Posted August 02, 2010:
First Impressions (Liberia)

by Ronald MacDonell.

Here’s a newsletter Ronnie wrote in September 1988 shortly after he arrived in Liberia, West Africa.

I  departed for Africa from Toronto in late June, after a wonderful send-off party at St. Benedict’s farm, where I had lived for some 30 years.

At Amsterdam, Genevieve Enoe, the local director of MH Liberia, introduced me to Archbishop Francis of Monrovia, Liberia, and he traveled with us to his episcopal see.

I had my first experience of warm, humid, tropical air as I stepped out of the plane at Freetown, Sierra Leone. How is it possible to live in such an environment, I wondered. My arrival in Africa coincided with the vigil of the Feast of St. John the Baptist.

The next day Genevieve and I flew in separate small planes from Monrovia to Harper. Diane Lefebvre and Fr. Cooney, our parish priest, were at the airport to meet us.

The city of Harper shows evidence of more prosperous days in the past. The apartment and area reminded me of my days in Harlem, New York. Madonna House is located in the most densely populated area of the city. Young people swarmed our car anxious to see Genevieve.

Food for human consumption is a priority. Basic needs of life are not adequately met. Although the climate is warm, people still suffer from cold due to the wind and rain which comes through leaky buildings. People also suffer from lack of medical attention, dental care, ocular treatment.

Students, even when they can manage to pay for their elementary education, face the prospect of not finding work when they graduate. Public service personnel work for months without pay.

Presently, people are asked to give fifty percent of two months’ wages to pay for the birthday celebration of the president and his visit to Maryland County. He was invited here for his birthday with the hope that he will do something to develop the area and provide a better life for his people.

The free-enterprise system dominates the economy, with foreign ownership in basic industries such as rubber and lumber. A rubber tree tapper receives a daily wage of $1.50 for tapping 350 trees.

Missionaries from the diocese came together to pay tribute to an American nun who is returning to the U.S.A. and to welcome me to the area. This gave me an opportunity to meet many of the foreign and native people working for the diocese of Cape Palmas.

On July 4 we went to the airport to meet Bishop Boniface Dalieh, who was returning from the U.S.A.

As chairman of the board of governors of an outpost hospital—River Gbeh Medical Centre "Bethesda"—Bishop Dalieh was invited to present the graduation certificates to the midwives who had completed a five-month training course in midwifery. We accompanied him on the 2 ½ hour drive to the interior.

The two-hour graduation program was well ordered, and we learned much about the good training of the midwives and their work. Due to superstition, women suffer much in the birthing process.

The excellent presentation of the children provided a good taste of local culture. We shared dinner with the graduates and others at the home of a Dutch family. The lady of the house has become a legend for her midwifery work in the area.

The city and countryside abound with young people. They are anxious to learn and they are generous. They attend church services. They come frequently to our house. Let us hope that their energy and talents can be channeled to good works which will provide for their people and for the flowering of the Church in Africa.

With the simplicity of lifestyle, basic living here takes time. Lifting water from a deep well with a rope and bucket reminds me of the pioneer days at St. Benedict’s farm.

Today I borrowed a hoe and started to work the soil for a garden.

Re-printed from Restoration, September 1988


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