Of orphan camp farewell, a Peace Corps volunteer and a trip to Boston

Lani Fortier expresses gratitude; Mission accomplished at orphan camp

As time was running down here I was getting more and more upset about leaving Liberia, busier and busier trying to tie up loose ends, and going nuts trying to get a plan in place for the continued support of the Fatima Orphanage.  To add to the chaos I have had more African meals of cassava leaf, fufu, and mystery meat in the last few days than in the last four months put together, and in keeping with my goal of living the true African experience, I have worms.  It has not been a pleasant few days, but I am sort of glad. Now I know how awful all the kids’ poor little bellies feel all the time and am all the more determined to keep helping them, or at least keep sending enough money for worm medicine.

We did one last sleepover at Fatima last week, and as expected it was amazing.  This time it was sans rats which was a nice change.   The girls platted (braided) our hair (not the same on a couple of white girls from Norway and New Hampshire), sang songs in Bassa and Pelle, told us stories and tried once again to teach me to dance.   It was unsuccessful, of course, but they always seem entertained watching me try.   The highlight of the day was giving “Mommy” ( the woman who lives in the girl’s dorm) a guitar.  She told me a while ago that she used to love to play, but during the war her guitar had been stolen by the rebels.   We figured anybody who is willing to live in a cramped, dark building with 75 girls deserves something for herself, so we begged and pleaded until a girl on the ship gave us her guitar.  Mommy seemed a little rusty after 10 years without playing, but she was definitely psyched. She hugged it for a while, and cried, then promised she would learn a country song to play for me when I come back to Liberia.  She knows what I like.

So the overnight was good, but the goodbye was awful.  As I write this the coastline of Monrovia is fading on the horizon, and I am not sure it’s possible to describe how I feel.  The obvious emotion is just sad.  I can’t believe how hard I have fallen for the kids at Fatima and for Liberia in general.  Who would have known a ridiculously hot, smelly, war-torn nation, and a bunch of dirty kids would be so hard to leave.  The last four months have been a lot to take in, and the last week has been pushing the limits.  To tell the truth I am pretty exhausted right now, and a little time to decompress would be nice, but I am having trouble focusing on anything beyond getting stuff done at Fatima. Having to leave is awful, but it is definitely not the end.  This has probably been the most incredible experience of my life, and to say that being a part of what happened at Fatima was great does not do the experience justice.

It was a privileged to be with these kids and to see how much happier they have become over the last few months.  What I have gained from this far outweighs what I will ever be able to give back.  I wish every one of you could have been here in person to see the transformation.  It may not seem like it with the worms and rats and all, but I undoubtedly got the good end of this deal by being here.  I honestly don’t think there’s anything in the world quite as sweet as giving a bed to a child who has never slept off the floor. Having a decent place to sleep seems so simple, but here it is an unaffordable luxury for most people.   To be there when a person gets it is amazing.  It really is ridiculous how great it feels.  Words are inadequate, so I will just say that if you ever have the chance to do it, it’s like nothing else.

Anyway, the point of all this rambling is that I will be forever grateful to all of you for your help.  When I arrived here there were 150 kids on the verge of losing the only semblance of stability they had, and an elderly woman on the verge of losing everything she had dedicated the last 36 years of her life to. Four months later those kids have beds to sleep on, a roof over their heads, a clean, dry place to eat (almost), and most importantly a couple of hundred of people around the world who care a lot about what happens to them. Affection, caring and compassion are not luxuries children in his country were granted for the last 14 years.   Introducing them to these concepts has given them the chance to see beyond their immediate situation and to dream a bit about their future…priceless.   As if that weren’t enough I got to see an 80-year old Liberian woman dance, sing and praise Jesus for saving her orphanage.  Next time I am bringing a video camera.  I invited the President of the Orphanage committee from the Ministry of Health to Fatima last week.  He was amazed with the improvements and Fatima is officially off the closure list. Mission accomplished.

So I have to leave Liberia for now, but the work at Fatima is going to continue. David and Adda are willing to keep working out there and we have set up an account with Adda so we can wire money to her form the U.S. and Europe. We were also able to leave a digital camera with Adda, and she has the internet at work so the pictures should keep coming.   As we come up with more concrete plans for what the next project will look like, I will let you know. Okay, this is probably more than most of you wanted to read.  Sorry, but it doesn’t seem like nearly enough to let you all know how grateful I am.   Keep checking the website (Fatimaorphanage.com).  I will do updates and put new pictures on as often as I can, and there are a couple of new albums up from last weekend.  I guess that’s about it for now.  Thanks again for everything.

Lani Fortier, aboard a Mercy Ship
(Lani is a resident of Rye)

A Peace Corps volunteer finds self in Mali—at age 59

Great, great news that someone has followed his heart to serve.  Beautiful pictures as well.  The article underlies the courage and faith needed to make the decision, in later life, to serve in the Peace Corps.

Nancy Wheaton Modern, Portsmouth, N.H.

Very well written article.

Randa Charland, Cape Neddick, Maine

Boston remains a magnet for 25-year Rye resident

How wonderful to see an article about my birthplace and hometown….Boston! The city where my “foundation” was set.  Trinity Church, where my brother, sister and I were very active as teens and young adults.  We were so busy with church activities there wasn’t much time to get into trouble.  

Another note about the Museum of Fine Arts and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  They are both wonderful places to meditate and cool off on a hot day.  My school friends and I used to stop in to both places on the way home from the then Girls’ Latin High School, which has long been relocated to Dorchester, Mass., but in the 50’s was right there on the “Fens” and just stroll around absorbing the culture via osmosis.  Sometimes there would be a chamber music concert in process at Mrs. Gardner’s home.

On other days we would spend time in the BPL, as we called the Boston Public Library.  One could sit in the little courtyard to read a book.

Thanks for a walk down memory lane via our old haunts…Copley Square and the Back Bay.

Even with all of its hustle and bustle Boston can be so charming.  But, I am also still in love with Rye!

Jean Wadman, Rye, N.H.

June, 2006