Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hello America!

We made it to Sea-Tac airport safely after a 23 hour traveling day. We caught a one hour flight to Guinea, stayed on board for a hour and a half layover, took off on a 7 hour flight to Paris, followed by a forty five minute flight to Amsterdam, and ended with a 9 hour flight into Seattle. Yes, it was very long, grueling and exhausting day for all of us. But we were happy to be home in our perfect little Gig Harbor, that was luckily basking in the sun.
This adventure will be one that our family will remember and cherish forever. We were able to spend more time together and create life long memories that would not have taken placeif we hadn't journeyed to Africa. No words can describe the love, friendship and gratefulness shared between us and the Liberian people. It will be in our minds, hearts and actions forever. Hopefully one day, we will be able to go back and visit and start another story.

With much Love,
The Golden Family

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Goodbye Africa!

Tonight is our final night in good old Liberia. There was a little reception today for us at the hospital where the staff said goodbye, and thanked us for our services at JFK. We are going to miss all of the friends we have made in the NICU and Pediatric Ward. We presented the department with a high tech resuscitation mannikin that was graciously donated by our neighbors Paul and Lita.
At the reception for us given by the Pediatric Department - Drs Okoh, Oguni, Nuta, Andrews, and Camanor as well as the PAs and nurses throughout the Dept., we were able to tell them how welcome we felt at all times, how much we had learned from them as we shared what we could with all of them. Dr Camanor mentioned that when Christ left his disciples, he indicated to them it was his time to leave, as it was their time to learn and grow on their own, and likened this to the departure of the Golden crew. We were humbled by the comparison and could sense their excitement to continue improving the care in the NICU at JFK. We took lots of photos with the staff, they had some tasty snacks and drinks to share with us, and Dad scored a cool Liberian traditional country shirt. All farewells have been emotional, because the Liberian people are warm and friendly, and we have become Liberian ourselves!
Despite the many frustrations we have experienced, we have grown fond of the people, customs and culture. Instead of saying Good-bye, we are saying, "See you Later".
Love the Goldens.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Golden F.C.

BBWT- Boys Born With Talent. This is the name of a neighborhood soccer team that consists of a group of boys who live on 16th Street here in the Sinkor area. Over a month ago we gave them a soccer ball. That ball is now, how the Liberians would say "Finish" due to barbed wire. A couple weeks ago we received a shipment containing a new soccer ball and some real soccer jerseys to take the place of their faded white T-shirts. When they received the new gear the looks on their faces will be in my mind forever. They were excited because now they would look like a real team. Their coach, Abraham, wanted to honor us for all the support we have given their team, and renamed the team, "Golden Football Club"! It's been fun getting to know the boys, bringing them cookies after their games, cheering them on, and seeing them progress. These boys were truly grateful and humble when they accepted the items that were donated. They always said thank you and treat their stuff with great respect. We would like to thank our friends Mike and Tamara, and Cheryl for their donations that have helped these boys.
~GG and Meg

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Helping Babies Breath

John and I have been extremely busy these last two weeks, teaching the "Helping Babies Breath" program to nurses, midwives, interns, PA's, doctors, and student nurses. We have traveled to several different counties and hospitals outside of Monrovia. It has been an adventure driving on the roads to these outlying places. The roads are all in ill repair with deep ruts and big puddles that you have to skirt around because you don't always know how deep they are. The countryside is beautiful though with its tropical vegetation and in some areas groves of rubber trees. Firestone has one of the biggest plantations in the world right here in Liberia. This is one of the hospitals where we taught.
It has been very gratifying teaching this program. The students have all been very eager to learn. They leave the course more confident in themselves and the new skills they have learned. If just one more baby lives because of the skills that we have taught, I will feel that we have done something meaningful for this country.
I think that John and I will need to return again in the future because we have been asked to teach this course to many other counties, and our time has come to an end. We have told all of our new friends and contacts that we will see them soon.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Final Count Down

Warm greetings from warm West Africa! We are going into final countdown, as we have 12 days left in Liberia.
I will miss most the people I have met and who have impacted us here over the last 3.5 months. They struggle with so much here in Liberia, it is still hard to fathom. Yet I still witness daily evidence of cheer and happiness from so many people, and many with far less to their names than the average person in America - far less.
I have learned much as well - how to do as much as you can with the little resources we have at hand. How to accept adversity and loss, though we have had some fine successes as well. I have learned that patience, and taking the long view of the situation, help more to promote the improvements needed in newborn care here in Liberia. Liberians, medical providers, nurses etc. have had a rough time for many years here, and often their demeanor exudes that roughness. I have had to become patient with this as well and understand that it will take a few generations to change this.
As a family it has been a fun and building experience. We have had lots of laughs, humor, frustrations, and innovations come through our lives here. There have been many less distractions - no school or school activities (we did do some home-schooling here!); no sports teams or practices or games; no music lessons or other weekly appointed things to do, or getting children to numerous activities. It has been mostly family time together - all weeknights, weekends, Sundays etc. It has been a good time with just the family hanging out together.
Most days of the week, after lunch Kim and our children would return to the hospital with me and would assist in some way with the work there: carting babies out to their mothers to breastfeed; giving baby baths and teaching young mothers how to bathe their babies; teaching breastfeeding or umbilical cord care; building patient charts from the piles of paper stapled together in random fashion; Kim teaching nurses how to do a head to toe patient assessment and to give each other a good change of shift report. Meg, GG, and MC playing with the children hospitalized on the Pediatric ward - holding them, reading to them, coloring with them, and playing with them. As a family we went once to a rural hospital to teach neonatal resuscitation skills, and every one helped in some way.
In other spare hours or days we visited orphanages, where we played with children or performed medical examinations. Just the act of visiting them, showing up to play and provide care, concern, warm spirits and some human compassion was incredibly meaningful to them. We did not have to bring anything but ourselves. And again I will observe that as long as they are generally well - most children I have seen throughout the world are happy, cheerful and will smile and play with you if given the opportunity. The same holds here in our little slice of West Africa. People are also touched if you reassure them you are praying for them, thinking of them and hoping for Liberians to be blessed by God. They have great faith as you can imagine.
Of course we have missed our family, friends and home in Washington and the USA. It has been valuable to be in touch via e-mail, FB, Skype, and even some not-too-expensive phone calls. We look forward to seeing many/most of you soon and are grateful for the support we have had while being here. And be certain we have thought of each of you often. If the FB postings, photos, blog entries have been scarce - it is just that we have been busily engaged, and you know what that can do with one's time. Best wishes to all - John and Fam

Post office Adventure!

Post office Visit by John, to Retrieve our Boxes, Shipped by Dear Friends in Washington! August 4

Parked at the post office down-town. Costs 50 Liberian dollars (70 cent) to park for an hour.
Went throughout the Ministry of Post and Communication, searching for our 5 boxes. Finally found the correct window, no thanks to any Ministry employees. Told them my name, and they found the first box - it was Cheryl M's box of donated youth soccer jerseys. They asked me "how did you know to come down here". I said" Cletus Toe told us they were here, and he goes to our church". They all know Cletus Toe so no more questions like that.
I then pulled out the donated, new reading glasses that were handed down and given to us (for the purpose of donating to people in need of magnification!), which I had carried along, and set them on the counter, with the intent of making some friends. The precedent for this was set by another American missionary couple who found they got attention and assistance with the "sharing" of free reading glasses. I offered the glasses to a few "seasoned" folks, who looked like they could use the help. People swarmed around me like ants after about 5 minutes!. Word spread like wildfire through the building that a crazy American was giving away "Free Reading glasses in the Postal Ministry Lobby". Postal workers, cleaning people, security staff - anyone and everyone were mobbing the scene, grabbing them and wanting to try them on. People ran down the hall to get at them, others ran from upstairs. All of them were yelling and hollering because they were excited about the prospect of something free. One guy grabbed a purple pair and ran off with them.
An elderly cleaning lady came by, got some glasses, and many minutes later was wearing her new reading glasses which still had the tag and sticker on it which obscured the view out of one lens. 30 or 40 pairs of reading glasses - all colors, styles, magnifications - gone like dust in the wind! At this point, a helpful window manager went upstairs and grabbed 4 more boxes that had been stowed away, so now there was a total of 5 boxes.

So now at this point, John thinks he has smoothed the way to just walk out of the Post Office with the 5 boxes of donated goods ( Materiel for the nurses in the NICU donated by TGH nurses and things like breast pumps which don't exist for most Liberian mothers; Soccer jerseys for the neighborhood team; toys donated for the orphanages; OK and a few treats for Dr Golden and his kids!) All donations for Liberian children, babies, mothers!! But Nooooooo - now the customs lady officer comes up and says "you must pay $30 dollars for these packages" Well I did not want to pay one Liberian dollar for these donated goods! And only later did I contemplate the notion that she had a grudge against me because she did not get any reading glasses! So now I go into negotiating mode! (Serious side point - while in Tanzania recently, a shop-owner asked me if I was an attorney, HA! He said I was a clever negotiator, because I fought him tooth and nail on every price he offered on our items. And I did get him way down on prices for all items!).

Carefully, slowly, and clearly I explained to her, and many interested Postal Worker bystanders wearing reading glasses, that the box contents were all donated items intended for the children of Liberia. She told us we had to fill out duty free forms to get them for free. I would thus have to go to another Ministry, the Finance Ministry and get Duty Free forms for the donated goods. I told her I did not want to do this - I challenged her to show me her duty tables, calculations, fees, math etc., so I would know this was "official" She does the calculating; I plead with another customs official to just let us walk with our packages - he declines, and the first lady now informs me "you owe 59 dollars for the duty on these items". Again I tell her I don't want to pay a thing for these boxes; she calls her supervisor on the phone, and after that call helpfully tells me I can get off free If I will go get the duty free forms at the other Ministry (I just want my boxes!! I have made a trip downtown, got to the Postal Ministry before they closed, and would have to make another special trip the next day to two Ministries - just to claim my 5 boxes).
Again I make the point, " No way! I'm not paying anything, because the people sending them have spent enough". Now to be forthcoming - I did check my pockets prior to this, fearing I may lose this match. I only had a $20 bill and told my Customs adversary, " all I have anyway is a 20 dollar bill". Customs Lady walks away at this point - she does not seem interested in my dilemma any longer.

Different plan. I asked some of the postal workers, feeling like they were my friends, "what would happen if I just walked out with these boxes?". These two nice postal ladies said that they needed to have a customs receipt, so I couldn't just leave. Lots of my newly found Postal Worker friends, wearing new reading glasses, are standing around witnessing all this. So I turn to each of them, now feeling quite put out - " alright, give me my glasses back! Hand them over - if this is the way I will be treated here, I want my glasses back right now!" They all proceed to laugh at me, at this point. I think they sense the drama in my approach.

To anyone who would listen at this point, including some customs officials, I say - "WE JUST HANDED OUT HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS IN GLASSES SO WE SHOULDN'T HAVE TO PAY ANYTHING!". I think I started getting somewhere at this point, as well as with the demand for my glasses back. My postal friends find their supervisor; OH YES! She is the one who grabbed TWO pairs of glasses - one for her, and one for her mother! Her staff are talking to her about something, she leaves in the direction of the customs counter. She returns a few minutes later, chuckling at all that has transpired. Her staff are now miffed at the customs lady - "we could lose our free glasses over this" is what I imagine they are saying. A few short minutes later, Customs Lady is back; she addresses me "I will take the 20 dollars now - this is your customs duty". I quickly wager this may be the standstill I need, that will prevent me from returning again the next day, and "what the heck, I am getting off for only 4 dollars per box!". So I hand over the tired 20 bill (most bills here are dirty, soiled, and used over and over) and get a receipt, showing that Indeed the calculated duty fee comes to exactly 20 dollars. I am satisfied, she seems well with it, and my postal friends who are heading for the door with their free glasses seem good with the deal and its finale.

So off we go, William my Liberian friend and running buddy, carrying our 5 boxes to the car. On the way, I say to him - "William, Liberia is crazy!"

Epilogue to my tale: when the packages are examined at home, it appears the pet rodent at the Postal Ministry got into one of the boxes and played with some of the contents, to our chagrin. Good old Liberia - always a surprise when you don't expect it. To all who contributed to these packages - many, many thanks. They will be put to wonderful use as noted above.

Monday, August 1, 2011


We were able to go on a Safari in Tanzania for a week. Each day was a new adventure as we drove out into the Sarangeti and viewed everything from the exotic animals, to the people and the different landscapes. Here are some highlights from each day

Day 1 - We caught an early morning flight into the northern part of the Serengeti in a small twin prop plane. Our family was the only passengers on board. Meg was scared to fly in such a small plane. Her knuckles were white while clutching the seat as we took off. As we flew over the huge expanse of desert we could see far below us Maasai villages with their bomas (fences made out of bushes and branches) encircling their livestock. The Maasai are tribal people who were once nomads. We also saw a wildebeest and zebra migration. From our view point it looked like a trail of ants. After landing on a dirt runway, we were met by our guide, David, and immediately set off to see some animals.
We saw many different varieties of antelope, giraffes, elephants, hippos, vultures who were feasting on dead animal remains, and crocodiles. We also witnessed two different river crossings by the wildebeests who were migrating to the north looking for greener grass and water. This time of year in Tanzania is the dry season. During the last crossing a wildebeest foul almost became a meal for a crocodile! We were pleased that he made it across safely; it was pretty tense there for a minute. Towards the end of the day, as we drove to our tented lodge, we saw 3 cheetas snoozing under a tree, and a little further down the road a lioness. I couldn't believe how close we were to all of these animals. We took lots of pictures! Once at camp we were shown to our tents, which I must say were luxury tents! Each tent had a small living room with a sofa, desk, and lamps. The floors were hardwood, and the bathroom was tiled and had a toilet, a big tub and separate shower. While we were at dinner that night, they warmed our beds with hot water bottles. Now this is camping in style.

Day 2 - This morning we drove out to a Maasai village…early! As in, before the sun was up! We were escorted inside their boma with all the cows. The kids got to help the women milk the cows. Meg got butted aside by a calf who wanted to nurse. It was funny, watching her get knocked over by the hungry baby. I couldn't help but notice how poor their living conditions were. The children had flies around their eyes and everyone just tramped right through all the cow dung. We were invited in to one of their little huts that are made out of sticks, mud, and dung. They are just barely big enough to stoop in; GG hit her head while entering the little hut. (She has grown considerably on this trip!) Inside there is a little pen where they keep the baby goats to protect them from lions during the night. Then we entered a room where they had a fire burning. There is a very small window that the smoke is supposed to escape through, but at the moment the smoke was filling the room. Our eyes stung and we couldn't see where they were telling us to sit. Finally, the room cleared and we were sitting on beds made of stretched cow hide. We sat there and were told about the Maasai way of life. It was very sobering. By the time the boys are around 7 years old, they are responsible for taking out a herd of goats to graze. The older boys take the cows. Sometimes they have to walk over 10 miles to find good grass. These boys eat a breakfast of milk (sometimes enriched with cow blood) and corn meal, and they don't eat again until they bring the herd home in the evening. The 14 and 15 year old boys are training to become warriors and have to live somewhere else outside of their village. The women and girls are responsible for building the huts, cooking, milking, and growing crops. They also make beautiful beaded jewelry to sell so that they can purchase items such as soap, and other necessities.
We spent the remainder of the day on a walking safari, and then went on a night game drive where we got to see some nocturnal animals. As we sleep at night the Maasai are on duty to watch over us with their spears and bow and arrows. Our camp doesn't have a fence and so any animal can come right up to your tent. We heard a zebra walking around our tent tonight.

Day 3 - Today when were driving around viewing the animals, John and Luke asked if they could get out of the jeep and kick the tires (that's safari lingo for I need to pee). Just seconds later our guide very calmly asked if they would please get back in the jeep. He had spotted a male lion laying under a tree not more than 25 yards away. Wow, what an experience! Later, we saw a pride of lions who became disturbed by a herd of elephants that marched into their territory. We also saw a leopard hiding up in an Acacia tree.
We arrived at our next camp by night fall. It was a private camp with a personal chef. Our tents were set up out in the open grasslands with nothing else around them. The tents were more primitive than the last place where we stayed, but still had nice comfortable beds. Each tent had a flushing toilet, and portable shower. The staff had to haul hot water, freshly boiled over a fire, and pour it into an eight liter bag above the shower head. The water smelled like smoke, but the shower was refreshing. We heard lots of animals outside our tents last night. A hyena, something that was grazing and chewing loudly, and a lion!

Day 4 - We set out before sunrise. It was breathtaking to see giraffes, and elephants silhouetted against the pink sky. Lots of animals were out in the early hours of the morning. We saw hyenas, cheetas, leopards, warthogs, baboons, monkeys and a male lion who had a very full belly. It was a great day for viewing animals. On our way back to camp we rounded a curve in the road and spooked a giraffe. It slipped in the mud and feel to its knees. Poor thing, its hind legs were going faster than its front legs and it kept falling. Eventually he got up and was able to lope away. We could tell that he felt embarrassed as he hid behind a tree peeking out at us:) We also encountered an elephant that wasn't all that happy that we were viewing him so closely, and he let us know it. He fanned his ears out, trumpeted loudly, and made a move that looked like his was going to charge our jeep. This isn't the first elephant who has behaved this way, so the kids were all a little unnerved by this. I didn't want to go to dinner tonight because that same male lion is somewhere outside our tents roaring. The escorts came to get us and I asked them if they had a gun. They just smiled and nodded their heads trying to assure me that we are safe. On a side note: all our tents only sleep two people so MC and Lawrence share a tent, and Meg and GG share a tent. The kids all seem fine with this set up - even with a lion close by!

Day 5 - We toured around the central Serengeti this morning looking at rock formations called Kopje. The lions like to hang out on these rocks because they have caves and they're good look-outs for prey. The cheetas hang out on the termite hills and use those as look-outs. Later we headed down to the southern part of the Serengeti where the terrain is mostly prairie with a couple of sparse trees. We did come across a couple of oasis areas that contained a small pond, with green grass and palm trees. This is where the hippos hung out. It took us about 9 hours to get to our next facility. The area was very dry because of the time of year so there was a lot of dust as we drove. We saw giraffe, elephants, ostrich, wart hogs, and lots of gazelle and antelopes along the way.
We stayed at another tented lodge that over looked a lake, which was mostly dry; the kids were excited to explore their new tented rooms.

Day 6 - Today we visited the eighth wonder of the world - the Ngorongoro Crater. It was huge! The crater was once a volcano that collapsed on itself. They think the volcano was bigger that Mt. Kilamanjaro. We drove down into the crater where their are lots of animals. The giant lake was mostly dried up and now served as a salt lick. We drove around viewing all the usual animals and then saw our first rhinoceros and it's baby. It was a very dusty day down in the crater. I couldn't wait to go to our next tent and take a shower. As we drove we passed several Maasai herding their cattle over the mountains to greener grass. The cows were all very skinny. I can't imagine what it would be like to live like the Maasai, but they don't know anything different.
We stopped at a medical facility that African Dream Safari's supports called F.A.M.E. It was started by an American cardiac anesthesiologist and his wife. The clinic serves the people in the suburbs and out in the bush. The doctor gave us a tour of the place. A lab has recently been added and they are upgrading the clinic to a hospital. There are 30 local people who are part of his staff. He invited John and I, or anyone else who may be interested, to come out and work with him. There are a couple of guest houses on the property. The only problem he has are the elephants getting into his garden!

Day 7 - Our last day on safari! We spent the majority of the day driving around in the Tarangire National Park. The terrain was beautiful. It had hills, grasslands, trees, shrubs, and swamplands. There was also a river that flowed through this area. The highlight of the day was when a herd of elephants came lumbering down into the river bed and started bathing themselves in the mud. It was so awesome to watch them splash themselves with their feet and then throw mud onto their backs with their trunks. Many of them actually laid down in the mud and rolled around. One teeny tiny baby elephant was running full speed through the shallow water, throwing its trunk around. Then it would trip, and roll around the mud trumpeting away happily. It was quite the little spunky elephant:) Our guide told us that the mud acts as a bug repellant, sunscreen, and helps to cool their skin. At the end of the day we headed back to Arusha, where our trip began. What an experience! We couldn't have asked for more.

Golden Family