsuccessful bid for the Liberian Presidency two years ago. In Liberia, Matches are
watched at neighborhood 'video clubs' that charge around 20 LD ($.30) for admission. The interior is a half-dozen benches lined up in
front of a 19" TV showing the game via satellite, with upcoming matches advertised outside. Sort of a West African sports bar, when
you think about it,...with potato leaves and rice instead of buffalo wings, and one TV instead of twenty. Public matches are always well
attended here, even if it's a kid's match, and anytime that you see a crowd of people gathered, chances are that's what they're watching,
even if they have to climb on top of a shipping container to see! One of the downsides of football in Liberia is a lack of decent footballs,
as most of the ones here are cheap Chinese made balls. The conditions of the fields here, combined with the fervor in which the ball is
attacked, makes for a short lifespan for many balls. On my last trip home, I managed to pick up over two dozen footballs, most of them
for under $5.00. I brought them all back here & have been giving them out to various orphanages in and around Monrovia. There's no
missing them, they're all colored a bright lime green. So, If you see a lime green football being batted around, you know where it they
got it. National football is beginning to pick up, with recent games against Cameroon & Rwanda (they lost both) drawing a good crowd
for both matches. The newly refurbished Samuel K. Doe Stadium is due to re-open soon and hopefully will fill to capacity with cheering
fans. It last saw a crowd in the fall of 2003, when it became a shelter for over 50,000 people who took refuge from the civil war raging
throughout the city. And finally, speaking of the war, a league has formed comprised of amputees who lost their legs during the fighting
of the past few years. Liberia's amputee footballers have been featured in such outlets as the BBC and the Wall Street Journal recently.
Even Mercy Ships did a story on them. I've see them playing in a giant roadside field in Sinkor often, and they've gone international, too-
having played Sierra Leone's amputee team last week (they lost that one, too). There's also an international league for Amputee Football,
bringing together players from nations like the Ukraine, Sudan, Iran, & Ghana. There's even a 'World Cup' tournament going on right now.
September 6- There has been a rash of thefts from our dock recently, especially in the two or three weeks preceding my return. It was bad enough
to have reached no less than the Vice President, a Christian and (we hear) a big supporter of Mercy Ships and our fellow NGO's. He contacted the ship
recently to get the low down on what's going
on, and this editorial below appeared in the Inquirer this past Monday. It
is entitled 'What a Shame'-
"Reports from the Freeport of Monrovia suggest that some unscrupulous individuals have embarked on a massive campaign to steal and loot items
belonging to the charity group Mercy Ships, which has been docked at the port for the last several months to render free Medical services to the
destitute population of the country. The reports further say that on a daily basis, these individuals take away properties that belong to the ship and
use them for commercial purpose as to generate income. The prevailing situation, according to the reports, is steadily increasing by the day to the
extent that it has claimed the attention of Vice President Joseph Bokai as well as several well-meaning Liberians. The Vice Presidents office has
expressed serious concern about the abhorrent situation that properties of the ship are being stolen by these vindictive people. The Vice President
Bokai has since condemned these vicious actions of those involved.
Vice President Bokai said it is inconceivable that some Liberians can stoop so low as to steal from people who are rendering sacrificial services
to their countrymen; who are benefiting from the medical services being offered on a free of charge basis by the charitable group Mercy Ships.
Vice President Bokai cautions those behind this despicable act to instead show appreciation to the services being rendered by Mercy Ships by
putting a complete halt to this unwholesome behavior. He said Liberians should be rather grateful of those operating Mercy Ships. Latest reports
reports that the charity ship had been robbed of valuables come less than six weeks after reports surfaced that similar acts were being perpetrated
by unscrupulous individuals at the newly refurbished Samuel Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, which was renovated by the Chinese Government
and subsequently turned over to the Liberian Government. Reports that properties of Mercy Ships are being stolen is actually disturbing and sends
sends a wrong signal that we reciprocate gratitude to the people who left their families and and homelands behind to come to our country to assist
us move forward as a nation & a people. The Mercy Ships episode is alleged to be a concerted syndicate orchestrated by desperados coming from
New Kru Town, West Point, Clara Town, & the Popo Beach areas in cohort with the Liberian Seaport Police.
The clarion call of Vice President Bokai's
condemnation of this unscrupulous act which is a complete shame and
embarrassment to the nation, we
castigate this misdemeanor and decry it to the fullest, as it represents a complete abuse to gratitude and civility. Against this backdrop we find it
binding upon the management of the National Port Authority to seriously and assiduously exert every and any effort to ensure that the Liberian
Seaport Police performs to the maximum to prevent any furtherance of this shameful attitude if it means engaging other national security agencies
to collaborate with the Liberian Seaport Police to enclave the port and it’s environs from its marauders and unpatriotic misfits."
Remember- Ingratitude is the Leeway to
Closing the Doors to Benevolence!
I've always struggled with people who steal from us. On my first trip with Mercy Ships, to Nicaragua on the Caribbean Mercy in 1996, I mistakenly left
our pickup truck unlocked overnight, only to find it stripped of building materials we were storing inside the next morning. Fixing roof at an orphanage
full of kids overjoyed to see you or holding the hand of a patient who's content just to have you there is easy...how do you deal with serving a nation
with no shortage of people who could care less why you're there? A nation so used to missionaries that you're often seen as little more than a possible
source of income, even if that income is derived from stealing everything that can taken and selling it for 'small small' money. I know those who steal
are a small fraction of the population & hardly indicative of all Liberians. The people do stop you on the street & thank you 'for what you are doing for
Liberia', and the gratitude expressed by the patients, the villagers who get a well, and those who run the orphanages in genuine and plentiful. Still, the
swimmers keep coming and the authorities continue to show little interest. Throw in guards who do little more than sleep for eight hours and you have
a recipe for a troubled spirit. I don't pretend to think I'd be any better in the same situation, and armchair theologians can make parallels on how similar
our treatment of God is to their treatment of us, but those wear thin after the twentieth or so attack. I guess all I can do is continue to pray for patience
in dealing with the situation. Despite no longer working as Security Officer, it's technically no longer my responsibility, but I still have a passion for the
security of the ship, and still hate to see these things happen. We're only here in Liberia for three more months, and from what I've heard, Sierra Leone
(our next stop) will be much better. I hope so...I really can't imagine it being any worse. Please keep our situation,....and the thieves, in your prayers.
*On a lighter note...there's 'doings afoot' on the Torm Alexandria. Watch this space for further details!!!!
September 9- Who comes here and
why? One of the features of my web hoster is 'Traffic
Facts'. Traffic Facts allows you to
see who visits your website, how long they stayed, which pages they visited and even where they're from. From this, I know that
my website has been visited by people in 130 different countries, the most recent additions being Gibraltar and Kazakhstan. The
U.S./Canada, of course, account for about three-quarters of my traffic, with Mexico, the Philippines & several European countries
rounding up the 'top ten' countries, or about 90% of my traffic. But my favorite feature of Traffic Facts is the 'referrer reports'.
With that, I can see who's linking my website & who's 'leeching' my photos. Leeching a photo is typing the address of the photo
so it shows up on your blog/website without costing you bandwidth. For example, this girl has been leeching this photo from me
since she posted it on her blog two years ago, but I don't mind, as the bandwidth she takes is minimal. Or go to this page. Does
that anchor look familiar? It should-he got it off my title page, most likely through a Google image search. Move your mouse over
the anchor, You'll see my address at the bottom of the screen. Google image searches account for the bulk of my referrers. Traffic
Facts will even tell you which 'keyphrases' were used on Google to direct you to my site. Using it, I can determine how people are
finding my website. My most popular referring key phrases are usually either people looking for shipwreck photos (I have a whole
page of them here ) or some combination of the words 'Mercy Ships, Anastasis, & Liberia'. I can even see when my friends Google
themselves and it directs them to my website. But strangest of all are some of the key phrases listed and why they'd point to my
website. Phrases like 'Ducor Palace' I can understand and even "muffaleta + Lindale, Texas",...but 'squishing animals underfoot'?
Why does that bring you to my website? One guy in the U.A.E. even did a Google.ae search on 'most likely ques n ans on one to
one interview asked for cabin crew manager position'...and got directed to my website. When I have nothing better to do (which is
actually quite often ) , I'll log in and see which crazy phrases have recently linked to me. Below you'll find some of my favorite ones.
"Anastasis Slave ship" (uhh, no comment). "This poor kid from Liberia with a 6-lb tumor"
"Pictures of Keloids on Butt" "Liberia show picture as they begin eating" (ok. why?)
"Made him do pushups slave" "In the buff swim photo brasil" (sorry, buddy.)
"Squirrel Gunfight" "rats experiment ship hope hours swim" (say what?)
I don't know what's stranger, that a ''squirrel gunfight'' search brings you to my website, or that somebody actually went looking for
"pictures of Keloids on butt". But my favorite key phrase occurred about two months ago. Some guy in New Zealand got directed to
my website after typing ''Korean man rises from coffin'' into Google. Can't recall any Korean men rising from coffins on my website.
The Wreck Of The Torm Alexandria-
Well, It's finally happening...they're
raising it. The MV Torm Alexandria is a
4610-ton container vessel that
capsized at the dock on July 25, 2001. There's a great 'technical' explanation of the incident at CargoLaw.com, but for those landlubbers among you,
this is what happened; the ship, which had been loading containers to bring to Dakar, Senegal, had loaded 1150 tons onboard, or 55% more than the
740 tons they were licensed to carry. This put the vessels center of gravity up high & caused it to be unstable, like driving with upright wardrobes tied
to the roof of your Suzuki Samurai. With only two more containers left to go, the ship picked up one from the dock. The weight of the container and
the angle of lift caused it to heel over to port. When that happened, a number of the containers already on the ship slid over to the port, compounding
the problem by putting more weight on the port side. Finally, to cap things off, there was a hatch to the engine room on the main deck that, due to the
ships leaning, got submerged and allowed the engine room to fill with water. Not just a little bit of water, either- within two minutes, it was completely
flooded, and the vessel sank at the dock. It's not the most dramatic of nautical stories, and not likely to be a Gordon Lightfoot song anytime soon, but
what's sad is the dozens of Liberians who have died trying to scavenge what they can from the wreck; most through drowning, and a few, I've heard,
who were shot as soon as they surfaced. The exact number of deaths seems to range from thirty to around triple that. Also tragic is that this happened
over six years ago, and it still hasn't been raised, clogging up valuable dock space. With Freeport being one of Liberia's only two ports, and the main
port for the majority of cargo entering & departing Liberia, it's imperative to keep the dock space clear. Dock space here costs $5000/day, and the ship
is keeping Liberia from earning that every day it sits there. A team was recently contracted to raise the Alexandria, and we've been seeing them around
the wreck, setting up hoses, compressors, and airbags. On Sunday, I glanced over at the ship and saw that it was still in place. Upon coming home that
afternoon, it had been righted. Our own Eugene Van Neukirk was one of the only few that saw the operation, but didn't have his camera, & had no time
to go and get it...the operation was that quick. Eugene said it took about 4 minutes to right the ship, and sank again in less than one. While it looks like
the operation was botched, it truth this was intentionally done. The ship has to be upright before it can be floated, or it will completely capsize when it
comes up. A team is continuing to work over there, and I've heard it will begin rising this week or next, a long, slow process of sealing tanks and spaces,
and setting up hoses to pump out the water. If all goes well, I'll probably post some pictures of the operation in the next week or two. If the operation
doesn't go well, I'll definitely post some pictures. What does all this have to do with ministry? Nothing, really. But if the ship is raised, the available dock
space in Freeport will allow a major source of income for Liberia to increase by 33%. Unfortunately, this port seems to be doing much more importing
than exporting these days. Foreign interests are still tentative about investing in the nation, and the days of civil war and child soldiers weren't that long
ago. Maybe this operation can add to that in some small way. Interesting sidenote, there was an Israeli group was here a couple years ago to assess the
operation and make a bid on the job. They offered to raise the ship and tow it away in exchange for 90% of the dock fees for a period of seven years,
a pretty hefty price. The Liberian government turned them down flat, telling the Israeli group, in effect, "We're desperate, but we're not that desperate."
Above you see picture of the accident just after it happened, and the number of containers there were on deck. Picture 2 was taken from the top of the
Africa Mercy after the righting. In pic 3 you can see how close we are to the wreck. The last picture show the waterline before the raising. Below left is
a stitched picture of the wreck close up done by my friend Jason who was onboard last year. Finally, there's a before & after picture of the wreck, taken
from the Anastasis last year and the Africa Mercy this year, respectively. I seem to remember taking a few dozen decent photos of the wreck last year,
but I can't find them anywhere. I'm on night patrol all this week, freeing my days up to watch (and photograph) the raising, if it manages to happen.
Going To Church In Liberia- We don't have church onboard on Sunday mornings. We're encouraged to go out and connect
with local churches, as a way to get out and meet the people. Going to church here is a funny thing, as we always seem to be
reviewing and comparing churches with each other. As polite and diplomatic as we try to be, the first question that is usually
asked is, "How long is the service?" Services here can last as long as 4 hours. I don't think 'whiteman' has the stamina for that
kind of worship. Three or four offerings are not uncommon, and every other Sunday seems to be a 'special service', meant to
celebrate everything from Matilda Newport Day to the churches yearly anniversary. I'll describe an average church service here
to you. A local friend of yours gives you a typed letter, inviting you to This Coming Sundays Special Service, celebrating, say,
fathers day (as I was last week). Upon entering the church on these 'special Sundays' (or non-special Sundays on occasion),
you get a paper flower pinned to your shirt (which you're actually expected to pay for). As white people, you are most likely
ushered up to a seat of honor at the front of the church. Not the front row,...the front of the church, in plastic chairs lined up
right next to the pulpit for everyone to stare at you for four hours. You're given a xeroxed copy of the program with about 12
parts, from '1. opening benediction' to '13. closing remarks' ( all numbered, of course) and everything they can possibly type
in the middle. African churches are big on 'titles', so the pastor will have all of his assistant pastors, second assistant pastors,
and all the other clergymen (whose many titles escape me right now) lined up on either side of him. They go through several
prayers and remarks until they come to the actual sermon, which will be shouted into a microphone that's attached to a giant
speaker to preach the sermon to a church about twice as big as your living room. They'll have, as I said, at least one offering,
usually more. Sometimes it's just a trip up to the basket, sometimes not. Last year during a special service (the churches third
anniversary plus Easter!) the pastor stood up and begged for money for 45 minutes. After about two hours of this, you glance
down at the program and see they're only up to #5. Of course, as 'special guests', you'll be expected to say a few words, so
it's always to have something at the ready, just in case. There's often a sort of 'mini-ceremony'. At the Fathers Day service I
attended, they brought the pastor to the front & invited the congregation to pin paper & plastic flowers (conveniently available
to purchase at the door) on his lapel. After the pastor was Assistant Pastor. By the time the second assistant pastors got up,
our 'two hour service' had stretched into three and we had to get back to the ship. I dislike these ceremonies-it seems wrong
to me to glorify others in Gods house, on Gods day. On this day, the pastor ducked out as soon as they were done with him,
and I was soon to follow. Upon leaving the church, you're asked by one of the assistant pastors for a 'brief moment of your
time', which is followed by the almost always inevitable asking for money. Last week, I was approached by a young man who
managed to tell me of his refugee status, two sisters, and sick mother all in the introduction. He thanked me for our service to
Liberia. He offered to pray a special prayer and I accepted, touched that someone was praying for me despite his own situation.
Guess I should have known better. After my 'special word of prayer', he straightened up and asked for something to help him
out. Aggravated as I was, I politely declined and drove away. The church always has some project that needs funding, and of
course you'll be asked...the worst that can happen is that you'll say no. Years of missionaries coming over & 'fixing everything'
have helped to create a bit of dependency on the part of African churches, and we've ourselves to blame, for our small part.
However, what I've told you isn't always the case. There are good churches here-not interested in money but serving the poor,
even their own countrymen. You find a good church, you make it your home church. You find a good pastor, you place your
trust in him. The most popular church among crew is Monrovia Christian Fellowship, a congregation of about 2000 in Sinkor.
it was planted in 1996 by John & Lee Gallinger, of Eugene Christian Fellowship in Oregon. It's easily the most popular church
on board, and judging by the turnout, the most popular among the NGO workers, as well. Missionaries in Monrovia seem to
gravitate here, probably because it reminds them of home. It's so similar to services at home, our crew often refer to it as the
'whiteman church', sometimes derisively. While 'MCF' may have it's detractors, the truth is, it's a great church in any country.
No 45 minute-long pleas for money, no dodgy ceremonies, no multiple offerings. They even have child care, sealing the deal
for those with small children. The parents may not experience Africa, but their kids sure will. I've made a few cracks about it
in the past, but truth be told, it's the best church that I've found here in Monrovia. And, of course,...it only lasts two hours.
Driving Around- Just driving around Liberia is an experience. You'll be forever stuck in traffic, so use that time to watch what
other drivers are doing, and it'll be just like TV...specifically 'Drivers Gone Wild'. Among the things you'll see on the streets are
a home-made wooden truck cab, a pickup full of cops, a minivan with 20 people inside and another dozen or so on top, a jerry-
rigged tire jack, vehicles so overloaded their bumpers are almost dragging, guys riding on the bumpers at speeds up to 70 mph
(I'm guessing they get the 'reduced fare'), standing-room only school buses with most of the seats taken out, vehicles in various
states of repair for various lengths of time, & of course, without fail, you will see a vehicle being pushed. Every time you go out.
Granted, you'll also see dozens of UN tanks, UN Armored Personnel Carriers, UN helicopters, UN patrols, UN Ambulances,
UN Land Rovers, and UN Staff cars,...but in a country with 15,262 UN Troops in it, that goes without saying, doesn't it?
September 23- I'm on
night patrol this week, meaning I'm walking the ship from 10 pm to 6 in the
morning, looking for fires,
floods, intruders, and the like. It's a good idea to put new deck crew on night patrol within their first couple of weeks, as it gives
them an opportunity to learn the layout of the vessel....something I still haven't done. After a round of the ship, I head up to the
top deck, as it gives you a good view of the dock, but makes you hard to see. The increase in intruders these past few weeks has
underscored the need for increased watchfulness. Our Ghanaian UNMIL guards spend most of their time snoozing on the benches,
and we've grown tired of the losing battle of making sure our dock guards actually do what their name implies. Anyways, at about
0400 this morning, an elderly woman was brought onto the dock by her family. She was a patient of our who had been released
on Tuesday, four days previous. Apparently, she had passed out and her family were unable to revive her, so they brought her to
the ship. We laid her down in reception while the receptionists called 'emergency medical teams to reception immediately' over
the PA system, and I ran to get the emergency equipment; a stretcher, defibrillator, oxygen and the like. Within minutes, there
was a crowd of 25 or so in reception attending to the woman. They managed to stabilize her and bring her around. They put her
onto the stretcher and brought her down to the ICU, where she is now. Sadly, we've had two patients die so far on this outreach.
Scootering around Monrovia this week, I passed three Land Rovers covered in
slogans and splattered with mud.
I tried to talk to them in the stop-and-go traffic, but it was more go than stop. I followed them to the Health & Welfare Minstry,
where they unloaded and spent a few minutes before meeting with the minister. Turns out they are five months into a one year
trek driving around Africa to raise awareness for malaria by giving away mosquito nets & educating people on the disease along
the way. The campaign is called One Net One Life, and is being spearheaded by explorer Kingsley Holgate, a sort of modern-day
Livingston. While I'd never heard of him, all the South Africans on board were very familiar with him, as he's famous there. The
trek, called Outside Edge Expedition left the Cape of Good Hope on April 27th, driving clockwise through 33 countries around
the continent, to finish at the same place in April of 2008. They are sponsored by Captain Morgan and (of course) Land Rover.
A couple days later, a number of officers from the Chinese contingent of UNMIL came by the ship, expressing interest in us and
our mission. I gave them a tour of the ship and answered their questions. Afterwards, they invited me and some others to their
base for supper the following night. I went, along with my friend Lena and Dr. Cheng & his wife, Hillary. We spent an two hours
at their base talking and having a delicious meal. I was unaware the Chinese had been in Liberia for four years. I rarely see them
around town, and didn't see tham at all last year. Their part in UNMIL is transport, bringing necessary equipment and supplies to
various bases around the country. Their hospitality was second to none and the men unfailingly polite. I seem to be making my
way 'around the world' in Liberia, as I've been a guest of the Chinese, Indian, Ghanaian, Irish, Nepali, and Pakistani contingents.
Oct. 6- In other news, after three weeks of (supposed) work, the Torm Alexandria is no closer to being raised then when it was
righted a few weeks ago. Well, it turns out there's a good reason for that. Apparently, they're not really trying to raise it at all.
October 19- Although the Ducor has been cleared of squatters and it's tenants moved on to other places, they've left behind a
memorial of sorts, of their time there. Scrawled on the walls are their thoughts, feelings and rules. I photographed a number of
them recently and posted a few of them here. They all tend to be either religious proverbs or reminders to keep the place clean.
Psalm 23 'Porverbs' 20 Praise the Lord O God Forgiveness Do Not Dump Here Time for Everything
October 29- Red Sox, baby! Game 3 of the World Series was on last night. Due the the time difference, the game started after
midnight, local time, and didn't finish until after 4 AM. Only the most hardcore of Boston fans (and one Rockies fan) stayed up
to watch. As it was also Marie's birthday, we had some cake and coffee to snack on during the game. We were all decked out in
our fan gear and ready to root for the Olde Town Team. Unfortunately, the satellite signal went out during the fourth inning, so
we relived some famous (and infamous) events from Red Sox history. Who am I impersonating below? After a half-hour or so,
We were back in business and watched Boston triumph over Colorado 10-5, leaving them one game away from a World Series
four-game sweep. I was reminded of the 2004 Series. I was in the Dominican Republic, building houses for Haitian refugees &
got sick as a dog when the Series began. I was able to watch Boston win the first three games, but was so sick by the fourth, I
was literally too ill to reach over and pick up the remote to turn on the TV. I wrongly assumed Boston couldn't sweep the series
in four straight games after 86 years of heartbreaks, so I rolled over and fell asleep, only to awaken the next morning to a new
World Champion Red Sox. I was gravely disappointed that I was so far from home the year that Boston finally won, but a few
days later I came across something that made it all worthwhile. A graffiti-marked wall on the ballpark in downtown Puerta Plata
announcing not only the Red Sox victory, but also (in Spanish) an end to the dreaded 'Curse of the Bambino'. Picture below right.
Amusing sidenote- We have a 'well-connected' friend who's almost certainly watching the game from a skybox at Coors Field (the
Coors family are among Mercy Ships' larger benefactors). We sent him an email during the game, saying, in effect, "Remember,
watching the Rockies lose from a beautiful luxury skybox at the stadium is still watching the Rockies lose". Game Five is tonight.
October 22- Just a few funny pictures from the streets of Liberia. From left, a scary situation- sitting on top of bags of charcoal
stacked 5 feet high, going 50 mph over pothole-ridden roads. Unsafe as it is, you see this quite a bit. Second, a typical mode of
transport. Third, a trucker takes a brief nap. Finally, a coffin traveling by mini-van. I followed this minivan on a scooter for over
ten minutes, trying to get a good shot. As you can see, it won't actually fit and has to stick out a bit on both sides. I never found
if out of the coffin was 'full' or just being transported to the village where's it is to be used. Just another day on the road in Liberia.
November 9- We spent the day in Dixville, a small village behind Coffeetown on Caldwell Road. Carl & Ilne Paalman plan to
remain there after the ship leaves, and have broken ground on a new orphanage. Today we made a half dozen trestles for the
roof, put the joists up, dug two septic tanks, and made a couple dozen blocks for tomorrow. Carl & Ilne will live in this house
while they spend the next few months building five more, plus an administration building, a dining hall, and the latrines. Every
time we come to Liberia, a number of crew either decide to stay or return within a year to live in the country & help. Very few
other countries have the impact on us that Liberia does. Generally, they return to work with orphanages, either working in one
they've assisted or even starting their own, as Carl & Ilne are doing . Sadly, many orphanages are started by Liberians for the
sole purpose of getting money, either from the 'whiteman', or their own government. We've had our problems in the past. In
Ghana, a woman who ran an orphanage that Deck department took on as a project would round up all the neighborhood kids
on the day she knew we were coming and claim them as 'orphans'. We wondered how she squeezed 60 orphans in a building
made for about half that. Often, what we see as 'charity work' , Liberians see as a business opportunity, and in a country with
over 80% unemployment, 'missionary dollars' have a big impact. As a result, Liberians are continually asking you to 'partner
with them'...doubletalk for 'pay for everything'. This causes the quality of orphanages to suffer as a result, to a point that even
the government has begun shutting down orphanages around the country & moving the kids to better facilities. It's good that
people such as Carl & Ilne have taken the initiative in setting up quality facilities, and I take comfort in knowing that there's at
least one orphanage in Monrovia not in it for money, but the orphans. If you'd like to 'partner with them', visit their website.
On the way back to the ship we saw a number of boys fishing in the little swampy creeks that dot the area around Caldwell Rd.
One stood on the skeleton of a long-abandoned car that had been tossed into the creek, only it's roof sticking out. These boys
will fish for hours on end, only to bring home a string of 'small small' fish for the family. Pretty good picture of them at right.
Other Peoples Blogs-
It seems like the number of blogs about Liberia has tripled since I was here
last. I'd been
looking for a couple I used to read last year, and managed to stumble onto quite a few new ones. I've listed a few
of my favorites, for those who would like to know more about what Liberia is like, & what's been happening here.
Liberia Stories- Elma Shaw is an American-educated Liberia who returned to her home in December 2004. Being
Liberian coupled with a degree in communications & her career as a writer makes for what it probably the best of
the Liberian blogs. While her blog mainly focuses on Liberian culture, she had some of the best coverage of last
years presidential election. Elma has two children and is married to Shaun, a Wisconsin native who's working in
development in Monrovia. Don't tell that to the Liberians, though. They're convinced he's working for the CIA.
Liberia Ledger- Focuses on the news from (and about) Liberia, and is a great counterpart to Elma's 'culture blog'.
The blog is maintained by a former American political reporter who's now working in development around Liberia.
Kevin Fryatt- is a friend who I met last year while he was working for Equip Liberia. He's Now transferred to
Samaritans Purse, and back in Liberia. His work with SP takes him all over the country, and gives you a good
idea what it's like working with an NGO in Africa. Check out his friend Marcels' too, also with 'Sam's Purse'.
Plantains & Palm Trees- Shelby Grossman is a 20-something recent Emory grad who's currently doing
Human Rights work here in Monrovia. Despite her strange habit of naming cockroaches before she gasses them
to death, she runs a good blog that touches on all aspects of life in Liberia, from politics to cultural to personal.
Finally, it's a shame Tri-Repetae is no longer around. Written by a U.S. Military Advisor working for UNMIL,
this blog often gave you a glimpse of life 'behind the scenes' of the darker Liberia many don't see. Working as
ships security officer, I had a special attraction to this blog, and am sorry to see it no longer being maintained.
May 2006 to February 2007 were spent on
Outreach in Ghana.
To read about the Ghanaian Outreach, click Here.