Thursday, September 06, 2012

valuing time

The trip to Liberia and Ghana that I mentioned in a previous post was motivating and re-energizing for me.  In spite of knowing and working with Liberians since 1993, this was my first time to go to their country.  Many of the people I’ve worked with (Samuel, Joseph, Pinky, Patrick Early and so many others) are now back in Liberia and it was good, really good, for me to see them in their lives now and to feel that we still have that friendship and connection that we established in Ghana or in Ivory Coast.  

Saye, me, Joseph, Pinky and her kids - all worked with me at the deaf school in Ghana, and all are now back in Liberia. We were able to get together one of my first nights there, since they live in the same town where I began my visit.

I was also reunited with a good friend of mine from the early ‘90s when I was in Cote d’Ivoire.  We’d lost contact over the years.  I moved to Ghana during a period of time when he was away.  Then, he moved to Liberia before we were able to re-established contact – and gradually . . . well . . . that was it.  Then about 3 years ago I got a call from Samuel, who had also been in Ivory Coast at the time when we were friends, and who had since returned to Liberia. He told me that he had seen our old friend Bobby on the streets and that they got together for a beer and to catch up with each other.  But, somehow, the phone never worked for Bobby and me to connect while I was in Ghana.  So, finally, this trip when I went to Monrovia where Samuel and Bobby are both based, Samuel one day asked if I had any time to quickly run over to where Bobby was working.  One of the many things I learned in Africa is that you always have time for what matters.  The other thing I learned is that not much matters more than having time for people. (As my sister recently said to me, one day when she will be lying on her deathbed she won’t be thinking, “I should have done more housework in the past” – it’ll be more like “I wish I’d spent even more time with my daughter, with my husband, with my friends and family and those I love and care about.”)  So, of course, I had time.  Bobby and Samuel feel like brothers to me and, after about 16 years of Bobby and I not having seen each other, it was like old times.  (And, stupidly, I didn't get any pictures of us together - but I have some of Samuel and his family)

Samuel, Alfreda and their two kids

Several other friends I was able to catch up with had been helped through university while they were refugees in Ghana – and now I saw how good of an investment that had been.  They weren’t just slacking off – they were building up their country and taking care of their families.  Some were in humanitarian types of projects, some in government ministries – and all of them had found their way and were “making it.”  There are a couple of them who are struggling with their current situations – like Otis, who is trying to find resources to build up his business some more after a set-back due to family illnesses – and like Joseph, who’s second in charge of a Scottish NGO (non-governmental organization) in the country that helps provide food to school children, but who – due to changes in administration and other reasons – is struggling a bit with his role and with succeeding in his efforts to further his education.  But they’ve got something, and they’re putting to use the knowledge and experience they gained while living as refugees.
Me and Otis

Otis and his co-worker in the tailor shop Otis is renting

So – a HUGE thank-you to all the people who have ever helped to donate or sponsor education in the past.  If you could see the difference in the lives of people who were able to finish school, especially their higher education, and those who didn’t have the same opportunities, you would know that your sacrifices were more than worth it.  And I don’t just mean the material parts of their lives – that they have jobs and are building houses, etc. – but, rather, their views and thoughts about life, their goals, how they care for their families and communities, the thoughts they have and the openness they express – and basically how they view the world and life.  If there were ever doubts about whether the donation did any good – those doubts would evaporate when you have time with the people who have been helped.  (Of course, I pat myself on the back with this because these were people I often recommended.)  

But, actually, the main purpose of my visit was to provide field support for the lay missionaries we now have in Liberia and in Ghana, and not just to visit and reconnect with friends.  At the time of my visit, we had two lay missionaries in Liberia – one was getting ready to leave a month after my visit, and one had arrived a little over 4 months before my visit.  They were in two very different places with what was going on in their minds and in their lives, with their struggles and their discoveries.  We also have two lay missionaries in Ghana who had arrived before I left last year.  One had taken over some of my work on the refugee camp with the children with disabilities, and one was very involved with another SMA project.  When I left last year, they’d been in the country about 5 months and to see them again was inspiring for me – they’re so into life there, involved and passionate about what they’re doing and the people with whom they’re doing it.  It was exciting and motivating for me.  

Comfort, her daughter Sharon, Joe and Rachel
Kyle, Peter and (a different) Comfort loading the truck with tree seedlings to be delivered from the nursery Kyle began

Kyle - at peace in his moment

A couple of blog entries ago I had written about the struggles I’d had in adapting to this new stage in my life.  Now, finally, I was doing something that I know how to do, am good at doing, and really care about doing – talking to the people we have in the field about their mission service and their lives, about their adjustments (recently arriving; preparing to go home after 2+ years; or being in the middle of service when things are really clicking).  I finally felt something about life again – and felt like I was actually putting my skills to use, and not just trying to find a way to keep busy with stuff that needs to get done but for which I have not much feeling.  I felt refreshed and revived during and after this visit.  

While in Ghana I also saw some of my Liberian and Ghanaian friends, of course.  The situation there for Liberians is even more uncertain than when I left last year.  There’s been an even stronger push for Liberians to return to Liberia.  UN officially “closed” the camp at the end of June.  That means no more assistance with medicine, security, other living expenses, etc.  At the same time, Liberians who have chosen to stay in Ghana are still waiting to hear what integration into Ghanaian society might mean for them.  For a variety of reasons, they don’t want to, or aren’t ready to, return to Liberia.  So – they’re there, on the camp, but unable to legally work or to really figure out what step to take at this time.  Frustrating.  A couple of Liberians I know are still in Ghana because they are in the middle of their education and they want to finish that prior to returning to their country (earlier this year I wrote about Jethro; another guy is Peter, who was my colleague on the camp and for whom, like Samuel, I have a huge amount of respect.  My struggle and ongoing frustration at this time, is to try to find some resources to help them “top up” what they need for completing their education – I can send more details about them and what’s still needed if anyone is interested in knowing more about these guys and/or about how to help them). 

These are some pictures of a couple of my friends from Hope for Life - people I've known since 1996 when I first went to Accra to join the project:

JB - one of the original members, and often my advisor
Mariatu (long-time HFL member from north), me, JB's son, JB

There were also a few sad times.  With some of Daniel’s friends we did a couple of memorial “services” – getting together, sharing memories, tears and libations.  Some knew he had died, some didn’t and were shocked to hear of it.  We were able to talk about and memorialize this sweet friend we had.  

Sarah, a photo from a few years ago
Also, while there, a young man and former president of Hope for Life died. He was married to Sarah, a beautiful woman, and one of my first close friends when I moved to Ghana in 1996.  She was the first person who needed orthopedic surgery while I was there, and she shared her journey of discernment, amputation, rehab, and moving on with us, being a very close part of our day-to-day lives, staying regularly at Bethany House, meeting with other amputees prior to the surgery to receive advice and varying perspectives, and then advising people who were later faced with the same decision.  Sarah and her husband have a son about the same age as my niece (almost 3 years).  George, the husband, was hospitalized for an unknown sickness while I was there, and a few days later, suddenly and unexpectedly, he died.  

Alice, me and Michael, another friend
Life. Death. These experiences are reminders for me to take time for people when they are with me, when the opportunity is there – that value I claimed to have learned while living in Africa.  It’s true – on my deathbed I won’t be thinking, “shoot, I should have attended more of those meetings”; “I should have stayed more caught up with paperwork”; “I should have written those reports and not put them off until everyone gradually forgot.”  I’ll be thinking: “why didn’t I find a way to stay in closer contact with Sarah after I returned to the US?”; “why didn’t I try to call Alice more often?” (I've only called her twice since I've been back in the US to see how things are going with her and her efforts to re-establish her shop); “why didn’t I re-connect and stay in closer contact with my US friends after I returned to the States?”; and “why didn’t I make more of an effort to skype with Daniel when I saw he was online in early 2012?”  As I’ve already seen, there’s not always going to be a tomorrow for me to do that, no matter how much I believe there will be.


At 9:35 PM, Blogger MJ said...

Wow, Steve, what a great update on everybody--and I'm so glad you were able to add pictures to update how they look too--and also to see that you were on some of them too instead of just taking the pictures. I remember so many of the people on them from previous updates and pictures you've shared with us when you've been back on your breaks. It's strange I have never actually met any of the people you write about, but yet feel so connected to in some way. It's funny how as I read about them here, the names all come back to me and I remember things about them from other blog entries or stories you would have told. I'm so glad you finally were able to find the time to do such a great update.

At 7:38 AM, Blogger elise said...

hey Steeve! wow ! so grateful to you for having all these kind of news about the people I knew. I cannot describe how I feel when I discovered Saye and Joseph's picture !!! I love what you wrote about what you would be thinking on your's inspiring me !!!
And about Rachel, she's still on the camp, right?
After reading that, I just want to live again in Africa...!
I did not undrestand, where are you staying now??


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