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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Mango the Pangolin

Pangolins are this unique little creature that happen to be the most trafficked animal in the world. Why? Chinese medicine. The Chinese believe their scales, which are simply made of keratin, (the same as our fingernails) have medicinal benefits. Pangolins are relatively easy to catch because they don't have any defense mechanisms except to curl up in a little ball. Sounds like a good plan to me, but it's not very effective when you can just pick up the little ball and walk away. They curl up in a ball to protect their soft tummy. You wouldn't think that a dinosaur looking creature would be soft to pet. Living on a diet of ants, these little creatures work diligently during the night to break termite mounds and eat them up. 





Most people come to Africa and never see a pangolin close up. Occasionally we see someone on the side of the road, holding one upside-down by the tail, trying to sell it as bush meat. Even though it's illegal, when you live in a country where people are living day by day, you can't blame them for trying to sell whatever they can find to make some money. Some Americans were visiting Monrovia and Chad had some interaction with them. They had seen someone with a strange animal who was trying to get them to take it. Immediately he knew it was a pangolin. He told them if they could get the animal, he knew of an animal rescue organization that he could take it to.


Amazingly cute and cuddly 
Chad brought it home. We didn't think the pangolin would make it though the night. We coaxed it to drink some water. It didn't even curl-up in a ball or lay down. It just stopped moving. We left it and came back hours later to get it to drink again before we went to sleep. Not sure what we would find in the morning, we were thrilled to see it had moved and was now curled up. We continued to give it water to drink and Chad took it out for a "walk" to see if it would eat any bugs. We weren't really successful with that, but so happy that it lived for us to take it to the animal rescue organization. Turns out we didn't save just one pangolin because this little girl was pregnant! She's been released in the wild somewhere. We hope she is save with her little baby. It was an amazing experience to help save an animal and have the opportunity to observe a pangolin up close.

Pangolins curl up into a ball for protection and apparently to sleep.
Hydration - the magic cure for man and beast 

Around Town

There are little tourist shops just a two minute walk from where we live. Here are a few snapshots of shopping time.
Tea prepared on hot coals

Street soccer




All sewing machines here are powered manually by a foot treadle.




Monday, January 21, 2019

The Abandoned Ducor Hotel

Before the war
Pre 1980's
Built in 1960, the Ducor Hotel was the first international hotel in Liberia, and the only 5 star hotel to have been here. Located on the highest point in Monrovia, a bar on the roof provided a 360ยบ view of the city. The hotel closed in 1989 as the first civil war was beginning. Through the 10 years of the first civil war, the property was damaged, looted, and displaced people made their homes there. During the 2003 siege of Monrovia, Charles Taylor's army used it as a firing position because of the strategical view of the city. In 2007, squatters were removed from the property, but it still remains abandoned today. 

The Ducor is a short distance from where we live. Surrounded by a chain link fence and barbed wire with a few nonuniformed "guards" loitering inside it appears closed off, but a few dollars passed through the fence allows a quick entrance. Here are a few pictures from our explorations over Christmas.
Circular car garage as seen in the aerial photo above.
Looking down into circular car park area.

Main staircase. This was probably in the lobby. 

Elevator shaft with no doors.





The view from the top of the hotel is stunning.


Bridge to Bushrod Island
The slums of Westpoint are to the left.
Westpoint

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Deaf Ministry

A few days ago, we visited Deaf Ministry. Deaf Ministry is a school for the deaf in Chocolate City, which is right outside of Monrovia. A lady from the embassy who helps out at the school took us there.


We arrived to a group of kids sitting outside of a low building. The kids ranged from toddlers to young adults. Apparently around 40 attend the school. Some are orphans, some have parents, and some have parents who have abandoned them. Luckily, American Sign Language (ASL) is used here, along with some English-based sign languages, so I could communicate with the kids (though it did end up being difficult because there were a lot of name signs, kids in general are difficult to understand (even in English!), and there were some local sign mixed in). As I went up and was introducing myself in ASL, I saw a number of jaws drop and eyes widen. Hands started flying. Who was this white girl who signed? Was she deaf?


Mom, Dad, and Elena don't know much ASL, but they also introduced themselves, and I chatted with the kids until we went on a tour of the school. From what we saw, the kids had pretty much nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few blankets on their beds. They live at the school, so there was a room for the girls and one for the boys, both crammed with bunk beds. There was also a store room. We waited while the director unlocked it, only to see it was completely empty; we were all a little shocked. Next we saw the kitchen, which had a few pots for cooking, and a giant mortar and pestle for crushing pepper to season food.


The second building held six classrooms with benches, tables, and blackboards. When the kids arrive at the orphanage, they usually have to be taught ASL, which can take 3 months to a year. Teaching ASL to these kids involves drawing pictures, using books, and of course, interaction with the other kids. After they learn ASL, they can begin learning other topics. Elena, Mom, and Dad wrote in the dirt to communicate with the kids a little bit, so they seemed to understand written English.


Next to the building with classrooms was the library, i.e. a few partially-built walls. Often in Liberia, when people have a little money, they start a project with no way to continue it, which is what happened here. Near the library there was a big water pump, though drinking water has to be bought in little plastic sacks.


After the tour, the director had the kids sign a song about God. A few of them sang along too. It was fun to see that little performance! Later, I asked the kids if they wanted gifts, and of course they were excited! We handed out the coloring books and crayons, soccer balls, bags of candy, and an armload of stuffed animals that we had brought along. The kids swarmed us eagerly for the gifts, and immediately started playing with their new toys with us. Some local hearing kids figured out something exciting was happening and joined as well.

Overall, there were many basic needs there that were barely being met, and very little financial support for the school. But the kids seemed pretty happy and healthy, and it was so much fun to play with them!








Sunday, December 30, 2018

Monkeying Around at Monkey Island

Liberia doesn't have the draw of safaris or wildlife parks. There are no leopards, elephants, lions, zebras, hyenas, giraffes, gorillas, gazelles, rhinoceros, water buffalos, wildebeests, or ostriches. Almost any animal that you think of, when thinking of Africa, is not here in Liberia. So we don't have safaris to go to, but what we do have is Monkey Island.

Our journey began when the paved road ended and the ruts of a golden brown dirt road led the way into Marshall, a small town on the coast of Liberia. We had a bit of an idea of what we were going to do:  find the boats then hopefully barter a price with someone willing to haul the Americans around for a few hours. Chad and Damon found a few men who led them off into the village. If a few strangers are hanging around, curious kids appear to see what treasures they may have. We had fun handing out some Twizzlers and showing them how to take the plastic off and chew the candy.
Chad and Damon returned, happy with the price and happy to have found guides for the trip. Marshall, a fishing town, is lined with dug-out canoes and colorful fishing boats. We stepped into the water of the lagoon where the Farmington River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The water was warm and crystal clear. We climbed into the boat, trying desperately to keep our balance and not tip the whole thing over. Fishing nets filled the spaces between seats. We started by sitting single file, but when the whole boat listed to the side and my knuckles, which were gripped tight to the side, felt the coolness of the water I screeched. This completely surprised the two men positioned at each end of the boat, one a guide and the other the driver. Accustomed to the sway and rocking of the boat and knowing it's boundaries, they had no thought in the world that we would tip over. But because they didn't want to listen to the screeches of a woman for the next bit, they had Chad and Damon stand to help steady the boat as it floated forward. 

The ride to the island was peaceful and beautiful. The village behind us with a few huts sprinkled along the shore, disappeared into the past. We crossed the mouth of the river on one side with jungle stretching on the other. A tree in the distance, stood taller than anything around and spread its branches in the sky. For some reason, this tree spoke Africa to me. We were alone now. Five Fabers, two guides and a boat. 
An interesting fact about Monkey Island; there aren't any monkeys on this island. Seriously. I have no idea how the island got its name. There are chimpanzees on this island. And there's not just one island, but rather 4 in this group that have these chimps living on them. The story of these chimps is very similar to  that of Liberia. It's sad and broken and limping along with no solution in site. In 1974, chimps were taken from the northern, mountainous areas of Liberia and brought to the Liberian Institute of Biomedical Research, a testing facility partnered with the New York Blood Center to conduct medical testing. Over 100 chimps were injected with infectious diseases. Once a chimp tested positive, it was taken to Monkey Island for follow-up testing. Because chimps don't swim, the island became a natural refuge for the animals. Testing continued through 2005 until it was proven that the testing was cruel to the animals. It has been said that the testing done here led to vaccinations for hepatitis B and screening for hepatitis C - two diseases than have affected millions of people throughout the world. The researchers continued to feed and water the chimps on the islands until the height of the ebola crisis in 2014. Then the chimps began to starve. There also isn't a natural fresh water source on the islands, so in dry season they must be given water as well. In 2015 the Humane Society took over care for the animals. Today locals are paid to feed and water the chimps on a regular basis. I've heard rumors that the chimps were sterilized or that the food they are given has birth control in it. Our guide disagreed saying that babies are still being born, increasing the population. Today there are around 70 chimps throughout the islands. 
Our boat pulled up to a metal stand, located about 30' offshore. A large sign stated "Second Chance Chimpanzee Refugee; Humane Society; Danger. Our guides knew how close they could get without being harmed by the chimps. Chad, Damon and Elena jumped out of the boat and onto the stand to watch the chimps as they rocked back and forth on their knuckles and shook their heads. They moved around a bit and began to settle, although one continued to shake his head reminding me of a bobble head toy. We stared at one another, neither party willing to move. Eventually the dominate chimp decided he would rather look down on us to assess the danger so he climbed up into a tree. It was fascinating watching these animals in the wild.
Back in Marshall we took time to walk around, visit and hang-out with the kids. Before leaving we wanted to get a photo of our entire family with the kids. We asked one of the men we had been talking to if he would take a picture. Elena showed him where to look and how to press the button. We got the kids posed and waited while three men examined the camera, discussed and eventually appeared to take a photo. When we got home we had a good laugh at the two photos they took. The first was of our feet and the sand, the second had all the kids in it, but our heads were chopped off!