My More than Me Mission: Entry 2
I LOVE LIBERIA! I am finally here!!! Its 7pm on Monday in Monrovia Liberia. I wrote down everything I could think of to tell all of you! Right now I'm on the couch in our apartment, so grateful that we have Wifi here!
Today was an AMAZING day!!! I helped teach at the More Than Me summer camp and FINALLY met the girls that I've been talking about all this time! I love them all! They were from age 5-16 and there were about 120 of them. And i met every single one! They all had such huge smiles and were all so happy to be there. As we walked towards the school house I was getting more and more excited! This is the moment I've been hoping for and traveled so far for! In the beginning I asked every single girl I saw their names and they were sooo sweet! I would hug them or give them high fives and then tell them my name. They pronounce it "Krace" :) i found myself starting to talk in their accent towards the end of the day, which I didn't expect myself to do, but I figured it would be easier for them to understand me that way. Right after hugging them the little girls would hold me hand or just stand right next to me, and in minutes I had a whole big group crowded around me! I wanted to give everyone attention so I made sure to make ever contact and smile at everyone, and they kept telling me how pretty I was, that my hands are smoothe, that they like my hair.
By the way, the weather started off drizzling but turnout to be sunny and 85. The building was something I've never been inside before, it was made of old cement with 7 rooms, each with 1 broken old chalkboard & long wooden desks that fit about 4 girls each. The floor was cement but had dust all over. The outside is painted bright yellow and royal blue. The big windows had steel bars over it and neighborhood boys pokes their heads in and watched the whole day (because it's a girls camp). I made sure I still high fived the boys and asked their names, but the little girls all ignored the boys.
The first hour of camp was greetings and singing, and it was ADORABLE! Macintosh is the main More Than Me guy here, and he leads the camp. There were 100 little girls packed in the one room and it was just the best thing to see. They were crammed in long desks that fit 5 girls each and then some sitting on chairs and the tips of desks. The older girls stood in the "doorway". Macintosh had then greet the teachers and say "Good morning Grace how are you this morning" And I say "I am good How about you" and they say "we are fine thank you". And then they do that fir every teacher! So that was to me, Macintosh, Angie (MTM volunteer from Kentucky that teaches Liberian refugees), Maggie (MTM volunteer artist from NYC), Jen (MTM volunteer from Ohio thats a social worker), Rebecca (MTM volunteer from Ohio thats a professional puppeteer), and Katie (the founder of MTM). Imagine 100 girls saying that over and over, it was such a cool moment! And everyone answered something different, like Ok, Hungry, Great, and Good. Maggie asked them "How you body" (meaning how are you feeling in Liberian English) bevause she knows that no matter what yiy ask they always respond "we are fine thank you", so adorable!
They all sang together, did a prayer, and said their pledge of allegiance too. When they sang sings I caught on fast so it was fun. And then Macintosh told them to sing it again until I knew it because he said that was how they could be polite to their visitor :) I made eye contact and smiled all over the room at as many firms as I could. It was just love and happiness coming from every direction!
I noticed the older girls were kind of watching the younger girls instead of singing so I talked to them. Antoinette was 11 I think and had the best braids! She was super quiet when I first introduced myself and was literally the only student that didn't get excited to meet me. But after the hour of singing when I talked to the big girls she warned up to me, and by the end she was just as excited as the other girls! She would pose with her friends for pictures and asked me the names of everyone in my family. The girls kept asking me if I had a child! I told them no because I was too young and that I was 19, and they would smile and laugh because they thought I was 30! :) A lot of them asked me to be their friend, and I said "of course I am your friend you are so sweet and so beautiful". They told me my nails were so soft, that my skin was cold, that they like my flip flops (they were literally 10 years old, Reefs that are peach colored). When I took my hair out of my bun, they went crazy! They loved it, and we're petting it, stringing their fingers through it, and putting it in ponytails in their hands. I told 2 of the older firms that it used to be down to my waist and I cut it to donate and they said BUT WHY?! So I told them I mailed my extra hair to a sick girl that didn't have hair, and they said "you are so nice". Then rumor got around that I did that and when I would introduce myself to new girls they would say "you cut your hair?" haha!
The names I remember are Eef, Ruth, Joanna, Mamua, Ma, Antoinette, and I met a Grace! And I met Morrisline from the MTM promo video that I've seen so many times that I've memorized. I also métier Abigail, who's Macintosh's daughter who's in a ton of MTM photos. I forget the rest of the names, but they are all nice about telling me their names again thankfully because I WILL have them memorized by the time I come home!
During the school day I helped the teachers in 2 classrooms. The guest was 1st grade and Chris, a Liberian MTM worker that's going to the university for medicine and nursing) was teaching them to draw what they read on the board. He wrote fish and I drew a fish, he wrote house and I drew a house, etc. and their drawings turned out great! So adorable.
When they were drawing Chris and I talked and he told me he goes to church on Sundays, and I REALLY wish I was staying the extra 2 days for that! Ahh I would have LOVED that! I asked him if there were any services during the week and he said there's bible study on Wednesday and that May who was the woman sitting at the front desk of the school went to the bible studies. So I left the class and asked May about it. Her whole left arm was covered in a healed burn, and she welcomed me to Liberia and told me she would love for me to come to the study, but she said hopefully enough people attend. Then the principle of the camp, Charles, asked me what denomination I am, and when I told him Assemblies of God, he said AG? So I said yes! It was cool that they knew! We talked about the bible for about 10 minutes I loved it!
I went into the 2nd room and helped the firms with spelling, reading, and writing. There were questions on the board and they had to answer them. Questions like "How did u spand your week end" so I re-wrote it correctly for them :) they also asked "what did you learn at camp last week" and "what is your favorite food to eat". I would sit in the long desks and help a couple firms and move to the other side of the room. When I would be there girls would poke me, pull my shirt, and call my name so I could answer their questions. Mostly it was how to spell "friend, grandmother, and beans." they all said "can you please help me spell..." EVERYONE said please every time.
Then Maggie needed me to sit in the front of the class and the firms were going to draw a portrait of me! It was funny because the firms would make silly faces at me to make me laugh :) I took pictures of their drawings of me! It was such a cool moment! The teachers say that they have a hard time being creative because women are not taught that here, so drawing me was a step towards that because it was drawing their interpretation of what they saw. After that was when I spent most time talking and playing with the girls. I was sitting on a small broken table and in minutes after their drawings were done I had 12 girls hanging on me, playing with my hair, and asking me questions about myself! I made sure to give everyone attention. And they would just want to he my hand or hang on my shoulder, or just have their hand on me somehow. But when I would see another girl finish their drawing I would get up and take their picture. Then they posed for a bunch of pictures because they loved looking at them after. They would say "can you take a snap for me"?
Then camp was over and there was lunch. Macintosh had a huge bowl, probably 3 feet wide, filled with white rice and then gave them 2 scoops of a mixture of chicken feet, fish, greens, a brown sauce that I think is called pepper sauce, and greens. They had to bring their own bowl, and if they didn't bring a spoon they ate with their hands. They would mix it up and everything with their hands. And eat it sitting on the dirt floor outside the school house. I got offered by about 6 firms if I wanted some! That blew my mind. They offered to give me some when that was probably their only meal of the day. That's a mentality that I want to learn here and bring home with me. Loving your neighbor so much that you would give them what they need no matter what, even if you don't have enough of it to give.
After lunch they would wash their bowls with a cup of water out of a huge jug, and then left. Everyone hugged me goodbye, and the ones that stayed crowded around me so I sat on the stairs and took pictures with them. I got some great ones! Then I pulled out a foldable frisbee that I brought (from my Ithaca College orientation) and I told them to all follow me to an open area and get in a circle. They all got in a circle by holding hands and spreading out. Sooo cute! When I pulled it out of my fanny pack they got so excited and had so much fun with it! It's flimsy so it would move in the wind instead of going where you tried to throw it, so they had a great time and laughed so much. WAIT I just had a GREAT IDEA! I'm going to take pics of the firms throwing it around tomorrow and have a frisbee fundraiser for More Than Me at IC with the pics of the girls with the IC frisbee! Maybe even get the Ithaca College frisbee team help fundraise for it!!!!
Anyway, after that I had my first African meal with Jen and Macintosh. It was in a tiny restaurant and I got Rice Jolof which was rice in a brown sauce with chicken and it was really good! There was pepper sauce on the side but it was too spicy for me! And we got there on Macintosh's "pen-pen" it's what they call a motorcycle!! It was my first time on one and the first thing I said when I got on was "my mom won't be happy about this!" haha sorry mom! :) :) They said it was the fastest way to get around and we could go through traffic, and it was literally my only ride and I'm glad I did it! I felt safe and just held on to Macintosh and the seat :) Then he showed us around West Point, which is the city we are in. Then he brought us to Ducor Palace which is the best view in the city! It was beautiful! That's where they filmed some of the promo video for MTM and it was a pretty cool moment! I told Macintosh I could recite exactly what he said in the video because I've seen it do many times and when I actually did in his accent it was funny!! :) The place was Liberias first 5 star hotel from before the war and now it's deserted and just cement walls with tons of floors and stairs.
Our ride back to our apartment was awesome! We drive through the streets with houses, shops, and a market on it. We passes their court house, military and other important buildings. Their presidents house and office is guarded with all Indian women, I thought that was very interesting, and definitely made a statement. Their president is a woman by the way.
I didn't want the ride to be over because I love seeing people's outfits, houses, and what they are doing. A lot of women and kids were carrying huge things on their heads! We passed a Stop & Shop grocery store, I was surprised to see an American chain here but it was probably a sixth of the size of the ones we know.
Then we got home! The apartment belongs to Katie's friend who is away for the summer and all the volunteers are staying here. They all say it's by far the nicest place they've stayed in Africa before so I got lucky :) It's a 2 bedroom nice apartment with 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and a family room/dining room. We have a water cooler so we don't drink Liberian water, and wifi, and a TV and AC. And a fridge and comfy couches!
And just so you know, traveling here yesterday and the day before went great! I was more nervous to fly by myself than to be in Liberia for sure, so it was a relief that it was such a nice experience.
When i got to the airport for my flight from NYC to Brussels, I was with my family and the sassy girl behind the counter asked me to come up to her counter when there was already a guy there. So I did, and I overheard him say that he was going to Liberia and then he asked if he could have some sort of VIP service where he could skip the long security check and she said sure! So said I was going to the same place so "could I do that too?" and she said of course! So then I liked her a lot more because she quickly checked me in and had the guy, me, and my family speed walk behind her to skip the long line! It all happened to fast and my family was not expecting that at all, so our goodbye was extremely rushed (just quick hugs and saying goodbye with huge smiles). I got right through as I kept following the worker and the guy, and I just kept thanking god because that saved so much time! As I took off my backpack, fannypack (Yes I'm wearing one!) and shoes, my family was waving at me and taking pictures through the glass wall. My dad was blowing in the glass and my sister was making hand motions that she would be praying for me. I walked to my gate with the guy who got the VIP service with me, and it turned out that he was a Cornell grad! That's the university right next to my college! It was just another reminder that God is working everywhere all the time! God sent him there for me to speed up the process and get me to the gate safely! His name was Jonathan and he was the first of many super nice people to help me and make me smile that day. I ended up sitting next to a girl in her 20 th that knew Katie and More Than Me! Out of everyone on the plane! Her name is Archelle and she was great!
She makes Liberian bags and dresses and I'm definitely buying a dress! Her website is itsarchel.bigcartel.com , check it out!! Archelle took great care of me and answered all of my newbie questions :)
My flights were each 7 hours with 5 hours in between where we were in Brussels. During the flights I mostly slept and looked up Bible verses that I jotted down on notes to put into a journal of mine, and I found some really great ones!
The verse that touched me the most was 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No test of temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember us that God will never let you down. He'll never let you be pushes past your limit. He'll always be there to help you come through it."
Some other eye-opening verses were Galatians 5:22-23, Ecclesiastes 11:9, 1 Peter 4:1-5, Matthew 10:21-23 and Luke 4:16-21
When I pulled out my Bible and started reading, I put my Church of the Hills worship team music on and got so into it all! I was understanding and appreciating verses like I never had before. I wanted so badly to talk to someone on the plane and just ask "Isn't God just the best? He's working everywhere!" but I didn't :) I couldn't help but hope that the people could see Jesus in me before I even pulled out my Bible.
Meeting Katie in Brussels was fun because we hung out and it was cool seeing Katie interact with strangers because she is so comfortable and asks every question that comes to her mind. I consider myself outgoing, but she is on another level, and I love it! It's refreshing and great to see, and I'm excited to be that way with the kids! I love working with her because she has so many great creative ideas that would help our girls so much! The marketing, branding, fundraising, and networking that Katie does are definitely traits of hers that I am learning from, and I'm so proud to be applying those new learned skills to benefit More Than Me!
When I got off the plane it was drizzling and the skies were grey, but right away I noticed the palm trees and exotic other trees! We packed onto a shuttle and then, as we're piling into the airport, a tall muscular older liberian man in an army uniform called "Grace? Where is Grace?" It was pretty intimidating but I poled my head out through the group and said "To meet Katie Meyler?" and he said yes so he pushed me through the line and brought me to Katie to have our Visas checked and get our bags.
I looked out the window the whole 30 minute drive to our apartment because it was my first time seeing Liberia and Africa! It was raining, but I noticed that most houses had clothes lines filled with clothes that were gerting soaking wet. It made me sad for them.
We got to the apartment and the volunteers were very welcoming! After being here for 45 min, Macintosh came to the apartment with 8 of the girls and another MTM worker named Claud. So thats when I met the girls for the first time! Right away they ran up to me and hugged me and sat on my lap before I even told them my name! Imagine 6 MTM volunteers, 2 MTM men, and 8 MTM students in a small family room! I told them I'm so excited to play and dance with them! They kept petting my legs and saying how smooth they were and petting my hair :)
So that's all for now! Thanks so much for reading about my More Than Me Mission!
- Grace Schroeder
To read Grace's first entry, click here.