Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Liberian "small-small"

One of the things that moved me most during my visits to Addy's Hope was seeing the way the children shared with each other.    Despite living in the most desperate of circumstances with very little to eat and almost nothing to play with, every one of them is willing to give up some of what they're given to any one else who needs or wants it.

I was able to shop at a small, US-style grocery store in Monrovia on my second day there.   I didn't realize then it was going to be my only shot at buying what we needed for the week, so I didn't put much thought in to any sort of meal planning.    I bought a few staples--bread, rice, peanut butter, saltines, pasta, canned tomatoes---and splurged on a package of chicken breasts, a small bag of frozen peas & carrots and some pricey kiwis and apples.     At the last second, I noticed a small freezer case holding some M&Ms and a few chocolate bars.   I tossed a couple of KitKats into my cart, thinking Brant might need a sweet treat during the week.

Our days started following a pattern and at the end of each visit to Addy's Hope, Brant and I would walk out to the car with Amos and Kalee as the other kids clamored around to say goodbye.  They'd hold on to our arms and hands through the car windows until Mark would yell something that would send them scurrying off.    

Amos's friends called to him,  "A-mah!  Bring chocolate!"
Kalee's buddies yelled without fail,   "Ka-deee, bring me a car or a Jeep!"   
The girls would grin and shout,  "Baby doll for meeeeee!"
Charles always asked for a wristwatch.

Early in the week, this didn't worry me---I was careful not to make any promises, but I thought for sure I'd get out again to do some shopping and maybe find some things on their wish lists.   After a few days, I'd seen enough to know that toys were not to be had and the only chocolate anywhere around was back in that freezer case on United Nations Rd in Monrovia.

Brant and I talked about what to do.  My sweet boy offered up all four of his KitKat bars....but I fretted still.    Chocolate is a hard-to-find luxury in Liberia because of the expense.  The kids at Addy's Hope rarely, if ever, get it because the heat and humidity make it hard for parents and visitors to travel with.    There was no way we could give a few kids chocolate without giving all 50 kids some.

I prayed for a loaves and fishes moment.....and on one of our last visits at the home, Brant and I took the candy bars over to share them the best way we could.   I tried to have confidence---I had seen Pedelia, the school teacher, divide up impossibly small things during the week.  She'd broken off bits of her own boiled peanuts and even split Smarties candies into halves (!) so each child could have "small-small" from a parent care package.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about.   My long-distance friend, Carolee and I had chipped in a little money to buy bananas for the kids and Pedelia arrived with those just as I was unwrapping the chocolate.  The children were thrilled with one ripe banana each and danced around excitedly as they ate.    Then Pedelia used a sharp knife to cut the KitKats into tiny, bite-sized pieces and passed them out. 

I've never seen any one, of any age savor a bite of food with complete self control the way those kids at Addy's Hope did that chocolate.   They nibbled on the corners.....licked carefully around the edges.   Some held their little bite in their mouths without chewing while it melted.   They sucked on their fingers afterwards in case a bit lingered.  

There was no bickering, no squabbling.   No complaining about portions.  Nobody took the babies' shares.   There was no expectation for a second piece........or that there'd ever be any more.   

There was nothing but complete contentment and gratitude for what they had been given.     

God's lesson wasn't lost on me and Brant.  We heard him, loud and clear.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Funny...we don't look alike...

One of the very best parts of my trip to Liberia was meeting Mark, the Field Director for Spirit Liberia---an NGO (non-government organization) that works in a variety of ways to spread the gospel and improve the lives of the Liberian people. Among other things, the Spirit Liberia folks minister to inmates in prisons, share the good news on the streets of the Monrovia area and provide support and training for agricultural and other projects so that impoverished families can become self-supporting.

While the founders of Spirit Liberia, Greg and Vanessa, were in the states preparing their family for a permanent move to Liberia, I was blessed to be able to rent their house for a week and make it "home" for Amos, Kalee and Brant.

Mark lives on site and was a huge help to me during the week I was there. I'm not sure how I would have survived the trip without him, in fact. Though Brant and I traveled to Liberia with a team of 8 other volunteers doing construction to complete the new Addy's Hope facility, once we arrived, we were separated by many miles and were actually only together for a short time during the week. Subsequently, I was on my own quite a bit and Mark graciously served as my very patient translator, driver, embassy escort and market negotiator!

I began joking with Mark after a few days that I felt sure, after all the trouble I'd caused him, I'd never be invited back to Spirit Liberia. At the very least, I was starting to feel the need to re-name Amos in his honor! When I came home one afternoon and realized Mark had washed the boys' messy laundry by hand without being asked----I knew I had met a very special person. And that was just my first clue---
  • My hair dryer consistently caused the generator to shut down in the mornings. Mark kindly restarted it for me...every time.
  • When I accidentally pulled the kitchen faucet out of the wall---creating a domino effect of other plumbing emergencies as I frantically tried to shut off the water flow at various junctures--- Mark realized that I had in fact broken a valve and drained both roof-top cisterns leaving us with NO water. He got a plumber out before sunrise the next morning to make sure the boys and I had all the water we needed by the time we got up.
  • Mark dropped every thing to accompany me to and from the US Embassy the day I had an appointment with the consular. I could have hired a cab and navigated it by myself, but he wouldn't hear of it. What we thought would take a couple of hours, ended up taking nearly 8. At the end of that exhausting day, Mark wouldn't even let me buy him dinner or a pizza at one of the few restaurants in Monrovia. But he did accept a cup of ice cream! He deserved 10 gallons of this Liberian luxury--and if we'd had a way to keep it cold, I would have bought it for him on the spot.
  • When neither the security guard nor I could get the belligerent toilet paper saleslady to leave the Spirit Liberia grounds, Mark answered my SOS, leaving his ministry work to come home to deal with her. Even though I didn't hear what he said, I know he defended me; he said later that he "explained a few things to her. " And that's all I needed to hear. I felt vindicated!
  • Following the toilet paper incident, Mark never left me alone. He read while I visited the kids at Addy's Hope, he waited patiently during the chaotic orphanage move, he never complained no matter how long I took or what I was doing. In retrospect, I don't think Mark was afraid I was in danger so much as I might bring about some sort of danger or calamity to myself!
As if being saintly weren't enough, Mark is a full-time student studying sociology at the University of Liberia. He is also a talented singer and musician and serves as worship leader at Bethel Cathedral of Hope near Monrovia. I was honored when Mark invited me and the boys to attend church services with him on Sunday, August 1rst--- our last day in Liberia. Bethel is a HUGE church with a huge congregation. Its sanctuary seats most of its 5000 members---all of them worshipping the same God I do, all of them His children!

As we drove home that day after church, Mark and Brant were in the front seat and the little boys and I were in the back. We were all hungry and tired but I realized as we talked, that Mark was getting up the courage to say good bye to us. He thanked us for worshipping with him. He said many kind things....and he said that he hoped we'd come back to Liberia someday. He assured me that Spirit Liberia would always make a room available---because, he emphasized, he and Brant and I were more than friends---we were family.

We continued the drive home from church and I pointed out spots where Amos and Kalee could get a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. I tried to explain that when Drew and I come back for them, we'll all board a plane and fly across the water---that very water-- to their new home in the United States. I gestured and tried to be clear that just on the other side of the ocean was where we lived. The only thing separating us, I emphasized, was the Atlantic Ocean.

And at that exact moment, I glanced up into the rear view mirror and I saw that Mark was smiling. Maybe he was smiling at the absurdity of what I was saying......4500 miles is a long way by any standard.

Or maybe he was convinced like I was, at that moment in time, that the ocean wasn't that vast or that wide. Mark knows, like I know, that worshiping the same God makes us part of the same family of believers....and that means we really aren't going to be very far apart...ever.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I love the smell of pencil shavings.

Summer is over for Brant and Babe and our Christian school is back in session.  They humored me for another year and paused for our annual first-day-of-school photo as they headed out the door.   

Babe was only a smidge nervous on this, his first day of Middle School.    Once he got his binder organized Saturday, he was mostly concerned about the logistics of getting dressed out for PE and whether or not he'd need his protractor for Math class every day or not.

Brant was up early to be clean-shaven and looking good for the ladies of the junior class.

(Will continues to....uh......summer.   Today that meant sleeping until 11am and then making a batch of chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.....followed by PopTarts for late lunch.   He'll start high school in the music department at the UNC School of the Arts on September 1.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The good stuff

I don't even know where to start to tell you about my trip and all that I saw and did and the people I met while in Liberia. So while I figure out an angle on that, I'll skip to the good stuff you really want to know about: Amos and Kalee!!!

Kalee is as cute as a kid can possibly be. I spotted him first as I was taken through the orphanage's front gate----he was sitting in a plastic chair, presumably waiting for me, dressed in a red-striped t-shirt I'd sent months ago. I waved and called his name and he gave me a big smile he knew who I was. (Zing. I was goners.)

He was a little shy at first but warmed up fast! Kalee is funny and silly and sings to himself when no one is paying attention. He woke me up most mornings by flipping on the overhead light in my bedroom.

He loves, loooooves Matchbox cars and he calls helicopters "choppers." He carried his new cars in his pockets. Always. I think I scored big when I told him Jay had a wooden train set that he'd be able to play with here at the house.

As cute as Kalee is---he's a tiny, little wisp of a 5-year old boy. I'd say he's probably almost 3 feet tall.....but had on a pair of shorts for a 24-month old the day we met. He is rail thin......way underweight.....way undernourished. And since he couldn't keep up many of the size 4 shorts I took over for him.....he wore navy knit boxers most of the week.

Amos is such a beautiful child. He has high cheekbones and a beautiful smile and sparkly eyes.....and a hoarse voice that made me love him the first time he called me "Mom."

Amos is quick and aggressive on the soccer field and schooled Brant repeatedly! Later in the week, B turned Amos on to basketball and he learned to dribble and shoot in no time.....

And what a complete trooper. At the orphanage Amos is not considered a "big boy" so he's spared some of the harder chores around the house. But because he has a younger brother, he's expected to care for Kalee and make sure he's fed and has what he needs. Amos refills Kalee's water cup....he sweeps up their crumbs into his hands...he shares his portion of fish when he has some. He got up from the table after each meal and washed his and Kalee's plates and cups without being asked. And all it took was one sharp word from Amos for Kalee to fall into line.

Amos is about 4 feet tall but can't weigh more than 40 or 45 lbs. He wore size 4 shorts all week....could keep on 6s if they had a drawstring.....but only if. I learned that Amos broke his left forearm at some point before arriving at the orphanage and the bones were never set, so he has some pain with that that we'll need to get checked out once he gets to the States. I actually worried that Amos might have arthritis or some other joint issues when I first met him. His knees and elbows looked so huge and swollen. What I figured out though, was that his joints were normal sized---his arms and legs were just so painfully thin, they made his knees and elbows look enlarged. (Sad sigh.)

I have no idea really what life will be like once Amos and Kalee come home to us. I'm told there are going to be loads of challenges and hard days as we figure each other out and navigate how to be a new family together. I've read tomes about all the issues we're going to have to work through and deal with.

But during our week together in Liberia....I didn't really let myself worry about all that. I didn't feel cause or need to worry. There weren't a bunch of yellow flags raised. My mom radar did not issue a single warning. Our time together was way more good than sad......and we laughed and smiled way more than not.

Brant played a borrowed guitar many afternoons and as he would show Amos how to hold a pick and strum along, Kalee always sat close with me, humming along, a car in each hand. At those times, it was as if we'd always known each other.....always been together....always been part of a family. A family long in the making.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I have received so many great messages, emails and texts checking on me and asking about the trip.  I appreciate them all.   Brant and I both picked up coughs and colds while in Liberia and have been nursing those, in addition to trying to get over our jet lag, since we got back Monday night.  

I promise to blog about my trip....about the new (super-cute and wonderful) boys....and about my encounter with the belligerent door-to-door toilet paper saleslady..... just as soon as I can see straight.

In the mean time, here is the link to my Snapfish album where you can view most of the photos I took.  Many of them are from Amos's and Kalee's orphanage where Brant and I were swarmed by children each time we visited.   We always took stickers and candy when we went over....but it didn't take me long to figure out, all those kids really wanted or needed was to be held and loved.

That----Brant and I could do.

More soon. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

You can bow now....

The Crown Prince of Dixon is officially 16 years old.   

At the special request of HRH, the castle kitchen prepared his traditional birthday breakfast.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Sunday, August 2, 2009

On the Way Back

Will, Jay and I were able to talk to Amos and Kalee one more time before Kelly and Brant had to go to the airport.  It was great to hear their voices again.  I even got a few more words beyond "Yes" from Kalee....he said that he was singing at church this morning!

Kelly said church was great - 2-1/2 hour service!

Everybody sounds good.  I'm sure it was hard to leave Amos and Kalee there.  Hopefully it will not be long before we go back to get them and bring them home.

Thanks to you all for your thoughts and prayers.

I guess I'll let Kelly have her blog back when she gets home.....


Two goals were reached yesterday in Liberia:

1.)  Amos scored a goal playing at the home.  He was so excited and it was fun to hear about it via telephone.

2.)  The team reached their goal of moving the children into the new orphanage building last night!!!!

Kelly and Brant have their last day of this trip in Liberia today, starting off with worship at Mark's (from Spirit Liberia) church.  Can't wait to hear all about it.