31 January 2008

Old News via Email Chain...

I have a yahoo email account that I more or less quit checking about a year ago due to massive amounts of junk mail. My sister sends me chain letters to that address all of the time. Earlier this evening I was going through that account to clear out all of the junk and see if, perhaps, someone sent me something important. They didn't. But my sister did send me some interesting information (in the form of a chain letter...) regarding the benediction of the opening of the Kansas State House of Representatives in 1996. The email offers an abridged version of the benediction and is erronous on some details, but this link offers a more accurate portral of the event.

The reason that I decided to write an entry about this (you may have noticed that I don't write on here very offten any more...) is that it got me thinking about something that is of particular relavence and importance: the thoughs and actions of the average American.

In the link previously mentioned, the author points out that only one of the representatives in the House left the assembly in protest of the prayer. three gave negative speaches regarding it. Given the intensity of the language used in the prayer, I'm actually suprised at the lack of opposition. That's not to say that I don't agree with Minister Wright, I do and I aploud the way in which he presented the truth.

What suprises me is that, with the views so strongly suported by the political media, I have actually thought that most of America would disagree with Minister Wright. So my thoughts drift to the American people.

What do average American people think and what do they do about it?

I think that they think we are going in the wrong direction and I think that they grumble about it to the people that agree with them (read: they do nothing). Maybe I shoud re-write that last sentence, I think that we think we are going in the wrong direction and I think that we grumble about it to the people that agree with us (read: they do nothing).

We do this because we are afraid of making decisions and taking action. We're afraid of opposition and we're afraid of being forced out of our comfortable, sainatary, wrinkle-free lives into the grimmy, nasty road to a better future, because it won't be an easy, "We're headed for a storm. Let's turn this boat around!" There will be massive resistance. Not because a large group of people belive that we are going the right way, but that we have become desensitized to the reprocussions of our own actions. We have become so heavily insulated against reality by our own comfort that we don't have to think about what it costs to live the way we do.

How can you make an entire culture change the way they think?

If I new the answer to that, I wouldn't be writing this on a blog that five people will read in the next two months. But maybe I can plant a seed in five people's minds that will make a little change in the way they live. Six, if I can work a miracle and change myself.

01 December 2007

Nimba Mountain

After more than a month of trying to upload the pictures I wanted to on to this post, I've given up. They're linked here, on my Flickr site. Maybe I won't have as much trouble with this when I get back to the states.

Last weekend I took a trip to Nimba Mountain with 20 of my mates from the ship. It was a long and exciting venture that had many memorable points. Nimba Mountain (1,752m) is the highest point in Liberia, Guinea, and Cote d Ivoire. The Nimba Mountain region is home to the highest concentration of iron ore in the world and used to account for 1 percent of the total iron production in the world, when the mines were operable before the Liberian Civil War, which spanned nearly two decades.

The Nimba Mountain region is home to many unusual plants and animals due to the collision of the rainforest and savannah climates that mix uniquely in this location. One such animal is a toad that happens to be the only known amphibian to give birth to young that undergo no post-birth metamorphosis. There are also chimpanzees that have been reported to use rocks as tools. While these primates are common on the Nimba range, commonly known as the “Guinea backbone,” none were seen on our trip, as we stayed mainly within the area of the abandoned iron mines and quarry.

We started our trip at the m/v Africa Mercy, the hospital ship that all of the members of the group work on. The Africa Mercy is the largest non-government owned hospital ship in the world and is owned and operated by the Christian non-profit organization, Mercy Ships. The Africa Mercy is docked at the Freeport in Bush Rod Island, Monrovia, Liberia. We took a tro-tro (African van/bus) to Ganta. We stayed the night at Daa Mo’s Guest House ($5 per person, per night. 10 rooms, owned and operated by Amos. He’s got another guest house just down the street, same price.)

NOTE: We rented the tro-tro for 600 USD for Friday-Monday. If you plan ahead, you should be able to get a tro-tro for around 400-500 USD, we had to make emergency plans because our original tro-tro was wrecked the day before. This was expensive, if you do this; it is cheaper and more comfortable to take a taxi, unless you don’t fill all of the seats on the tro-tro. We had a large group and only one of us had been to Ganta before, so we took the tro-tro to stay together.

We left Daa Mo’s the next day in our tro-tro and road to the washed out bridge about half an hour away. We crossed the river via log bridge to argue with some taxi drivers for another half an hour. They eventually gave us a reasonable price and we drove the next hour and a half with four stops; two immigration stops, one UN security checkpoint, one for some fried plantains (25 Liberian Dollars) and provisions for the climb (300 Liberian Dollars).

The last ten minutes of the drive to the mountain was slow because the taxis were in such bad condition and could barely handle the foothills. Once we arrived, we had lunch at the “blue lake.” This lake was formed when the impending civil war caused the mining company to panic and mine as fast as possible. A large wash out on the north side of the quarry was one of the results of their haphazard rush to make as much money as possible.

After we crossed the wash out, we had a nice, flat hike along the old mining paths about a third of the way up the mountain at which point they were disturbed due to natural causes. We stopped here for about half an hour to take in the view and catch our breath. A small group of us decided before the trip that they didn’t want to climb to the summit, so they turned back at this point to take a taxi back to the guest house.

The rest of us began the gruelling climb up the rest of the mountain. About a third of the total climb was scrambling and two thirds was on a path. There was a small vertical section just before the summit that had to be climbed. It was a little hairy, since the base of the cliff was not very flat or wide. Falling would have resulted in a tumble down at least 20 meters.
We made camp on the top of the mountain. I carried a 20 kilo tarpaulin in my pack for shelter. Carlos brought a tent for four people. We had a dinner of ramen noodles cooked over a Pepsi/Guinness can stove with Heet for fuel. After dinner, we got a nice thunder storm show, which Victor was kind enough to take some pictures of. The stars were also out in full force, with the exception of the occasional passing cloud interrupting the view.

The next morning, we had a brief rain storm which we weathered in the tarpaulin. We broke camp around 8:30 am and began our decent. At 11:00 am, we were met at the quarry by a security guard for Mittal Steel (the company owning the land we were on). He just wanted to make sure that we were all safe. Sometimes the locals in Liberia will try to pretend to be protecting you from some danger, existent or make-believe, in order to get some cash from you. I’m not so sure that this guy wasn’t trying that.

I talked to him for a while, since our taxi did not arrive for an hour or so. He had worked at the mine before the war, and fled to Guinea when the rebels arrived. He also told me that there were lions in the area. I was, and continue to be, highly sceptical of that remark. Maybe he meant mountain lions…

We took taxis back to the wash out, took our tro-tro back to Daa Mo’s to settle up with Amos. After paying Amos for the accommodations, we went to dinner in town (about 2 USD) and started the seven hour ride back to Monrovia. We stopped on the way to and from Ganta in a town called Kakata. It was a nice place to stop. If you are into diamond mining, you can find plenty of people around that know some titbits that you may find interesting. The same is true for a lot of Liberia, particularly near the borders…

The whole trip cost around 70 USD per person. Not a bad deal for a great West African experience.

18 October 2007

Technical Difficulties

I have been trying to post this great blog I wrote about a trip I took two weeks ago for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, I can't seem to upload pictures onto Blogger. Once this excessively irritating issue is resolved, I will put up a nice post about mountain climbing in Liberia... Until then I will continue to exercise patience and self-control.

09 October 2007

Postseason 2007


The Red Sox are into the postseason with a tough league championship series against the Indians. Unfortunately, I'll have to stay up all night to catch the games, so long as I don't forget to reserve them on the sat. television...

On a local note, there is a four day weekend coming my way, courtesy of the ship's management team. I don't know why, but I'm going to utilize it to visit Nimba Mountain. I'd miss a series game for that, no questions asked.

26 September 2007

A Better View

This is where I went swimming last week. It is an abandoned iron quarry known as Bong Mine. A group of five or six people from the hospital ship I work on took a train ride from Monrovia to Bong County, where this quarry is located. It was really fun, with the exception of one of my mates getting her camera stolen...
For me, one of the most difficult things about being in Liberia is the mix of response to our presence. Some people are all smiles and waves and so happy that someone is trying to help them out. Others see us as an easy target to extract money and goods from. Still others despise us for how fortunate we are. Within each of the responses, there is a spectrum of differences in the attitude still. Some fall into two or even all three of these responses at different times, but that's just another example of how you can't group people together nicely and make generalizations.
I know of several pastors in Liberia that are really glad we are here, and glad that we are helping out, but they still take every chance they get to take advantage of the white man from the big ship. It's not their fault, for the most part. So many NGOs and missionaries have come through and given out so much that they've come to expect handouts.
What I'm about to say next is in no way saying that the people of Liberia are less human or valuable than any other people group on the face of the planet, it's only a metaphor to exemplify the NGOs and missionaries have a tendency to be like a child that finds a wounded baby animal near the treeline in a park. The child wants to help the animal recover so that it can survive, but lacks an understanding of the animals needs for survival. Since the child does not realize that the animal needs to maintain its survival instincts, the child may bring the animal home and give it warm milk and splint its leg and feed it plenty of food and love the animal and play with it, but when the animal is taken back to the park, it will have a much more difficult time surviving in the wild if it has become dependent on the care of the child.
Many NGOs and missionaries that have worked in Liberia have done this to the Liberian people. If we come to the aid of a country and hold it up, how will it learn to stand on its own? If we come and show them how to stand, and coach them. We need to maintain a very tricky dynamic tension to help Africa and I by no means think that I know better than anyone else how to do it, but I know if we keep doing things the way we are, we will change some of the problems into different ones, not help eradicate them.
I've been stressing sustainability for a lot of this post, but that is not the whole story. The reason we have to maintain a dynamic tension is that there are people that will die if we don't help them and they won't die because they have some disease that is just too awful to treat, they will die because there is no one to treat it. That's the thing that I like the most about working with Mercy Ships, the organization has an understanding of the need for sustainability and for the immediate need of people in life threatening situations, and they address both. There is room for improvement, though. We still have a lot to learn about how to work in each of the nations of West Africa.