I haven’t posted anything about our Liberian guest for a while, so I guess it’s about time. Things are going well.  We are really enjoying our time with him, and the more we get to know him, the more we see God’s hand on our relationship.  We’ve taught him a lot… and in turn he is teaching us so much.  Jo really likes him and he is good with her.  He is always teasing her about all the dolls she has.  He will say “Jo-jo… where’s your other baby?  That baby is HUNGRY! You better feed that baby!”  Or he’ll ask to hold the baby and she loves to share with him!  He keeps talking about how smart she is and how Liberian kids aren’t that smart.  I told him it’s probably just because I spend all day with her, teaching her and showing her things and a lot of the kids in Liberia don’t get that.  He agreed and said many kids in Liberia run around unsupervised a lot of the time.  Jo’s little friend Zoe (my best friend, Sarah’s daughter,) on the other hand, isn’t quite sure about this new addition to our household.  She is very reserved around him which is totally uncharacteristic of her!  It was funny, though, the other day Sarah was talking to Zoe about Jo coming over to play and Zoe said something about Jo-jo’s “other daddy” coming too.  We all thought that was a pretty funny!

Last week we moved my in-law’s Airstream trailer up here for him to stay in.  The silver bullet doesn’t do a lot for my view! — but it’s nice that he has a place of his own.  And he loves it.  It’s much bigger than the tiny room he and his family rent in Monrovia, and has a bathroom and kitchen — which is something they don’t have.  He wants to take it back with him!  🙂  I was feeling a little bad that it is so old and was wishing we could have found something nicer for him.  Boy, am I starting to realize how relative lifestyles are.  Peter and I live modestly compared to some parts of the country, but our lives are the lives of kings and queens if you contrast them to the lives of families like Ahmad’s.  I feel such mixed emotions about it… deep gratitude for what the Lord has given us; conviction for the “extra” I spent on things I don’t really need that could literally change lives; and the deep desire to keep giving as much as we can and keep touching people’s lives. I can’t even explain how it feels to be touching this man’s life on such a deep level.  We are being changed because of it.

Ahmad actually stayed the first couple nights in the Airstream before we hooked the heat up because he was so happy about it!  We told him he could have continued sleeping in the house where it was warm, but he really wanted to sleep out there… so we just gave him lots of blankets.  It gets cold around here, people!  Below freezing almost every night!  I’m not sure how cold it got in the trailer, but he toughed it out. 

Speaking of cold, we had a hail storm two weeks ago and it was so funny watching him experience it!  Balls of ice raining from the sky is certainly not something he had experienced before!  It’s going to be fun to go sledding and snowboarding with him after it snows.  He does wear a hat a lot, but never complains about the cold. (…unlike me!)

He is really enjoying the variety of food we eat!  He thinks it’s funny that we eat together at the table every night.  He said they get their food and sit on the floor or chairs if they’re available.  They don’t have a table and don’t always eat at the same time (we told him not everyone does here either; we’re just trying to cultivate family dinners.) He said sometimes they will cook something and put it in a big pot and everyone will eat out of it at the same time (no individual plates) but when this happens, it is very important to let the man of the house go first and then on down the line.  It sounds like hierarchy is a big deal in Liberia in many areas. He said kids are taught to honor their older brothers by letting them always go first (in everything — eating, washing, etc.)  He is the oldest of eight, so he was always given this position, but now he says being the oldest is not a blessing because since his father died, he is responsible for the whole family. 

But back to the food.  He tells us “When I go back to Liberia, I will not eat rice for every meal!”  He said they have other things they eat, especially lots of soups.  But it sounds like everyone cooks rice and eats it every day anyway (it’s cheap and easy!) He said they cook with pumpkins and yams and cassava (sp?) often.  And, they actually make peanut butter!  And cook with it!  They make a peanut butter soup!  Very interesting!!  And they also fry their food more than I thought they did.  He has been taking note of the way I make things and wants me to find him a good cookbook with lots of pictures to send home with him.  He is especially fascinated by mashed potatoes!  He just cracks me up!  He thinks mashing potatoes is the best idea!  I guess they eat a lot of potatoes but they cube them and boil them… so I showed him how to cook them without the skins and add the milk and butter and mash them up.  He told me “when I go home, I will tell my wife to go out for a day and I will do the cooking!”  (This is kind of a big deal for a Liberian man to say!  They definitely have an old-fashioned approach to men’s and women’s roles.  He has been surprised that Peter does laundry and cleans and cooks, too.) (Although Ahmad did cook for himself before he got married and told us proudly that he can make all types of soups!  I told him he’s going to have to do some Liberian cooking for us while he is here! ) He said for special occasions they will buy a whole goat and invite many families over and cook almost every part of it for the celebration.  He wants to eventually save enough money to buy a “lot” in the city so his family will have a little extra room for a garden and chickens and goats. 

He said in Liberia, most people cook with coal pots (sounds like “co-pa” when he says it.) Ahmad has a friend who is a metal-worker, so Ahmad had him make a very nice, fancy coal pot and gave it to his wife. I guess it is the envy of all who see it!  (I was thinking about how women are the same all over the world!  I look through Peter’s kitchen books and drool over the Viking ranges and fancy kitchen appliances!)  Ahmad’s coal pot has a place for two little fires so you can cook with two pots at once and it’s made of very sturdy metal, so it will outlast other coal pots by years!  It is also at waist-height,rather than near the ground, so his wife doesn’t have to bend over while cooking.  Ahmad designed it for her and you could tell he was really proud of it and happy that she has it.  We have been brainstorming ways he can adapt our recipes to “coal pot cooking.”  (Maybe I will write a cookbook! 🙂  He REALLY likes pizza and we figured out how to do coal pot pizza last night at dinner!  They actually bake cookies and bread with their coal pots, too!  They create an oven with a pot of burning coal on top of an upside-down pot over the dough that creates the heat of an oven inside.  He said some people actually use old freezers as ovens.  They rigg up their coal pots in them and then they can make a lot of cookies at a time! He LOVES  it when I make cookies!  And he loves apple pie!  He said that apple pie is one of his favorite things about America! 🙂 He really loves fruit in general and pretty much single-handedly picked our little orchard clean of apples and pears.  He loves telling us about the banana trees and coconut trees they have and how he used to climb them as a little boy and get the fruit. 

The main thing he keeps saying to us is “I have never thought of that! I can do that, but I would have never thought of it!”  Peter and I are realizing that one of the things we have taken for granted is the way we think about things that’s not common everywhere in the world.  We just have such a broad perspective of what is possible because we’ve grown up surrounded by so many different ways of doing things and have been taught to “think outside the box.”  This isn’t the way Ahmad was raised.  (I don’t know if that makes sense?  I hope it does.  I don’t mean that he isn’t smart, because he is!  He just hasn’t had the opportunity to be exposed to as much as we have.)  There are things he sees here that are so common to us and he is absolutely fascinated.   I think more than anything else he will take home, he will return to Liberia with a broader perspective of the possibilities in life… just basic things that will make a huge difference in the way he and his family live.

We showed him a cutting board made of bamboo and he was incredulous!  He exclaimed, “No! This is not bamboo!”  He said he had never in his life seen ANYTHING like it.  And when I brought out a wooden cooking spoon made of bamboo, he just about hit the ceiling!  🙂  He was in awe.  He kept saying, “I could make this!”  “People would buy this!”  He said they just use the few metal utensils they own for cooking.  He really wants a book on all the things you can do with bamboo because it grows in abundance in Liberia.  He said it’s almost like a weed for them (a very fast-growing weed!  I’ve read that some species of bamboo can grow up to two feet a day!)  He said he has never heard of anyone making anything out of it besides fences.  We showed him pictures of bamboo flooring and bamboo furniture and he was even more amazed.  He is really excited about trying to cure it and make things out of it when he goes back.  He said that if he took a picture of the cutting board and sent it to his wife, she would call him tell and accuse him of lying to her!  🙂

They have don’t have electricity in their little room… which is very common for most of Monrovia, I guess.  He said the government supplies electricity to the schools and hospitals and such, but that it is very expensive to buy it for private use.  So they have a tiny generator that runs a single light or a fan and they only use it a couple times a week in the evening.  He said many of the other families in the house also have generators so sometimes the noise of all them running in the night is deafening!  He really wants to take a bigger generator home with him sincce they are so much less expensive to buy here.  In fact, we have been surprised at how much less expensive it is to buy things here.  I guess it makes sense.  They don’t have manufacturers in the country and they probably don’t do a lot of importing of goods because the country is so poor, so if you want to buy something, you buy it used.  And not used in the way we think of used clothing or yard sale stuff (much of which is still in great condition!)  The used stuff they buy has been in the country for many, many years… and has probably passed through several people’s possession.  So it is not in good shape, but is expensive to buy because there is a limited quantity… supply and demand and all that.  Ahmad said he paid almost $80 for a stroller for his son that was in terrible condition.  They had to sew up holes and bend parts of it back into shape.  He said wealthier people in Monrovia will buy things used in the US and ship them over to Liberia and make a killing reselling them.  Peter looked into getting a pallet on a cargo ship so Ahmad can take a few larger items home when he returns.  He wants to take some tools back, so he can make furniture the way Peter has shown him with hand tools. 

Okay… well that’s enough for this post… although there’s so much more to share!  He was telling us stories the other night about the three years he spent as a refugee in Guinea after fleeing Liberia during the war.  I know those of you who have visited Liberia or lived in Africa aren’t learning anything new, but I am just fascinated by talking to him because although I have read everything I can get my hands on about Liberia, it is a completely different experience speaking to a Liberian in person!