Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Who Owns This

Front page news! While sitting at the clinic yesterday waiting for the training to start, a guy came around selling newspapers. Newspapers! I haven't seen one since I got here. Granted, they were all a week old, it was still a nice treat. I looked through the different editions and came across this one from August 18th:

( Multimillion-Dollar or Multi-million Dollar? Potayto or Potahto?)

Maybe you recognize this building from a previous post? This is Doe's Zwedru palace (and that is the deck we enjoy drinks on!). This article actually answered a lot of questions I had about the place. Rather than bore you with the whole article, Im just going to pick a few interesting parts:

"Controversy has emerged over the ownership of a luxurious multi-million dollar mansion on the outskirts of Zwedru in Grand Gedeh County. Currently abandoned and in ruins, the construction of the mansion was undertaken during the regime of the late Samuel Kanyon Doe, 20th president of Liberia.... Uncompleted up till now, the mansion is being over taken by thick bushes while local dwellers are using it as a place of convenience [that would be me].... the wife of the late President Doe, Madam Nancy B. Doe, said the building is one of the properties left behind by her husband....dwellers around the property hinted Insight [the paper publishing this article] that the former first lady had recently visited and sponsored the brushing of the yard...Depsite the claim, an investigation conducted by this paper proved the contrary. What has been gathered is that the property is actually owned by either the citizens of Grand Gedeh or the Liberian Government. According to some Grand Gedians who begged for anonymity, the structure was constructed out of the sweat of Grand Gedeians as a local presidential palace for the observance of the late Doe's birthday in 1990....They claimed that two years prior to the hosting of "B'day 1990", the county's birthday committee [?!] imposed a taxation including a four month salary deduction from each gainfully employed Gedian as contributions towards the implementation of infrastructural development in the county..... According to them, the architectural drawing and design of the building came from a Moroccan royal palace which the late President Doe admired...."

And continued on page 13, opposite "Kenyan Arretsed by Tanzania Police Over Albino Sale" ["The arrest was made in a sting operation as police pretended to be business men buying albino body parts.... Albino body parts are prized in parts of Africa, with witchdoctors claiming they have special powers...Over the last 3 years more than 50 albino adults have been killed.
The Tanzanian goverment promised to take action, but justice is slow"]....

"...Concerned citizens indicated that while most Grand Gedians are in sympathy with the Doe family for his untimely death, they should not use such sympathy and solidarity among Grand Gedians to falsely claim what rightly belongs to the entire county for their personal aggrandizement...They are appealing to the Doe family to relinquish their claim over the mansion...Efforts by this paper to get a word from the General Services Agency proved futile. However, a source hinted that the ruined presidential palace in Zwedru is not on the list of public properties being catered for by the agency. Investigation continues."

So, stay tuned!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Seeing is Believing

I wouldn't have believed it if I wasn't there myself. We held our first clinic training today. After looking over the schedule and planned activities, I was thinking it wouldnt take too long and I could be back in town in time to meet Ruthia for dinner and pick up the outfit I am having made for my Monrovia trip this week. Our agenda included guidelines and admission/discharge criteria, a MUAC tape demo, storeroom management and record keeping and practice in calculating the ration rate/person/day for each food commodity. Ok, now that I wrote it all out I should've known it was going to take FOREVER. We spent an hour just on the overview and objectives! I had to quietly remind myself about where I was and how things work around here. Thankfully by 5:30pm we wrapped up the last bit and I headed home. Exhausted.
Update 9/1/10: We completed trainings in all 3 Grand Gedeh clinics!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Umbrella, ella, ella

It's Sunday and it's raining. It's been raining all week. I've had to swim home from work a few times. The clothes I washed yesterday have still not dried- they actually feel wetter.
Today was a good day to roll over in bed, curl up with a book and take an afternoon nap (or two). Around 1:00, I got up enough energy to go to town and grab lunch. I got about 2 minutes outside of the gate and it started pouring on me. I really need to buy an umbrella. Hunger won and I kept walking. At least my rain coat comes with a hood. Unfortunately, being Sunday, most restaurants are closed, and being a rainy day, most street food vendors are not vending. I eventually managed to find some bread and bananas and take cover until the rain let up a little. When I got back to the compound the guards looked at me like I was crazy and started apologizing, as if somehow the rain was their fault. I think I just looked extremely pathetic... a white girl soaking wet in the rain, carrying bread and bananas. Yup, pathetic.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A reminder of what was

Back in his days of glory Samuel Doe tried to make his hometown, Zwedru, the place to be. As I mentioned in a previous post, he brought electricty, paved roads, and large houses. But today you will only find skeletons of what was. The roads are pot-holed, the street lamps don't work (a tease as you walk by them in the black of night), and the most of the houses have crumbled.
And as if all of this is not enough, there is one huge last reminder of what was: Doe's Zwedru palace...a palace that I don't think he ever got to enjoy.
It doesn't look like much today. but if you look closely you can imagine what it may have looked like at one time. The roof, the fence, and even most of the imported Italian marble has been stolen and replaced with overgrown weeds, graffiti, and piles of cow shit (I sometimes wonder if this is natures way of telling Doe "you lose.").
This is the main entrance... from the ground looking up (notice the tiled ceilings and the presents the cows left behind on the ground) and from the second floor looking down (if you look in the background you can barely see the water town that is in the WFP compound).

The whole building is several stories high. I havent quite figured out the layout because everytime I go I either get lost in the maze of rooms and skinny hallways (and find myself exactly where I started) or hear bats and other noises and get too scared to go any further.

For me, one of the most interesting things about this place is the amount of windows that look into other windows that look into other windows...

In the back yard there is a swimming pool beaming with the Liberian flag star and stripes. Apparently there is even a tunnel from the palace out to the " pool changing room, " but you'd have to be crazy to take this stairwell underground to find it.
Sometimes we hope the rains will fill it up so we can take a dip, but no such luck yet. Its more of a "skate park" for kids than anything else these days.

We often come here on Sundays for a few drinks on the deck at sundown. We'll sometimes run into local kids checking the place out (a.k.a. looking for a place to have sex, writing on walls, playing cards, etc.).

I find the grafitti very telling about the attitudes of people around here: a boy punching a woman in the stomach, sexual encounters (I only chose a few pictures of many), sayings, and even history lessons.

I wish I could spend more time here, but I always get a creepy feeling walking around. Maybe as we visit more often I'll become more brave (risky?). Pictures can't really grasp the freakiness/wonder of this place. You should all come visit.

The marble kitchen (or what's left of it):

A bathroom at one time:

My favorite room:

And of course, no palace is complete without fake stalagmites and stalactites:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Titties, dry monkeys, and the Bible

I returned safe and sound from Saclapea this morning (despite some crazy overloaded drivers on the road)!

We were supposed to begin each day at 8am, but it ended up being closer to 10am, actually not bad for Africa! We filled that time with bible scripture readings, prayer, and song (sung to the tune of Frere Jacques: apple, mango, apple, mango, banana, banana, we mix them all together, we mix them all together, fruit salad, fruit salad). The training was held by Equip (similar to Merlin in Grand Gedeh County) and targeted the general Community Health Volunteers (gCHVs) in the area. The focus was on malnutrition and, I quote, "titty business," a.k.a breastfeeding. For the malnutrition component we broke into groups and discussed the types of malnutrition (which is when I learned that a malnourished child looks like a "dry monkey" -another quote!), signs and symptoms, prevention methods and community beliefs (my favorite being if a woman starts to have has sex with her husband during the first 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding, she will want to wean the baby too soon so she can give more attention to her husband. She will be too busy satisfying her husband to adequately nourish her baby. In other words, she'll get her priorities mixed up!). For the "titty business" component, the main take away message was, and I quote again, "only give titty water for the first 6 months." This part of the training was complete with drama and role-play that included tie-on nipples and baby dolls (they looked like voodoo dolls if you ask me). As with most trainings I've been to in Africa, we also touched on other issues such as "burying poo poo" (yes, another quote), condom use, and how Jesus' message relates to the work of a gCHV. Did you know that the concept of "burying poo poo" actually comes from the Bible? Apparently in the book of Deuteronomy (they couldnt give us an exact chapter or verse) God asked Moses to tell the people to keep his land tidy. "And from there we learned the importance of burying poo poo. In Jesus name, Amen. Hallelujah." That's actually how it happened.

Overall, it was a success. While there, I was able to visit with 2 other volunteers who are in my group, see their town, and catch up on what's been going on. Zweru is huge city compared to Saclapea and it's good to be back.

Now time to get the ball really rolling. We are approved to hold three trainings in Grand Gedeh County next week (at the 3 clinics that will be receiving the WFP food) and will likely do a moniroting visit with them the week after. Tomorrow we will start preparing our workshop schedule and flip charts for the training. I recieved all of the MUAC tapes, ledgers, and training manuals from Monrovia last week- we are just waiting for approval to use some of our petty cash to buy a little midday snack for everyone.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I'm Terty

It has been a great birthday weekend! I have been blessed with some great new NGO friends who helped me celebrate in style. I've only known them for a week, but as soon as they heard it was my birthday, they all got together and organized a dinner party for me. This was not just any dinner party: there was wine (red AND white), beer, smoked salmon (the host just returned from Norway and brought it back with her), salad (with THREE types of veggies in it), roast chicken, a homemade sauce with eggplant and peanut butter, sweet potatoes, a chocolate cake and watermelon. I haven't seen a spread of food like this since arriving in country. And, it was even served in courses. After course one, we got up, chatted, had a drink, and then sat for course two. After course two we got up, chatted, had a drink, ... repeat for course 3. Ruthia and I kept looking at each other- first, wondering if it was real, and second, feeling way out of place (We seem a little more grungy than the NGO workers)! We discussed the upcoming Liberian elections, debated how Liberia can improve, and laughed at almost everything.
Today was pretty much a usual Sunday. I had to get my laundry done before I leave for Saclapea tomorrow, had an egg sandwich (my last one for a while... my stomach has convinced me to stop), took a nap, and Skyped. This evening we went to Doe's palace (see upcoming post)and had some sundownders. Its always a great way to end the weekend, start the week, and spend a birthday!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Patiently Pushing

Two staff members from Peace Corps Monrovia came for an advisory meeting today. I really appreciated these visits in Zambia and I feel the same way here. It's a nice feeling to know you haven't been forgotten in the bush and someone really is supervising and supporting you! The meeting was a place for me to openly talk about my frustrations, mini-successes and get clarification where needed. As I've mentioned before, I've been having a hard time straightening out my job description: "Community Health Educator/Organizer", "Nutrition Intervention focal person", Peace Corps volunteer, and WFP/UNICEF partner. I was gratefully reminded that this is a new position, and as the holder of this new 'undefined' position, I am to 'patiently push' to get things moving (basically do what I can, where I can, when I can, but don't expect huge change right away! The story of work in Africa.). I see this as an opportunity to shape the future of Peace Corps (especially in the community health sector) in Liberia. I hope to experience enough in the next few months to be able to offer suggestions about what works and what doesn't, who to work with and who not to work with, where to focus the work and where to back off some. We laughed today about the next volunteer having it easy since all the dirty work will be done- although I am sure that volunteer will beg to differ!
After our initial meeting we went to the hospital to meet with the County Health Team.I learned today (its amazing how easily this information came today even though I have been pulling teeth for 3 weeks to get it!) that only 60 of the 100 community health volunteers have been trained in the diarrhea module (Liberia is in the midst of creating a Basic Health Care Package that contains training modules for all of the major health issues such as diarrhea, malaria, nutrition etc. The MOH is supposed to ensure that health care workers are trained as each module is created. My thoughts on how efficient this process is is something to be discussed at another time!), so I am certainly going to jump on the opportunity to reach the 40 volunteers who have yet to be trained. The reason they only got through half of the volunteers is, not surprisingly, lack of funding. I'm hoping to network with the organization who conducted the first training (Merlin: www.merlin.org.uk) to see what we can do to get things moving again. Its time to be resourceful.
In the meanwhile, I will continue the work that I am doing with WFP and hope that our Grand Gedeh training plan goes off as planned, or at least as close to planned as one can ask for here!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I had an excellent meeting at the hospital today. ALL involved partners were present. Unbelievable. We went over the food distribution plan for August, presented our training plan for Grand Gedeh and created a monthly meeting schedule. I know its up to me to follow-up on everything we discussed (meaning sending meeting reminders, typing up meeting minutes, and just showing my face there as much as possible) or it could all fall to the wayside. But, for now, I am going to bask in this acheivement and go eat an egg sandwich.

Plan A should always come with a Plan B

Well, our August training proposal got shot down due to "lack of funds." For the neighboring county, Sinoe County, we had planned to hold a training for seven clinics in two central locations in order to minimize our time in the field. Unfortunately this meant we had to budget for food (because the training would be a day long) and transportation (because people would need to travel far) for all attendees. The WFP Monrovia office did not like this idea. This drives me crazy. How can you run a huge program that delivers tons and tons (literally) of food to clinics that have never distributed food before and not even train them on what to do and how to do it? No wonder food goes unaccounted for, reports are not filled out properly or on time, and people who should be getting the food aren't. Some of these clinics do not even have the materials needed to determine if someone is malnourished or to measure the right amount of food per person per day. They (those who didn't like our plan) suggest that we combine our monitoring visits with on- the-spot trainings (the kill two birds with one stone approach). So the clinics get the food, start handing it out, and then when we go to monitor how they are doing we tell them what they should have been doing all along? Oh, ok. I hope I am missing something here, cause right now it doesn't make sense to me.
Ok, enough wasting more time over how Plan A didn't work. Time for Plan B. My new proposal suggests that for the rest of August we will only focus on the three clinics in Grand Gedeh County (the county we are located in and the easiest to access). We can make it to each of the clinics and back in one day. Sinoe County (way in the bush) will need to wait for September. We have suggested that rather than having two central locations, we will visit each clinic (eliminating the need for attendee transport money) for a half day session (eliminating the need for attendee meal money). This plan requires us to be in the field for a full week though, so problem is not yet completely solved. I'll wait for feedback. I feel pretty confident about the Grand Gedeh plan but am not sure about Sinoe. I have my fingers crossed. And you should too.
Next week I will be going to Saclapea, a town about 5 hours west of here, to attend a nutrition training being held by the Ministry of Health. I heard about this training when I first arrived a few weeks ago but it took several follow-up emails and phone calls to the MOH and WFP offices in Monrovia to nail down the specifics. Good thing I checked this week or it would've gone on without me. I am hoping to bring back enough information to conduct a similar training with the community health volunteers in Zwedru. If the community health volunteers in the villages are able to diagnose a malnourished child or mother and appropriately refer them to the clinics, more people will be able to benefit from WFP initiatives. Yes! People in need benefiting from aid. Amazing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Around Town

I set out yesterday to try to capture Zwedru in a few simple pictures. I got different reactions from the people I encountered. Some begged for their pictures to be taken again and again, some ran away and hid, and others started taking my picture with their cell phone cameras (fair is fair, right?).

There are a few main roads in town. This is the road I take into work every morning. No, the street lights do not work!

And this road leads down to the infamous triangle, where you see the green buildings. This road actually runs parallel with the road pictured above. There are a few houses (like this one) separating the two roads. They couldn't understand why I wanted to take a picture of an old car. And to be honest, I couldn't really give them a good explanation.
The infamous triangle: playground-by-day, bar-by-night:
The playground is closed in this pic. You can see the swing set is chained up to the bottom of the slide.

And here is the pastry shop (located in the triangle) where I buy my shortbread.

This is CASH bar, competition for the triangle bar.

Here are some pictures of the paintings inside of CASH bar. Way to promote gender equality...
This road leads away from the triangle into the bush.

There are quite a few carpenters in town (as far as I've seen, they are all male). Timber is a huge market in this part of the country.

This is a typical "shop on wheels." Kids fill the wheelbarrows with goods and walk around town selling whatever they have- usually things like flip flops, jewelry, or used clothing (like the kid here).
Some other places of interest in town include barber shops (one of many!), random stores, and the motorbike dealership.
And, how can we forget the market?!
This woman is selling bottles of gin at the edge of the market. Yes, GIN. As you can see, there is no shortage. A bottle of gin goes for $40LD ($70LD= $1US D).
Nor is there a shortage of cigarettes (about $35LD per pack)...
This is the entrance to the food market:

...where you can find hot peppers, coconuts (sometimes) and a selection of onions and little plastic bags filled with things like sugar, pasta, salt, dried peppers, and rice.
...And if you're lucky, unripe eggplant and green tomatoes. You can always find plenty of Kola Nuts (chalky and bitter)

Now for the WORST part of the market... the meat.
Chicken feet, heads of bush deer meat, and a monkey (I'll spare you from the worst pictures).
You never need to pay extra for the flies (which you can see here if you look closely).... There is also a lot of dried fish around:

But not so much green! This is the main (only) leafy green, which is ground into a powder...

Oh yeah, there's also rice....

Here are some pictures from outside of my compound:

And last but not least: It wouldn't be Africa without cute kids!