Tuesday, March 01, 2016

It has been feeling like spring here for the past month or more – I think since January.  When I began work again after the Christmas break there were a couple of articles to translate (for which I do the work on the computer) and two or three chapters for something else in English for me to edit.  Somehow, I have lucked out and am one of the two people in the house to have a balcony – and over the past 2 1/2 years I’ve done cuttings from almost every place I’ve been.  It’s all hit or miss – and fortunately, there were a number of hits.  My room and balcony face the east, so on many mornings I was able to sit out there in the sun in a t-shirt and shorts (with sunscreen and hat……) and do the editing (and then, as the sun shifted and my balcony fell into shadow, I would move inside and add a couple of layers of clothes). 
my balcony, when I open door from my room

looking back at my room

where I edit, with an electric espresso maker a friend gave me

I kind of love my balcony.

I am not sure if I ever wrote about William before now.  I thought I had, but I have just spent a pleasant hour+ skimming through blog posts from the past 10 years and didn’t see anything about him.  Maybe it was just a mention in one of the rambling posts or maybe his story was just something I’ve intended to write over the years and never got around to actually completing. 

I met William back when I was on the refugee camp and involved with the school for the deaf and also with other people with disabilities (so, over 10 years ago).  He was a friend of some of my Liberian colleagues at the school who asked if maybe I could help him and his family out.  His mother had gone through some serious trauma during the war and had never recovered psychologically.  The children were working hard to take care of their mom and each other as well as complete their education. 

I had received an “open” donation (meaning I could put it to the use that I thought best).  William and his sisters were struggling especially to get the medicine their mother needed, so she often went without it.  I asked them to figure out what they could do to bring in some income, so they prepared a small business plan (selling cold, “pure” water) through which they could earn enough money to keep the business running, pay a few bills, and get their mom the medicine she needed.

I’ve stayed in touch with William over the years.  He has been trying to continue his education.  Things have changed on the camp in many ways and for a variety of reasons, it has been hard for them to go back to Liberia.  I was able to introduce him to Joe (I most recently wrote about Joe about half-way through this entry), who has since been able to make the arrangements necessary for William to continue getting his mom the meds she needs. 

William’s goal is to continue his education, and over the years he made some great efforts to save up some money and begin university.  Since then, some donations have come in a couple of times which also helped him to continue.  About a year ago, he and a couple others I know who were also trying to pay their way through University were all trying to look for the funds they needed. I had no idea where to turn, and suggested that since many of them have connections through Facebook and other sources that they write their stories.  I suggested, no matter how difficult the story might be, to keep it positive – “this is my goal; this is my dream” – and then they should share it with the people they are in touch with, and ask 15 people to help with $50 (for example), rather than looking for one big donor, and it could add up. 

This is a slightly shortened version of the story William wrote:


I am William, a Liberian refugee residing on the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana. I come from Lofa county, located in the northwest of Liberia. During the war in Liberia, Lofa had been one of the main battlefields, and unfortunately, my family and I found ourselves in the heart of the battle zone.  During the war, my father was the target of an attack.  While the rebels were searching for him, all the children found their way to hide in the bush.  The rebels ended up slaughtering him and three of them raped my mother, beat on her and left her helplessly bleeding in the room. When she gained a little strength, she managed to escape into the bush where some neighbors eventually came across her and took her to a nearby town for rescue. We got the information and quickly rushed there; unfortunately, our mother could not recognize any of us as her children. She was actually out of her mind. The rebels threatened that upon their return they would not spare anyone.  We had no alternative but to flee to Monrovia, where one of our uncles lived. Unfortunately, after one month, he was falsely accused of being a dissident collaborator from our county, arrested, jailed, and executed. The military forces began to secretly hunt his immediate family members.  Since we knew no other family in the city and we were being hunted as a family, we fled to a nearby town from where, within a week, we managed to find our way to the Ivory Coast border.  We were fortunate to cross the border and stay in Ivory Coast as refugees.  Due to the language barrier in Ivory Coast, we faced many challenges and finally decided to continue our journey to Ghana, since Ghana is an English speaking country. We arrived in Ghana on the 22nd of February, 2002, where we have stayed till now. Refugees in Ghana were responsible for providing for themselves (food, medication, and housing, etc.).  After a month with five family members in exile, we needed to do something for survival, so we engaged ourselves in gardening, growing potato leaves, garden eggs and other vegetables for consumption and sales.  The yield of our crops, however, was meager, so to supplement it I worked on a construction site by offering cheap labor.  I later engaged myself in voluntary community services, such as clean-up campaigns organized by the Sanitation Board in my community. I also organized extra classes for school children for little or nothing just to help sustain the family.

The Ebola outbreak also began in my home town in Liberia where many of my family members, such as nephews, uncles, nieces, aunties, etc. were victims of the virus attack. Worst of all was that my uncle, who saw me through high school by paying my school fees, was attacked by the ebola virus and died in a short time.  My sorrow and pain worsened.  In despair, my future looked blurry and uncertain and there was no one to look to for assistance. In the midst of the challenges I refused to give in or give up, so I decided to get a college degree. A big dream that seemed impossible to achieve! I took the university entrance exam, passed it and was given admission to study Bsc. Accounting.  A missionary was able to find assistance for the tuition for my first semester.  I am trying to complete a 4-year BSC course in administration, option Accounting. I believe strongly that completing this course will enable me to find gainful employment, allowing me to care for my family and to contribute towards the reconstruction and development of post-war, and now post-ebola, Liberia.  I also have a yearning desire to return home and establish a family, but this cannot be easily done without having skills or being educated. Liberia needs educated, trained, and skillful people, and I do not want to return to Liberia empty-handed.

Recently, William gave me an update:

I am left with three academic semesters.  I am studying Financial Accounting (BSC).  As usual I will not like to be afraid of the amount in question.  Whatever little or much that can be mobilized I will be grateful for it.  I will also continue to seek for help locally.  No amount is too small.  All I need is to complete.  There is actually a lot to do back in Liberia.  Many of my friends that completed with BSC in the same field went to Liberia but could not easily get job because they never had the technological aspect of the course.  If I have the opportunity, I will like to blend those soft ware courses with my study (like Quick book, Sage, and Tilly) to finish at once and go home. I hope and pray that my desires come to the expected end. 

I am actually ashamed of the numerous problems I have alone, but God knows why and all shall be handled at the appointed time by God….

I sometimes have the tendency to procrastinate.  A few years ago, I told William that I didn’t know where to get the money from, that I was tired of asking friends and family.  I had told him that at some point in the future I will be leaving the current organization I’m with and get a paying job and then could probably just help him on my own.  So, I advised him to just wait (yes, bad, but expected advice from a procrastinator).  I was afraid that he might start something and then be unable to finish it due to the lack of funds.  

But, I’m happy William didn’t follow my advice.  He used the savings he had, which were enough for a semester, and began studying.  Since then, it’s mostly worked out that he has been able to find what is needed, although he has had to skip a semester here or there.  I’m impressed by him.  He’s doing incredibly well, struggling, but not giving up on his dream.

Friday, December 11, 2015

I honestly appreciate everyone who read and responded to last year’s blog entry, either through email, or through a comment on the blog, or just talking.  Since then, though, I’ve had a hard time writing more -- I started this blog update about 10 months ago – I think in February – and since then have added to it periodically, but only now am finishing the update.  It has, obviously, been hard to finish.  I’m disappointed in myself for not following up more on the update from last year (more below on that).  I fear that I’m becoming kind of lazy, complacent, out-of-touch, unmotivated.  I like living in Rome, and the work is interesting at some level, and has some challenges.  But, if I reflect on what I (and others I’ve known) have been involved with over the years, I know that’s the stuff that really matters to me - the hands-on stuff and the lives that we touch in some way. That’s what moves me and what makes me feel alive.  When we work in the field, our bodies, minds, souls and spirits are taken up with the life we are living, what we are doing and the people we are with.  The role I have here is necessary – someone needs to do these things – and for someone else this role would probably be very life-giving and exciting.  This is good for me to do for now, but I know in the future I’ll be looking to get back into the field (so, thanks also to some of you who mentioned some options for when that time comes). 

Several months ago, one of our priests got appointed to become a Bishop.  I’m told that it’s a big deal – and I guess it is.  But . . . the excitement it generated (some people were literally bouncing up and down in their seats when it was discussed) only made me think of Joe (I mention him and have a few pictures of him and the kids he works with at the end of the blog entry from February 2014) and some other people in the field, and wonder why hearing about what they’re doing and about their dedication doesn’t produce the same excitement, the same thrill, the same honor, respect, awe.  Joe has a simple and whole-hearted love for and devotion to the kids with whom he is working...why aren’t we bouncing up and down for him, especially when we hear a story about a girl he’s worked with for 3 years finally being able to take a couple of steps on her own?  Why does everyone get so excited about the new bishop and not about Joe when he adds two more kids to his feeding program and therapy stuff this week?  Everyone is so excited that "one of ours" has been called to be a bishop, yet all of the attention given to that makes me feel a mixture of sad, angry, embarrassed and depressed.

So, an update on my previous blog entry:

I eventually got some feedback from my boss in the States.  He doubted that Archbishop Zeigler knew what he was signing and said he had emailed the Archbishop about it, asking for some clarification from his side.  I think that in his position, the Archbishop should know what he is signing before he signs it, and besides, it wasn’t just a signature since he had apparently made similar statements in public speeches.  I was advised to pass future blog updates through my boss here – “for a good relationship.”  I told my US boss that I would not do that, and that doing such a thing would not be a good relationship from my point of view.  He then advised me to bring the information about Archbishop Zeigler blaming ebola on homosexuals and corruption to the attention of the SMA priest here in Rome who is in charge of Justice and Peace for SMA.  He’s also our representative in the International Justice and Peace (JPIC) group.  When I did that, our rep’s response was that I should take it to the head of the International JPIC myself.  My thoughts:  isn’t that your role??  And now our JPIC guy, the one who wouldn’t take this “touchy” issue, related to health, education and bigotry, is the one who was recently appointed bishop.  Once he was appointed, my natural tendency towards cynicism cleared the clouds about his reasons for being reticent in broaching something controversial regarding an archbishop, which would also be something supporting homosexuals.  Maybe for him this wasn’t an issue of justice and peace, public health, education, bigotry, hatred and fear mongering – maybe it was a different kind of fear that any involvement in this stuff could be damaging to personal hopes and dreams.  So, keeping quiet was the safest way to a future filled with advancement (so much boils down to politics and ambition, as my growing cynical tendency has me believe more and more).

If this had been about people with disabilities, about women and/or children, about any group that has had prejudices against them in the past or present, I wonder – would the reactions have been different?  My point in writing about it was the injustice, no matter what the group.  It was also about the spread of ignorance and bigotry by respected leaders, rather than using their positions to educate the public on health and safety.  Aren’t they supposed to be spreading a message of love?  But instead we get:  “People who are different from you, those with whom you don’t agree – they bring down God’s curses.”  What century/millennia do we live in?

And I am working for an organization that says they stand for the most abandoned of Africa and African descent – yet it supports people who say these things and it doesn’t follow-through on challenging people who make these statements.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t follow up any further, either.   Why didn’t I at least follow-up with the following-up that my boss said he would do?  Why didn’t I go to the head of the international JPIC group myself?  I don’t know why…. 

And, that’s the end of the story for now.  For me, it’s a disappointing end – it just sort of disappeared.  I just let it sort of disappear.  Nothing came of it.  Ebola isn’t in the news so much anymore, and is more and more under control.  At the same time, recently three new cases came up in Monrovia, Liberia, but now people know the response to make, so things were quickly under control and there shouldn’t be a big outbreak again. 

With that, along with  a little shame and disappointment in myself and others, I move on....

A few people have asked me to update more with photos/stories from Rome, so...here are a few photos:

A friend gave me this great, electric espresso maker that he doesn't need in his home, since he has a kitchen and stove.  Now, I can take coffee breaks in the sun on my balcony, in peace.

I'm lucky to have a balcony, only one other person in the house has one - and we are 23 in the house.  After I was given the coffee maker, I found these perfect espresso cups -- pictures of garlic and corn on them and their handles!!  

Just yesterday I decorated my Christmas tree, which is also on the balcony.  It's also my spring, summer and fall tree....

The beach isn't too far from where I live, and this fall there have been an incredible number of sunny days, and my time is a bit flexible -- as long as I get my work done, it doesn't matter when I do it.  So, when I've had a friend or two who have had off in the afternoon, we've sometimes escaped just for a walk on the beach, and the sunset (and occasionally a beer.....)

Monday, November 10, 2014


After having written about Africa, my life there, the people I know there and my reactions to it all for so many years, I found it hard to write about my time in DC when I was helping with the training of new lay missionaries, or about my time here in Rome, as the English secretary to the Top Dogs.  It seems so . . .  uh . . . mundane or something.  So . . . I just haven’t written much in the past couple of years.

Yet, I’ve heard that’s how life often feels – afterwards - for people who have lived an intense cross-cultural experience.  That period of time is often an influential, powerful, growing and developmental time for us.  We’re in a totally different environment from what we know, having left behind what we’re familiar with, our support systems (at times without even realizing we had support systems . . .  until they are no longer there . . . ) and find ourselves totally outside of what has always just been there, what we’ve taken for granted and never reflected upon.  We’re confronted with our values – with ourselves – and with needing to actually think about these things and to come to recognize and hopefully accept what is really, honestly important to us.

Then, to return to our countries and move into other areas of life can end up feeling all, uh, ho-hummish.  I’ve heard, and experienced, that life can often feel less fulfilling, and maybe that’s also part of why I haven’t been sure what to write about.  Just day-to-day things while I was in Africa could play on my emotions, inspire me and stay on my mind.    Life was so different from what I’d known that it was often just naturally thought-provoking, and writing in the blog was a way to work out my thoughts.  (It was also a way to share parts of my life so that, hopefully, I wouldn’t be a complete stranger to friends and family whenever I would next see them.)  I’m working on finding that inspiration again, and it’s there, of course, waiting for me to acknowledge it.  There is so much around me wherever I am, whether in DC, in Rome, in Wisconsin, Chicago, Nebraska, Warmond, Ghana or Minneapolis - wherever – there’s always atmosphere, people I love, food, wine, beer, etc.  I just need to let it in . . .  and let it touch me somehow.

In the meantime, a few things come up that affect me more than other things.  Often, these things are still connected to Africa.  After all, so many of my friends are there, so much of my adult life was there, so much of my growing up took place there and most of my work is still related to African issues.  For example, talking to my friends in Liberia about how ebola is affecting everyone’s lives has moved me; I felt it inside, in my heart, and wanted to write about it.  (So there you go . . .  my previous blog entry.)

And now, there’s another ebola-related issue which someone in SMA told me he had read about, so I looked up the article(s).  Phew – it really pisses me off!!!  The organization I have been involved with for so many years sends support to this person who is fomenting bigotry and hatred through his promulgation of ignorance.  Here are links to a couple of the articles, but there are more stories that can be found related to this.  The first link is more about what was said and so on, the second is how these statements by an influential leader in Liberia has affected a group of people that he has slandered:

Here’s something said by the same SMA priest who told me about this:

His thinking is inflammatory and could lead to persecution and death of others if  the people think they have caused ebola. This is more than culture and besides if it is it should be challenged. His theology and culture should be transcended. What kind of God does he have? I wonder if people like this still think the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around the earth? It won't be challenged because we are too patronizing....

The US province of SMA has a priest who once said that he didn’t believe that we ever landed on the moon – it was all something put together in Hollywood.  Was he joking? Was he serious?  I honestly don’t know because I wasn’t there.  I wonder why the person who heard him say this ignorance did not challenge him in some way.  And right now, with the Archbishop making these kinds of totally ignorant and inflammatory comments, why aren't we challenging him?

I have already felt like a hypocrite at times.  I struggle with some of the Catholic Church’s stances on certain issues, and yet here I am, going on 16 or 17 years with a Catholic organization which supports a man that spouts this kind of stuff.  He’s supposed to be a leader, a unifier.  He’s supposedly educated.  In my mind he’s supposed to be spreading a message of love and non-judgment, of caring for those who are among the most abandoned – isn’t that a message in the Bible? – isn’t that what Jesus did in the Bible?  Who did Jesus hang with, after all? (And what are some of the statements coming out of the recent Vatican Synod on the family??!! -- the entire document is an interesting read, actually, and point 110 specifically contradicts what has been said by religious leaders in Liberia.)  One of SMA’s priorities, no . . . THE  priority (supposedly) is to the most abandoned of Africa and African descent.  Yet, we are supporting this guy.  To be honest, at this time in history in Africa, homosexuals are clearly among "the most abandoned".

I used to think, “well, a lot of people don’t agree with everything from their ‘employers’ ” – and, as I said, I have gone on with the same organization for so many years now, so clearly I decided to just see this not agreeing with everything as acceptable and "normal".  But, I go on feeling a little more like a hypocrite each time, and it becomes harder and harder each time.