“Say your prayers in the garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by it’s freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.”
Writing is so cathartic. I left America three weeks ago and I am still regularly having moments of “Where the heck am I and how did I end up on a floating hospital ship”. I assure you they are moments of amazement rather than distress.
Today I had a lovely talk with our ship photographer. She was kind enough to let me ruin her evening walk along the deck. While in Africa I am writing on a monthly basis for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Nursing Advance magazine. Debbie has been a photographer for over 30 years and was giving me some advice on story writing. She has been with Mercy Ships for 1.5 years. She has met and befriended many patients.
“You need to have the patient’s tell you their stories. They have so many layers. They deeper your relationship (with the patient) the deeper they will go.”
Tonight I watched a documentary on Liberia’s civil war. It was tragic, graphic and horrific. And it was made three years ago. A bridge I walked under today was featured. (There is a summary of Liberia’s recent history at the end if you are interested)
When we think of the third world we use catchy words like poverty, war, injustice and starvation. Our senses long for the incredible and we often listen wanting to be overwhelmed. But as sad and tragic as statistics and fact’s may be, nine out of ten times we will listen and nothing will happen.
But when we come looking at the delicate our hearts are broken.
The tears of a mother who has watched her child die of starvation. The shame of a teenage girl who was raped by rebel soldiers. The helplessness of a father who can’t provide for his family. The confusion of a child who has no parents.
I have only been here for 2.5 weeks. My knowledge of Liberia’s stories is very superficial. But I want to listen.
Today I went the ward to visit the VVF ladies. I found a few sheets of material and ripped it into long pieces. We braided the fabric into headbands. A very silly and cheesy craft but the women all sat on their beds, some using their toes to hold the material, braiding their fabric. They smiled and laughed. You would never guess their tragedy’s.
Here is a summary of Liberia’s recent history which is taken from Encarta
“In December 1989 a group of dissidents began an uprising against the government. The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a rebel group led by Charles Taylor, soon had an ill-trained army of 10,000 men, and within weeks they controlled much of the countryside. A split among the insurgents only increased the violence as fighting continued into 1990. An Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) monitoring group (ECOMOG) was sent to Liberia as a peacekeeping force, but failed to halt the fighting. Doe was captured and executed by a splinter group of the NPFL in September 1990. The destruction of Liberia’s economy begun by Doe was completed by the war.
The war spread through Liberia, as the NPFL battled ECOMOG, the Liberian army, their splinter group the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), and the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), composed of former allies of Doe. By early 1991, ECOMOG held Monrovia and the NPFL controlled the rest of the country. In October 1991 ECOWAS and the NPFL agreed to disarm and establish an Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU). The NPFL began to disarm in early 1992, but clashed with ECOMOG forces, and in August was attacked by ULIMO from Sierra Leone. In September the NPFL launched an all-out assault on ECOMOG forces in Monrovia, recruiting boys as young as eight to fight, and executing civilians who refused to join. The siege temporarily shut down all transportation in or out of the capital and killed thousands of civilians in the crossfire. ECOMOG succeeded in pushing the NPFL back into the countryside by January 1993. In the meantime, ULIMO had captured much of western Liberia, but had split along ethnic lines into two warring factions, ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K.
At a peace conference in July 1993 the leaders of IGNU, NPFL, and ULIMO-K drew up a plan for a Liberian National Transitional Government, led by a five-member Council of State consisting of one NPFL leader, one ULIMO-K member, one IGNU representative, and two other civilians. A cease-fire was implemented but progress towards lasting peace was hampered by the appearance of a new armed group, the Liberian Peace Council (LPC), and by the refusal of ULIMO-J to disarm. By mid-1994 the cease-fire had completely failed, and fighting raged between the LPC and the NPFL, between ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K, and between ULIMO-J and ECOMOG. The United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) was deployed to cooperate with ECOMOG in March. At this time the United States issued a report condemning widespread human-rights violations in Liberia.
The leaders of the factions secretly met in August 1994, and negotiated a timeline for disarmament and the institution of a Council of State based on the 1993 plan, but with six members. A cease-fire in December was interrupted by skirmishes until a formal peace accord was signed in August 1995. The peace was broken in April 1996 when an uprising by ULIMO-J in the outskirts of Monrovia quickly spread into the capital, sparking street-to-street fighting and looting. Another cease-fire was declared in August, and Monrovia was reclaimed by ECOMOG forces. In all, more than 150,000 Liberians died in the seven-year civil war, and well over 1 million people were displaced.
An ECOMOG disarmament program was initiated under the August 1996 peace agreement. Despite some minor skirmishes and an assassination attempt on Taylor, the disarmament proceeded relatively smoothly. ECOMOG forces cleared land mines and reopened the country’s roads, allowing refugees to begin returning from neighboring countries and humanitarian aid to reach the previously inaccessible interior. The disarmament program was declared a success in January 1997. Under considerable international scrutiny, presidential and legislative elections were held in July. Charles Taylor, the man who instigated the Liberian Civil War eight years earlier, was elected president by a landslide, and his political party, the National Patriotic Party, won a majority of seats in the National Assembly. The elections were judged free and fair by international election observers.
Taylor pledged to forge national reconciliation and appointed leaders of rival factions to various government positions. After the last ECOMOG forces withdrew from Liberia in 1999, however, Taylor’s security forces were criticized by international groups for alleged human rights abuses against members of the opposition. Beginning in 2000 government forces shut down several independent newspapers and radio stations.
In 2001 the UN imposed economic sanctions against Liberia for aiding rebel groups in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor’s administration also allegedly aided rebels in both Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. Taylor accused Guinea of supporting a new Liberian rebel group called Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and retaliated with several attacks on Guinean border towns. LURD rebels gained control over significant amounts of northern Liberia by 2002, soon limiting Taylor’s authority to little more than Monrovia. After months of fighting and international pressure (notably from the United States), Taylor agreed to step down in August 2003 as part of an overall peace agreement, and he went into exile in Nigeria. A Special Court, jointly administered by the United Nations and the Sierra Leone government, later brought war crimes charges against Taylor, and in June 2007 he went on trial in The Hague (see War Crimes Trials). In October, Liberian businessman Charles Gyude Bryant was sworn in as Liberia’s new president, charged with overseeing a two-year power-sharing transitional government. The bicameral legislature was replaced temporarily by an interim National Transitional Legislative Assembly. Under the 2003 peace agreement, the United Nations Security Council formally established a peacekeeping force known as the UN Mission in Liberia.
In November 2005 elections Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an economist and longtime political dissident, was elected president. She became the first female head of state of an African nation. Elections were also held for the restored bicameral legislature. Johnson-Sirleaf defeated George Weah, a popular former soccer star, winning more than 59 percent of the vote. “