31 July 2006

Obebini, I'm fine

Final post from Camp. I had a beautiful leaving ceremony this morning, with lots of singing kids. I also had a great last wekend at Kokrobite. And, the Tribal Leaders Forum workshop ended well, and I got many, many compliments. I was really worried about not having any sort of impact here, but I can certainly see, that at least with the forum, I've gotten a good thing going. Thus I can leave with a clear mind.

I have to head to the airport soon, but there will be a more substantive post later. So much to say, but so little time.



28 July 2006

You mean these old cranks can actually get along?

Today was the first day of our two day appreciative inquiry workshop for the tribal leaders. We had about 30 people, out of 32 invited, which isn't bad. Unfortunately though, there was only one woman in the group. We can't do much to control that, however, since the various tribes and counties select their representatives to the forum. Nonetheless, the discussion was good. A few people didn't quite get the idea that the objective was to focus on positive things on the camp, rather than problems. Basically, we're looking at what good things we have here that can be built upon in order to solidify a spirit of peace and reconciliation on camp. In a place like this, if we just talked about problems, the conversation would last so long that most of the old men in the room would die before we finished.

We first discussed what unifying forces exist here that can be built upon, and then we discussed what big ideas or dreams we have for future activities. Tomorrow we'll get more into concrete steps and hopefully get a rough sketch of an action plan. I also hope that we start a little more promptly tomorrow, so I can get to the beach sooner. ;)

The conversation went well though, and those in attendance seemed to accept me as a facilitator, when I really half expected them to completely ignore the young white kid. But at the end of the day, they clapped for me twice, and the Chairman of the Elder Council extended his good wishes and personal thanks.

Yesterday I was pretty convinced this thing was gonna fall on its ass. The leaders of the Elder Council came to the office, where there was a dispute because one of them didn't get his ID card. It was all a little petty and easily resolved, even though it took two hours. Yet today they really seemed to get along and worked well in small, diverse groups.

Note to those trying to divide people into groups in Africa: do not use birth month as a means to organize people. The obsession with perfect order and regimented bureaucracy makes your life difficult when you realize the October-November-December group is massive and needs to be split up.

Also yesterday, Emmanuel and I went to the Kofi Annan Centre. I got a lot out of it personally, but they don't really do anything for grassroots stuff, so Emmanuel was a little down (plus intimidated by the place). Yet we did meet with a Liberian academic there who gave us some good contacts and a pledge of personal support.

Anyway, time for my final peace cell mobilization. Only 3 days left....

25 July 2006

Warning: do not piss off the obroni

Yesterday at the office was explosive. I went in for the staff meeting, to find the rep for PCO's only NGO partner sitting in the rain, crying. Apparently Emmanuel had tremendously offended her, and the she finally walked out. I talked to her for awhile and found out the story, and then went to the staff meeting and went off like a firecracker. When you only have one NGO partner who has offered you funding, a market for the products from the women's center, and basically unfoundering generosity, you should be nice to their representative. Especially when they fly all the way out here to meet you. After they got an earful on sustainable management and the need for fundraising, I went back home.

Today is better. The toilet investigation is wrapping up, and I've been asked to facilitate most of the tribal leaders meeting this weekend, as well as speak at a camp peace concert this Sunday, to represent PCO's international volunteers. This means that my trip to Kokrobite for a final party will be a little short, but then again I like to work. Plus I'll have my time in London to relax.

Anyway, I've been runnning around all day again, so I need to get back to that. If you'd be willing to support a free school for refugees, let me know. I'm serious about the fundraising.

23 July 2006

Teaching, drinking, and running around

Friday was a crazy day. I had to go to the office, mobilize in Zone 11 (which is huge - kinda like the camp suburbs), go to a peace cell project meeting, teach at the mother's center, go to the Liberian Refugee Welfare Council to discuss the tribal leaders thing, and then the peace cell meeting itself. It was a very very busy day, and I was exhausted.

I decided to chill this weekend, and thus far have done just that. A few of us went to camp yesterday to get some clothes made (it's cheap and it supports the camp economy). I'm getting a shirt that I'll pick up Wednesday. MD (the volunteer coordinator) and I then grabbed some lunch and checked out a dance troupe rehearsal at the cultural centre. The kids there were pretty good (and also pretty funny), and the drumming was excellent.

I returned home for relaxation, when Emmanuel and Dayton (new tribal leaders forum guy) showed up to take me for a drink. Emmanuel is also in the process of learning to drive, so we got to be scared for a few minutes. I thought we were just going to camp, but instead they took me to Kasoa (only big town between camp and Accra) to a nice place for plenty of drinking and an intense discussion of Liberian politics and history. The primary debate was whether or not Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could face war crimes charges. All in all it was fun, even in spite of the sickness that followed (I haven't been able to drink much here and my tolerance has gone down).

Today a group of us have come to Accra to use really fast internet and generall goof around. We're going to a vegetarian restaurant later, and possibly a jazz club as well. Should be a fun time. :)

Tomorrow, back to the grind for my last week. I'm both excited and sad about leaving. Oh well, it's been an incredible experience. I haven't gotten malaria, in spite of the mosquitos that sit and wait outside my net. I've also met some absolutely awesome people. Plus having the kids run around and say "Obroni, what is your name?" everytime I walk home is pretty entertaining too.


20 July 2006

Hilarity in the office

Today has been a better day. Turns out things like budgets and plans do exist, they just forgot to give them to me. I could've lived without the near heart attack yesterday caused, but maybe I should just learn to be less anal retentive. We had a good meeting today about starting up peace cells in Liberia, so we can start writing a grant for that purpose. PCO recently established its presence in Monrovia, and now it's time to start doing something more than assessment. We also had some fun around the tribal leaders forum. It looks like our meeting will in fact take place next week. However, a man who lost the election for chairman of the Elder Council, a body born from the forum, came to protest this morning (unannounced of course). You should note that the election in question occurred in January, and he's been cranky ever since. He says it wasn't democratic because he didn't win, because he's more educated than the man who did in fact win. Basically, this man has a pretty distorted view of democracy, in spite of his alleged multiple master's degrees. Then again, this same man claims to be Archbishop of West Africa for a church that he refuses to name. Apparently he has taken his complaints about the Elder Council election to Presidents Kufour (Ghana) and Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia). I wonder if they laughed as hard as we did...

But the most amusing part of the day centers around my investigation of the construction costs for the PCO school's latrine. One of our volunteers donated the money for the whole project, but some of the money never made it to the finance officer (and thus never made it to the bank), and the receipts don't add up to the total donation. I'm fairly certain that the project manager involved pocketed the money, but I digress. I was reading over the project budget and found a line for "hookers," of which the desired amount was 8, at a unit price of 48,000 cedis (roughly $5). I really don't know why a bathroom with six stalls needs eight hookers... ;)

Otherwise, things are progressing. Only one more working week left. This weekend I plan to take it easy, maybe do some day trips, but nothing too far from home. Travelling here just stresses me out. Next Wednesday is Liberian Independence Day, so the camp will be rockin' for most of the week, as apparently this is a very big deal.

However, I guess now I should go back to toilet duty.

19 July 2006

Sweet Africa always knows when to bring a gift

There's this off the wall Liberian man who goes by Sweet Africa and comes by the house every so often. He makes stuff out of cornhusks, and I recently bought a pair of his shoes that are quite cozy. They're blue and green too. Anyway, he was very excited to see me wearing the shoes today. He's been known to give presents to volunteers at various times too. Anyway, he's a very nice man and a former English teacher that makes for good breakfast company, even though I'm always the last person out of bed.

Progress on the tribal leaders front is good. We just hired a project manager today that I already know and like a whole lot. He's a builder by trade and reminds me a lot of my grandfather. We had a discussion once about how building peace is a lot like building a house, and how here at camp we're just working on the foundation. :) This man is also a peace cell leader, but was excited about the extra responsibility.

The administration front is more bleak. PCO is mired in an antiquated bureaucracy that really makes getting things done difficult and results in a lot of wasted paper. For instance, my first task yesterday was for Emmanuel to tell me to tell the secretary to tell the project managers to do something. Today I was given the organization's first quarter 2006 report to prepare for publication/distribution (second quarter is coming soon), but the report had no real accounting of goals and accomplishments and contained virtually no financial data. We need to have a serious discussion about this stuff if they want to pursue grant funding.

Lesson 1: you must have a budget.
Lesson 2: this budget should be divided by project.
Lesson 3: you must account for every dime earned and spent.
Lesson 4: your budget must be guided by your organizations goals, objectives, and maybe even a strategic plan.

Also, a staff member invited only the female volunteers to a weekend at the beach with just him. Totally not acceptable.

Anyway, I'm looking for a peaceful place to spend my weekend. I'm told about a nice botanical park not too far away. Let's see how that goes.

Peace. L2E.

18 July 2006

Guest Administrator

What a weird job they've given me. I'm basically filling in for the deputy director, who has pretty much been fired (I'm clueless as to why). Some things run fine. I like getting to know all the projects and being able to make suggestions at my leisure. But somethings at the office need streamlining. For instance, Emmanuel told me to tell the secretary to tell the project managers to submit to me their budgets for next month. All of this was in writing too. I don't really see why I can't just tell the project managers myself. We also had an "emergency" staff meeting this morning to deal with some ridiculous issue that basically boiled down to gossip that got out of hand. I told them to leave their personal beef at the door. It sounded cold and it was certainly a Western approach. I should probably be more tactful in the future, but things still seem ok.

In other news, I wrote a proposal to re-start the tribal leaders forum, beginning with an appreciative inquiry workshop that will allow the leaders to craft their own plan/role in the reconciliation process. The proposal has been accepted and the workshop is currently set to occur next weekend (my last on camp). Also, people from the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre have agreed to meet with us next week. :)

Hard to believe that I'm already at the halfway point. Looks like a very busy two weeks ahead.

17 July 2006

The Neighborhood Watch is reminded not to beat people when making arrests; the UNHCR is reminded that water is a basic necessity

Last Wednesday, the first statement was heard over the camp public address system. Last Thursday, the Camp was graced by officials from UNHCR and the Liberian Interior Minister, for which the Neighborhood Watch was all dressed up for. The second statement came from a camp resident at that meeting. What I'm getting to here is that sometimes things on camp are just a little whacky.

First there's the handshake. Clasp hands, fold, shake, and snap on release. It's not both people snapping individually, it's using both hands to collectively make a snapping noise. This is a complicated routine that may well get the best of me.

Language wise, there are a few differences. Aside from not being at all conversant in any of the local/tribal languages, there are a few turns of phrase that can be confusing at first.

"How de body?" Sometimes used in place of how are you, but with similar meaning.
"Small small" Basically, a little bit of something or a short period of time. Examples: "We've come to talk to you small small." "Are you feeling better? Small small."

These are perhaps the most common phrases I hear. Aside from that, people seem to have difficulty pronouncing my name. Oh well. Time for mobilization.


Cape Coast, insanity and a dash of madness

Things got dramatic on camp last week. The international volunteers were frustrated. The local volunteers were expressing doubts, and I mostly tried to stay out of it. Only I can't. Life at the house is basically like MTV's Real World, just not nearly as posh and with no sex. The drama remains the same. But it's manageable. A few volunteers left last week, and a new one has arrived. My new task for this week is to serve as the Guest Administrator for PCO, which is a brand new post, and is supposed to help them streamline operations, coordinate activities, and do a little better with financial reporting. This will go on top of my work with peace cells and the Mothers Center, and thus make for a full day.

But briefly about Cape Coast. The castle there, which was home to British rule in Ghana as well as a major point on the slave trade, basically made me want to vomit. The English even had the audacity to build a church on top of a dungeon. Yet the castle, in a weird way, is why I'm here. Without the slave trade, there would have been no slaves sent back from the United States to Liberia, and those "repatriated" slaves would not have come to dominate that part of the world, and civil war would have never broken out. I've always been fascinated with figuring out the deepest possible roots of a civil conflict, and this is just one of them.

The city of Cape Coast was small but nice enough. Our hotel on Friday was scary and buckets of water were not forthcoming. In a place with no running water, that's a bad thing. We promptly went to another hotel Saturday morning, which surprised us with hot water showers. That night, after touring around town and avoiding uncouth cab drivers demanding fares and children begging for money for a soccer league, we were invited to join the hotel owner's wife's 60th birthday party, which was a hoot. The free food and champagne didn't hurt either. We even got cake and ice cream. I was so happy, it was unbelievable. Turns out the couple that owns the place lived in the States for about 30 years, before coming back to Ghana to take over the hotel. The trip back was bumpy (the road is out in many places) but having gotten an actual omelette and toast for breakfast, I was still a pretty happy man.

Anyway, time to go do office work (snooze). More info soon and sorry for the long delay between posts. :)

Peace. L2E.

10 July 2006

Something I've been contemplating

Part of why working on camp is difficult is because I can't help feeling some sort of responsibility for the situation here. I know that I have no personal connection to Ghana, Liberia, or any of the various West African conflicts. Yet at the same time, I see so many ways in which the West is responsible for much of the hardships people here face. Everything from slavery to colonization to the now rampant economic exploitation. And yet everywhere I look, I see hard-working people who simply are trying to get by. When I pass by, they say welcome and offer me incredible hospitality. I know how the world started down this road, in theory. I just can't wrap my brain around how we let things go so far down the wrong course. I don't understand how Europeans came to Africa and decided these were peoples to be exploited. It just makes no sense to me.

Meanwhile, the work continues. I've been asked to help restart the Tribal Leaders Forum, and we'll probably need to do a train-the-trainers workshop so that the leaders can then start to spread some of the things they've already learned about reconciliation. I'm trying to remember the week before I came here when I was taught to focus on positives and strengthen them, rather than dwell on the negatives. I may not make anymore than a minute dent here, but I believe I'm doing something good, at least.

That's all for now. L2E.

09 July 2006

Weekend jaunt to Kokrobite

A great big peace cell for a great big zone
Friday ended up being a pretty full day. The peace cell meeting had 35 people in it, and when it was time to end it, most of them didn't really want to stop talking. The discussion did get a little heated at times though, so hopefully we'll get to work through some of these issues more in the next meeting in that zone. We were in zone 11, which is physically the biggest one in the camp. Its size is exacerbated by the giant, air conditioned, fortress like hotel that sits in the middle of it. Apparently this is for those really compassionate humanitarian aid workers that want to "rough it" by actually sleeping somewhere other than Accra. Let's just say that my experience here is not making me look too well upon some of the other Westerners here. It seems both ridiculously unecessary and flat out rude to see such flagrant displays of wealth like the big hotel or the numerous giant, sparkling SUVs that these people ride around in so they won't get dirty.

Needed relaxation
I headed back to the house after the meeting Friday. I was the only volunteer there that night. It was really, really quiet. I did get to have a nice conversation with Isaac, the Liberian man who takes care of the house. He's incredibly quiet, and we hardly really see him unless he's watching the tv, but we stood out and watched the rain and he told me more about where he came from and just a little about what he's been through. As I was getting ready to leave Saturday morning, I asked him where I needed to get off the tro-tro so I could catch another car to the beach. He decided to come along with me, as he was headed to Accra anyway. He even got off the tro-tro with me and rode in the car all the way to the beach with me. I waited there for the other PCO volunteers (we ended up having 10 of our 12 person crew there for the weekend) by reading on the beach and enjoying the cool breeze.

Kokrobite is a curious little community. The beach was populated by local fisherman who ride in rafts that I can't imagine actually taking into the ocean, and a small group of expatriates from various Western countries. Most of the Westerners are volunteering somewhere like we are, and go there for a break. My first week has been tough, on the whole, and so I needed this little trip.

Besides, it was a cheap, cheap weekend. For $10 I got a hotel room that had a flush toilet and a cold water shower, which is about the best you can do. The bed was on a frame and the windows had screens, so there was no need for a mosquito net. We're talking the lap of luxury here. So luxurious, in fact, that the hotel is called the Dream. There's also a delicious Italian restaurant called Kokrobite Garden, which is literally thatched-roof gazebos in a garden. Both the food and the setting were delicious. Besides, who can beat a $4 pizza?

The beach was also beautiful. The Atlantic on this side of the world is cold and has a pretty fierce current, but it's still great. There were various fishing craft in the water, most of which didn't look seaworthy. But even on what was apparently a busy weekend, there probably weren't more than 75 people on the beach at any one time. It was a wonderful getaway.

There is this one bar/restaurant/hotel called Big Milly's Place that holds an African drumming session on Fridays that I missed. On Saturday though there's a reggae concert that was pretty good. We all sat around a big table having drinks, telling stories, and periodically dancing in the sand. Saturday was cloudy, but today the sky was perfectly clear. I got a few decent pictures, but honestly was a little sad to leave the flushing toilet (even if the seat had fallen off). My friend Nicole told me that she always just says "see you next Friday" to the flush toilets. I think next weekend some of us are going to head to Cape Coast.

Back to Awutu, to be eaten alive
We took a bus from Kokrobite up to the main highway, and from there 7 of us piled into some random crazy man's station wagon, because he agreed to take us back to our village since he was going that way and had room. After piling in though, we realized the man was nuts. There was some bickering over how much we should pay him, but finally a price was agreed after some heated negotiations (all while he's driving). At a police checkpoint, we got pulled over, but he eventually was let pass. I figure the cops realized he was looney and sent him on. When we got back to Awutu, he wanted all our names and told us to call him if we ever needed a lift, though never produced a number. Whatever though, we got home safely.

However, I've realized that there are bedbugs in my mattress since my feet definitely look like they had been feasted upon when I woke up Saturday. There wasn't enough sun left to do it today, but tomorrow we're going to drag the mattress out to basically bake it on the concrete, and treat it with some bug spray for just this very purpose. A fresh sheet should keep me safe tonight.

Tomorrow I also need to try my hand and doing laundry with nothing but my own two hands and some soap. That oughta be a good time. A full work week is ahead.

Peace. L2E.

07 July 2006

More fun with goats

You really haven't lived until you've travelled in a tro-tro (bus) with two goats in the back. That's how I came to camp this morning. I've only got a short time to write, but want to talk more about my work with the peace cells and at the mothers center.

Peace cells
There are 12 zones in camp, and currently 10 have active cells. Each cell meets every two weeks on a rotation. We mobilize the days zone each morning and afternoon, going door to door to invite people to the meetings. The meetings are at 5pm (white people time, as one zone leader joked) and are usually outside under some trees. This place is very loud, so it takes discipline to block out all the distractions and various Celine Dion tapes/chickens/children. This month we are discussing Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yesterday we had a particularly moving conversation. These first two weeks, we're talking about the role of law in a society, and it amazes me how much the Liberians cling onto the law. Then again, their country collapsed and violence reigned, so I think they see law as a source of peace. Yet yesterday, for the first time, I actually heard people say it was ok to break the law if injustice is being done to you. That was comforting to my western ears.

Mothers Center
The Mothers Center provides vocational and literacy training to women with families to support at no charge to them. There is also a weekly peace class, followed by a weekly health class. I've taken the peace class for the month, and today we discussed different types of conflict and how conflict effects/affects people and changes their reactions. I only had two students (most volunteers insist upon at least three, but these two seemed really eager). Our conversation was incredible. I don't know if they know it yet, but those ladies definitely taught me a lot in that one session. Primarily, they emphasized one thing in particular as a prerequisite for peace: the ability to love. That was an amazing lesson, and often gets overlooked in the formal classroom.

Other tidbits
I'm settling in ok otherwise. I'm taking tonight to myself at the house for some much needed peace away from 10 other people. Then I'll join them tomorrow at the beach through Sunday.

We teach about women role models in the peace education class, but the curriculum only uses Western women. If any of you have any names/info about African women (my internet access is limited), please send it to me via email!

Peace. L2E.

06 July 2006

African yuck

Remember how I told you food had been sparse at the house over the weekend? I managed to find plenty of food Tuesday to sort of make up for this, but that was apparently a bad idea. Let's just say that Tuesday night and all Wednesday were a waste. I'm back on schedule today, but I'm still generally avoiding anything other than basic starches.

I'm continuing to settle in at the house, though there are some unique things that I wasn't really expecting. Primarily, I'm still unused to chasing chickens and goats out of the house. But ultimately, I guess we're all adaptable.

I will primarily be working with the peace cell project. There are currently 10 active cells, covering 10 of the 12 zones in camp. Each cell meets every two weeks. There is a monthly topic under a six month theme. Right now, the theme is transitional justice, and in July we're discussing Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I've been to one cell meeting, which was mostly encouraging, but I've found that some of the local facilitators are still unfamiliar with the topic at hand. I know they got some training last week sometime, but I feel like we need a refresher. They keep confusing the TRC with a court, which in turn confuses the locals. In addition to that, I'm going to do a weekly peace education class at the PCO mother training center.

Generally I can handle things like African time and disorganization. The sexism found within PCO's leadership is harder to swallow. They claim gender equality in their leadership, but it's clearly just tokenism. The man who heads the mother's center (yeah, the man) also has this weird "I am your father and husband" saying that really creeps me out. Emmanuel, the PCO director, is very excited to have me around, since I'm involved in peace studies in the US and he wants to make connections there. Nicole (the George Mason PhD student) tells though that Emmanuel has also showed an unwillingness to deal with African experts in the field. Because he can't really travel (getting visas is painful), he's basically just isolated himself and the organization. I had already planned to visit some peacebuilding organizations in Accra that I've learned about, but I think now I'll try to bring Emmanuel with me. He can't keep relying on the varying expertise levels of the international volunteers. Nicole thinks I'll have a better chance getting these things through to him because I'm a man. Again with the sexism...

I realize this post isn't terribly positive. As always, things are fine. When it comes down to it, I'm adaptable. It's just been a rough couple of days.

04 July 2006

Arrival with the Black Stars

The flight over wasn't so bad. All my flights were on time, and all my bags got here with me. I got to meet some interesting people on the planes, so that was fun. The 10 hour layover in Heathrow was not so fun though, but I made it through with all the others seeking overnight refuge in the airport (mostly young people and non-English persons). I was really surprised that it all went out without a hitch.

Arrival events
Unbeknownst to me until halfway to Accra, we were flying with Ghana's national soccer team, the Black Stars. This meant that the airport was a madhouse when I got there. Immigration officials made sure to remind me that their soccer team is better than ours before letting me pass. Once I got outside though, I found it impossible to get through the assembled horde of partying thousands. The security guys had me and some other obroni just wait by the airport wall the people picking us up could get through. Finally after the team was snuck out on buses, the crowd literally ran away and Emmanuel, PCO's director was able to get to me. As I told some others, it's always good to start with a celebration. I arrived at the PCO guesthouse in Awutu near midnight, as we had to wait to pick up another volunteer who flew in later. I must admit it was a little scary travelling down bumpy roads at night, but we made it fine.

The guest house is a palace by local standards. My current bedroom is about the size of mine back home, though it has no windows. I'll get a windowed room when another volunteer leaves this week. The bucket shower is literally just that. You take a bucket of water to a tiled room and there you are. The food is ok, though we've had to remind the cook a few times to remember veggie food. We live in the village of Awutu near camp, and many Southerners will appreciate these directions: Turn off the paved road, walk up the hill, turn off the dirt road by a big pile of sand, and go through the tall grass. No sickness or anything yet, and I've settled in well. Having 13 housemates keeps it interesting too.

Most people were gone from the house Saturday, but one girl was around and she took the three newbies to the beach. On Saturday, we newbies braved exploring Accra by ourselves, and that went well. Yesterday was Ghana Republic Day, so things were closed and basically I just sat around and talked with people. Orientation began today, and I should be going on projects tomorrow. Time's up now, but more later.