Friday, February 25, 2011


Getting some wash done.

Well, the smell of my little bottle of Tide detergent was my happy place in Liberia. Seriously, whenever I'd wash just a few of my own items or a towel in it, I'd make everyone smell it, and I'd exclaim, "Ohhhhh! Doesn't it smell SOOOO good?" Having said that though, I really enjoyed Liberian-style laundry.

Now, I didn't do it often. I intended to try to do it more, but with the constant-ness of need from my own four kids, school work, time we spent with the mission kids, and the trips to the Deaf Mission or into town, I just had extremely limited free time. I would have liked to do it more often because it was relaxing to me. Sue and Praise set up the three large plastic containers back behind the Sieh's house, right under the shade of a tree. I cannot for the life of me remember what kind of tree it was... some sort of nut. It was a cool place, with a breeze, and it was secluded from the majority of the activity, so it afforded a little break from the constant noise and chaos of our days. It was also just a lovely thing to have your hands in nice cool water for an hour; it was quite refreshing.
The first container is filled with water and a soap made from palm products, which has a very distinct smell... not bad at all... just different than laundry here. Sue washed each item on the washboard. OK, so it probably wasn't as relaxing to do her part... man, she worked hard, scrubbing each item again and again, as she stood and bent down over the tub, up and down, up and down, until they were clean. Then we'd wring them out and place them in the second container. This also had soapy water in it, and I would then hand scrub each item with a bar of soap, wring it out again, and place it in container number three. The third container had plain water in it, which got soapier and soapier as more laundry went through, but it was the rinse water, so each item was swished to rinse it, and wrung for a final time. Then the items were turned inside-out (to keep them from fading in the sun) and hung to dry on the line. (The staff had laundry lines, but the kids just laid things on the ground to dry.) If I happened to have the job of hanging the laundry, I had to keep reminding myself not to walk into the razor wire, which was underneath the clothesline, lining the security fence. That could have really been a problem. (Look closely in the picture below, and you'll spot it. It had extremely sharp razor edging.)

Sue working the washboard, Praise waiting to do the hand-scrubbing, and Anika
waiting to rinse and wring in tub number 3.

The hens, with their little chicks following, and the lizards would stroll by as we worked. Sue might sing a song. We could smell Mommy Siehs cooking wafting from her little kitchen door. Anika would be scrubbing away with her sister sitting next to her. Hawa would be trying hard to wring things out, which I would then re-wring because her little hands could not grasp them enough to drain the water out. She loved to help, and occasionally she'd look up, and with a dramatic sigh, she'd say, "Whew... I tire, Mama!" (I'm tired).
It was just quiet and sweet and cool.
But, believe me... I'm thankful for my Kenmore. Sue was asking about how we do laundry in America. I told her we had machines; one for washing and one for drying. Mommy Sieh piped in and said that if we hung our laundry outside to dry in the winter, we'd end up with stiff clothes... frozen like ice! Too true. :)

The laundry would dry in the sun for a day or two (depending on when it got done), and then we'd get it delivered in the big colorful tub. It felt a bit stiff from the soap residue that never gets fully rinsed, and retained that palm soap smell, but it was clean... which REALLY amazes me when you consider how EXTREMELY dirty my four kids' clothes got EVERY day. Poor Sue. She did some serious scrubbing on our behalf for a whole month. Don't worry, we made sure to give her a generous "thank-you tip" before we left!

So, you see... I love Liberian-style laundry. (And I also loved my little bottle of Tide: the reminder that one day I would feel clean again, and I might even smell good. :)

One of the girls from the Deaf Mission, doing wash. She crocheted that hat herself. It's a super-intricate pattern with very thin yarn. (Well, I'm sure it's not called yarn b/c it was more like thick waxy string, but you get the idea)

The Talent of Carrying Stuff on your Head...

Anika now puts her folded laundry on her head to take it back to her room. It's the African way... but she must need a little more practice because some of her clothes had to be re-folded after they fell off! It's super cute to see her incorporating some African ways into her life.

I wanted to post a few pix of the kids carrying things on their heads. Unfortunately, we didn't get any shots of people carrying 5-gallon buckets or any of the large loads. The most amazing is when you drive by women with huge plastic tubs full of wares to sell... it appears as if the study of physics could not prove how it stays upon their noggins. It does, however, and they walk so gracefully with it perched there, with their brightly-colored lappas swaying with each step, and their arms casually by their sides. Some even have a second piece of lappa fabric tied above their bust line that holds a baby on their back. Talk about multi-tasking. I mean, they also have to avoid being killed by the insane no-rules traffic. Anyway... in the midst of it all... these women are a picture of peace and balance and beauty to me. I feel like there's a spiritual parallel to be had, but I won't go there. :)

Then there are the men I saw carrying enormous bags of rice. I don't know how much they weigh (... think Costco-sized, fill-the-entire-bottom-of-your-cart-size bags of rice), but they are awkward and heavy, and these guys carry them who knows how far... on their heads.

Some people carry huge 5-foot long bundles of coal, wrapped tightly in palm leaves, to sell in the markets after it's divided up into little blue and white striped bags. Some people carry water, some carry buckets of fried donuts or food to sell, etc... etc. And there are also lots of people who carry nothing at all on their heads; they are just getting from one place to another.

I just love experiencing different cultures. I love seeing things that I don't get to see everyday. I appreciate the differences between my corner of the world and theirs. I am so glad that Anika and Asher have experienced it a little now too. What a privilege to be able to look at a textbook about Africa, and now be able to remember it... not just imagine it. And the best part? That the names and faces that go with our memories are our friends.

So, I will forever remember Sue carrying 5-gallon buckets full of water into our house from the well for us each morning, on her head, of course. (Jason helped her, but didn't even try to do it on his head... hmm, I wonder why.) She'd walk on over, walk up the steps, slip off her shoes, duck through the doorway, dodge the table and chairs, and empty it into our water barrel in the bathroom... all while gracefully balancing it... not spilling at all. Well, there was one time when she spilled a bit... and I teased her mercilessly. She laughed and smiled... knowing I could talk big, but I could never compete. :)

Ma Margaret with the clean dishes. She really is very sweet and friendly... she just didn't know what to do when I wanted her to be in a picture with me! :) I told her I would act like I was helping to carry her load.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


If you don't care for rice... maybe you shouldn't go to Liberia. (Or Africa in general, or Asia, or India...) Thankfully, we LOVE it... and the meals we had were scrumptious. Now, as I was talking to some girls about Liberian weddings one day, I asked what they might eat at a wedding, you know... as "special" food. They described what we ate everyday in Liberia... namely, dishes with chicken or fish in them. So, we literally ate a special feast each day compared to what is normal. We paid for it... I mean, we didn't expect to eat so well... but we were grateful. It was all so wonderful, and our bodies really needed the extra energy as they were so shocked going from the frigid north of America... to the hot, humid of Liberia.

SO good! Chicken, cabbage-type soup over rice, and the BEST pineapple on earth. NO, I've not tried it in every part of the earth... but really, I don't think you can top this.

I think this was one of my absolute favorites - though it's hard to pick. Cabbage and red palm oil soup for over our rice. DELISH!

A typical dinner scene... when Brenda was part of the fam. :)

Nope... not bananas... they're plantains. Boiled in this case. We almost always had them fried in oil, which makes them much darker orange and almost sticky like a yam might get it you fried it. They are very sweet, and quite good!

Asher posing with his plate.

A vegetable based soup over rice... again, very good!

...just kidding.

A typical lunch... regular or flat bread with a tuna/onion spread... or bread with peanut butter, and fruit. For the first week and a half, we had soda almost every day for lunch (and ice almost every night). Well, I know those things cost extra money, and they are a pain to bring home from the market on a motor bike! We told Mommy she was spoiling us... and then had to explain what we meant b/c "spoil" means to ruin or destroy something in Liberian english. So we told her that she was giving us more than we had at home in this way! We thanked her, but told her we were quite content without it as well. (My kids have never had so much soda in their lives! ~though I didn't care to deny it to them... they earned that and more each day!) Anyway, after that, we had less soda, and had juice or water instead. But she kept giving us ice most nights... she said, "But you are so HOT! We need to help you be comfortable and cool down!"

Small bananas... don't think they have a special name. Uncle Jimmy, one of the people that drove us around often, bought a whole bunch of them for 50 Liberian Dollars (LD). That's like 75 cents. They are SUPER sweet... better than regular bananas by a lot... and the skins are very, very thin. But, of course, you have to eat a lot of them to fill up!

Breakfast... bread, eggs, cream of wheat (or corn meal, or oatmeal)... all of which Anika RAVED over... and often there would be "sausages"... hot dogs cut up and fried. Someone must have told them that Americans need meat at every meal, which is funny, b/c we don't always even have meat with dinner, let alone lunch and breakfast too!

My creative boy was missing a good old American hot dog. So, he took his breakfast "sausages", split his bread the long way, and stuffed a bunch of them in a row.
... a little ketchup... and voila! The breakfast hot dog ~ Liberian style!

After each meal, we'd gather all the dishes to bring back to Mommy Sieh's house. Hawa always wanted to carry the big trays, full of heavy, unstable stuff, on her head. So, we'd try to swap out her load with one a little less precarious... and breakable.

Now onto the food that is more realistic for the children at the mission homes...
Donuts made often in the mornings for the kids. Four basic ingredients, fried up in oil, no sugar.

The cook... I think her name was Esther... showing me the huge pot of rice for the children. It is sitting on the cookstove. Yeah... incredible. It doesn't burn on the bottom. How??? I can manage to burn just about anything. That set-up would just about guarantee it every time!

On the left, you see the palm oil being boiled for the soup that will go over the rice. The orange color is just the foam from cooking it... there is actually not a whole lot there when you compare it to the amount of rice. All in all... not much true nutritional value in the kids' meals.

I know... it's an odd picture to have in here... but the kids (not just mine) all enjoyed a few lollipops thanks to my friends, Marshall and Lisa. In a God-kind-of-thing, He even provided them for free, and they were even organic!

At the Deaf Mission, the girls were getting their fire going. I don't know that they have a cookpot... so it looks like they just build a fire and use bricks from ruined buildings in the bush to set the pot onto.

One of the Deaf Mission students with the bucket of rice. It was passed around to different kids... there are usually not extra containers to be used... so the buckets serve that purpose.

A friend of ours enjoying his rice... and someone's little hand trying to catch what falls! I'll tell ya... food does NOT get wasted there. Other things might... but not food.

Monday, February 21, 2011


It was not until this trip that I got to see Hawa's hair natural and unbraided. Georgia always has her hair done so nicely when we come.. but this time, we stayed long enough to need to re-do it quite a few times during our time there. Thank God for all the big girls at the Mission School! They are so talented... and so willing to help out.

Now, you have to understand that I'm one of those white people who live primarily with other white people. I have read books on African hair, I have watched videos, but I'd never really had hands-on experience! SO, when Hawa's 40-some tiny braids stopped looking fresh... and church was the next morning... I knew I had to do something. You see, you always look your best to go to church. The girls all re-do their hair on Saturday or Sunday morning, so that they are fresh and beautiful for service. It would be embarrassing for them not to... hair is a big deal. So, luckily, Eve said she'd help me out. She proceeded to take out Hawa's tiny braids. A team of girls was helping with this, they were good at hair, and it still took them a half and hour! (All I could think was, "oh man... I'm never gonna be able to do this!") I then washed her hair... which was soft and lovely and very frizzy! It was a special "first" for me with my girl. Then, I brought her back to the pros for her new "do". It took Eve a while, but Hawa ended up with a bunch of tiny braids that ran along her head... like teesy-weensy little french braids. (Again, all I could think was, "Oh man... I'm never gonna be ableto do this!")

I can french braid... but this is a whole different world. They start at the bottom, and braid up. They use only 2 fingers from each hand instead of all the fingers, and Hawa's hair is only about 2.5 inches long!! So- yeah, good luck, Corrie.

Anyway, as the weeks went on, more cool things were done to her hair and I knew I had to at least try to figure it out. I mean, braiding is such a huge part of African culture... and Hawa will feel embarrassed if her Mama makes her go out without properly styled hair. So, I had Sue and Mommy try to teach me. Oh man. They make it look so easy! It's not. It's upsidedown and backwards to my brain. Anyway, eventually, I got the idea... although it was still very sloppy! I was proud when I could do it in the older girls' hair pretty well (it's longer hair, so MUCH easier to grab and move) because it proved that I had a clue. :) I'm so glad to have Anika too... she is great at taking Hawa's hair out of her braids, and she can do a few of the styles... probably better than I can! She's already doing wraps (twists) and braids on her dolls at home now.

Now, knowing how to do it, and spending HOURS actually doing it (because that's easily how long it will take me) are two very different things. Luckily, I know 2 pretty simple styles aside from the braiding, that are still considered "good enough"... but man, oh man, it will take practice! Thankfully, the girls' heads are super tough... their scalps are used to be tugged on for an hour at a time... they don't complain or move much. They know it's part of life. Funny... I know a certain little blonde girl who would NEVER allow that kind of thing. :) She'll barely let me touch her head with a brush. Hmmm... kinda how I used to be with my mom. Sorry, Mom.

Mommy & Sue trying to teach me to plait. (pronounced "platt" in Liberia... it means braid)

Me trying to get it into my thick skull. One morning after trying it, and failing miserably, I actually cried a few frustrated tears... I was thinking of the many years of failure that might lie ahead for me in the hair department. Plus... I was stressed out for other reasons as well... but it was the hair that broke the camel's back!!

1 - Note the furrowed brow...

2 - ... and the consternated look upon my countenance...

3 - Hawa still hangin' in there...

4 - Oh! A smile on my face! There must have been a moment of success. But Hawa is looking around to see if she can escape the mad, white, braiding-impaired mama.

5 - I figured one out! Hawa was always so proud that I could braid her hair.

Actually, she and Kelvin would both giggle... and have raised eyebrows in an expression of, "Seriously? YOU did that? YOU can actually braid?" They barely believed it. Well, neither did I.

Hawa's hair getting done in wraps. Hawa was still getting over malaria, and was incredibly tired and ready for bed. She actually fell asleep as her hair was pulled and wrapped!

It was so fun to get used to hair so unlike our own. It was great that the girls had fun getting used to our hair as well! They were fascinated when Anika or I came out with it wet. Their hair doesn't really absorb much water, so it dries super quickly when toweled off, whereas our hair stays wet forever. They also commented on how "smooth" and "fine" (beautiful) it was... since straighter hair is foreign to most of them. The older girls all told me that if they had my kind of hair, they'd never wear it up and hide it like I did. (It was so hot that I almost never wore it down.) They'd wear it flowing down their backs... and they said "I be bluffing all day!"... which means they'd be showing off or trying to get attention. Funny. Girls are girls, no matter what continent they're on. :)

Anika sat and braided her friend, Jenneh's, hair for about an hour on our last day... it was a special bonding time for them. Jenneh was very sad we were leaving, but the time they had together was very special. Somehow, doing one another's hair is an intimate friendship kind of thing in certain moments... these were moments like that.

Eve and the wraps she did in my hair. She's known as the best of the best as braiding goes.

One of my girls proudly displaying the braids she gave Anika. She is awesome. Beautiful voice, beautiful heart, beautiful girl. And another friend beaming from above. She's awesome too. I can hear her raspy voice now... as she often went a little hoarse from singing so much!

Having our hair done! Not always the most comfortable thing, but the girls were very gentle with us!

The girls taking out Hawa's tiny plaits.

There are so many beautiful designs... some are crazy-intricate! I mean, you have to have a PLAN before you try this one!

Seriously... is that not SO cool?

And my favorite... Queen's very awesome hair-do!

...working on Rosetta.

That's either Love or Peace; they are twins, and I can't ever tell them apart.

That's the other one. :)