Monday, December 31, 2007

Home Sweet Home

I had my second Christmas this morning. I opened my stocking, and my mom is making fried ham and eggs right now. Then my sisters and I will exchange gifts. I think there are a few gifts under the tree for me, too. :)

I'm glad to be home, but there are things that I miss about Liberia, too.

I miss the warm weather, for one thing. I think it's freezing here, but everyone else thinks the weather is pretty nice.

It's a relief to have running water all day, but I liked that half an hour each day in Monrovia when we would sit out on the balcony and wait for the electricity to come on at 7pm. I don't usually spend time just sitting and reading or playing card games without the TV on or my internet browser open. It was nice to sit and talk and feel the breeze from the ocean, especially after a long day of running errands and visiting orphanages. This is a picture of Leila on one of our evenings on the porch.

I do like having internet access at my fingertips again. We don't have to drive or walk a few blocks to set up our laptops. I was amazed by how much we relied on our trips to the Royal Hotel each day. We did take pictures when we were leaving because the hotel was our safe haven where we had connection to our friends and family from home. I'm glad that we couldn't go on the internet all day long in Liberia though because I would have missed out on many experiences if I was sitting at my computer.

I don't think I'm afraid of using the horn in my car anymore. Our driver (and every other driver in Monrovia) used their car horns more than I'll probably use mine for the rest of my life. When we were driving home from the airport, I kept expecting our driver to use his. Our driver in Monrovia would have used his in the same situation. I also expected the car to swerve around potholes, but there weren't any.

I'll also miss seeing houses with giraffe pattern on them. If you know me, you know I like giraffes. When I was little, I liked them because they started with "G" just like my name. I don't have a picture of one of the houses with the pattern on it, but I have this picture of a wall with a sample of the pattern.I'll put up one video for now. This is a video of the market in Monrovia on December 22, our first full day there. We had to drive through the market to get to the Children's Rescue Mission, and there was so much traffic.
video

There are other things I miss about Liberia. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I'm glad I had the opportunity. Maybe one day I'll go back, but for now I'm happy to be home sweet home.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Coming Home

Tammy and I will be getting on the plane home in about 12 hours. We couldn't be more excited to get home and see everyone. Yesterday I was wondering when, if ever, I would get to see the girls again, but MacDella told us that Leila and Belle will be coming to New York next summer! Tammy already began planning their entire trip. They might be overwhelmed by the city at first, but Tammy will still be taking them to every site that you could ever want to see. :)

We went to Children's Rescue Center and a community called Duport Road Project yesterday. We took the rest of the shoes and let any of the children who didn't fit in the shoes we had given them try on other pairs. At CRC, Tammy and I got a tour of the entire premises. The little boys took our hands and walked us around their gardens, the place where they kept pigs (I got movies for you, Veronica!), their cooking area, and their dining hall. In the dining hall, they showed us the cutest puppies ever! If you know how much I want a puppy, you won't be surprised that I thought about taking one and packing it in my bag. He was trying to tell us how old they were. I think thought he was saying two days, but he must have meant two weeks or months. Tammy has a picture on her blog! I've realized that Tammy ends up with a lot of pictures that I don't have, but it's because I have the footage on video instead. So go to Tammy's blog to see the puppies that I want! The pigs were kind of sad. I didn't want to ask what they did with them even though I could guess. I pretended they were their pets. There was one with both of its back legs broken. One of the boys climbed into the pen to see what was wrong with him, but he just dragged himself into a corner. It was so sad.

Then we went to the Duport Road Project. I got some footage there. We just delivered the shoes and picked up a woman named Shirley who helps out there so she could return the pots we used at the party. She's squatting in someone's house. But the owner called and gave the people who are living there notice that he's coming back. So now she has to find an apartment to rent.

Last night, MacDella and her friend Patrice, who was formerly Miss Liberia, took us out to dinner. We drove to a restaurant on the beach and another restaurant down the street, but since it was a Thursday night, no one was out. They wanted to go somewhere where we could see more people, but we ended up at the Royal Hotel again. It was a nice dinner. Tammy and I had gotten dressed up (more so than we were the rest of the week, at least). Leila told us both before we left that she loved our outfits. Leila also did my hair. It fell out in the car because I didn't have little hair ties, but here's a picture of me and my little hairstylist!

I packed last night when we got back to the apartment, and I charged my iPod for the plane. Today we're going to a market by the port, MacDella said. She said it would be fun, and we can get some footage. Then Tammy and I will be off! The first flight should go by quickly because we'll be sleeping, but I think the 5 hour layover in Brussels and the second flight might drag by a bit. I'll be so excited to get home!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pictures!

Here are a few pictures from the party on Tuesday.

The first one is me with a group of children. They were from the first group that arrived. The party was kind of quiet until all of the other groups came. I love the girl's orange outfit!

We soon discovered that everyone loved having their picture taken. I was video taping a little boy dancing, and some other children realized what I was doing and came and tried to take over his spotlight on the camera. Then they wanted to have a group picture. It was chaos afterwards because they all wanted to see themselves on the little screen of my camera. But you can see how much fun they were having at the party in this picture. :)

I found that taking individual pictures was easier than the group pictures. Then I could just show one person their picture and move on. This little boy was so happy to have his picture taken. I often found the smallest kids right against my legs. When I looked down, I would just see their little faces staring up at me.

This is a photo of me, some of the children, and Belle. It was fun to see how Belle, Leila, and Hajal acted with the other children. Belle was running around and having fun. She was exhausted afterwards and fell sound asleep on the car ride home.

And this picture is some of the children saluting. I don't know why exactly they chose that pose. I was just trying to tell the girl in blue to smile. She looked so serious in her first picture, but she had the biggest smile when she saw herself on the screen. I wanted to take her picture again with her big smile, but she did this instead.

Tammy has some good pictures on her blog! She has lots of action pictures that I don't have because I was just getting everything on the video camera. Go check hers out!

Last Full Day in Liberia

So this is our last full day in Liberia. We leave tomorrow night, but I only consider that a half day because we'll be getting ready to leave and won't have time to do much else.

Yesterday, we just relaxed after the busy Christmas party. Marcie brought us to use the internet, and then we went home and laid down before we hung out on the porch with the younger girls. Leila taught us some card games. There was one that reminded me of the game, War, but I thought that the name of that game wasn't very nice for them. I really wanted to show her the game though so she could see that we had a similar game. I thought about changing the name of the game, but then it seemed like I was lying. I just played the games that she taught us. It was fun playing cards on the balcony until the electricity came on around 7. The breeze was nice and relaxing.

Tammy and I were laughing hysterically a lot yesterday. We were just talking about the trip and what we would do or eat when we got home, and we found everything extremely funny. Tammy says we were delirious. We might have just been tired from running around every other day. It was fun though. It's nice to have a friend here to laugh with.

Today we're back at the Royal Hotel using the internet and ordering our breakfast. On our walk over here, there were lots of sirens and people directing the traffic. I thought there was an accident or something, but Marcie said the president was just going to work. Apparently, she always has the entourage with the sirens on her way to work. They drove right down the street we were on, so I can say I was on the same street as the president. :) How exciting. There was an article about her in an older issue of Glamour. Tammy let me read it on the plane. She's very impressive. I wouldn't want to be president after the history of the past presidents who would kill one to take over the position.

I'll try to put up a few pictures in another post right after this.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Big Day

Merry Christmas! Today was the 3rd Annual MCF Christmas Party!

We got up around 8, and Tammy and I went in the first carload over to MacDella’s friend’s house where the party would be. We helped unload the book bags and shoes and then we had a few hours to wait until all of the children arrived. I got some shots of the house and the yard, and I even went up on their balcony and spied on their neighbors. I need some shots of everyday life in Liberia, and this was my perfect opportunity to get some footage outside of the car. I think some of the neighbors saw me, but no one here seems to care about being on camera. They just smile and keep going about their business.

The kids LOVED the cameras today. They liked when we took their pictures with our digital cameras and let them see it right away. Of course, the mobs of children trying to grab my digital camera whenever I tried to show them was kind of frustrating, but I thought it was so fun how they just wanted to see a picture of themselves. My camera had tons of finger prints all over the screen by the end of the day. The kids’ smiles were bigger when they were looking at themselves on the screen than when I was actually taking their picture.

They liked the video camera, too. We got a few of them to say their names and orphanage on camera, but I think it might be kind of hard to hear. They spoke very quietly at first.

The first group of orphans pulled up in the bus singing Christmas songs all together. (We got a little group to give us a private concert for the camera later on.) We spent time with the first group teaching them Duck Duck Goose and the limbo. Tammy did most of the teaching. I was just trying to get it on camera.

Other groups trickled in throughout the next few hours. Soon it was crowded. The DJ started playing music, and everyone was dancing. There was a dance competition, food, gifts, lots of pictures, lots of movies, and lots of little kids gathering around us in groups. Wait until you see the footage of the dance competition. I don’t know where they learned some of the things they knew. MacDella says they watch music videos and do whatever they see. Some of them told me later though that they just taught themselves.

After everyone started leaving, Tammy and I went inside to drink some more water and use the anti-bacterial wipes. I decided to venture outside one more time to see what other footage I could get. I was playing with Belle and letting her stand on my feet while I walked, and we ended up over by the last few groups from the orphanages who were waiting for the bus to come back for them. They instantly started asking me to take their pictures again, but I told them I would take video. One of the groups left, but the orphans from the Children’s Rescue Mission stayed behind. Some of them were upset because they had been the first group to get there in the morning and were the last group to leave. But soon they were showing me games that they knew and doing handstands and walkovers for the camera. They had one game like hot potato, but there was a special song that went with it. And there was another that was like a friendship chain, except it had to do with a thread and needle. There was one older boy who explained all of the games to me before they did them. So I have good explanations on the camera for later.

There was one little boy named Prince who Tammy says is going to be the next Will Smith. He was the one doing handstands.

The children from the Children’s Rescue Mission started telling me what they wanted to be when they grew up. Some wanted to be soccer players, and their friends said they were really good. Another wanted to be a pilot, and another wanted to be a musician. Then they started listing things that they wanted for next Christmas. They were asking me if I was coming back again. The boy who wanted to be a musician said he wanted an mp3 player so he could download beats from his uncle’s computer and make his music. One wanted a basketball. Another actually knew what an iPod was, and someone else wanted a whole computer. I had to explain to them that I couldn’t buy them all their presents. They started telling me to tell everyone I knew at home and to tell a church. I told them that I could ask people in my church to write them letters and maybe help them raise money to buy the things that they wanted most. They ran to find paper and pens, and they wrote down my email and phone number. I have a note from them saying “We want a connection between you and us!” It has a few of their phone numbers on the back. They told me to put it somewhere safe and take it home with me.

I’m happy with how the day went. It was the busiest and most tiring Christmas I can remember, but it was worth it. Tomorrow we’re relaxing and going to the beach. I can’t believe our trip is more than half way done. We’ve been here four whole days, and we have three left. I’ll be spending my time getting some more footage. MacDella has a few things she definitely wants on camera, so I’ll be taping that and anything else I can get my hands on.

I was going to put up a picture, but I can't put up any because the internet is being so slow and unreliable today. You'll have to wait and see them later!

Another Christmas Eve Update

MacDella was never able to get her money transfer to go through, so Tammy and I leant her some money to buy everything for her party tomorrow. The bank had assured her before she left that the money would go through, and she had to make so many phone calls today to try to explain that she was in a third-world country and couldn’t just use her debit card. We ran a lot of errands today, so we spent a lot of time in the car driving in traffic. It was exciting though because we had to go in the market, and I brought the camera! Most of the children I saw would smile at me and Tammy whenever we walked by. A few people in one store asked me why I was filming people and said that they wanted to be in the show. One guy said something to me, and I think he was telling me to turn it off before he walked into the store because he didn’t want to be on camera. Everyone speaks English here, but it’s still hard to understand because of the accents. I’m getting more used to it now. I can understand Belle sometimes, with the combination of her accent and her baby talk. I can understand Leila and Marcie, too. Hajal doesn’t talk to us much.

We went to the super market today again. It’s surprising how much stuff they have in a little store. They have almost everything that we can find it Shop Rite or Stop & Shop. They have fewer varieties, but they have the main ones that I recognize. They actually have a Stop & Shop here, but we went to a store called Abi Jaoudi (or Jawdi, like the employees have written on their shirts). MacDella dropped us off at the apartment and then went to get some pots and pans and deliver the food to the cooks. I thought she’d be back to get us to run more errands eventually, but she’s still not home. It’s about 9:30 already. Apparently everyone will get up at 4am tomorrow to start all of the cooking.

Tammy and I took a much needed nap at the apartment and then visited with the girls on the balcony. I took out my tropical trail mix as a snack, and the girls loved it. I think I’ll leave it here with them if we don’t finish it by the end of the week. I was going to take it on the plane with me as a snack, but they’ll appreciate it more. We read some of our books until it was too dark outside to read. Once the electricity came on at 7, we came inside to color in the coloring books. Tammy was showing Belle how to play Miss Mary Mack, and then Leila was showing us some of the hand games that she plays here with her friends at school. A lot of them were similar to ones that we knew. She knew conversation where she said you name schools, songs, or cars that you know until someone can’t think of something. She sang another one about music to the tune of a song that we knew. Tammy says it’s the New Year’s song, Auld Lang Syne.

And tomorrow is the big Christmas party! It will be fun. I’m charging all of my camera batteries and taking lots of tapes. Tammy’s going to ask MacDella to pull aside certain children that she knows work hard in school and have a lot of potential, and we’re going to get them on camera. Maybe we can get some of them people to sponsor their education. It will be good footage for the documentary, too. I’m so excited that I got to walk around with the camera today in the market. Hopefully I can get more footage like that after Christmas.

It’s sad to think that in a few hours my family will be having their Christmas Eve dinner and I’m not there to share it with them. I could be having mushrooms and barley and homemade pierogies. I hope Alex remembers to save me a container of pierogies. Maybe I should call and remind them. And tomorrow morning I won’t have a stocking to open or a “Santa sack” or pile waiting under the tree. I got my presents when I bought my camera for this trip. But I’ll be able to help all of the children have a nice Christmas, so that’s a good present for me. They’ll have a nice meal of chicken, sausage, and rice. And, of course, they can all be on the camera. I’m sure they’ll love that. And I’ll love it, too. :)

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas Eve!

Merry Christmas Eve! I forgot this morning that it was Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve and Christmas always get me excited at home, but I guess it just feels different here. The weather, for one thing, isn't what it should be around Christmas. And I'm not at home with my family, so it doesn't feel the same.

We did get to use the internet today though, which is exciting! MacDella was having trouble with the transfer of money from her bank in New York to the bank here, so we had to wait a few hours until her bank in NY opens. She wanted to come and check her email in the meantime, so here we are at the Royal Hotel again. This is the hotel we went to our first day here. Tammy and I ordered pancakes this time. Yum. Two big pancakes are only $2! (Britney Spears is playing on the radio right now. The Christmas music kind of helps put me in the Christmas spirit, but I think I need to listen to some traditional Christmas music on my iPod tonight.)

After we used the internet yesterday, we went to a community center to pick up some papers with more children’s feet drawn on them. Then we went to another orphanage, Phoebe Gray. We stopped at a restaurant right on the beach on the way. It was nice to see the beach. MacDella says the water is really warm but that she doesn’t go all the way in it ever. She just dips in her feet. The orphanage was back towards the airport. Before we went in, I was getting a shot of the sign outside, and the children who lived across the street started yelling to me and waving. They loved when I turned the camera towards them, and they gathered together and stood close as if they were posing for me. Even later when I went over to the gate of the orphanage yard to get some shots of the street, they started waving and standing together. They were so cute. Leila and Belle, two of the girls who live with MacDella, were waving to them, too. Leila was waving while I was taping so that I could get them on camera, but Belle needed me to pick her up so she could see her new friends across the street.

When MacDella first walked into this orphanage, the children ran over to her and started hugging her. Tammy says she got a few hugs, too. The children at this orphanage didn’t give me tours like the children at the Children’s Rescue Mission on Saturday. I was taping a few girls running around and throwing a plastic bag in the air, and I noticed that someone was looking over my shoulder. I turned around, and there were about 10 girls behind me trying to see the viewer on the camera! When the girls were done playing with their bag, a few of the girls behind me ran and took their place on screen. One girl kept popping up on the screen no matter what I was filming. Other children would stand together until I turned around and saw them smiling up at me. So I would ask if they wanted to be on camera. Usually they just kept smiling at me until I held up the camera and asked them their names.

We didn’t do much else today, but we were all really tired when we got back. Tammy and MacDella were falling asleep in the car. I was in the middle of the back seat trying to get footage out the window whenever the car was stopped in traffic. MacDella let me sit up front for some of the time we were driving today, so I got some good shots whenever I was up there.

We sat out on the balcony when we got home. We took some pictures and movies of the street before it got dark. I have a picture of the street where we live, and there’s also a picture of a photo studio across the street. I think they'd like to hire you, Justin.

Then we finished matching up the shoes with the drawn feet, packed them in backpacks, and wrote the child's name on the outside of the backpack with marker. It was hard work, but we got it done eventually. MacDella had the three little girls that live with her, one of her scholarship winners, and me and Tammy helping. It was like a little workshop.

We do a lot of driving here. We pass by so many people walking and selling things on the streets. I feel like every day here is all about making enough money to get by. Everyone seems to be selling something. MacDella was telling us about NGOs that bring in second-hand clothes and then sell them. She said she was given a hard time when she first tried to bring in her donations for the orphanages because they suspected that she might just be trying to sell them. I wish I could get out of the car and walk around the streets and film things, but I would stand out and everyone would probably be staring at me with my camera. The best I can do right now is film out the windows. I get good shots for the documentary at the orphanages, but I wish I could get some good shots of other parts of Liberia, too. Each street seems to be completely different. Some have little stores along the side. Others have houses close together with clothes hanging out on the lines. The streets in the main part of town are where everyone seems to be selling something and the women are all carrying boxes and bags on their heads. Side streets have vendors set up with their products all set out.

Everything we hear on the radio in the car is interesting. They have commercials asking "Do you feel like you need to get your life back on track?" or "Do you feel that your efforts are hopeless?" They have other commercials telling listeners to tune into programs to learn about all of the services that are available to them that could help them get their lives back together. The music is very inspirational, too. You can tell that everyone is trying to rebuild their businesses and their lives.

That's it for today. I don't think I'll be back tomorrow because we have the Christmas party and then we're going out to dinner. So have a Merry Christmas, everyone!! Thanks for reading. :)