PHEBE HOSPITAL JOURNAL
PHEBE HOSPITAL JOURNAL: Report #9 (On location from Saukoko)
06 February 2004
By: Kit Cone
Look! E-mail direct from Phebe Hospital by satellite telephone! Who knew?!
Bill Martin has come for the weekend, and he brought his own personal laptop computer and the "good" satellite phone that can send data. We have the Iridium satellite phone which we can use for talking; it's not much use, and we have to say things five times over, but it works and it's comforting to have it available.
So much has happened since we came here on Tuesday that it's impossible to remember or to get into a letter. I'll try to get a few salient points down here as a mini-report.
When we got here on Tuesday, the place was a shambles. Doors missing, no glass in windows, no electricity, no water, no nothing. We had loaded a big DAF truck from Holland , owned by Lutheran World Service, with things that came in the USS container that Bob Bradford had sent. As a sidelight, I have to report that Dr. Bob [ Bradford ] is the unbeatable provisions supplier! He thinks of everything!
Our first need was to fix up House 6, where Bill Martin used to live, so that we could eat and sleep in it. The building in itself was more or less intact - - masonry walls. So we put mattresses on the floor, set up an eating area in the living room with a wonderful assortment of chairs, put our food in the pantry, hung mosquito nets, and flew around making the place a bit homey.
We had brought my little fridge which had been rescued when we ran away on March 16. This was the fridge that I set up to run on big deep-discharge batteries. So on Tuesday afternoon we set up one of the generators Dr. Bob sent us, and taught it to run the refrigerator. These are superior generators. They are made by Troy- Bilt, and have done better than well. So far we are only running one, which has served for the fridge, satphone, power tools, fans, lights, and charging batteries for portable tools. We also have a propane stove, which Jim Foster had resurrected from the container. So with a collection of odd dishes and pots, we have a quite-respectable kitchen!
Butch Foster has been in charge of cooking, working with Bill's houseboy, Richard Flomo, and making very nice things to eat. She and Dr. Elaine [Riegle]are the hardest workers in the place! They never stop working, and they will undertake anything that needs doing.
We were able to eat something on Tuesday night, and then fell into our improvised beds.
With no running water, things like flushing the toilet and taking a shower bring a new sense of the value of water. We in the U.S. are so accustomed to brushing our teeth with the water running, or using water to make the grass nice and green in the summer. When you see people hauling five-gallon pails of water in a wheelbarrow from the nearest well, it gives a much better appreciation of what water is worth. There are buckets and tubs of water in the bathrooms, in the kitchen, and in the back porch which serves as the laundry room.
On Wednesday the fixing-up of the house got going. Paul [Shaner] took on the job of putting up diamond wire -- a kind of extremely heavy screening that gets its name from the fact that it is used for screening diamonds at the local mines -- and fiberglass screening over the windows and doors. He needed strips to cover the edges of the new screening, so we went looking for the big power saw from Dr. Bob's container. After a lot of hunting we concluded that there wasn't any saw in there. But I had packed a little Sears table saw that was intended for my workshop. Prince and I assembled the saw in about two hours, going though the instruction book and looking for parts and making a saw. We started up the generator, and Paul started ripping 2x4 African lumber to make the lath.
Unfortunately the saw didn't even last one hour. It just couldn't cut the hardwood, and we burned it up. Brand new saw, right out of the box, and we melted it in an hour. Very sad. Since then we have been using a hand-held circular saw, which is a tough way to cut quarter-inch strips. But we get the job done and we're making screened windows!
We have bed sheets hung up with my monofilament fishing line to make curtains. Where there are doors missing, such as on bedrooms and one bathroom, we hang bedsheets there, too. It's lovely, but it does the job. Remember: to be a missionary, you must be flexible.
By Thursday Paul finished the screens on the house, and Liberian carpenter Amos showed up - - having heard that the missionaries had returned - - and started making beds out of the same African hardwood.
[Butch Foster is going to bed now. She sends her love to her kids.]
Late Thursday and early today we have turned our attention to House 5, which is "next door." This was in anticipation of the arrival of Bill with Nurse Carrie, Marlene, and New Nurse Carol for the weekend. They need places to sleep, so we have divided up the people into two houses. Single men go in House 5: me, Paul, Gary, Carl, Mike and Bill. Married persons and single females go in House 6: Dr. Elaine, Butch and Jim, Carrie, Marlene and Carol.
Now House 5 is in pretty good shape, and this afternoon we moved in. We divided up the four bedrooms among us. Mike, who likes to refer to himself as the Full Service Waterboy, has a small room that is usually going to be for him, but when Bill comes, Bill will room with Mike. Carl has a small room which is also his office, as he does a lot of design and computer work. Paul and Gary share the master bedroom, which is quite a bit larger than the others. I have a small corner bedroom, which is also my workshop. So my floor mattress is among tool cabinets, boxes of salvaged stuff, and even a plastic chair! Not too shabby.
My workshop is a wreck, and Bill is thinking that we won't rebuild that area of the hospital. So I'm starting out with this improvised mini-workshop in my bedroom. We'll see where it goes from here.
The Bangladesh troops stationed here are an excellent lot. They are polite and professional, and they make a point of checking with us from time to time. Only a few of them speak English, which is very much like the kind of English we would expect from Pakistanis or Indians. They ask that we check with them when we go walking around the compound - - not that they need to trail after us, but they want to know roughly when we will be back. They have a guard post at the front gate of the hospital compound, and and an impressive-looking armored personnel carrier parked outside their house. They are living in what used to be Dr. Ruth's house, right across the road from House 5 where the male missionaries are now living. But as more soldiers arrive, they are moving into the larger house next to them. They have a sentry 24 hours a day outside "my" house; today, when I was working over there on putting electric service in the house, I noticed that the sentry doesn't have a chair. He's on duty and he's walking up and down with his automatic rifle over his shoulder.
I was thinking today about the journalistic expression "pockets of resistance," referring to little areas in a country where the Good People have not quite cleaned out the Bad People yet. But Liberia is the other way around: we have pockets of relative peace. We are in one. Phebe is a little island of relative sanity in a pretty bad and unstable place. Even as close as the airstrip that makes the west boundary of the hospital, there are Bad People. Richard and Prince both sleep in our house because they are afraid to go home. There are "incidents" along the road from time to time when cars are stopped - - apparently singled out for retribution after some perceived maltreatment of the rebel troops.
It would be really nice to have some sense of security, but at least here at Phebe, sticking close to our two houses, we can feel safe enough. All these Bangladeshis are a great blessing. We keep the Phebe Hospital bus here so that if necessary we could run, and we keep the satellite phone available from 12 to 12:30 and from 8 to 8:30 each day in case Bill has any urgent messages. So far there has been nothing dreadful, and although we have discussed the availability of transportation to Monrovia , none of us seems to be unsettled enough to want to run away.
There's a real sense of accomplishment when we look around at what we have done, and that was reinforced by Bill's arrival. He hadn't seen the place since he left us here on Tuesday, and when he pulled in this evening we had screens, glass in most of the windows, improvised doors, curtains, electricity, fridge, fans, some doors with new locks, pretend showers, rogue bars welded back together (with a new somewhat-portable generator welder), and a pantry full of good things to eat. Yes, it's only two buildings, but it's really an incredible amount of progress. This is a good crew of people - - there are enough of us to be able to do a lot of work, and we seem to get along very well with each other. There aren't any weirdos, and so many of us have been here (or in similar places) previously that it's not strange being in this kind of situation.
There is so much going on that it's not possible to set it all down on a screen, but maybe that's enough of a start.
Everything is strange. Kit
PHEBE HOSPITAL JOURNAL: Report #10
07 February 2004
By: Kit Cone
There is little time to write tonight because there is a line for the computer. This is the last night we have it for a while - - until Bill comes back to Phebe to visit.
I conducted a tour of the main hospital building today for some of the new arrivals. It is very discouraging. As I walk around in there and see the level of destruction, it's hard to believe that it's even possible to restore it - - and especially since we have no grants or promises of grants. I can deal with the reconstruction of a house. We managed that to some degree. But there are about 50 buildings on the hospital compound, and the hospital itself is a large and complex structure. Even just looking at the electrical problems, with circuit breaker boxes gone and wiring pulled out to be sold for the value of the copper as scrap, this seems like an overwhelming problem.
At the same time we are trying to deal rationally with the security problems. Bill and Mike and a little delegation are over at the house occupied by the Bangladesh troops right now, discussing security. Bill is concerned that we may be creating security problems by our very presence. There are opinions in the group that this could be true, but that our presence is necessary if the hospital is ever to be re-opened. We can see that our household help is being harrassed because they are working for us.
This evening a LURD soldier told Bill, who was outside cooking our dinner hamburgers, that he wanted to eat with us. Luckily Bill, a skillful diplomat, was able to talk his way out of it without any confrontation. But it is hard to escape the knowledge that we are surrounded by people who are watching our every move and coveting every one of the uncounted thousands of possessions that we have brought here in containers.
Bill went into Gbarnga today to try to get UNMIL to allow us the use of a big bucket loader to move some of the wrecked vehicles off the compound to a rusting yard. They look like a junkyard and remind people of the war. He was partly successful, and still has to get one more person to sign off on the plan. We have a big truck, two tractors, a dump truck, a sedan car, and some other junk lying around - - just stripped carcasses. Bill is a wonderful leader; it is hard to imagine how this place would be reconstructed without his leadership.
Jim is going to weld the door of the "Iron Door Warehouse," which was apparently hit by some sort of heavy munition. That will give us a place to store things as they come in by containers. All of the hospital's storage containers were looted, so we have a lot of empty storage space. I guess that's sort of good news.
The big project for today was to rehabillitate Brown Hall, a duplex apartment building for doctors. And behold! This evening ten people from an international health organization stopped here and asked if they could sleep on the compound. We offer a sense of safety in a chaotic environment, and I think there will be more of this sort of "ministry of hospitality" as time goes on.
We continue to eat well - - maybe too well - - and are in good health.
Bill will be going back to Monrovia tomorrow. He will carry his computer and satellite telephone, so this will be the last report until he gets back.
Nothing else strange. Kit
PHEBE HOSPITAL JOURNAL: Report #11
08 February 2004
By Kit Cone
We didn't expect to be ab le to send anything on Sunday, but Bill has not yet left and so we have a few minutes.
We had church this morning, half in English and half in Kpelle. It was fine! The people had not expected to be able to assemble, but we used the OPD waiting area, which is the biggest open area in the compound and so it is good for church. Eric Doe, who was a vicar when we were here last, is now a pastor and conducted the service in street clothes. There was no school-student choir, so the choir of older Kpelle-speaking people sang all the hymns using African music styles.
During the church service, while everybody was assembled, Bill made a nice presentation of five bags of rice (about 120 pounds apiece) for the people who have been working to clean up the hospital compound. It was a wonderful moment! There was applause and cheering by the congregation, most of whom were doubtless very hungry. The workers have also been paid in cash, but here it is hard to get rice. The rice will be distributed in small amounts to each worker, so that they will not be targets for the LURD ruffians.
We are having meetings to try to figure out how to make the former OPD and eye surgery center into a "mini hospital" of about 25 beds as a starting point for Phebe's resurrection. Right now Bill and Mike are meeting to talk about waste disposal. Unfortunately the eye clinic is located right next to the sludge pit which serves for "sanitary" disposal since the American-type disposal plant gave up eons ago. The equipment is still there, but it doesn't work, so the waste just flows over the equipment and into the swamp.
Bill had a meeting before church with the exalted grand dragon of the LURD group that controls this area. Right off I can't think of another missionary who would go out looking for the LURD leader to talk turkey with him. That's leadership. He went to the "parking place" at the end of the hospital entrance, on the highway, and put out the word that he wanted to talk to Leopard. He got to an intermediary and then to Leopard himself. The meeting went tolerably well. Bill tried to impress upon Leopard that it would be a nice addition to his professional resume if he could say that he had made the opening of the hospital possible. And also that one day he, as the LURD leader, might need the services of a hospital.
This evening we will have African food for the first time. Richard got some potato greens - - my favorite kind of leaves - - and he and Butch are doing some brewing in the kitchen.
It is time to send messages. We have to start up the generator, get everything connected, and point the antenna toward the Indian Ocean . We found a satellite there that works better than the one over Venezuela . So our little messages go across all of Africa and some of the Indian Ocean to get to the satellite. From there they are sent to an earth station in Canada , and then into the telephone lines to go to UUPlus in California . From there to Jenny in New Jersey , and she sends them to you. It can't possibly work, but it does!
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Last Modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 16:28