Out of Africa or What I Did On My Summer Vacation
First let me say, it wasn’t a vacation, it was a mission trip to Liberia. If you want to know more about the group I went with, go to the following website: dignityliberia.com.
Have you ever heard of fistula? I’ll give everyone the short version. A young woman of eleven or twelve might be ‘sold’ off by her family to a farmer or a man of the village. Imagine getting pregnant at such a young age, having a difficult delivery of several days with only the village midwives in attendance. They sit on the mother’s chest trying to push the baby out. When that doesn’t work they take to beating her with sticks, and other assorted ways are used to encourage her to have her baby. If the mother isn’t taken to the hospital in time, the constant pressure of the baby’s head will rub an opening between the uterus, bladder, and/or the bladder. The child is usually stillborn. The mother is left excreting bodily waste from her vagina. Her husband and family are likely to throw her out of their homes and the village will turn their backs on them.
There was no hope for them until Liberia came up with the Liberia Fistula Project. Dignity Liberia partners with them to bring in doctors, nurses, teachers, and people like me who just want to help.
Okay, so that wasn’t short, but you can see why I felt it was imperative to make this trip. Actually, I didn’t want to go at first. I’d hoarded my money for a trip to Italy, Venice in particular. I’m an avid video game player. What has that got to do with any of this? One of my favorite games is Assassin’s Creed II. It’s set in Italy and much of the game play is in Venice. It whetted my appetite to go to The Floating City. The graphics are spectacular. I can almost smell the water of the canals, see the paint fading from the buildings. I wanted to go to Venice, no two ways about it. However, I’m sitting in church one Sunday and I hear this quiet voice say ‘You’re going to Africa’. I had a conversation with the voice over the next several months, but I wasn’t going to win this argument. So, several thousand dollars, a yellow fever inoculation, and a bunch of assorted shots later, I was on a jet to Liberia.
There are two things that hit me when I stepped off the plane. It’s freaking hot and the humidity is like being slapped in the face with a wet towel. My group of thirteen piled into an old van that luckily had air-conditioning. It’s when we got out into traffic that I notice the entire country has a problem with trash lying everywhere. Piles of it, some of it knee-deep. Still, it’s a beautiful country that’s been raped by two civil wars, and it shows. The people are trying to rebuild from the ground up. The electricity is iffy, there’s no running water, except from gravity feed from storage tanks on roofs of buildings, no flush toilets. Even the hospitals are without running water. Those people who can afford regular houses stay within walled compounds with laced with concertina wire. The rest of the population live in whatever type of housing they can find. Businesses are often nothing more than shipping containers with names like God’s Faith Business Center. Jesus Loves Business Center might be right next to it. Choices, choices.
Speaking of the traffic, sweet Lord. It was Nightmare on Elm Street crazy. Two way traffic for cars, if they decided to go the correct two ways, no stoplights to speak of, except in downtown Monrovia. Motorcycles and yellow taxis vied for the same place, whizzing in and out of traffic in maniacal abandon. It wasn’t unusual to see up to four people on one motorcycle and usually a woman sat behind the group with a baby strapped on her back. The women have the best posture in the world, they balance washtubs of clothes or produce on their heads as easily as Queen Elizabeth wears a hat.
I’ll tell you more about Africa in later posts. I wanted to say that the longer I’m away from Liberia, it makes me homesick for this poor, ravaged country. There are a hundred stories to be told of people who survived the civil wars, the horrors and heroism they’ve seen. Maybe one day I’ll be able to write a book that touches on just a small part of their lives.
There’s new team of volunteers in Liberia as I write this. I envy them the new experiences they’ll have, the exotic foods, and learning to love each and one of them.