Author Archives: Andy Jones

A fine balance

13 Nov 16
Andy Jones
one comments

I’ve been intrigued recently by the balance between homeostasis and extremes across many elements of life and paradigms in a new culture and environment. This post draws from my own experience and from observations of all family members, and is about  going (or trying not to go) from zero to manic way too superfast.

There is a fine balance between…

Maintaining a low enough level of physical activity to not perspire Vs. drenched shirt sweaty hot stickiness. Zero to flooded in a matter of a couple of nails pounded or just a few seconds in direct sunlight.

Keeping calm and carrying on through the heat and dirty and tired Vs. blow-your-top eruption of “I’ve had it up to here and so help me I will not take another minute of this…”; not directed at anything or anybody in particular. Zero to boiling in a matter of a few fruit flies or the thousandth bounce over a pothole today.

Appreciating, adapting to, and adopting the beautiful and good of a new culture Vs. going full-on native, toss out all wisdom of prior experience, “If it works for ‘them’ it works for me”, swallow it whole, no-filter abandon. Zero to “How did I get white skin? I thought I was Liberian!” in a matter of, say, a crush or two 🙂

Looking forward to feeling refreshingly cooled by a bucket bath with well water Vs. Dreading feeling chilled to the bone by the first cup of a bucket bath with well water

“I’m getting the hang of village life; this is working out well enough for our family in the bush.” Vs.”Why are we even here?! There is no way this can work out for another seven months. We’ll all be dead, guaranteed.”

Knowing how and when to do favors Vs. Setting up unrealistic expectations of future service (e.g. driving 10km to the main road in the truck and picking pedestrians up on the way who are asking for a ride, which adds time, liability, wear and tear, and opens the door for additional criticism and not meeting heightened expectations). From “We were totally fine before you came along” zero to “There is no way we can function now without you” in a matter of a kind gesture or two.

Comfortably sharing living space with critters, spiders, and bugs Vs. Freaking out on the unlucky guy with 6 legs who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Zero to territorial silverback in a matter of one brown recluse bite.

Playing nice to get along with police officers who stop me on the road because they smell money Vs. Becoming quasi-militant and creating a public scene by calling out the cop for corruption and extortion, refusing to “cooperate” or “put myself together” and generally not playing nicely with others. Zero to nearly arrested in a matter of just three measly pull-overs in one day.

Fighting to retain the optimism of Rousseau Vs. Surrendering to the skepticism of Hobbes. To trust but verify, or to verify then trust? To be taken advantage of because of generosity, or to hedge against deceit by withholding as a rule? From Rousseau zero to Hobbes in a matter of one or two construction projects.

Time and energy spent caring for self while still maintaining selflessness Vs. Putting one’s needs before the needs of others needlessly. Where is the balance between investing in myself by allowing my “needs” (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social) to be met only to the point that I am more empowered to be of service to others, and over-indulging with legalistic justification that “I’m not good for anybody else if I’m not (happy/healthy/wealthy/etc.)”. Needs Vs. Wants. Self Vs. Service.

Knowing at what point professional medical care is required for any given ailment or injury Vs. DIY home-style remedies that are probably good enough.

Maintaining connections with friends “back home” Vs. Being fully engaged here, now.

Giving adequate attention to the discomforts and mini-ailments of others as a means of sympathizing and providing relief or support Vs. Indulging hypochondria and promoting whining.  Also applies internally between self and self.

Buying fruit green enough that it won’t all spoil in 24 hours Vs. Having to wait a week for any fruit to reach a minimum level of edibility. Green…green…green…green…green…..riperotten.

Creating dependence mentalities through charity Vs. Enabling and promoting self-reliance and self-confidence through charity.

Practicing a level of personal and family health care that is sufficiently prudent and proactively preventive Vs. Giving way to an overly-cautious, experience-limiting, worry-fermenting, or faith-inhibiting timidity toward all things new, challenging, or “fun”.

Knowing when to push for changes toward improvement of a public good (at the family, organization, community, or national level) but ruffling feathers and stepping on toes in the process Vs. Let it be so because it seems to be working well enough for most people served as it now is, so just shut up and sit down and deal with it.

Democracy Vs. Tyranny in family life and in organizational leadership.

this list may grow…








Mr. Routine’s Transition

30 Oct 16
Andy Jones

Approaching two months in Liberia and I’m starting to feel like this is real life. Which differs slightly from something like having an experience as part of my life, or away from “regular” life. My previous 19 trips to West Africa were an important part of my life, but life and home for me is increasingly becoming wherever my family is. I think this transition a result of having established anchor relationships within the community, having settled into a daily routine, and of course, having my family here. As a routine guy I’ve discovered how important routine apparently is for me to get high marks on my happy meter. People and schedules. Oh, and food. That makes a big difference too. Knowing what we will eat and when, and where we get it. Sorted.

Take a fair warning that this post is more or less about my daily schedule, which most will not find useful. I expect my readership will go down from three to one as a result (thanks for reading, Mom 🙂 A day in the life of Andy seven weeks in. Or just look at the photos on our flickr album.

The sun rises around 630am and sets around 645pm. The various roosters in the village, including our own, begin their announcements around 430am and continue to around 7am. The Imam, Abdoulaye Sarnor, with whom I have been fortunate to build an anchor friendship, begins singing his beautiful Arabic calls to prayer between 515-6am. So while sleep is not reliable starting around 5am, I usually manage to work through the sounds of the life for another hour or so, hitting my knees for prayer around the time the Muslims are wrapping their worship at 6am. Bedtime is around 930-10pm, so on the books I’m consistently getting the recommended dosage of sleep; far more than I have anytime since before 2nd grade (when I started to wake myself up to practice the violin before the school bus pickup, and have continued the habit of jump starting my day with personal time I can control early in the morning). However, sleep is not as restful as it was in our air conditioned home with a super cush mattress and body pillow and alarm system: Throughout any given night I’ll be awakened a few times due to drench-the-sheets sweating, or to hours-long thunderous applause for the lightning show, or to check the plumbing, or to address hip pain from sleeping on a 4″ foam pad, or from itchy bug bites, or to the sound of flip-flops shuffling on the footpath outside my window on the front steps and the screen door opening – thinking it to be one of of the kids coming to our room for comfort I used to quickly get up to check and to call out… but now I don’t because mysteriosly nobody has ever been there. 3am sharp. Hmmm. Anyway, despite the extra hours of sleep the body still seems heavy and exhaused when I lift myself off the rattan bed.

Then I’m off for quick run. I used to detest running; it seemed like such a chore that was boring and associated with pain. The Erik Allebest tells me if you keep at it and log enough miles per run something happens with the body and endorphins and what, to the point running becomes empowering and enjoyable. While I’m not even close to approaching that kind of ecstacy, I do surprise myself now by looking forward to a quick morning jog. My route is along a sandy footpath through tropical greens surrounded by lively critters also in the midst of their morning routines, graced by the pink and orange sunrise, often cooled by a light rain, greeted by friendly mothers and grandmothers carefully sweeping their dirt: “Yah hall-o Ahn-dee, Haw ‘da mawn’in?”, “Fine, thank you. And you?”, “Oh, thank God.” Yoga stretching helps to wake up a sleepy body and makes the second half more enjoyable. I consider myself lucky when Kayla or Simon or Charlie join me. I used to alternate between jogging and jumping over a rope, until the moment my rope got sliced in two by the sharp end of a stray nail in the roof of the palavar house (after which I continued for a few days by swinging the two halves and jumping in time, until the morning Ivy made fun of me, chiding “I used to think you were really good because you never missed. But now I know you’re just a cheater.” Ha!) Drenched in sweat from the run I put on some gloves and do isometric strength training mixed with lifting DIY coffee-can/cement/metal pipe dumb bells, and pull ups and leg lifts from the rafters of the Sanitation Station. Sixteen ounces of protien drink (reffered to as my “tea”) and a bucket bath later, I’m feeling awake and strong and ready for the day’s work, which will often include a whole lot more of lifting and sawing and pounding and maneuvering.

Personal quiet time spent investing in my spiritual life – prayer, meditation, and study of scripture and other inspired texts – has unexpectedly suffered in Liberia. I’d anticipated having more down time as I looked forward to a slower-paced life. Unfortunately that has not been the case. Just as it was stateside, there is still a great deal of demand on my time, including the pressing need for Jones family time and Heartwood family time. Apparently my “busy” life is a matter of paradigm: Life is short and there is so much to do! I struggle with the idea of relaxation and leisure, so I’m constantly engaged in something active, especially with regard to pushing forward the humanitarian work I’ve started. With regard to personal time, the difference between then and now is that previously I was able to wake up early, before the rest of the family got moving, giving me a quiet house and total control over my schedule to prioritize my spiritual life and need for solitude. Now I’ll often settle for reciting memorized verses as I’m spending many hours on the motorcycle commuting to Monrovia throughout the week, and trying with limited yield to squeeze in a few minutes here or there for study. The problem I have with this arrangement is personal quiet time has yet to become part of routine. That’s piece is going to have to change soon. Maybe I’ll have to respond to Abdoulaye’s “Good morning, good morning, good morning to all Muslims! Wake up and leave your beds to come to the house of Allah to give your daily absolutions” as a personal invitation to sacrifice coveted sleep for something more restful and useful.

Breakfast is enjoyed as a family before Simon and Ruby leave for school around 7am. We used to eat hot cereal with the occassional sconey donut with the rest of the Heartwood family, but we wanted more variety and Kayla wanted to prepare food for the family. So now we eat eggs, hash browns, pancakes, pan-fried toast, or hearty oatmeal, with lots of fruit. It is a lot of work for Kayla in the kitchen, but it is work she values, and certainly we all appreciate the fruits of her labors. Whether it is a morally correct choice to enjoy more variety in the diet than the rest of our dear family here is a matter for another blog post. It is no small dilemma that I continue to struggle with, which deserves a blog post of its own.

Then my work day begins. In SLC my official work hours were from around 830am-530pm, based at my office on 500 N. For the first month I had to go to Monrovia and beyond almost every week day, first by motorcycle taxi / keke / taxi (up to 2.5 hours one way), then after I invested in a TVS commuter motorcycle in mid-Sept I could commute by myself much far less time (30-45 minutes one way). I’d leave around 830-9am and often not return home until 6-7pm (deneding on if I was able to stop off at the internet cafe to handle urgent matters). Thanks to completion of the first phase of vehicle registration and having received the first container, my commute dropped to thrice weekly. But now, with the completion of our 65’ metal internet tower this weekend, I will be able to work more from home, and only have to travel about once a week or so. I have been spending about 30% of my work day commuting, 25% on DIY projects around the compound, 25% on AHP administration, 10% on the social enterprise, and 10% on Heartwood family and community work. Given the difficulty in accessing internet and the huge proportion of time required getting from point A to point B, and the urgency of some of the DIY projects and AHP work I’ve had to do, I have seriously neglected my responsibilities with the business (props to Troy), and with Kayla and the Jones brigade (props to each of them). November will see a significant shift in how my time is spent, which I anticipate with a smile.

After trying to capture a moment of peace with the western sky at sundown we eat dinner, I’ll take another bucket bath about 12 hours after the last, have nightly devotional with the Family for 30-45 minutes, make some notes about what I did, and make plans for what I’m going to do, squeeze in a little time in conversation or play with the kids, do some parenting for the younger (and older) Heartwood children, have Jones family prayer, and then prepare for bed by around 10pm.

Sundays are what they are meant to be – a day of rest from labors to focus on family, community, and church work. We leave for church around 8am for arrival by 9am, and arrive home around 2pm. At church we actively serve in our callings, and enjoy our association with members of the Banjor Branch of the Bushrod Island Stake. As soon as the keyboard is repaired I’ll be accompanying the hymns, and I have been busy putting the Young Men program in order by making sure ordinations and confirmations are completed, helping to organize quorums, teaching, etc… We usually invite friends from the community to join us, some of whom have been jumping in the back of Gavin the Grey to catch a ride to church. After lunch I usually make time to teach a guitar class (courtesy of a guitar donated by an expat who was returning to the US), do interviews with the orphan children, work with Rufus on organization of the Home, read scripture, write blogs, do the hard work of disciplining children who need a little love, have meets and greets with community members, are otherwise make deposits into the human relationships savings bank.


Mention-able memories of the kids…

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones

As of 18 Sept 2016:
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed teaching Simon how to operate a motorcycle. I had him ride behind me while I explained the procedure. Then we traded places and he took turns alternating between the extremes of clutch out / throttle open action, killing it before moving two inches or almost popping wheelies and tossing me off the back. The way he beams when he is able to start moving out of first gear and work up to third you’d think this was a dream come true for him. The first thing he says to me when I return from my battles in the Ministries is whether we can please “do a lesson”. He has learned well so far, and will be as good as any of us in no time. There’s a fun memory to hang on to. His willingness to go to a new school with people he doesn’t know, and his concern for the quality of his education, is admirable. The possiblity that he could actually learn trig in that school with no lights with teachers he can barely understand has given him enough hope to try. And by tring he will succeed.

Every time I see Ruby I want to remember what I’m looking at. She is constantly engaged in something great. Playing with the little Tokpahs, getting lessons in Coloqua pidgin English, reading a great book to herself or a different great book to friends, making bread or beating cassava leaf, or eating whatever dish has been served, regardless of its content. She seems to always be smiling. Read her blog posts and you’ll know why. This girl is on fire! It is all in her attitude. She has released that part of her that loves adventure and learning new things, which is obvious to everyone around her and which attracts everyone to her. But my favorite thing is that when I dropped her forgotten water bottle off to her at school on day two, she secretly showed me her charm collection which she had brought with her that day – her mojo of momentos from friends, because “I was scared to come to school today so I brought this…” and explained quietly what each charm meant to her. The beautiful thing about this memory is that it reveals something very insightful about Ruby. He thriving is because she has made the choice to be here in every way. It cannot be taken for granted that for some it seems easy, as if no personal effort or sacrifice were involved in being happy or successful in a new or difficult situation. She has chosen the better part: Through her choice to be positive and loving that part of her that loves adventure and learning new things remained open, which is obvious to everyone around her and which attracts everyone to her.

Fire ants seem like the mean stepcousins to those I was introduced to in southeast Texas. You can’t feel them on you until they’re biting and injecting venom. These little wounds itch terribly, and when you doing as DeContee says, “Enjoying it too much”, for even a few seconds of scratching, you must definitely pay the price of open sores that itch more the more you scratch. Charlie boy apparently was enjoying himself a little too much as he connected the fire ant bites with an open sore trench that became angrily infected with mad swelling and icky discharge. I have played doctor on his foot the last three nights, using parts of the medical kits donated by a couple of sweet American grade school girls earlier this year, which has gratefully eliminated the infection and enabled healing to begin. In order to avoid contamination of the wound and to make sure he was included with the rest of the family, I bandaged him up well and carried him (10 years old and 65 pounds) about 4 miles to the beach this last Saturday, where he enjoyed his time scavenging among the ocean trash from Monrovia that has washed onto the shore, yielding him three pairs of mismatched sandals and slides. Another fun memory to hang on to. Charlie has not complained once throughout the process.

Ivy has had heat rash on and off since the first day. She is often uncomfortably itchy but I have never heard her complain. She is choosing to take it all in stride and to find ways to cope that work for her. She takes time alone when she needs it. She asks for help when she needs it. She finds happiness where she can, and that is enough. At District Conference today she was being laid on by Faith who was a little sleeping heater box, while laying on Small Princess who was wearing a fleece coat in 85 degree weather. I can imagine how suffocating that could have felt to her. But she loves her playmates and stuck with it for over three hours, never mentioning a negative feeling. She just wanted me to gently tickle her hand as I sat behind her, and that was enough to recharge her battery for the moment. Really, I am amazed and deeply grateful for her response to the Spirit, leading her toward humility and openness, love and learning, and inner peace. This one seems to have found her “zen”. I give her a ten.

On food in Liberia…

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones

Perhaps a food has never been so beloved as rice is in Liberia. The children at the Home would be content to eat rice three meals a day. Rufus, the Director, told me, “No matter what else we can eat – bread, fruit, spaghetti – we are not satisfied at the end of the day unless we have the belly full of rice. Bread cannot satisfy; it gets stuck in the throat and cannot go down to the stomach to help you.” White rice is the foundation of every supper, with a little soup (similar to Thai or Indian sauces that go over rice) and a piece of meat (usually fish, sometimes chicken or beef). This main meal can take between 3-5 hours to prepare, which is the chore of a pair of children at the Home, and serves as late lunch/early dinner/midnight snack/leftover breakfast. The soup is vegetable or palm oil based, and typically is prepared with chile pepper. Thankfully the cook is sensitive to our mild preference and withholds the pepper for our portion. Served with supper is typically cucumber or orange, and sometimes a piece of bread that Kayla has helped to bake (see her post about her travails in the kitchen 🙂

Breakfast consists of cream of wheat or quick oats, sometimes sided with baked or fried bread, or egg. Lunch often doesn’t happen, but when it does usually it is spaghetting with oil and pepper. Water is pumped from the well, which is a pleasant upgrade from the processed culinary water we were used to in Rose Park. The occassional snack or treat could be sweet bread, donut, biscuit/cookie, or a variety of seasonal fresh fruits.

I have been surprised and impressed with how Kayla and the kids have adjusted to their new Liberian diets. Kayla determined before she left Utah that she would be willing to consume meat on occassion if she felt her protien intake was not up to par. It has not been, so she has been. Fish and chicken. Equally remarkable has been the way each of the kids has been willing to eat anything that has been placed in front of them, including whole fried fish, bits of beef bone, and chicken bone. Inspired by their new Liberian friends, each has discovered their teeth to be very capable of grinding a chicken leg bone into something swallowable and tasty. I quote this conversation verbatim, had with Ivy as I was eating my dinner late today : “Dad?” “(num num) Yeah?” “Are you going to eat that?” “Eat what (num num)?” “Your chicken.” “Yup.” “What about the bone?” “Nah.” “Can I have it?” “You want to eat the bone?” “Yes. I like it!” “Fine. It’s yours…” “Ivy?” “(crunch crunch) Yeah?” “Could you have imagined two weeks ago that you would be asking me if you could eat my chicken bone as a snack?” “Well (crunch crunch)… We didn’t really have any before, and I didn’t even know you could eat bones back then.” “Fair enough. Enjoy!” Ruby gets credit for being first to make the attempt. Ya think maybe the kids need more non-rice food if they’re begging to eat the bones? Or maybe they’re just amazing people for being so willing to embrace a new culture and diet and way of life so completely. Probably both 🙂

When I’m in Monrovia running after our NGO documents I usually will grab some snack from street vendors. Roasted cow corn (by this I mean not the sweet and fluffy corn grown for human consumption back home in Idaho, but the tough stuff grown in the fields by dairymen to feed to their hefers), sketchy looking gyros, roasted plantain, sweet bread, egg sandwich, sack of peanuts with fun-size bananas, and of course plenty of 5 cent water satchets along the way (a pint-size plastic bag full of “purified” drinking water from which you tear the corner off with your teeth and suck the water out).

On inefficiencies (and corruption?) in the Liberian government

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones

During the first two weeks I have interfaced with the Republic of Liberia a number of times by attempting specifically to: process Tax Clearance (certificate from the Liberia Revenue Authority showing the NGO is current on all taxes owed) and Duty Free (a one-off grant from the LRA that the NGO may pay a reduced rate on import duties) for our first donated 40′ container which arrived to the Monrovia port a month early (yay and yikes); obtain resident and re-entry permits (the long-term version of a visa) for the family from Immigration; obtain a Liberian driver license from the Ministry of Transport; properly register a motorcycle for the NGO; obtain police cleareance (like a background check that only tests your social connections OR how well you’ve bribed police officers). To understand the context of effort required, all of these processes require in-person interaction at the various Ministries (government departments) which are in Monrovia. It takes me between 2-3 hours to get to any of them, which includes a trek in the rain and mud and traffic via motorcycle taxi and car taxi and keke (three wheeled covered motorcycle),and costs about $15 round trip. No email. No websites. No phone numbers. No written (or followed) procedure whereby one can know what to expect and within what timeframe.

In all this I have not experienced anything different from what I already have come to expect over the past 17 years in running an NGO in West Africa, which is crazy-making inefficiency of official and unofficial procedure that causes extreme waste of time and private resources, and enables the perpetuation of a culture of corruption. To go through the official channel means one will be required to “go and come” any number of times as documents and permissions are followed up on, with little certainty as to the current status or estimated time of completion. To go through the unofficial channel is to pay extra money for services and entitlements that should be rightfully granted, thereby upholding corruption in the system.

For an example of going through the official channel:

In order to submit our Duty Free we were required to go the the LRA to get the information that would be required to sumit. That was Sept 5th. The next day we came back with our packet prepared. But we had to deliver not to the duty-free desk, but to the basement where somebody beind an unmarked desk was to receive it. From there the document was to be carried by him to the third floor, approved, then to the fourth, where it arrived on day three. At that point we got a call saying it was ready to go, except for our pending tax clearance. A couple of days later we got our tax clearnace (another story there which involved me being required to pay the property tax, plus penalty and interest, on behalf of the land owner and landlord of the compound we rent for the orphanage because he had failed to pay, because apparently “tax must be paid” :-), and attached it to our packet. We submitted it to the fourth floor, where it had already been once or more times previously, and where it has now been stuck for 3 days. When I went back on Friday as told by the document handler on the fourth floor I was informed it wasn’t ready, and to come back Monday. I was told the reason for the delay in finalizing the document that had once been approved once already, was that one commissioner was supposed to go speak to the commissioner general about “a concern”. No further information could be obtained, even with persistent questioning. He told me the commissioner wasn’t in the office. But I learned from a different official that the commissioner was in the office, and had approved other documents that day.

The following day I returned to the LRA and was able to speak to the person (a young man who appeared to be in his twenties) on whom our letter was waiting for approval. I found that the reason for the delay was because I didn’t list everything on the invoice in the cover letter (even though the cover letter references the attached invoice for a comprehensive list of contents of the container), as if it were a requirement (it isn’t possible to find within the LRA a written explanation of what a cover letter should contain, or even a requirement of having a cover letter). I was told within a couple of days it would probably be approved. I was wished “good luck” by the secretary as I was leaving the office. I stopped and turned and said, “I could use a little luck; it isn’t easy working with this government as we serve the Liberian people.”

As I was leaving on my motorbike the very guy who I had been speaking to appeared by my side in the parking lot. He was going to town to get to a college class, and asked me for a free ride on the back of my bike. I oblidged, and considered myself lucky. On Sept 20th our letter was “approved”, which means it has passed over six or seven different desks, and we were called to come back in. I picked it up and gave it to our broker, who explained that now he must type up the entry to submit to customer with our letter. This took three days, and the packet was submitted to customs (third floor where our packet had already been at least once for approvals and signatures). The broker told me that the entry must be reviewed by the Commissioner of Customs, who could deny the duty free that had already been given an approval. Then we must pay whatever duty may be assessed, bring the receipts, and then re-submit for a second assessment of duties and fees and penalties (old vehicles carry with them a penalty), which we must then pay. Then, after everything has been paid, the entry is submitted to customs located at the port, who has to give yet another approval, and could deny duty free despite any prior approvals or assessments, and levy additional charges before releasing the container.

I am writing now on Sept 27th, three weeks into the duty free process, sitting on a metal bench in the Commissioner’s lobby. I was told by the broker that the Commissioner denied our duty free entirely. I saw the handwritten note on the letter: “Attn: Deputy Minister, Not exempt on these items.” The DMP could not tell me why, but that maybe I should go to the Ministry of Gender, Childre, and Social Protection (in charge of orphanages) and have them petition on our behalf for duty free. Even if I could get a letter, it would take days or weeks, and still there is no guarantee we would get duty free at the end of the process. The personal secretary to the Commissioner says he is in the building, or was, but nobody knows where he went or when he would be back, but I was welcome to wait. I’m an hour and a half into my wait. I do not actually have any confidence that I’ll be able to make any progress, and I’m now resolved that we are going to have to spend some of the money that has been donated to implement our projects to pay the import duties and taxes we are rightfully entitled to an exemption from paying.

The mission statement of the LRA involves promised transparency, timeliness, and fairness in collecting lawful revenues. Meanwhile we are paying daily fees to the continer yard for storage until it is discharged. So far we are up to about $600. The duties and taxes we would have had to pay had we not applied for duty free comes to $2,600. That’s a snapshot of what the official channel can be like. Of course we can hope that not all government officials behave this way. The good folks in charge of orphanages are approachable and generally easy to work with. And I’m sure there some officials, somewhere at the LRA, who are committed to building their country through honest application of established guidelines and laws. Maybe someday I’ll meet one.

Multiply this experience by driver license, resident permit, NGO accreditation, etc. and you’ll have an idea of how difficult it is to get anything done properly when relying on government procedures through the official channels.

The other option is to go through the unofficial route, which is to arrange for a handler from within or without the department who has the connections to push through the process more quickly, perhaps not officially, and certainly at an additional cost. The extra cost is called “cold water” to drink: the government agent – the gatekeeper – I’m told, cannot seem to find the strength to sign my paper or stamp my document without a little “cold water” to drink. Any number of excuses can be fabricated as to the reason why any given procedure has stagnated, until a little grease has been applied to the wheel. For example, I was stopped twice by stern fellows in street clothes telling me to pull my motorcycle to the side of the road. Each tried to reach over and take the key from my bike, which I didn’t allow. They asked to see my documents, which I promptly showed. Then I was asked to step aside and speak to the guy. “Your documents are in order. You can just ‘put yourself together’ now and you can go.” I said, “I can give you my respect, and appreciation for keeping the streets safe of rouge motorbike drivers. But I cannot give you anything else.” I was held for another 15 minutes while I was thretened to be taken down to the police station for violation of traffic laws. I was told my bike would be broken. I said to please give me a ticket if I am in violation of a written law, and I will pay it to the government LRA. But I cannot give any money to law enforcement officers on the street. I got an earful about how the real work is done on the street, not in the government offices, and that I should “do something” for them. When I eventually started to pull my phone out to call their boss I was encouraged to go and to have a nice day.

In a country where there are billboards sponsored throughout the city by the UN that contain anti-corruption messages, and where I committed to promoting government honesty by not paying bribes, it kind of seems like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position to be in. I see a bribe as money paid to receive a service or permission that shouldn’t legally be granted because the legal requirement has not been met (i.e. pass through a border without a visa, or receive a title for a stolen vehicle). Where we are in compliance with all legal requirements and still are not given permissions needed to do our work properly, is the “cold water” principle considered a bribe? What recourse is available to a small NGO when up against an unethical government employee? Do the ends of doing good charity work justify the means of taking the fast track? When using a handler it is expected that a portion of the money paid will be used to pay officials to grant permissions that should be given for free once established requirements are met, but typically are delayed, if granted at all. Will the fast track always exist? Is this issue unique to governments of low-income countries, or is the practice of government employees exploiting their position as gate keeper for personal gain a universal public problem? Either way, I am not just annoyed at the inconvenience such a system causes; I am not just put out by the extra energy, expense, and time required to work within such a system; I take it to be an offence to me and to the people of Liberia when individuals who have been placed in a position of public trust leverage that position for their personal gain. I’m normally pretty easy going, but I can get myself up in a dither when I am needing to jump through a proverbial hoop in order to advance my charity work but some thirsty person in a uniform is stopping me until they get their “cold water”.

On Equatorial Precipitation

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones
one comments

I misunderstood. Somehow I had the impression that rainy season in Liberia started in around May and ended in around September. I was off by a month or two: Based on evidence of rain EVERY day since our arrival 18 days ago, and sometimes non-stop havey rain 3-4 days in a row, it would seem rainy season hasn’t even considered moving on yet. Her work of destroying roads and increasing the difficulty factor in accomplishing almost anything besides reading a book indoors is apparently still ongoing. This rain is beyond keeping the earth green or filling water reservoirs. During a moderate downpour our gutter-and-barrel rain water collection systems at the Orphan Home refill within minutes, as do the massive puddles on the 6 mile dirt road from Brewerville to Zuannah Town. My rainsuit doesn’t manage to keep me dry, nor do umbrellas. When it comes to laundry, clothes can take days to dry. If one has hope that the sun may shine for a moment all the clothes get hung out to dry, draped over the fence or hung on the line, but typically get re-gathered in a mad rush when the drizzle > sprinkle > tsunami sequence begins. Notwithstanding, I admire the lush greens of this equatorial climate. I appreciate a solid storm during the night because it drowns out the lively wild sounds of the critter night club party along the Po River that runs just behind our compound. The temperature is actually comfortably mild in the mornings and evenings, mid to high 70s and humid. And because of almost continual cloud cover we are spared the oppressive heat of direct sunlight almost all of the time. I’m not complaining about the rain. I am simply describing what is,and what we get to adjust to as best we can.

Photos of the mud puddles on our Flickr album:



Twenty trips but feels like the first

27 Sep 16
Andy Jones
one comments

18 Sept 2016

If my count is correct, this is my twentieth trip to West Africa. To Liberia, something like a fifteen times. Add weeks spent in Honduras and India. I have learned much as I have experienced hundreds of days and nights, and thousands of hours spent serving and working in a developing economy, navigating the government systems, coping with communication and transportation issues, and expanding in appreciation for and underanding of cultures, foods, languages, and paradigms different from those in places where I have previously lived. However…

This time everything is different. Quite different. My family is here. That’s a biggie! I’m not a high maintenance kind of guy, and tend to fare well enough in tough living conditions. But now I have responsibility for 5 others – their safety and well-being. My hyperfocus on getting work done is now split among many other concerns. Also, I LIVE now here, which has created a shift in how I can and have to approach almost everything. Not having to pack a month’s worth of accomplishments into a week affords me more time to breathe and enjoy relationships. The shift from “I can endure about anything for a day, a week, or even a month” to “I need to work out MY system within THIS system that is sustainable for me and my family” takes patience and humility and a new kind of awareness.

My blog will contain a few pieces of what I have experienced and learned during this time of living and serving in Liberia. I have often thought how fun it could be to make a reality TV show that follows an NGO worker who is trying to do charity work in Liberia, to really showcase what it is like on the ground trying to accomplish something of value. It could be very insighful for those not familiar with life in Liberia, and entertaining.

More to come…

Pics on Flickr gallery and Facebook

03 Sep 16
Andy Jones

If the two days of travel getting to Liberia are anything like the next two months, we will be alright. Tired but safe. Jostled about but grounded. Out things mostly intact and events mostly playing out as expected. The real value of the experience is found in lovely people and loving relationships, as always.

Limited connectivity = limited sharing 🙁

New photos uploaded to the Flickr album, link on my previous post.

Cassava leaf stew. Fish heads. Beach volleyball. Bucket baths. Mosquito and ant bites. Sleepless jet lagged nights. Lovely hugs. Pidgin English. Bright smiles. Heartfelt prayers.

It’s still all about love!

So… why are you guys going to….uh…where was it? Oh ya, Lybia.

21 Aug 16
Andy Jones

Fair enough. We’ve got a comfortable home in a great community surrounded by good people here in Rose Park (Salt Lake City, Utah). We have a stable business. Loyal friends and family. Good schools and extracurricular opportunities.  Living the American Dream! Then to leave that good life, built over ten years, to live off-grid in one of the top five poorest countires in the world, where we will get to pump all of our water by hand, prepare food over a coal stove and clean clothes with a washboard, live in a 450sf dome, run the risk of getting malaria and falling behind in school, and all on a volunteer basis… why?

While we don’t expect anyone to agree with our reasons, here they are…

  1. Family: We want to grow closer as a family, and hope our new living circumstances and the work we will be doing will give us the opportunity to do so. The Heartwood Family at the orphanage we will be adopted into will expand our chances to love and be loved
  2. Service: There is a great deal of work to be done within the projects operated by Africa Heartwood Project – a non-profit organization started by Kayla and me in 2008. Our primary focus will be on Village Water Projects and buildig the Heartwood Orphan Homestead. Livelihoods for Cultural Artisans. And more.
  3. Learning: We consider any opportunity to travel and experience up close a way of life different from the one to which we are accustomed to be valuable. Attending a government school in a Liberian village could be a very rich non-academic learning experience for each of the children.

Meet the family at the Heartwood Orphan Home where we will be living in this short video:

Here’s a preview of the DomeHome we will live in once it is completed in September 2016:




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