Sunday, March 13, 2016


My Boy

The first time I met Wadah, I thought he was blind. He failed to respond at all to his surroundings. The way he moved about and lack of response to stimuli clearly communicated he suffered severe disabilities. It was upon learning his name and attempting to interact with him that I was informed he could hear but did not respond to his name. Next, I heard his story.

Wadah was found abandoned in the middle of the road. No one knows how old he was when he was found, but MODUC, the orphanage where he lives, estimates he was one and half. He was between a tea shop and a garage and his hands and knees were completely calloused from exclusively crawling around on rough surfaces. It’s hard to know the extent of Wadah’s disabilities, but as a friend pointed it, it’s likely they were confirmed the day he was abandoned.

Last week, I was able to visit MODUC again. This time, Wadah was in a small building, holding onto the shirt of a slightly larger boy. This boy had been close by Wadah on our last trip, and it became clear he had a vested interest in his small friend’s well being. Wadah watched us give the other boy a deworming pill and held out his had to receive one as well. He took it and chewed it as the boy before him did. Although his senses and processing are clearly limited, we were able to see on this trip that he is better able to observe and participate in his surroundings than we initially thought.

I believe there’s great power in physical contact. My first inclination upon learning he had some sensory perception was to snatch him up and love on him, but I hesitated. Moments later, we were called into another building for a meeting with Mother Bae, who runs the orphanage. As we waited for Mother Bae, I saw the larger boy and a few other children who had been with us in the first building come in through a back door. I looked through the side window and saw the stream of youngsters continuing. Bringing up the rear was Wadah. The orphanage estimates that he’s about five now, but he’s the size of a three-year-old. He walks slowly and tentatively. On the left side, he is flat-footed, but he walks on his right toes as if he was wearing a single high-heel. His spine curves to the side from his hips to his neck to straighten out his top half and maintain his balance. There were steps down from the first building and steps up into the one where we stood. He dropped down on all-fours to negotiate them.

As I saw Wadah coming, I waited by the back door for him to arrive. There are two common hand greetings in Liberia. One is an elaborate hand shake that ends with the participants snapping off of each others’ fingers. The second is a fist bump followed by two to three taps on the chest with your fist. In my experience, the second is more common amongst children. As Wadah rounded the corner, I squatted on my heels to get a little closer to his height and held my fist out. He looked up at me, gave me a pound, tapped his chest twice, and went on his way to another room where all the children had gathered. I was elated that I got to interact with him, but disappointed that it seemed our time together was over.

I sat down with the adults as the meeting started. A couple moments later, Wadah was leading a few of the children back into the room. They quickly surpassed his slow, tentative steps, so he dropped down on his hands and knees to crawl, moving more speedily and making up ground. He stopped about ten feet short of where we were meeting. I stood up and walked over to him and held my hands out to him, inviting him to come into my arms. He held his open arms up to me in reply. I swept him up, hugged him, carried him over to the meeting and sat him on my knee. He sat quietly and comfortably, finding spaces for his hands in mine. He eventually settled with his small hands holding one finger on each of my much larger hands. I hope he felt as joyful as I did as while we sat there together.

Quite literally, God only knows what Wadah has been through in his short life. In all likelihood, he was born with disabilities that were drastically exacerbated by malnutrition and neglect. He has and will face many challenges in his life. Thankfully, Wadah has a tremendous amount of heart. One of the most attractive things in the world to me is when broken people (and puppies) do all they can to overcome their circumstances. Grit, gumption, will, being a badass, whatever you want to call it, Wadah has it.

What breaks my heart is that Wadah will not get the help he needs to experience the fullest possible recovery from the birth lottery he largely lost. I’ve found myself hemming and hawing about the concept of adopting from a place like Liberia on this trip. Adoption saves children in some respects, but it can steal them from a country that needs them in another respect. Liberia has a whole generation of amputees and heroin addicts, child soldiers from civil wars that laid waste to their country. I believe orphanages and schools here need to be strengthened so the children of the next generation can help rebuild this country.

However, Wadah and many of his peers need involved care. After in effect watching a man die in a critical care unit last week, I can speak first hand to the fact that medical resources are limited here. If I could take Wadah home this week when I head home to SF, I would. I’ve found myself daydreaming a couple of times that I could come back for him one day.

I’ve spent a lot of time in other countries feeling that I was helping to solve others’ problems. I met homeless families in Mexico and assisted in building them homes. I did the same for folks on an Apache reservation. In eight countries, I’ve helped bring savings and loan programs to folks who did not have formal financial services available to them. I’m thankful for these opportunities and I’m proud of much of the work that I did.

Thinking about Wadah makes me wonder what more we can do. It also makes me feel trapped. There is so much more than Wadah’s life at stake. I’ve spent nearly a month in a country that was formerly a shining star of Africa, but now lacks basic infrastructure. I’m just not sure where to start, but I will say that if you or someone you know is interested in adopting Wadah, I can do my best to help.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Two Weeks

Yesterday marked two weeks that I've been in Liberia helping my friends at Partner Liberia. The trip began with a reunion of friends. Scott and Mike both hold full time jobs back in the states, but spend 15-20 hours a week on their work here, along with spending a couple months here a year collectively. Since, I've met many more intriguing, caring individuals.

Sam lived and worked in Denver for 30 years and came back to Liberia because retirement in the US was "too slow." The man is a wealth of proverbs and fries some of the best fish I've ever had. I also met Wadah. Wadah was left for dead in the street when he was roughly one and a half. He was taken in by an orphanage with which we partner. At three, he is just now learning to walk, although he can't speak and may never be able to. Josu is nearly as much a pistol as any little girl I've ever met. At 4.5, she pretty much runs the orphanage where she lives. A few nights ago, I ran the bar at an expat restaurant and spent the evening convincing everyone to order one of the three drinks I can actually make (Yes, bourbon straight up was one of them).

Josu owns my glasses, like she owns pretty much everything.

I have one move with kids. That's to hoist them in the air. It worked with Joseph.
Sam dishes out wisdom and delicious, golden fish.

Beautiful, miraculous Wadah.

These glimpses into the past two weeks are barely an introduction to the fullness of this trip. I've aspired to write bios of the folks I've gotten to know and post photo journals of the places we've seen and adventures we've had. The truth is, I feel strangely detached.

I've got a few ideas about the drivers behind this detachment, and I need to spend some more time exploring those causes. In the meantime, I'd love to share a few things that have struck me long with two realizations I've had on this trip.

First, helping orphans is awesome. I've spent years doing nonprofit work. This is a climate where effectiveness of different types of development and aid are consistently called into question. I've held exceedingly critical opinions of aid and development work. James 1:27 says: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. As far as I am concerned, there is no argument against providing vitamins, water, food, immunizations and micronutrients to orphans. Spending time with these little ones gives me a deep joy and sets my heart on fire.

I'm reminded again that I won an insane birth lottery. A couple of years ago, I was in the worst financial position of my life. I had to sell my car and watch my expenses closely. I never feared going without food or medicine that I needed. I got laid off a few weeks ago and I get to patiently go through a job search and will likely have a job soon after my return home, at a significant salary increase, in support of my desire to make a long-term life in San Francisco. Yesterday, I sat by in a hospital as a man's fate was determined by a lack of medical resources. He died hours later. Just 100 feet from where I sleep, a Liberian man sleeps in the the same complex on a deck chair.

Part of my desire to spend a month in Liberia was to hit a reset button of sorts. I've had a lot going on lately. I figured I'd come here, I'd live a different life and get some perspective. For a month, I'd be Liberian. The truth is, there is no "being Liberian" for me. I'm an American. I eat out at expat restaurants and bars. My accommodations have electricity twelve hours a day, along with running water, which I'm willing to bet 95% of the Liberian population doesn't have. This is definitely a case of being in but not of a world. It's a strangely insulating experience. While this country is beautiful, there's a great deal of injustice and suffering as well. For me, they feel at arms length.

Now for the two, rather random realizations that have come upon me in this swell of experiences and emotions.

I love San Francisco. So, so much. It is a magical place. I can identify some of the qualities I love about The City. It's a whimsical place where people put disco balls in the bay windows of their Victorians. It's surrounded by more natural beauty and adventure than one could discover in a lifetime. Beyond that, it just possesses a je ne sais quoi. Something unidentifiable and captivating. In a place of transience, it's my deep hope and prayer that the people I love stay and that we continue to build a life and a community. I want to be in this city forever.

I really can't wait to be a dad. I've met two or three children in orphanages whom I would absolutely take home tomorrow if I could. I have tremendous confidence that I am going to be a great dad when the time comes for me. This is an amazing time in my life, as I can feel the love inside of me getting bigger. I can't wait to share this love with little ones. I hope there comes a day when I have one or two of my own and one or two from a place like Liberia.

Jackie enjoys the swing set provided by Partner Liberia.