A Robbery Redeemed

We finally shut the door of our new room. Our first Sunday in Kakata, September 18th, had seemingly been ruined, yet somehow it was redeemed. We no longer had our overly spacious house that we had already envisioned ourselves living in over the next year. Rather, we had a modest single room with a bathroom, a bed, a table, and our stuff cluttered all around in suitcases.

It was just Anna and I, and for a moment neither of us knew what to say. It was the first time in several hours that we were alone together, that we could catch our breathe. There was so much to process. The good, the bad, and the ugly events of the day were all at once floating down the hard-roaring rapids of my consciousness. However, the one thing that kept coming down stream over and over were vivid pictures from earlier in the day of the loving and caring people that surround us here at our school, Booker Washington Institute (BWI). The Sunday we arrived home from church to discover that our house was burglarized was the same Sunday that our BWI community became our BWI family.


14355056_10210540922742955_7289844007552118765_nThe BWI community came from all directions to visit us, investigate with us, talk with us, comfort us, and lead us. 30 minutes earlier Anna and I had found our bedroom door inched open with its handle, and all its screws strewn on the floor. We stayed together, our hearts racing, while we checked the rest of the house to make sure that whoever was there, was no longer. There were things missing, but the feeling of being violated was worse than any lost material items.

The BWI community, quickly becoming our family, came in waves  throughout the afternoon. In each person’s face we could see that they were genuinely concerned. They wanted us to be safe, to feel safe, and to know that this crook doesn’t represent the true identity of the Liberian people. It was decided that moving us to the guest house within the main campus boundaries and in close proximity to more people was paramount to our security. So, even more of our BWI family came to help us pack up our things and move. Throughout the process the expressions on their faces spoke to how deeply hurt and embarrassed they were for their school and community, but their actions spoke to a deeper and greater purpose for this event: all things can be used for a better purpose…for God’s purpose.

20161008_173316No I am not saying that “everything happens for a reason”–that is a cliche that is too often an unthoughtful, knee-jerk attempt at consoling someone who is strangling within the grip of struggle. It has been used over and over again in history, but often results in passivity and inaction on the part of the consoler.

What I really mean to say is that sometimes bad things happen and no, it’s not always built into a beautiful plan which has everything happening for a reason. Sometimes bad things really do just happen. But, ALL THINGS–bad things included–can be used for God’s Will. It’s up to us. It’s a decision we make everyday. Am I going to sulk over it; am I going to just ignore it and move on; am i going to let this be a dominating factor that affects my opinion of a new culture and defines my year of development work in Liberia; or, am I going to reflect on it, learn from it, and turn it into something almost unimaginably greater than most ever thought it could be? In the midst of our troubled times, Anna and I chose to focus on our newly found BWI family. A family so full of love that had only known us for three days, yet demonstrated to us the deeply rooted value of hospitality here in Liberia. A family revealed to us only by the events of a seemingly bad Sunday (9/18/16).

Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for them.

Food in Liberia…it’s all about those carbs!

There is a saying here that goes “if you haven’t eaten rice today, then you haven’t eaten.” You can eat all the boiled cassava, fufu, plantains, bread, sweet potatoes, yams, cocoa yams or a number of other carbs your heart desires…but if you haven’t eaten rice, you have not eaten. Rice…is life.

To show you just how serious they are about rice, here are 2 short stories:

  • To prove her point about important rice was to Liberians, my friend Zipporah was telling me a story about her 10 year old daughter. A couple of days ago her daughter came to her telling her that her stomach hurt and that she felt sick because she had not eaten rice that day. Zipporah then proceeded to make rice, feed it to her daughter, and just like magic…her tummy ache had resolved. Zipporah herself rolled her eyes and so did I. LOL.
  • As I was talking with farmers about what crops grow when they mentioned that the “hunger season” was coming soon in September. I didn’t understand…wasn’t September still the rainy season? Weren’t crops bountiful during the rainy season? Didn’t I just learn that I ton of crops were being harvested now and in the upcoming months? I was so confused. So I asked “Are there plantains?” I asked. “Yes” they said. “Are there pineapples? Potato greens? Oranges? Squash?” I asked. “Yes” they said. “Is there cassava?” I asked. “Yes, of course there is cassava” they replied. “Why is it called the hunger season then?” “Rice. There is no rice this time of year.”

RICE is life…it is what Liberian food is all about. And yet….85% of Liberia’s rice is imported rather than grown in country. More on that topic later….

Back to the food. With each meal you are served some an enormously large portion size of some type of carbohydrate, usually rice of fufu (which is boiled, pounded, fermented cassava served in a ball…it is the consistency of playdough). With that carb usually comes some type of soup/sauce that you pour over said carb. So far I have tried a few different “soups” and some I like better than others. All soups seem to basically have the same base…which is water, oil oil oil, hot peppers, dried fish, and one or more of the following ingredients:

  • Potato greens (ground up and boiled to a paste…not bad with lots of salt)
  • Country tomatoes (small cherry tomatoes that grow wild and cultivated)
  • Cassava leaves (ground up and boiled to a paste…not bad…don’t taste the difference between this and potato greens)
  • Palm butter (made with the oils harvested from the palm tree nuts…I’m telling myself it is the “good kind of fats” since I’m now eating what feels like a half a pound per day)
  • Peppe (spicy spicy spicy…poor Nathan)
  • Okra (making for an extra slimy textured soup…)
  • Bitterball (a bitter small vegetable that is in the eggplant family)
  • Country bean (large or small beans cooked with lots of salt, not bad)
  • Chicken (my favorite…even if I do find little chicken hairs/feathers sprinkled throughout)
  • More fish (with all the tiny bones still cooked in…your choice whether to spend hours picking them out or just crunch down and enjoy the extra calcium…I’m voting for the calcium these days)
  • Other form of meat (maybe goat, cow, or bush meat)
  • Snails (haven’t tried this one yet but I see the snails everywhere at market and sometimes my front door)
  • Ground nut (peanut butter mixed with water…not very appetizing but unique)
  • Sesame seed paste (I do like this…yummm)
  • Ohhh and did I mention….OIL?

It is definitely taking me some time to get used to all the oil, carbs, and fishy taste in just about every dish but I am coming around to a few of the soups. I am so thankful that now we are living in our own home that I can cook for myself again! Although I’m not making quite the variety of foods I used to back in the US, I am starting to do different things with the potatoes, rice, and noodles that my gut and palate are more accustomed too. My favorites so far are fried rice, mashed potatoes, spaghetti (with tomato sauce rather than the Liberian classic served with oil and chopped up hot dogs) and vegetable medleys (all coated with a healthy sprinkle of Old Bay of course).

In addition to the meals there are a few snacks with mentioning that I am really falling in love with and might get my waistline in trouble this year due mainly to the fact that they are dirt cheap and and they are being sold about every 10 feet on the road.

  • Boiled peanuts (I know we have them in the US, but I had never tried them…yummm!)
  • Fried plantains (I’ve had them in Central America…love them!)
  • Plantain chips (almost as good as potato chips)
  • “flour chips” (like fried tortilla strips? I’m not really sure what they are but they are good)
  • Coconut patties (basically dried coconut and sugar patties…ummm yes!)
  • Coconut balls (same as above, but my friend Comfort makes them with a secret ingredient….ginger!)
  • Peanut brittle (not quite as crunchy due to the 100% humidity here all the time but delicious!)
  • Milk candies (caramels made with evaporated milk)
  • Doughnuts (fried dough with a hint of sugar and then sugar on top)
  • Coconut cookies (a cookie with coconut flour)
  • Doughnut cookies (basically the doughnut mix turned into a small cookie)
  • Sesame cookies (like sesame candies)
  • Sour Milk (frozen yogurt…in lots of different flavors….sold in little plastic baggies for 20cents…this will be the death of me…so cheap and soooo good!)
  • Lychee (or monkey apples as they are called here is a sweet/sour little fruit nice for dessert)
  • Kanya balls (made from dried cassava, sugar, peanut butter, and milk…tastes like a peanut butter graham cracker pie crust in a ball)
  • Cassava pastries (muffins and cookies without much sugar that are made from cassava flour)
  • Calah (fried dough balls served with peppe sauce and ketchup. sweet and spicy!)
  • Sausage (aka boiled wrinkly hot dogs….basically my only safe source of street “meat”)

The fruits and veggies readily available in Kakata: cucumber, oranges, lemons/limes, bitterball, coconut, plantains, bananas, okra, eggplant, and onion.

The fruits and veggies that are harder to find right now but still available if you look hard: squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, papaya, guava, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, apples, watermelon.

Foods I miss from home: red meat, chocolate, peaches, cheese, butter, crispy salads, and Chickfila (obviously).

There ya go…those are my thoughts on food here in Liberia. I will now entertain any and all questions you may have on food in Liberia. I will also take any recipe suggestions you can offer based on the list of my available ingredients 😉 Thanks!