Around the World- Day 5: Liberia- One Day of Beauty; Birth and Death

Kendra has been in Liberia with Christian Aid Ministries for several years now. This is one of her emails. With her gift of words- I have no trouble entering whatever scene she’s writing about. This one particularly tugs at my heart… Thanks for sharing, Kendra!

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appearance for a little time, and then vanish away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. James 4:14-15

So true. I had my Saturday planned. I would do some sewing and washing in the morning, my friend Mamie (pronounced ‘mommy’) was coming to visit, then she and Heather and I would go to the market, and the evening was free.

Mamie Tehme is a girl who used to live at one of our sponsored orphanages and I learned to know her at youth retreats. The plans were that she would come in the morning and leave late afternoon. But due to some issues, or maybe just Liberia, she was still not on the road at 12:00. And I knew the drive would be more than an hour. So I called Heather and we decided to go do our shopping without her.

Immediately after I got off the phone with Heather, my phone rang again. It was Tracy. She was frantic. “Kendra, my friend that gave birth to twins just few days ago died! The ones you gave the baby bundles for. The pa called me and said the babies are crying and crying. No food for them.”

Just the day before Tracy had stopped in my office and asked for two baby bundles for her friend that had just born twins. A boy and a girl. I still had a few bundles left from when my aunts and uncles and school families sent some over for me so I was glad to help her.

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I told Tracy we would be there soon. I called Heather again with the change of plans and we grabbed baby formula and bottles and headed to Tracy. She met us on the road and directed us to the place. Crowds of people were gathered around the tumbledown matte house. (It really was tumbledown- while we were there someone leaned against the door frame and it fell down.) We walked up and asked where the babies were. They had not come back from the hospital yet, but within five minutes the father and two aunties with the babies came walking down the road. Upon seeing the bereaved father and the babies, two women threw themselves on the ground and began wailing, and the rest of the crowd started sniffling. The aunties who had the babies came and handed them Heather and I. A little boy to Heather and the girl to me. I’ve seen many tiny babies here but these were close to smallest I ever saw. The next thing I noticed was how dirty the babies were. I don’t think they had ever been bathed.

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The story we heard was this: Baby girl was born on Wednesday morning (not sure where). The boy had to be delivered C-section and they drove all over town trying to find a hospital that would take her. ELWA Hospital had no beds, Benson Hospital had no beds, and two other hospitals had similar excuses. Finally they got the mother in at Redemption – one of Liberia’s worst hospitals. The boy was delivered sometime on Thursday. On Friday, when some of the relatives went to see the mother they could tell she was not doing well at all. She died that night.

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We instructed one lady to fix bathwater and another to bring some hot drinking water. When the water came we fixed bottles for them. I doubt if the boy had anything to eat prior to this. The girl must have had water or something to keep her alive. The boy drank eagerly and had his 2 ounces down in a few minutes. My little girl was a different story. She held the bottle in her mouth but acted like she didn’t know how to suck. I gave up after a bit and let her sleep like she wanted to. The air was sticky and heavy and the people crowded around only heightened the heat. Someone brought the wailing girl, the deceased woman’s only sister Lovetee, to the doorstep where she continued her sobbing until someone finally calmed her down.

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(notice Rebekah compared to the newborn size onesie)

When the water was ready, Heather bathed her little guy. He’s a strong little fighter – he screamed the whole time. My little girl was a different story…..she tried to cry a few times but it was a mere whimper. She was easy to bathe. Her back fit right into my hand and I could support her head with one finger. We were so thankful for the baby bundles and had fun dressing them in in new, clean clothes. Baby girl looked much better after her bath and it was just what she needed to get her awake and hungry. She sucked on my finger and when I tried the bottle again she drank it right up. Praise God!

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We had a bit of a trying time finding someone to care for the babies. The father wanted us to take them, but we tried to explain to him that we cannot. I was asking around the crowd of people, trying to find out who would be the one responsible for the babies, and they brought the aunt who was still teary eyed. “This is the one who will care for them,” we were told. Heather and I were not at all satisfied. The girl was no more 16, had no children on her own, and was grieving the loss of her sister. It wouldn’t work. Finally, a neighbor lady, Cecelia, agreed to care for the babies. We gave her instructions on how to feed them and promised that we would be back soon to see how the babies were doing.

I handed the the little girl over to Cecelia and said, “I will call this girl Rebekah because she is very beautiful.”

“And we will call this one Isaac,” said Heather. All those seated around seemed very pleased with the names.

Life here is cheap. And unfair. If this would have happened in the States almost anywhere, someone would have immediately taken the babies and provided them with the best care possible. They would have been looked at like they really are – precious and one link to the mother who died. But here – no. People don’t want to see the babies because it reminds them of their sister/mother/friend who died. To some they are looked at as the cause of her death. And there are plenty of children everywhere – why would you care about some that aren’t your own? It’s cruel but it is true.

We were worried about the babies because of these facts and Tracy was very doubtful about the neighbor woman. But when we stopped in on Sunday and Wednesday night everything seemed to be fine. So we pray it will continue that way. (Obviously the way we dressed them after bathing, a onesie and a receiving blanket, was not warm enough. 🙂 Because when we came on Sunday they were in fleece sleepers and heavy blankets and caps again. I am sure all the women were quite appalled and I can see them as soon as we left ‘rescuing’ the babies and bundling them up properly. Poor babies – but I guess they are being taught to be Liberian from the start – cold unless you are sweating. :))

By the time we left the twins house, it was mid afternoon. Heather and I went on our way to do our shopping at Harbel. After the babies experience I just was not in the mood for entertaining yet, and I tried calling Mamie to tell her that it was too late to come today, she should try another day. I couldn’t get through. A few minutes later my phone rang. It was Mamie calling to tell me that she is in a taxi and on her way. ‘Be flexible or miserable’ we say. Sometimes the miserable part looks easier……

Because of terrible traffic conditions Mamie did not arrive until 8:00 that night. It was obvious that I now had an overnight visitor. And it was fine, really. Mamie is lots of fun and easy to entertain. We had a good time catching up, looking at retreat pictures, and just talking about life.

She went to church with us in the morning and because of transport issues stayed until Monday morning. 

 
Sunday evening we went to the beach with Josh’s. She was in total awe and fear of the ocean and couldn’t even keep her eyes closed when we prayed, for watching to make sure the waves wouldn’t come up and wash us away. 🙂 She got used to it though and till the end of the evening was having a wonderful time. She even tried flying Josh’s kite and did better than myself, I do believe. And then back at the house we taught her how to play Uno. She loved it – that might have been partly due to the fact that she won twice. 🙂

 
And so it is. This is Liberia. My feet are covered in dirt and dust and my dresses get visibly dirty. We eat rice and potato greens and fresh pineapple. Children call my name from all directions with requests varying from wanting to fry grasshoppers for me to wanting me to take them to the beach. The wind blows but it’s hot dry air. I watch for snakes and “homeworks” (a weed with tiny seed that sticks in your dress and has to be pulled out by hand) when I’m walking. There are ants in the sugar. The nights are humid and starry.

But when I think about it- when the real Liberia gets up against you- The dirt, the heat, the ants the children, the rice, the smiles….can’t help but love it.

-Kendra Joy Good

 

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