Spiders, Soccer, Church and Waterfalls

Hello friends, 

Here it is...the giant spider who haunts my dreams

There is a GIANT spider living in my bathroom. Last night I opened the door and it skirted right by my face (which is far more terrifying when there is no electricity and I have to enter the pitch-black bathroom with only a flashlight at night). I’ve tried killing it with numerous objects, but it’s deceptively fast for its size. I can handle the huge toad I’ve encountered in my bathroom and the occasional cockroach that darts by, but my family will attest to the fact that I have an incredible aversion to spiders. While some people prefer to gently escort these critters outside by trapping them in a container with a piece of paper underneath and freeing them into the wild so they can “return to their families and babies,” my solution is to “kill it before it breeds” (my sister Alyssa reminds me of how I yell this at her every time I see even the tiniest spider in our shower at home). Anyways, I’ve been frantically Googling to see whether this particular spider is poisonous or not. No luck thus far. No, I will not name it and no, it will not make it out of that bathroom alive. Rest assured. 

There weren’t any workshops this past week so I’ve been working in the DEN-L office and continuing to explore my surroundings. I have become really absorbed in the World Cup and am now known as a regular at the local video club where the people of Gbarnga go to sit in a dark, crowded shack to watch the games on a small, flaky television. The Liberians relentlessly cheered for the Ghanaian team last week in their game against the U.S., as Ghana was the sole remaining African team in the series. While I have been a loyal fan of the various African teams throughout the tournament, I had to cheer for the homeland for this one. I found myself to be the only U.S. fan, female, and white person in the room. Needless to say, I stuck out like a sore thumb. When Ghana won, I was swarmed by the men and jokingly jeered at all night. 

Alfred in front of Kpatawee Waterfall

One thing I quickly came to realize about Liberia is that everyone is extremely religious. It’s not that they live completely pure and pious lifestyles, but they believe strongly in their religious convictions and religion will often find its way into conversation and everyday activities. They have no problem asking you right off the bat what religion you ascribe to and how often you go to church. Liberians look to religion as a source of hope and a promise of something better to come—although this can be said of religion all over the world, it is much more prominent in a place where despair, hardship and poverty are widespread and prevalent parts of everyday life. I have been eagerly invited to attend the various religious services that my colleagues frequent on a weekly basis, and I have accepted with a keen interest to learn more about how religion plays such a prominent role in their lives. Last Sunday I attended a Catholic mass with my friend Joe. It was similar to other masses I’ve been to (which isn’t that many), but it seemed to involve more singing and music, which was very uplifting and entertaining. Rather than playing hymns and solemn music on an organ, the choir sang joyous songs and used African drums and other instruments. My colleague Peter has invited me to attend one of his Baptist services and my other colleague Apena has me preparing and learning prayers in order to attend a Muslim service with him (most Liberians are Christian, but there is a small Muslim presence as well). While I don’t ascribe to any conformed religion (which utterly baffles people here when I tell them), I am incredibly interested in religion and learning all I can about the major presence it has in people’s lives—especially here in Liberia. 

On Sunday, my colleagues James and Alfred took me to a nearby waterfall called Kpatawee. It is located in a remote, stunningly beautiful part of Bong County. The hilly and lush surroundings lack much human presence and remind me of a deserted tropical island. We waded through the stream and over rocks to get to the series of waterfalls, which were beautiful. We watched a big, black snake slither off a rock where it had been sunbathing and into the water that we were wading through. It was a tad unsettling. Supposedly, Kpatawee attracts many Liberians from all over who travel there for a day-trip to picnic and swim. The day we were there it was uncharacteristically abandoned and pristine. 

Charles Taylor's abandoned mansion

On the way home, James took me sightseeing. We passed countless fields that he said had once been huge rice paddies, sugar plantations or palm fields, but had either been destroyed during the war, abandoned due to a lack of governmental funding, or deserted by the former political regime they had belonged to. It was truly sad to see since Liberia is completely capable of feeding themselves (there is plenty of cultivatable land and no shortage of labor to do so), but due to a host of economic and political reasons, the country relies heavily on expensive imports. Some of these fields in the Gbarnga area were owned by former Liberian ruler Charles Taylor, who was responsible for carrying out the second half of the civil war. James explained to me that once a political regime owns land and they are ousted from office, the land is generally abandoned rather than shifted into the hands of the new regime. We also visited the spot where Charles Taylor had been constructing a giant mansion for himself when he was captured and exiled for war crimes. The mansion was abandoned but the structure still remains on the big hill it was being erected on. It’s an eerie and secluded spot—it sent shivers down my spine just sitting there looking at it. Driving through the surrounding areas, I saw dozens and dozens of abandoned, burnt and collapsing house frames that were ransacked and destroyed during the war. It is evident that the Liberian infrastructure, economy and society was very shaken by the conflict and are still recovering. 

I’m spending this week preparing for a workshop that will arrive here at the DEN-L compound next week and will focus on adult literacy and education. More to come… 

In peace,