Monthly Archives:September 2016

Kayla: Teacher and Student

28 Sep 16
Kayla Jones
4 comments

This week had some highs and lows. We’ve been here nearly a month now and the surroundings and way of life seem normal now.

I was initally asked by an NGO that is working with the Zuannah Town Elementary School to provide reading support to the students at the school – which would mean having teachers identify which of their students needed extra help with their reading skills. This I know how to do. When I showed up to do this on Monday morning though, the principal and teachers decided that they didn’t want me taking kids out of the classrooms, because they would miss out on lessons. It was decided that it would be more beneficial if I just taught phonics in all of the grades. 15 minutes per class, per grade. Also, I am to “Develop your own lesson plans”. Okay… being the agreeable person that I am, I enthusiastically said that I would. Well, I quickly discovered that what I remember about teaching my own kids phonics will run out in no time at all. After three days of teaching, I called the woman from the NGO to ask if she had any materials for me to follow so I could better do this. She said that she did not want me teaching phonics. The teachers needed to be the ones to do it so that: a. they learn how to teach it, and b. they improve their own skills of phonics (phonics is not part of the educational system in Liberia). For example: my kids copy teachers’ notes off the board that are most often grammatically incorrect. Ivy’s teacher wrote her a note to remind her that her beaded ankle bracelet is not allowed in school. The note read: “Please, Ivy. Tell me you are not wearing beans.” She was SO confused, and laughed and laughed when she told me! Also, fish is “fich”, beach is “beash”. The reason for this is that most Liberians speak in pidgin english that drops the last half of most words. If a person doesn’t read the words in a book there would be no way of knowing how to spell (or pronounce) the full word in most cases. Another one of my favorites: if something should be thrown away, you “chunk it”. Or if they want you to throw a ball, “chunk it”. Hahahha! Love that one….

Anyway, back to the school. I did love being there. So the next day I went, I told the principal that I had spoken to NGO lady from New Jersey, Christina, and she didn’t want me teaching phonics. That day, I took it upon myself to work my weeding out/organization skills that I got obsessed with this year and organized their library/teacher’s lounge. They have a ton of text books and storybooks that were EVERYWHERE – no order to it whatsoever. So I got my earplugs (the school is SO loud because each room is just a cinderblock amplifier box), and found my happy place going through every single book. Weeding out outdated materials, and organizing by subject so that you can clearly see what’s what to be utilized in a classroom. And cleaning. Oh my word, the dead critters I found! Not to mention the dirt and droppings. One book I removed from the shelf caused a lizard to jump out at me! It took me 5 hours, but I transformed that place 🙂 It felt fantastic and the staff was so appreciative. The principal kept saying over and over what a hard worker I was. Which is so funny now that I’ve seen the way things run here. The motto seems to be, “Why do today what can be done tomorrow?” haha

The day after that, the NGO team showed up at the school again and were doing reading and math assessments on all of the children. I was asked to help, so that was enjoyable. I love the children. It’s fun to work at the school, but I’m just not sure in what capacity I would be helpful. I’ll pop in tomorrow and see what’s up.

I guess the frustrating thing I’ve faced that I didn’t foresee happening, is the feeling that we didn’t move to a new home but that we’re just staying at someone’s place – for a really long time. In reality, this IS our place. We created it. It is easy to feel that this is Rufus and Vic’s place though. They run it. They oversee the chores of the children. Vic does the shopping and runs the kitchen. Rufus directs the nightly devotional. If I think about it too much, I feel like the annoying guest that seriously outstays their welcome. The fact is though, these children have no parents. They are hungry for love and affection (which isn’t really the African way, from what I’ve seen). There is no one that seems to be assigned to attend to the little things, like making sure the small children are bathed regularly, or brush their teeth. The older girls are pretty helpful with the little girls (braiding their hair), but poor Patrick. He is the only small boy and he is terribly overlooked and under cared for. He is the obvious place to start.

The other day Vic went to the market (since we have no refrigeration, she has to go buy perishable food every other day), and I was the only one home. The small children get out of school around 12:30, which is about an hour before others start coming home. They were all so hungry, but Vic had her room locked up – which has the food they usually eat after school (gari). I had access to the pantry, so I decided to try to make them some spaghetti. I couldn’t get the dang coal pot lit though! There were only had 3 matches, which I quickly wasted. We decided to get everything else ready and hope Vic got home soon to get more matches out of her room. I was slicing up the onion and Faith was eating it as soon as it hit the cutting board! Raw onion! Then I opened some cans of tomato paste to put in the pot, and these kids were licking the remains of the tomato paste from the cans. Ah! Did I mention there’s no can opener? Cans are just opened with a knife. So I snatched away the cans before someone cut off their tongue, and gave them dry spaghetti instead. Luckily, Vic came home soon after that, and we got those kiddos some food. Boy, did I feel helpless though. I never want that to happen again.

I know there has been a system in place for many years that seems to work well enough for everybody living here at the orphan home. They have their budgets, their methods for getting things done, their division of chores, etc. Stepping into that system and developing my own system within it has its challenges. Ownership needs to be more fully felt though, on my part. I’m such a tentative person that hates to step on toes. It takes real effort for me to step in. I’ll figure it out 🙂 Tis a process!

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The new normal

28 Sep 16
Simon Jones
3 comments

These past weeks have been full of new experiences. I started school as an 11th grader at a private school about 6 and a half miles away from the compound. Every morning Princess Dennis and I are picked up by Skill. He is our personal motorcycle-taxi driver that picks us up and drops us off every morning and afternoon. He gets paid $40/month for this contract. School is from 8-1. We have 6 subjects a day, all in the same, small, hot, classroom. There are different teachers for every subject, which is nice.

For lunch everyday, me, and usually 3 other kids go across the street to a small house/restaurant to eat. It costs $170LD – Which transfers to about a $1.70 US. I like the food. I can’t say that I really enjoyed spicy food back home, but now I look forward to it every afternoon. We are all sweating by the the time the food is gone. And it’s not just me who’s fanning himself and sweating like crazy, so that make me feel a little better.

About a week ago I found out that I am by far the youngest kid in my class. Every other one of my classmates are no younger than 20! They all call me “small boy” cause I’m so young. I have a different name in almost all of my classes too. In Bible class, I’m Simon Peter. In Physics, I’m Simpson. In Trigonometry, I’m Sammy Johnson. It’s just takes so long to correct them that I just let them have their way. At the orphanage the little kids call me some version of Samuel.

We went to the beach the other day, and I learned how to “dig crab”. All over the beach there are these holes about a half inch to about 3.5 inches across. About 2 feet down that hole, is a crab. Depending on the size of the hole it could be a crab about the size of my 2 fists or the size of my thumb nail. That was quite the adventure! What they do when they catch them is rip off the pinchers so that they can’t hurt them and then they just play with them until they end up killing them, so they just go dig another and do the same process. That night I saw a bit of crab claw in my dinner, I think.

We’ve been here for almost a month, so everything we do here is just starting to be normal – the showers, the food, school, going to the bathroom, watching the dog get beat up and he seems to kinda like it (no kidding). It’s all just part of a routine now. Not for long though. We get the first container in a few weeks and it has the vehicles, and 2 dirt bikes! For the past week my dad has been teaching me how to drive one. The gear shifting is a little tricky, but I’m getting the hang of it.

Bye!

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Tales from the 9th grade in a Liberian village

28 Sep 16
Ruby Jones
2 comments

Greetings! I’m sorry I have been so inconsistent with my writing, but I feel like there’s not much to talk about! I’m experiencing so much but it’s so hard to summarize. Tomorrow I will be starting my third week of school, which has been all new ups and downs. I wake up at about 6am, do chores, get ready, eat breakfast, get an umbrella for the rain that I prayed wouldn’t come, and embark on a trek to school. The walk is usually enjoyable. I get to be surrounded by beautiful green palm trees and lush plants as far as the eye can see. If I stay still and listen I can hear birds and bugs, and I can nearly feel the life that is growing before my eyes.

The walk is about an hour, and every once in a while when I have to literally wade through the middle of the dirt road, knee deep in water, it feels like a whole lot more than an hour. I walk to school with Diamond, Leo, Moses, Bintu, and sometimes Decontee and Felicia. It’s wonderful quality time that we use to: sing, discuss school, discuss politics, discuss fears and hopes, discuss goals, discuss our pasts, and tell jokes. My favorite is when the boys give me koloqua lessons. It’s always a diverting way to pass time 🙂

At school, all the grades have their own classrooms, K-9. There are 14 9th graders, not including me. I think I am the youngest, and the oldest is my friend and neighbor Morris, who is 19. The classroom is small, hot, and worst of all, dim. It is SO hard to stay awake when there is a boring teacher giving a lecture that I can’t understand in a dark room. I end up drawing or passing notes, taking notes, or even falling asleep. No one cares really. In class we just copy the notes written by the teacher on the blackboard (with horrible spelling and grammer errors), and listening and mostly not listening 🙂

The uniform is a white button down shirt every day, a green skirt every day, and black shoes. I have no clue why this is the uniform and why they make it sound so mandatory even though nobody in charge enforces it. There’s a boy named Abraham in my class that has never worn uniform once and literally nobody has mentioned it. It is probably understood that he cannot afford one, and his grandpa is one of the teachers.

At about mid-day when some teacher feels like it, they will bang a bell with a spoon signaling lunch break. The break can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. The length just depends on when a teacher remembers to ring the bell again. On recess, most kids go down to the small shops by the road to buy a snack. Lots of days I walk with Bintu or the boys down the street just to get “fresh air”, but sometimes I stay by the school and read The Secret Garden. Everyone is interested with my book, but I have to be careful not to let it out of my sight so it doesn’t get stolen or damaged. When I read or walk, I have a large entourage of small children holding my hands and my skirt, just following me everywhere. These are my friends, these first graders that I end up spending lots of time with. My absolute favorite tiny human at school is a little girl named Sata who loves to loosen my plat (braid) and do it up again.

My classes are honestly based on which teachers show up that day. Sometimes it’s 2 or 3 subjects, sometimes it’s 7. In between, the students take turns telling jokes, messing around, literally saying prayers as a class, and rarely but possible, just leaving school entirely. This is always a lot of fun, and I feel like it’s sometimes more educational than if a teacher was present.

Anyways, my time here is just dandy in every way and I miss you all so much! Thanks for reading!

I’m rich!

27 Sep 16
Ivy Jones
2 comments

I got my allowance on Monday. All the kids here in the orphanage get a monthly allowance. It’s different for different ages. I got $160.00! Well, Liberian Dollers. Which is the same as $1.60. But you can buy a lot of stuff with that!

I made a fort made out of palm leaves and sticks with Charlie and my friends and I like it.

It’s really hot at church and there’s only one fan in the whole Primary room and it wasn’t on today.

I like school in Utah better than I like school here. It’s really loud at my school because the walls dividing the classrooms don’t go all the way to the ceiling, so you can hear other classes when you’re trying to learn. And sometimes, kids just throw things over the wall and you’ll just be sitting in your chair minding your own business, and bam! You get hit in the head with a balled up piece of paper.

We went to the beach yesterday. It was fun. I always get lots of water in my mouth though and it’s gross. Also, myy eyelashes don’t cooperate right and I always get hit by the big waves and it feels like they’re getting pulled off.

Today is windy.

My feet are itchy.

On a scale of 1-10, I give this week a 7.

I’m going to go take my bucket bath now.

Bye.

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beach, church, and school

27 Sep 16
Charlie Jones
one comments

Hello! I hope you are all having good times back in America without us. On Saturday, we went to the beach. There is a lagoon there that connects to the ocean that the little kids like to play in, while all the older kids play in the ocean. When I was in the ocean the waves were huge! I felt like I almost was drowning some of the times the big waves came crashing down. It is Sunday afternoon. We got back from church about five hours ago and the crickets are beginning to chirp loudly, just like they do every single night since arrived. Church is very different here then it is back in Utah. It’s about an hour shorter and is way more boring. I can’t really understand much. Plus, we have the primary program soon and I am not excited about it at all. School starts at 8:00 every day so you don’t have to get up till’ at least 7:00. Then you walk 5 minutes to school and then wait another 30 minutes for all the teachers to get there. After that you go in and do school and then get out at 2:40 at last. I miss you all.
Bye!

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Mention-able memories of the kids…

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones
2 comments

As of 18 Sept 2016:
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed teaching Simon how to operate a motorcycle. I had him ride behind me while I explained the procedure. Then we traded places and he took turns alternating between the extremes of clutch out / throttle open action, killing it before moving two inches or almost popping wheelies and tossing me off the back. The way he beams when he is able to start moving out of first gear and work up to third you’d think this was a dream come true for him. The first thing he says to me when I return from my battles in the Ministries is whether we can please “do a lesson”. He has learned well so far, and will be as good as any of us in no time. There’s a fun memory to hang on to. His willingness to go to a new school with people he doesn’t know, and his concern for the quality of his education, is admirable. The possiblity that he could actually learn trig in that school with no lights with teachers he can barely understand has given him enough hope to try. And by tring he will succeed.

Every time I see Ruby I want to remember what I’m looking at. She is constantly engaged in something great. Playing with the little Tokpahs, getting lessons in Coloqua pidgin English, reading a great book to herself or a different great book to friends, making bread or beating cassava leaf, or eating whatever dish has been served, regardless of its content. She seems to always be smiling. Read her blog posts and you’ll know why. This girl is on fire! It is all in her attitude. She has released that part of her that loves adventure and learning new things, which is obvious to everyone around her and which attracts everyone to her. But my favorite thing is that when I dropped her forgotten water bottle off to her at school on day two, she secretly showed me her charm collection which she had brought with her that day – her mojo of momentos from friends, because “I was scared to come to school today so I brought this…” and explained quietly what each charm meant to her. The beautiful thing about this memory is that it reveals something very insightful about Ruby. He thriving is because she has made the choice to be here in every way. It cannot be taken for granted that for some it seems easy, as if no personal effort or sacrifice were involved in being happy or successful in a new or difficult situation. She has chosen the better part: Through her choice to be positive and loving that part of her that loves adventure and learning new things remained open, which is obvious to everyone around her and which attracts everyone to her.

Fire ants seem like the mean stepcousins to those I was introduced to in southeast Texas. You can’t feel them on you until they’re biting and injecting venom. These little wounds itch terribly, and when you doing as DeContee says, “Enjoying it too much”, for even a few seconds of scratching, you must definitely pay the price of open sores that itch more the more you scratch. Charlie boy apparently was enjoying himself a little too much as he connected the fire ant bites with an open sore trench that became angrily infected with mad swelling and icky discharge. I have played doctor on his foot the last three nights, using parts of the medical kits donated by a couple of sweet American grade school girls earlier this year, which has gratefully eliminated the infection and enabled healing to begin. In order to avoid contamination of the wound and to make sure he was included with the rest of the family, I bandaged him up well and carried him (10 years old and 65 pounds) about 4 miles to the beach this last Saturday, where he enjoyed his time scavenging among the ocean trash from Monrovia that has washed onto the shore, yielding him three pairs of mismatched sandals and slides. Another fun memory to hang on to. Charlie has not complained once throughout the process.

Ivy has had heat rash on and off since the first day. She is often uncomfortably itchy but I have never heard her complain. She is choosing to take it all in stride and to find ways to cope that work for her. She takes time alone when she needs it. She asks for help when she needs it. She finds happiness where she can, and that is enough. At District Conference today she was being laid on by Faith who was a little sleeping heater box, while laying on Small Princess who was wearing a fleece coat in 85 degree weather. I can imagine how suffocating that could have felt to her. But she loves her playmates and stuck with it for over three hours, never mentioning a negative feeling. She just wanted me to gently tickle her hand as I sat behind her, and that was enough to recharge her battery for the moment. Really, I am amazed and deeply grateful for her response to the Spirit, leading her toward humility and openness, love and learning, and inner peace. This one seems to have found her “zen”. I give her a ten.

On food in Liberia…

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones
2 comments

Perhaps a food has never been so beloved as rice is in Liberia. The children at the Home would be content to eat rice three meals a day. Rufus, the Director, told me, “No matter what else we can eat – bread, fruit, spaghetti – we are not satisfied at the end of the day unless we have the belly full of rice. Bread cannot satisfy; it gets stuck in the throat and cannot go down to the stomach to help you.” White rice is the foundation of every supper, with a little soup (similar to Thai or Indian sauces that go over rice) and a piece of meat (usually fish, sometimes chicken or beef). This main meal can take between 3-5 hours to prepare, which is the chore of a pair of children at the Home, and serves as late lunch/early dinner/midnight snack/leftover breakfast. The soup is vegetable or palm oil based, and typically is prepared with chile pepper. Thankfully the cook is sensitive to our mild preference and withholds the pepper for our portion. Served with supper is typically cucumber or orange, and sometimes a piece of bread that Kayla has helped to bake (see her post about her travails in the kitchen 🙂

Breakfast consists of cream of wheat or quick oats, sometimes sided with baked or fried bread, or egg. Lunch often doesn’t happen, but when it does usually it is spaghetting with oil and pepper. Water is pumped from the well, which is a pleasant upgrade from the processed culinary water we were used to in Rose Park. The occassional snack or treat could be sweet bread, donut, biscuit/cookie, or a variety of seasonal fresh fruits.

I have been surprised and impressed with how Kayla and the kids have adjusted to their new Liberian diets. Kayla determined before she left Utah that she would be willing to consume meat on occassion if she felt her protien intake was not up to par. It has not been, so she has been. Fish and chicken. Equally remarkable has been the way each of the kids has been willing to eat anything that has been placed in front of them, including whole fried fish, bits of beef bone, and chicken bone. Inspired by their new Liberian friends, each has discovered their teeth to be very capable of grinding a chicken leg bone into something swallowable and tasty. I quote this conversation verbatim, had with Ivy as I was eating my dinner late today : “Dad?” “(num num) Yeah?” “Are you going to eat that?” “Eat what (num num)?” “Your chicken.” “Yup.” “What about the bone?” “Nah.” “Can I have it?” “You want to eat the bone?” “Yes. I like it!” “Fine. It’s yours…” “Ivy?” “(crunch crunch) Yeah?” “Could you have imagined two weeks ago that you would be asking me if you could eat my chicken bone as a snack?” “Well (crunch crunch)… We didn’t really have any before, and I didn’t even know you could eat bones back then.” “Fair enough. Enjoy!” Ruby gets credit for being first to make the attempt. Ya think maybe the kids need more non-rice food if they’re begging to eat the bones? Or maybe they’re just amazing people for being so willing to embrace a new culture and diet and way of life so completely. Probably both 🙂

When I’m in Monrovia running after our NGO documents I usually will grab some snack from street vendors. Roasted cow corn (by this I mean not the sweet and fluffy corn grown for human consumption back home in Idaho, but the tough stuff grown in the fields by dairymen to feed to their hefers), sketchy looking gyros, roasted plantain, sweet bread, egg sandwich, sack of peanuts with fun-size bananas, and of course plenty of 5 cent water satchets along the way (a pint-size plastic bag full of “purified” drinking water from which you tear the corner off with your teeth and suck the water out).

On inefficiencies (and corruption?) in the Liberian government

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones
2 comments

During the first two weeks I have interfaced with the Republic of Liberia a number of times by attempting specifically to: process Tax Clearance (certificate from the Liberia Revenue Authority showing the NGO is current on all taxes owed) and Duty Free (a one-off grant from the LRA that the NGO may pay a reduced rate on import duties) for our first donated 40′ container which arrived to the Monrovia port a month early (yay and yikes); obtain resident and re-entry permits (the long-term version of a visa) for the family from Immigration; obtain a Liberian driver license from the Ministry of Transport; properly register a motorcycle for the NGO; obtain police cleareance (like a background check that only tests your social connections OR how well you’ve bribed police officers). To understand the context of effort required, all of these processes require in-person interaction at the various Ministries (government departments) which are in Monrovia. It takes me between 2-3 hours to get to any of them, which includes a trek in the rain and mud and traffic via motorcycle taxi and car taxi and keke (three wheeled covered motorcycle),and costs about $15 round trip. No email. No websites. No phone numbers. No written (or followed) procedure whereby one can know what to expect and within what timeframe.

In all this I have not experienced anything different from what I already have come to expect over the past 17 years in running an NGO in West Africa, which is crazy-making inefficiency of official and unofficial procedure that causes extreme waste of time and private resources, and enables the perpetuation of a culture of corruption. To go through the official channel means one will be required to “go and come” any number of times as documents and permissions are followed up on, with little certainty as to the current status or estimated time of completion. To go through the unofficial channel is to pay extra money for services and entitlements that should be rightfully granted, thereby upholding corruption in the system.

For an example of going through the official channel:

In order to submit our Duty Free we were required to go the the LRA to get the information that would be required to sumit. That was Sept 5th. The next day we came back with our packet prepared. But we had to deliver not to the duty-free desk, but to the basement where somebody beind an unmarked desk was to receive it. From there the document was to be carried by him to the third floor, approved, then to the fourth, where it arrived on day three. At that point we got a call saying it was ready to go, except for our pending tax clearance. A couple of days later we got our tax clearnace (another story there which involved me being required to pay the property tax, plus penalty and interest, on behalf of the land owner and landlord of the compound we rent for the orphanage because he had failed to pay, because apparently “tax must be paid” :-), and attached it to our packet. We submitted it to the fourth floor, where it had already been once or more times previously, and where it has now been stuck for 3 days. When I went back on Friday as told by the document handler on the fourth floor I was informed it wasn’t ready, and to come back Monday. I was told the reason for the delay in finalizing the document that had once been approved once already, was that one commissioner was supposed to go speak to the commissioner general about “a concern”. No further information could be obtained, even with persistent questioning. He told me the commissioner wasn’t in the office. But I learned from a different official that the commissioner was in the office, and had approved other documents that day.

The following day I returned to the LRA and was able to speak to the person (a young man who appeared to be in his twenties) on whom our letter was waiting for approval. I found that the reason for the delay was because I didn’t list everything on the invoice in the cover letter (even though the cover letter references the attached invoice for a comprehensive list of contents of the container), as if it were a requirement (it isn’t possible to find within the LRA a written explanation of what a cover letter should contain, or even a requirement of having a cover letter). I was told within a couple of days it would probably be approved. I was wished “good luck” by the secretary as I was leaving the office. I stopped and turned and said, “I could use a little luck; it isn’t easy working with this government as we serve the Liberian people.”

As I was leaving on my motorbike the very guy who I had been speaking to appeared by my side in the parking lot. He was going to town to get to a college class, and asked me for a free ride on the back of my bike. I oblidged, and considered myself lucky. On Sept 20th our letter was “approved”, which means it has passed over six or seven different desks, and we were called to come back in. I picked it up and gave it to our broker, who explained that now he must type up the entry to submit to customer with our letter. This took three days, and the packet was submitted to customs (third floor where our packet had already been at least once for approvals and signatures). The broker told me that the entry must be reviewed by the Commissioner of Customs, who could deny the duty free that had already been given an approval. Then we must pay whatever duty may be assessed, bring the receipts, and then re-submit for a second assessment of duties and fees and penalties (old vehicles carry with them a penalty), which we must then pay. Then, after everything has been paid, the entry is submitted to customs located at the port, who has to give yet another approval, and could deny duty free despite any prior approvals or assessments, and levy additional charges before releasing the container.

I am writing now on Sept 27th, three weeks into the duty free process, sitting on a metal bench in the Commissioner’s lobby. I was told by the broker that the Commissioner denied our duty free entirely. I saw the handwritten note on the letter: “Attn: Deputy Minister, Not exempt on these items.” The DMP could not tell me why, but that maybe I should go to the Ministry of Gender, Childre, and Social Protection (in charge of orphanages) and have them petition on our behalf for duty free. Even if I could get a letter, it would take days or weeks, and still there is no guarantee we would get duty free at the end of the process. The personal secretary to the Commissioner says he is in the building, or was, but nobody knows where he went or when he would be back, but I was welcome to wait. I’m an hour and a half into my wait. I do not actually have any confidence that I’ll be able to make any progress, and I’m now resolved that we are going to have to spend some of the money that has been donated to implement our projects to pay the import duties and taxes we are rightfully entitled to an exemption from paying.

The mission statement of the LRA involves promised transparency, timeliness, and fairness in collecting lawful revenues. Meanwhile we are paying daily fees to the continer yard for storage until it is discharged. So far we are up to about $600. The duties and taxes we would have had to pay had we not applied for duty free comes to $2,600. That’s a snapshot of what the official channel can be like. Of course we can hope that not all government officials behave this way. The good folks in charge of orphanages are approachable and generally easy to work with. And I’m sure there some officials, somewhere at the LRA, who are committed to building their country through honest application of established guidelines and laws. Maybe someday I’ll meet one.

Multiply this experience by driver license, resident permit, NGO accreditation, etc. and you’ll have an idea of how difficult it is to get anything done properly when relying on government procedures through the official channels.

The other option is to go through the unofficial route, which is to arrange for a handler from within or without the department who has the connections to push through the process more quickly, perhaps not officially, and certainly at an additional cost. The extra cost is called “cold water” to drink: the government agent – the gatekeeper – I’m told, cannot seem to find the strength to sign my paper or stamp my document without a little “cold water” to drink. Any number of excuses can be fabricated as to the reason why any given procedure has stagnated, until a little grease has been applied to the wheel. For example, I was stopped twice by stern fellows in street clothes telling me to pull my motorcycle to the side of the road. Each tried to reach over and take the key from my bike, which I didn’t allow. They asked to see my documents, which I promptly showed. Then I was asked to step aside and speak to the guy. “Your documents are in order. You can just ‘put yourself together’ now and you can go.” I said, “I can give you my respect, and appreciation for keeping the streets safe of rouge motorbike drivers. But I cannot give you anything else.” I was held for another 15 minutes while I was thretened to be taken down to the police station for violation of traffic laws. I was told my bike would be broken. I said to please give me a ticket if I am in violation of a written law, and I will pay it to the government LRA. But I cannot give any money to law enforcement officers on the street. I got an earful about how the real work is done on the street, not in the government offices, and that I should “do something” for them. When I eventually started to pull my phone out to call their boss I was encouraged to go and to have a nice day.

In a country where there are billboards sponsored throughout the city by the UN that contain anti-corruption messages, and where I committed to promoting government honesty by not paying bribes, it kind of seems like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position to be in. I see a bribe as money paid to receive a service or permission that shouldn’t legally be granted because the legal requirement has not been met (i.e. pass through a border without a visa, or receive a title for a stolen vehicle). Where we are in compliance with all legal requirements and still are not given permissions needed to do our work properly, is the “cold water” principle considered a bribe? What recourse is available to a small NGO when up against an unethical government employee? Do the ends of doing good charity work justify the means of taking the fast track? When using a handler it is expected that a portion of the money paid will be used to pay officials to grant permissions that should be given for free once established requirements are met, but typically are delayed, if granted at all. Will the fast track always exist? Is this issue unique to governments of low-income countries, or is the practice of government employees exploiting their position as gate keeper for personal gain a universal public problem? Either way, I am not just annoyed at the inconvenience such a system causes; I am not just put out by the extra energy, expense, and time required to work within such a system; I take it to be an offence to me and to the people of Liberia when individuals who have been placed in a position of public trust leverage that position for their personal gain. I’m normally pretty easy going, but I can get myself up in a dither when I am needing to jump through a proverbial hoop in order to advance my charity work but some thirsty person in a uniform is stopping me until they get their “cold water”.

On Equatorial Precipitation

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones
one comments

I misunderstood. Somehow I had the impression that rainy season in Liberia started in around May and ended in around September. I was off by a month or two: Based on evidence of rain EVERY day since our arrival 18 days ago, and sometimes non-stop havey rain 3-4 days in a row, it would seem rainy season hasn’t even considered moving on yet. Her work of destroying roads and increasing the difficulty factor in accomplishing almost anything besides reading a book indoors is apparently still ongoing. This rain is beyond keeping the earth green or filling water reservoirs. During a moderate downpour our gutter-and-barrel rain water collection systems at the Orphan Home refill within minutes, as do the massive puddles on the 6 mile dirt road from Brewerville to Zuannah Town. My rainsuit doesn’t manage to keep me dry, nor do umbrellas. When it comes to laundry, clothes can take days to dry. If one has hope that the sun may shine for a moment all the clothes get hung out to dry, draped over the fence or hung on the line, but typically get re-gathered in a mad rush when the drizzle > sprinkle > tsunami sequence begins. Notwithstanding, I admire the lush greens of this equatorial climate. I appreciate a solid storm during the night because it drowns out the lively wild sounds of the critter night club party along the Po River that runs just behind our compound. The temperature is actually comfortably mild in the mornings and evenings, mid to high 70s and humid. And because of almost continual cloud cover we are spared the oppressive heat of direct sunlight almost all of the time. I’m not complaining about the rain. I am simply describing what is,and what we get to adjust to as best we can.

Photos of the mud puddles on our Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/135713546@N03/albums/72157669694464644

 

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Twenty trips but feels like the first

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones
one comments

18 Sept 2016

If my count is correct, this is my twentieth trip to West Africa. To Liberia, something like a fifteen times. Add weeks spent in Honduras and India. I have learned much as I have experienced hundreds of days and nights, and thousands of hours spent serving and working in a developing economy, navigating the government systems, coping with communication and transportation issues, and expanding in appreciation for and underanding of cultures, foods, languages, and paradigms different from those in places where I have previously lived. However…

This time everything is different. Quite different. My family is here. That’s a biggie! I’m not a high maintenance kind of guy, and tend to fare well enough in tough living conditions. But now I have responsibility for 5 others – their safety and well-being. My hyperfocus on getting work done is now split among many other concerns. Also, I LIVE now here, which has created a shift in how I can and have to approach almost everything. Not having to pack a month’s worth of accomplishments into a week affords me more time to breathe and enjoy relationships. The shift from “I can endure about anything for a day, a week, or even a month” to “I need to work out MY system within THIS system that is sustainable for me and my family” takes patience and humility and a new kind of awareness.

My blog will contain a few pieces of what I have experienced and learned during this time of living and serving in Liberia. I have often thought how fun it could be to make a reality TV show that follows an NGO worker who is trying to do charity work in Liberia, to really showcase what it is like on the ground trying to accomplish something of value. It could be very insighful for those not familiar with life in Liberia, and entertaining.

More to come…

Questions from a love one answered

18 Sep 16
Kayla Jones
6 comments

I am taking advantage of limited opportunities to charge the laptop and get a good connection, by posting an excerpt from an email as a blog post. A concerned and worried loved one had a lot of questions for me. Here is my attempt to provide a few answers, which other friends and family may also have but have not asked…


Dear ____________,

I’m sorry that you feel so tormented by worry. I know that in your language, worry translates to an expression of love. And I feel that. Thank you for loving my family so much.

Because you got my email and I got yours, be encouraged that we can communicate in this way – hooray!
To answer you questions:
1. Why are we not in our dome home yet?
It’s not finished. Our first container with the vehicles is already here! Andy’s time has been spent running around Montovia getting official paperwork completed so that it can be released to us. Getting anything “official” done is quite the inefficient process, so to answer your question, there hasn’t been time yet. We are comfortable in our current situation though.
2. What are we sleeping on?
We each have a 3 inch foam pad. In the kids’ room there is a linoleum-like floor that their pads are on. They each have a bottom sheet, a top sheet a pillow and a mosquito net. They each have one shelf and bamboo rod hung from the ceiling to hang their clothes up. Their room is painted white with 2 Windows with bars on them. They have curtains and a lock on their door. It’s in a building that also has a storage room and a library room. Andy and I are 10 feet away in another building. I can call to them from my window and they can hear me. Our room is a lot smaller than the kids’. Probably 7 feet by 7 feet. We have a queen size foam mattress that is atop a bamboo bed frame. We have more bamboo clothes racks, a 4 tiered shelf and a chair. We also sleep under a mosquito net. We sleep soundly and well.
3. How does food prep work? Are we healthy?
They have a very organized chore system. One of the older girls is in charge of the main meal each day, with younger girls helping with food prep. It is primitively done with coal stoves, but works just fine. They have a big metal box with a glass front that works as their oven, once you put a coal pot inside it on the floor. I have taught them to make bread. It’s delicious! I have so far only made one meal – yes, for everyone. I made tortillas, and then mixed together beans, onion, eggs and some chicken seasoning. Not too shabby 😉 I’m learning. I’ve started helping a lot in the morning to make sure the kids have food before leaving for school. As with every family, school mornings are rushed!
We are healthy. Ivy had a little itchy heat rash on her face and arms the first week, but that has gone away now. She also threw up a couple of times Sunday night, but was right as rain by morning time. They are all eating so well. The other night there was a drum stick atop our plate of rice and all of my kids did like everyone else, and ate the ENTIRE BONE! Ha! I remember hearing that you shouldn’t feed a dog chicken bones..?? anyway, not for me, thank you. But I did eat it the meat down TO the bone. My family probably may have more protein in their diets now than they did in SLC!
4. Do we have private time with our family?
It’s true that there are MANY more people around, but I still manage one on one time with each of them. I am often in my room journaling or preparing lessons for seminary or the elementary school. My kids come in and talk to me, do their homework, journaling, or we lie on my bed and read together. At night the 6 of us gather in the kids’ room and have family prayer and then I read the kids a chapter out of the book I’m reading to them. After we get this container, Andy will be around A LOT more. And when the village drill gets here in the second container, Simon will be working with his dad. I’m excited for that.
5. Am I expected to “parent” the orphans?
Well, my children certainly come first, but if a child is crying, an argument has broken out, or little people say, “let’s play cards”, I certainly don’t just walk by. We are also free with affection, as they seem so hungry for a hug, or a story read to them. It is natural and easy to oblige.
6. Can I grow a garden?
They already have one in place, but I did bring several types of heirloom seeds and gardening supplies given to us by a dear friend before we left. It is still the rainy season though, so I’ll wait a bit. The rain is truly unbelievable!
7. Church?
Thanks for sharing about the new RM booklets. Haven’t even thought to try to get on lds.org. If I get any reception out here, which is very rare, I’m usually trying to look up a recipe that I could fix with the ingredients available here.
I’m not sure how General Conference will work. We’ll figure it out. This week we have a regional conference with 3 general authorities coming!
Yes, we will go to church each Sunday. Andy has already been earmarked for Young Men’s, and Simon has already taught in his Quorum. I teach seminary out here at the home each evening to the 10 teenagers. Ruby, Charlie, Ivy and I didn’t make it to church this past Sunday because it wasn’t our turn in the car, and it was a complete downpour. Since Andy and Simon had responsibilities at church, they donned rain suits and hopped on the motorcycle.
8. How far away are the missionaries?
They have come out here to the home 3 times because they were teaching Mercy the discussions. Simon and I sat in on them, along with two others Andy had invited to join the discussion. She was baptized last Saturday, and asked Andy to do it. I met the mission president and his wife (from Midway, Utah) at church. Andy already knew them well. They’re great. The missionaries that taught the discussions were from Ghana and Sierre Leon. The missionaries at church were from Nigeria and California.
9. Are we clean?
Haha 🙂 Yes. I even scrub behind my ears. Ivy often takes her bucket bath with me and Charlie with Andy – so we make sure they’re thorough. You get yourself all wet, then suds up from head to toe and then rinse. No big deal. We bathe every night. It’s nice to get into our beds clean after these sweaty, humid days.

We do laundry often, before our load gets overwhelming. Doing it by hand is quite the chore! We will all come home with more arm muscle.

10. Am I sure my kids are safe?
I feel just as comfortable as I did in Rose Park. Our compound is completely gated in, and the kids stay within it, with the exception of school and church. They never go anywhere alone and walk to school in big groups. Starting next week I will be teaching phonics at the elementary school where Charlie and Ivy are.
We’ve met all our neighbors here in Zuannah Town – 26 houses. Everyone already knows and loves Andy and are happy to meet his family.
11. Are we planning on doing this every school year?
No clue. We’ve been here two weeks. We’ll see how it goes, make it a matter of prayer, weigh our pros and cons and have a family council about it. We love our children and want what’s best for them. I guess we’ve learned that sometimes what is best isn’t always the most comfortable or the most easy option.
I know this is different from the way of many.  I’m not “running away”. I just find a lot of value in different experiences and different cultures and we wanted to share that with our children. They may decide they have no appetite for this kind of thing, which is totally their opinion to form and deserves respect. We decided to have a family experience this year though. One that would challenge us and provide a wealth of learning experiences that will hopefully lead to growth for all.
I love you! Thank you for your love and concern.
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11 days of fun and missing friends back home

18 Sep 16
Ivy Jones
4 comments

I am having much fun here! My best friends are: Small Princess, Felicia, Big Princess, Decontee, and that’s it. My least favorite thing is taking a bath. You have to pump a bucket with teh water pump. Then you take it to the bathroom and you have a little cup that you take and scoop up some water. Then you wash and dump it on you. Then you are done. Other than that, I’m having a fine time. I miss all of my friends. for some reason, I have this thing called heat-rash. It is where I get all these tiny bumps all over my arms, and neck, and chest, and face. And it really itches! I have to put on this heat rash powder every night after my bucket bath. They call it a bucket bath.
School starts tomorrow, which is Monday. Today is Sunday. I stayed home from church today because we have so many people that we have to switch off every Sunday, and I went last week. There is no piano in any of the rooms, so when we sing songs, it is so plain – even in the sacrament meeting room! I miss everyone so much! I hope you are having a good school year. Wish me luck on my school year! I am going to go to the fifth grade. Simon, Ruby, and Charlie are also jumping up a grade.
Whenever I walk around in Zuannah Town or go into town, everybody stares at us because we are white. I miss you all so much! Goodbye! win_20160911_10_25_25_pro

Wow. I really love it here :-)

18 Sep 16
Ruby Jones
5 comments

Hello everyone!

This is my second blog post. I have been in Zuannah Town, Liberia for a week and 3 1/2 days. I’m loving life here so much! It sounds weird, but living here seems like the most natural thing in the world. It took a matter of one or two hours to adjust to everything, but since then, it feels like home to me. Bucket baths, mosquito nets, frequent rain, laundry by hand, dishes by hand, cramped bumpy car rides, spicy food, rice for every meal, the humidity, and tons of singing, (I guess some africans love singing, because we sing the longest songs for devotional every night and at church) it all brand new, but I feel like it’s the way I want to live my life. I love everything. I’m making many friends here, and I love spending time with the little ones, Josephine, Patrick, Faith, and Gifty. Everyone is so happy and helpful. They never complain, even though some of them are working all day. Laundry takes hours! My knuckles are all cut and by the time I was done with the washing yesterday, they were bleeding badly. Washing clothes by hand is not as easy as it sounds, and drying…forget about it. It’s rainy season. No point in even trying to dry clothes after washing them.
I’ve been asked what I do on the daily. There’s honestly not much to it. I wake up, eat, get ready, sometimes do laundry, eat, play cards, play volleyball, chat, read, eat, devotional at 8pm, take a bucket bath, go to sleep, repeat. Not in that order or anything, but whatever I want to do basically. There is so much chill time during the day. This will all change tomorrow, because I’m starting school. I will be a 9th grader at Kprekor middle school. I will be doing homeschool math when I come home, so I can keep up on 8th grade education in the U.S.
I miss you guys so much, and thank you for reading this! I love and miss my 3 other musketeers, Luisa, Josie and Janey. I’m trying to send letters but who knows if they’ll reach you 🙁 I miss my grandparents, and Grandma Jones <3 I hope you are doing well. I can receive emails, so I hope I can keep in touch with more of you, and I appreciate the occasional email from Luisa. Love you guys so much! I love it here, and if it weren’t for you guys, I would never want to come back. Thanks to the Vaenukus for all of their love and their friendship. Heni, I have that picture you gave me! Thank you all so much! Thank you to everyone who wrote me letters, I read them often. Thank you to Brittany for my book, which I’m working on finishing. Thank you to everyone who came to drop us off. That was one of the most touching and memorable moments of my life.
I’ll write some more next week, bye! Ruby Jones (Rubizzle, Rubbles, Rubes, and Rubics cube)

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Day Eleven

18 Sep 16
Charlie Jones
2 comments

I have not blogged here for a long time. Tomorrow I start school. I’m going to be in sixth grade. I have my uniform and everything, and I really like it. Tonight for dinner we are going to eat snails but usually we eat rice, beans, cassava leaves and bread. We went to the beach a while ago. The waves were huge! It was very fun. It rains so much here. In fact, just yesterday we took a motorcycle taxi to the baptism place with my dad. It rained so much that my wellies were filled with water and my pants were soaked! It was very uncomfortable. The way they speak here is hard to understand.

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Week One Done

10 Sep 16
Simon Jones
4 comments

We arrived here last Thursday, since we have been here I have met many new people, Moses, Leo, Diamond, and some of my closest friends so far. Moses and Diamond are 17 years old and Leo is 15. They have taught me how to “beat” a coconut or chop it open with a machete/cutlass.

Our new home here is not finished so we have been staying in our own dorm, all of the Jones kids are sharing one room which isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Moses took me to the river near our house a couple days ago and showed me a canoe. It is carved from a tree, it is about 15 feet long and about a foot and a half wide so its vary tippy you have to be a good swimmer to go out into the river just in case it tips.

Here we have to take bucket baths. You have to go pump your own water from the well which is on our property, and then you go into the stall, you have your cup, soap, and shampoo. That’s it. The first pour of the well water over your head is always a shock. Even though it’s so hot and humid the water still feels a little chilly but it’s still refreshing.

I haven’t struggled with much here. The food is different but i still eat all the meals, my favorite meal so far has been rice with cassave leaf and fish on top. It’s actually really good! The thing that I have a hard time with the their language. They call it colloqua. It’s very fast and I don’t get any of it so they have to break it down into “proper english” so that we can understand it, but there is still the accent that is difficult to get.

We start school Monday, it is from 8-1. Me and Princess (one of the girls here) who is 17 have to take a motorcycle taxi every morning to get to school. It is about an hour away and it’s a bumpy ride because the roads are so bad.

Over all i’m having an okay experience here. I miss you all very much. Until next time.

Simon Jones.

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Settling In…

08 Sep 16
Kayla Jones
4 comments

Sept. 1, 2016
For so long we have talked about taking our children to Africa. And now, here we are! Such an interesting year, looking back at everything that has led up to this.
so now, i can’t believe we’re actually here. I keep having this moments where I think, “this is it. i’m IN liberia – back in africa, like i’ve always dreamed. with my children!” I’m so happy we made this happen.

in all honesty, i DID have a moment the first night of total displacement; wondering and worry about every little thing while andy sawed logs next to me. i finally decided to wake him up so he could listen to me, kiss away my tears, and give me the priesthood blessing that we got too busy to do before we left. it was a good decision. although, i blame this little breakdown on utter exhaustion from the travel. i haven’t felt that way a moment since.

FOOD – well, my vegetarianism is offically taking a 9 month break. alternative sources to animal protein are scarce. so…. this is what we have eaten so far:

Breakfasts:
– cream of wheat
– oatmeal
– onion eggs
– fried, sugar bread (donuts!)

Mid-day (can either be a proper meal or just a snack, depending on who the cook is that day):
– butter rice with hard boiled egg.
– fried plantain
– grapefruit
– fried potatoes (think big french fries with no salt)
– coconuts picked from the tree on the property and cut with a cutlass to perfection so we can first drink the water, and then you hit the coconut on the cement to crack it so you can scrape out the meat with your teeth.
– rice with a red sauce and topped with crawfish

Dinner:
– rice with kidney beans and fish in a red sauce
– rice with casava stew, topped with fish
– rice with potato greens, topped with crawfish and fish

Dessert:
– Fruit (watermelon, oranges, cucumber)

Amazingly, we have all done quite well with this. I find that it’s so hot, that we are rarely hungry, or even think about food. I brought multivitamins for all of us to take each day, and I am happy to offer Ivy and Charlie their “gummy-vites”, which feel like quite a treat.

Mentionables:
1. Upon arriving and seeing how we’ll be living, Charlie asking, “Can we stay longer than 9 months?”
2. “3 guys on a scooter” StudioC reference by Ivy when driving through the craziness of Monrovia
3. Andy, Rufus, Simon and Charlie running errands “in town” (Monrovia) and get completely stuck in a washed out road on the way home. After an hour, a prayer said, and inspiration given, they return home – but not until well after dark, giving me a bit of a fright.
4. Simon and Moses riding home from Liberia on a motorcycle taxi.
5. Prior to coming, I was so worried about Charlie, who is prone to anxiety and shyness. I have barely seen this kid during the days. He jumps in and is so happy to do everything just like the other kids do. he has made a good friend in rufus and vic’s son, gordon. he’s Not made a single complaint about the food, and not had a single fear sleeping in a whole other building away from me and Andy. AMAZING.
6. Walking to the Heartwood Homestead property today with all the children, and then on to the SEA!!!! Wonderful afternoon playing in the waves. The small children: Giftee, Faith, Patrick, and Josephine were absolutely terrified though. faith was on simon’s shoulder and she was clinging to his head for dear life!
7. Ruby, loving on all the young kids and being wonderfully positive each step of the way. She and I helped the children’s tutor that comes each Friday and did a little reading lessons with them.
8. Spending an abundance of time with Ivy. She and I have become special buddies and I am focusing the majority of my energy on her. I have been completely suprised that of all my children, she is the one struggling. We spend most of our days together playing cards, talking and snuggling.
9. because of a lack of vehicles, they take turns who gets to go to church each week. we all went. ruby, ivy, and i smashed in the 5 seat belt ex Terra with 9 other people for the 45 minute extremely bumpy ride through washed out dirt roads to church. simon, andy and charlie took a motorcycle taxi in. i’d say there were a little over 100 people in the branch. 15 young men, andy said. in the concrete room sacrament was in, it was so hot. for some reason they weren’t running the generator, so no fans, lights, or microphone. when we sang songs, it was nearly too loud for my ears! they LOVE to sing hymns. we sing probably five per day here at the homestead, and before sacrament meeting starts they sing song after song waiting for everyone to arrive. my throat literally hurts from singing!

Well, that’s our first few days in a nutshell. So far, so good! It is 100% different than life in Salt Lake City. Our ears are slow to understand what they’re saying, so I pray to overcome that stumbling block quickly! Tomorrow is Monday and all the kids start school – so that should be interesting…

sorry for all the typos and grammatical errors. i am not used to this keyboard and i hurry as to not run down the battery. i don’t know when i’ll be able to charge it again!

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/135713546@N03/albums

Love to you all!

Pics on Flickr gallery and Facebook

03 Sep 16
Andy Jones
2 comments

If the two days of travel getting to Liberia are anything like the next two months, we will be alright. Tired but safe. Jostled about but grounded. Out things mostly intact and events mostly playing out as expected. The real value of the experience is found in lovely people and loving relationships, as always.

Limited connectivity = limited sharing 🙁

New photos uploaded to the Flickr album, link on my previous post.

Cassava leaf stew. Fish heads. Beach volleyball. Bucket baths. Mosquito and ant bites. Sleepless jet lagged nights. Lovely hugs. Pidgin English. Bright smiles. Heartfelt prayers.

It’s still all about love!


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