I Do Believe in Ghosts – I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do

The piece of paper, folded into letter-size thirds—with the words “Pammy, bring this to Brett Funeral Home on Wisconsin and 20th” in his handwriting—is sitting alone on the desk with no other papers around it. Just seeing his writing sends a sudden chill up my spine that causes my hand, with a will of its own, to reach toward the paper.

I have no reason to think this paper odd. Seven days ago, I received the call that Daddy had unexpectedly passed, and I flew from California to Milwaukee. I am now packing up the remaining items in his apartment. Two of my four sisters are with me, but right now they are elsewhere in the building, attending to phone calls and speaking with management. I have a box at my feet half full of his books, a few catalogs, and several photo albums. But as I grab the paper, bring it closer, and read it again, a sudden stabbing of fear, excitement, disbelief, and knowingness overtakes me all at once, and my mind flashes to the conversation I had last night with Pammy (my third-eldest sister, who was named executor of Dad’s estate).

“Dad didn’t want a funeral, just so you know—he just wanted a celebration,” Pammy had shared with me and Margie, my eldest sister.

“Okay, that makes sense. So then how or when do we get our urn with his ashes?” I innocently asked.

“What urn? What are you talking about?” Pam was suddenly stopped, like a deer in the middle of the road.

I replied, “Dad told me that he had it all worked out. He took me to breakfast at one of his favorite places, you know, what’s it called, like the “The Broken Yolk?”

“Yeah, he took me there, too . . . ” She’s tapping her foot, impatiently waiting for me to finish.

I continued, “He pointed to the red building across the street and said, ‘Sprytee, over there is where I’m going to be cremated someday. Pammy knows and has all the details.’ And he told me there would be six urns, one for each of us kids, and everything was all taken care of.”

“No. That’s not at ALL what he told me!” Pammy was visibly upset. “And I even have everything here written down, Spryte! Look for yourself, there is nothing about urns. He wanted to be cremated and his ashes buried at the Veterans Cemetery; and he wanted us to have a celebration during a Packer game and serve him up a martini with two olives! That’s it! He did not want a service, and there’s no request for urns, Spryte.” Her voice was rising, understandably. She had been the one—the only one of us kids—living close enough to go clean up the mess his bodily fluids had left on the kitchen floor where he died, and to start the whole process from autopsy to police investigation to dealing with the many conversations that are needed to close down a person’s life! And now, here she was, hearing something new to deal with—and not a small thing, as it pertained to how her father wanted to leave his remains to his children.

“All I know, Pammy, is that is what he told me. And this was just a year ago,” I said, trying to remain calm. But I could feel this fight for my rights as one of six children rising up inside me. It surprised me, actually. I could feel the argument begin and grow inside my head in a matter of seconds: Why does  this matter? It matters a lot! Just because she is executor, she doesn’t get to change things. There had to be a reason Daddy told me that! I don’t want him stuck in the ground where I’ll never go see him. Who cares? He doesn’t live in his ashes, Spryte. You know that. Let it go. Go with the flow here—it’s not worth fighting over anything—what matters is supporting each other right now.

Pammy took a breath . And I felt grateful. “Okay, well, let’s just talk about this later,” she sighed. “Why don’t you go ahead and keep packing up his things tomorrow morning, and Margie and I will keep going through all the paperwork down here. I already removed all his papers. There’s his books, clothes, toiletries, kitchen stuff, and furniture still left in the apartment to deal with.” “Okay, sis,” I replied.

Now, staring at this lone piece of paper in my hand, I look up and quickly scan the small studio apartment, her words from last night still ringing in my ears. “I already removed all his papers.”

She had. I can feel my eyes ready to pop out of my skull as they dart around the room, searching for  other papers she had perhaps overlooked. The sweat begins to rise on my skin, even though it’s cool and somewhat breezy in the apartment, the windows wide open to help air out the smell left from his decaying body.

My hands start to shake just slightly as I begin  to open up the folded piece of paper, and I can suddenly hear my heartbeat inside my chest. That’s an amazing phenomenon. How unaware we usually are of our own heartbeat until moments like this. And in this moment, I can feel a presence i n the apartment with me.

At the top of the paper is the logo and address of Brett Funeral Home, and I quickly assess  the paper to be an order form. I scan right to the center of the page, where it outlines, “Six urns @ $265.00 each to be paid in full.” Frantically, I search for a date! Where is the date on this? Dammit. Why isn’t the date in an obvious place? I finally spot it. All I care about is . . . 1998.

“You got to be kidding me!” I say out loud. “How in the heck did this get here?” But I know.

Immediately I call Pammy, who picks up on ring one. “Pammy, get up here right now—I found it! I just found a paper that has Dad’s request for urns!”

“You what? You did not. Spryte, there are no more papers in the apartment; what are you saying?”

“Pammy, come up here right now! Please!”

Two minutes later, Pammy and Margie come walking through Dad’s door and close it behind them. They both look skeptical but curious. I just hand Pammy the paper, folded face up, the way I had found it. “Pammy, it was right here, sitting all by itself on the desk, in plain view.”

She opens it and gasps. One hand is shaking as she holds the paper, and the other hand is moving slowly up to cover her mouth in disbelief. She looks up at Margie and then at me. “This is really weird. I took all the papers out of here myself, Spryte.” Margie concurs, saying, “I was in here packing his clothes up yesterday. All the papers were already out of here.”

“Why didn’t he tell me about this?” Pammy questions. “That’s not like Dad; he’s so thorough.”

“I know. And especially, why would he tell me just a year ago, and not you? It doesn’t make sense; but Daddy was getting older and more forgetful. Pammy, maybe he just plain forgot to tell you?”

“But how did this paper get here, Spryte?” She is standing next to me in the middle of the room, and Margie is sitting on the bed by the door. We both look over at Margie, who is shaking her head in disbelief.

“It’s super-obvious to me; may not be to you guys. Dad put it here. It was face up on the desk. Pammy, he wanted you to know he made a mistake and forgot to tell you about the urns he wanted us all to have. Whether you removed his papers or not, Dad found this one among them all and got it here in the open, plain as day, for us to find.” They both just look at me, wanting to say, “That can’t be!” but unable to deny the evidence. And in that moment, the door to Daddy’s apartment opens next to Margie. We all turn to look at it in silence, our mouths open.

Thirty seconds later, as we stand in the silence that feels as thick as molasses, none of us knowing what to say, the door closes.

Crossing Over to the Other Side

It’s been one month ago today since I got the news of my father’s passing. And for the last thirty days I’ve felt him with me daily. I obviously didn’t know how that was going to feel until it happened, so I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. In fact, I think I’m pretty much like most folks in western civilization in that regard. We don’t think about death—we try to avoid that topic as it relates to us or those we love.

I am a very spiritual person. I’m what some people call intuitive and others call psychic, and I saw Angels by my bed at about the age of four. I’ve communicated with Angels, or spirits, most of my life. And yet, I hadn’t given death—specifically the death of my parents and how I may feel or react when it happened—much mental head time. It was really just a topic I preferred, like most of us, to avoid. I’d deal with it once it actually happened.

I know now, of course, at least in the case of my father (whom I like to call Daddy), how I would react. At the moment I got the news he had passed on, there was no thought involved at all—just an uncontrollable wailing that sprang forth from my being.

In the days that followed, I went to sleep talking out loud to him, and woke to find he was first on my mind. I could feel him in my heart—like the sun on my chest from a warm, fresh spring day—and I could feel him around me as though he was just part of the air that engulfed my whole body; there’s no escaping it, and why would I want to? It’s life sustaining. That’s how it felt: a happiness that was mixed with my own sadness and grief. In any moment, the tears could start flowing from this sprung well inside of me. At times, the rush of grief felt overwhelming, uncontrollable—and I never tried to control it.

I had learned (gratefully) years ago, and in my work as an emotional trauma relief therapist, to just let it flow, then let it go. And sometimes I would just feel this quiet smile rise up in my heart, and I knew instantly it was him. How did I know that? one might ask. Because I had never felt it before his death. And it was like the feeling I got after my two Yorkies, Princess and Queenie, had passed on. I learned, over time, that that feeling, similar to what I was now feeling, happened when they (or their spirits) were present with me.

But this feeling I had with Daddy’s visits was different. It was actually visceral. I could feel, down inside of my cells, this feeling, like a buzzing—an aliveness I hadn’t felt ever before. The closest I can come to describing it is when you get that “goosebumpily” feeling of excitement when you recognize someone you love whom you haven’t seen in a long time. Except in this case, the goosebumpily feeling is inside your skin, inside your body, not on the outside. I took this as meaning that I was feeling Daddy inside of my cells. And a friend who does work with Ancestral Energy Healing confirmed this for me. After all, my DNA is from my daddy and my mommy—that’s a given, right? So, if daddy is no longer in human form, and he has transcended into spirit (energy) form, then it would make sense that he is now able to activate anything that is still part of him, including me! I am not a quantum physics teacher, so I can’t literally describe how this might work on an energy or scientific level, but I can tell you how it feels. It’s absolutely incredible!

Now you might be asking, especially if you have a parent who has passed on, why you haven’t felt this incredible DNA-popping, exploding feeling. I don’t know the answer to that. But I suspect it’s just an allowing. (Critics may say it was just my imagination. That’s fine. I read somewhere recently, “Cynicism is the atrophy of imagination.” So there you go.)

I know, from many years of working as spiritual teacher, that people often feel silly when discussing supernatural or spiritual phenomena such as this, because—let’s face it—there aren’t too many places one gets access to such events. Our modern society likes us to talk about things we can see, hear, and touch; anything else is considered “woo-woo.” That’s fine for others, but rather limiting—for me. I prefer to live outside the box of what’s considered normal. So I’ve learned to allow myself to see, hear, and touch what others don’t.

So for the last month, through my grief, tears, and welling up of sadness at often inappropriate times, I just let the feelings happen. And I also let the sizzling of my cells inside, which lit a flame of warmth in my heart and tickled my tummy, tell me that Daddy was with me. Sometimes that made me cry, too, and, along with the tears, it always made me laugh, out loud, quite uncontrollably. And I found myself walking around thinking—and even saying to my friends—“Why isn’t everyone talking about this incredible thing called Parents Transitioning to the Other Side??!”

I also realize that it may have a lot to do with the relationship we have with our parents. You see, for me, there were many years I didn’t have a close relationship with my father. We had to battle through tough questions, and what I call steel-grit forgiveness, to find a place of non-judgment and acceptance in order to have a relationship. But we did. We were both willing. And I’m so grateful for that. Daddy actually worked hard at creating space for non-judgment and forgiveness—in fact, he made a daily, real practice out of it. This may be why his Spirit, now on the other side, is so strong, and why I feel it so powerfully.

Well, I did feel it—it lasted every day for thirty days.

Now I don’t.

And I think about what that means. Was he here to help me and the family deal with his passing, and now he’s off on his next adventure? If that’s true, I smile at this, for him. I’m ecstatic for him, actually, at the thought of this. And It breaks my heart at the same time.

I cry for me.

And I suddenly remember and feel the abandonment.

It happened when I was five, when he left the family. I remember leaving his new apartment for the first time, and sitting in the way back of our station wagon. (Remember the kind that had the rear seat facing toward the back of the car instead of the front?) And there I was, waving and sobbing, watching him standing the middle of the street waving goodbye, getting smaller and smaller as we drove away.

And I remember the last time I saw him in person, just three months ago. There he was again, outside of his apartment, waving goodbye as I drove away. And I sobbed waving goodbye, just like I did when I was five years old —as though I somehow knew it was going to be the last time I would see him . . . alive. Only this time, he was sobbing, too! I had even turned to my beloved, who was sitting next to me in the car, and said, “This feels like one of the last times I may get to see him.” But what I was thinking and could not say out loud was, “This is it.”

But it’s different this time, this feeling of abandonment.

I feel him gone. Yet, this time I know he’s still a part of me. He lives on in my every cell!

Really, how cool is that?

There is something different happening to me now. And I sense he will still come visit me from time to time—as he did when he first passed—in between his other dimensional travel. Suddenly I realize – yes, he has truly crossed over to the other side. And its more than that he was staying around to make sure I was okay. It’s like it was a gift for him as much as it was for me. I got to be with my daddy every day for thirty days, in a closeness, and love, and connection we never got to experience!

That makes me giggle with delight.

I feel a peace – and a completeness –  I have never known before.

And I look forward to what may be new vistas in our relationship, beyond the limits of this space and time.

If you have thoughts to share about your parent’s passing and how it felt or feels for you, please do. I invite the conversation.

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That’s My Dad – Dead or Alive

I’ll never know, really, if it was a premonition  or his spirit coming to me when he passed. This is because I can’t for the life of me (no pun intended) remember what day it happened—the vision, that is. But it was real. That’s what matters. I saw him. Lying on the kitchen floor, next to a pool of blood. Dead.

So when I get the call from my eldest sister, I’m riding in a car at a 14,000-foot elevation, and all I can hear is, “It’s (crying) . . . SILENCE . . . (crying) . . . Dad . . . SILENCE . . . (crying) . . . ” I bark into the phone, “I can’t really hear you! Are you crying? What’s wrong?”

“It’s . . . SILENCE . . . (crying) . . . passed . . . SILENCE . . . ”

I frantically yell into the phone, “If you can hear ME, I’m in the mountains! We’re trying to find a good signal spot, keep talking!”

SILENCE (crying) . . .

The line drops.

And as I’m trying to call her back, the text comes through. I know she doesn’t want to tell me this way.

It reads: Dad passed. They found him in his apartment.

My friend finds a spot to pull over. And as I say out loud, “My dad passed away; he’s dead,” an uncontrollable wailing rises in me like a snake attacking its prey, surprising me—there is no stopping it. My friend reaches over and hugs me, and I unleash a torrent of sobs into his chest. In that moment, a rush of images and feelings fight for attention: Where is my beloved when I need and want him? Why isn’t it his t-shirt I’m soaking with my tears? It can’t really be true that I will never see Daddy alive again, but it must be, because I foresaw him dead . . . I need to call my sister back and support her . . . she must be frantic and feel so alone and frustrated not being able to reach me . . . I’m so grateful for Rafael being here, for having a wise friend at my side whom I trust and love. But all I can do is cry. Until I don’t. And as soon as the sobbing subsides, I reach for Rafael’s cell phone to call my sister. His phone has a stronger signal.

When I hear her, I want to cry again but don’t. I just want to be there for her and find out what she knows. She’s not crying now, either. And at once we are two friends (she the eldest and me the youngest of six children, yet we’ve always been surprisingly close) feeling comforted by the familiar and familial voice on the other end of the line. I discover she doesn’t yet know much. They think he died about four days ago, but it’s not conclusive, nor is the cause of death. “All we know right now,” she says, “is that they found him, lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood.”

“Oh my God, Marg. I saw that in a dream a few days ago!” I say in shock.

“You’re kidding me, right?” she hesitantly and quietly asks, as if not wanting to hear the answer.

“No, why would I be kidding?”

“Because I had the same dream.”

I’m staying in a wooded cabin in the forest-rich mountains of Southern California, where everything smells of crisp, crackly nature—earth and autumn leaves—and I wake up thinking about Daddy , just as I had gone to sleep thinking about him. I liked to call him that—Daddy—as I had gotten older, because there were so many years I missed out on calling him that. I had either been too scared of him or too mad at him; I tried to pretend I didn’t need him, and I knew I couldn’t trust him. I even tried hard to forget I had a dad. And in the last fifteen years, after lots of tears, straight talk, and hours of probing questions about the lapses in my young memory, after steel-grit forgiveness for the terrible abuses and afflictions he perpetrated, my Daddy and I became friends, and I got to know him as a man with flaws and a tremendous amount of love, and he finally found a way to feel within himself and to share.

I decide to walk my dog down by the lake. I sit on a bench under the pines, watching the sunlight dance on top of the crystal-clear blue mountain lake. With deep breaths, I relax into the rhythm of my heart and watch how it flows as calmly and steadily as the trees swaying in the wind. And I feel myself at one with the elements—me as a body and all that is around me, just cells really—and the energy within those cells just as powerful as the wind and sunlight and spirit. And I feel Daddy’s presence, which feels like his laughter. I remember his laughter, and I smile. And so I ask him, “Hey, Daddy, can you forgive me for not calling after I saw that vision of you?” I feel his answer: “There’s nothing to forgive. It was my time—nothing you could do. And there is nothing more we need to say; we’ve always said it: ‘I love you.’ There’s nothing else but that.”

“Yeah, you’re right. But here is the thing I really don’t understand, and I hope you can help me. If Marg and I both saw the same vision of you dead on the floor, was that us both having a premonition? Or was it you coming to us?” And the answer I feel is that it was his spirit, or Higher Self, coming to us. So I ask, “Well, then, did we see this before it happened to you, or was it afterward, and your spirit came directly to us as you were ascending?” The answer comes in a feeling: it doesn’t matter, because there isn’t really time, except in this dimension. So I smirk and ask, “Okay, well, then what I don’t get is, if you could come to us from any space in time, why didn’t you show us a more positive image of you, rather than a dead you lying on the floor?”

He says, “Sprytee, you gotta know the answer to that one. Now come on. I was there poking at you, saying, ‘ey, look at that guy down there, dead as a doornail on the floor—somebody better clean up that mess before it gets too smelly, capiche?’”  I laugh so hard, I cry.

Yep, that’s Daddy, alright.

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Me and Daddy in his apartment, Milwaukee Wisconsin, January 2013

The Unlikely Tale of It

I’m not sure how to deal with it yet.

I’m scared, sad, and worried that I may have to find a way to “get used to it”—somehow. You’re wondering what “it” is, and I’m still trying to figure out how to explain to you.

“It” is opening my email Inbox or my Facebook page to a message that a friend or colleague has passed. “It” is a phone call or a text message that comes in the middle of my day, which is thousands of miles away from where I feel I should be—away from my home, my man, my second family—trying to restart a life while still hanging on to the life, and the people, I won’t (can’t) let go of.

And I’ve already lost three so far. What will I feel, how will I respond, when there are more? And there will be more.

Ebola is killing my friends.

A year and a half ago, I sold everything I had acquired in my forty-eight years of life and moved to Liberia. I invested everything I had left—me, my talents, abilities, and social capital—in a people I fell in love with in 2008. After years of humanitarian work, raising money for programs that fed, saved, and educated children, women, and families in eight countries, I was finally fulfilling a long-held dream to be “on the ground” to serve every day, instead of “just passing through it.”

I organized trips and brought teams of donors and educators from nine countries to Liberia to empower and train hundreds of Liberia’s teachers, teams that joined me in the rebuilding of this volatile post-war nation, the nation that WHO, in 2013, called the “second poorest nation on earth,” and the nation that Transparency.org called the most corrupt. In March of 2014, 148 teachers began what was to be a ten-month-long leadership and success training program. They were each gifted a clean water system on the day of their first training, a system that would provide safe drinking water to thousands of their students. Over the next several months, we settled into a core group of one hundred eight teachers, dedicated educators who showed up even through torrential rains, after three hours of often six-to-a-ride taxi travel, arriving early and sleeping on the floor, where I would find them when I arrived to open the doors, because they would do anything to create a better way for themselves, their students, their nation.

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Then a silent killer crept into our lives, and, like an insatiable monster, began gobbling up victims, and worse, terrorizing a culture already steeped in fear and distress.

Ebola.

Its hunger quickly outpaced efforts to stop it, piling up victims in maxed-out clinics, closing up needed medical facilities, and killing off health care workers, so that even people with minor and treatable illnesses could no longer get medical care, and they also began dying.

Last month, I packed my two suitcases, kissed my man good-bye (who stayed behind to lend support in quelling the rise of civil unrest), and left with my dog, to nowhere to call “home,” with a sadness I do not have words for. The sadness was not about my predicament—let me be clear. What I’m dealing with back in the safety and development of the US is a speck on the Hubble telescope’s vast vision compared to what I left behind.

I can still see the light of promise in her eyes.

The first of my friends to go, one of my best, most talented, promising young teachers, died not from Ebola, but of poisoning, or so they say. And sadly, we will never really know—there is no time or capacity for anyone to find out. Her family is left with no answers, and not even able to provide her a proper burial because of government restrictions in its efforts to try to stop the spread of the disease. (Ebola is most highly spread to health care workers and family members caring for the sick or from touching a diseased body in burial preparation.)

The next to go was the principal of another of my favorite teacher’s school. I remember so clearly when, just this past June, I sat next to the principal in his school’s tiny assembly area on a hotter-than-hot, sweltering day, and helped “graduate” his second graders. It was one of my most memorable days of service in Liberia, where, though I was visibly dripping with sweat from head to toe, I got to deliver a short empowerment commencement speech for the entire school and parents, and then hand out awards to star students.

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 Some things have to be experienced to be fully understood. Unless one has been there, one can’t quite imagine what it is like to be part of a team of post-war educators—teachers who make less than $50 USD a month—encouraging children to stay in school. And simultaneously, imploring more-tired-than-tired parents, who can barely afford food, let alone school tuition, to find the money from somewhere to keep their child in school. But even with all the obstacles, this small group made it through second grade, and so the school leaders donned them in cap and gown (beyond adorable to see), and graduate they did.

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The principal stood out to me because he was so filled with pride as a first grader got up to sing a tribute to the graduating class, and he was so enamored by her beautiful voice and star-like presence that he pledged to her parents then and there to sponsor her into the second grade (in other words, pay her next year’s tuition)!

He’s gone. I’m just wondering now, what will happen to her? Will she get to go back to school when it reopens? How many will? Schools have been closed since the outbreak began spreading, and the new school year is postponed from opening until mid-October instead of September 2. But, as of now, we know there is a very good chance the schools will not reopen at all.

And if they do, should they? Too many questions swirl.

And as I try to make sense of it, I hear a ding from my computer. It’s a Facebook message—a friend telling me of one of our colleagues who has passed. He managed the conference hall I rented two Saturdays a month to conduct our teacher trainings. His father died of Ebola two weeks ago. It’s now taken him, too.

And so, this is how it goes with Ebola.

A friend reminded me tonight that Mother Teresa was able to help multitudes for decades because she knew she was serving those who were sick, and she knew that, eventually, they would die. Her goal was to just love them and serve them until they died.

But see, I never saw my teachers and friends and those I served as people who were going to die!

Silly me.

I only saw them as people who were survivors of war, rape, murder, sickness, and famine, people who were learning to be thrivers—people who were learning to receive and create something better than what they had previously. There was evidence of this new life in all of them; like the phoenix rising from the ashes, Liberians—and Liberia—were on the uptake.

We never saw “it” coming.

A Not So Ordinary Day

As far back as I can remember, whenever I saw an ambulance whiz by with sirens blaring, I’d say a little prayer for whoever was in danger. And if I heard the screeching of tires and the crashing of metal, that prayer would be combined with a serious lump in my throat and a swell of emotion and grief in my heart.

Well, today, in Liberia, I witnessed my first auto accident. It was between a car and a motorcycle taxi. Now, I need to give you some background. Motorcycle taxis are extremely common here. For most people, the taxis were their first modes of transportation after the civil war, and they still seem to outnumber the cars on the road. You can see anywhere from one to four people on a cycle—yes, four! Typically, there will be the driver, an infant in front of him, and either another infant and an adult behind him or two adults, weaving in and out of heavily congested traffic. These taxis are the lifeblood of below-poverty-level people trying to make a living. I often cringe as I see a motorcycle pass by with so many people on it—especially children—knowing that motorcycle taxi accidents can occur daily. I also see their importance to the people of Liberia and love seeing the way the taxis organize themselves; the drivers seem to work together while they await fares at large events.

Now back to my story about today’s event. I was on the last block on my way home, walking Barnaby, my Cairn Terrier, when I heard the screeching of tires behind me, heard the skidding over wet pavement. I turned just in time to actually see a car crash into a cycle, then saw the taxi driver (thank God there were no passengers) expelled from the bike and make a hard flop on his back onto the cement! I’m near-sighted, and was without my glasses on, so all I could really make out was his glaring white shirt contrasting with his dark skin as he flew above the bike and landed hard. I heard myself say “SHIT!” out loud. A young Liberian man was walking beside me in the opposite direction; he had also seen the whole thing and we both stopped in our tracks the moment we heard the collision. We looked at each other then back to the scene as two dozen people ran from all directions toward the crash. I saw a young man in his twenties lift up the white-shirted victim lying on the wet ground, and I cringed—he doesn’t know, of course, that you’re not supposed to do that.

I immediately felt the emotion in my heart and the lump in my throat, felt the tears and the utter sense of helplessness, which was something I’d never felt when I’d witnessed an accident in the States. There, I always knew that I’d hear sirens within minutes, that those emerging to help would ask for a doctor and call 911, and most likely the victims would be whisked away to the hospital in a speeding ambulance. Here, all I could do was continue on my walk, and believe that the good people of Liberia, the people in my neighborhood, who have witnessed this type of tragedy and much more—horrific tragedy, daily tragedy, during the fifteen-year civil war—were well-equipped to deal with the situation. But what would they do? Thank God the hospital was literally just blocks away from the scene; if his injuries were very bad, perhaps someone would get the victim to the hospital in time to help. But you see, then there are more problems. I’ve not seen an ambulance—ever—in this city; I’m in the capital of Liberia, but the police are still ill-equipped and ill-trained to handle even a fender-bender, let alone an accident where someone may be seriously hurt. And once a motorcycle taxi driver does make it to the hospital, he is most likely so poor that the next tragedy comes when he can’t afford the care.  In Liberia, when people are hospitalized and cared for, they must pay the bill before leaving the hospital. So there are people literally trapped, held hostage, or, some might say, held prisoner, by the hospital until they or their families can drum up the funds to have them released. Frankly, it’s a mess, like much of the country, though Liberia is now ten years out of war.

I walked away with tears on my cheeks at the senselessness of it all. In a world where we have every modern technology and tool and means, there is a young man tonight who may join the ranks of those who could have been helped, been saved, but were not. Who may join the tens of thousands of others on the street, begging, and missing an arm or a leg for various reasons. Who may suffer unnecessarily because there is no ambulance to rush to his aid or 911 service to call those who are equipped and trained to help him. Or maybe he was lucky tonight. I prayed that he was. And I focused on the many people who stopped and ran to help. And I pray for, and am grateful for, my own safety while I’m here.

It is not an easy life in Liberia. It is frustrating most of the time. Even doing what should be the simplest things—shopping, banking, buying an iPhone cord, having a repair done at home—seems to take forever; actually, it does. But to know that I have a choice to live here and deal with these daily nuisances, and others don’t, makes me love my neighbors and the everyday people of Liberia. And I learn from them each day. I learn patience and gratitude for the simple things we Americans take for granted. But today, seeing that accident, I learned to have an even deeper gratitude and a greater conviction to do what I can here, while I’m here, to help make life more loving, hopeful, and better in some way for those I come in contact with. Every day I learn a little more what that help is. Sometimes, it’s just smiling and waving hello and how are you, or giving a dollar to the young man with no legs at the grocery store. Other times, it’s building a school with the help of many loving donors, or providing clean water to a village of 200 people that has none. I have to make a difference with each opportunity; however, I am always reminded that, at some point, I will leave here. And when I do, I will get to go to a place of my choosing that will most likely be without the frustrations of living in Liberia; but those families and children I befriend here will not get to go—they will remain in Liberia. And as much as one can witness stories of tragedy and poverty each day here, I am also reminded of its gradual shifting into prosperity and empowerment when I open my “inbox” to see announcements weekly of yet another new service some creative entrepreneur is delivering. Today it’s what will be the first new “cinema” in town, and an express airport shuttle service. And I smile.

Why Do I Live in the Most Corrupt Nation in the World?

According to a report called the Global Corruption Barometer report, (published by www.transparency.org) that made headline news in USA Today, Liberia is the most corrupt nation in the world. I had friends contact me upon seeing this report asking me why I live here? The answer is simple. With corruption of this magnitude the people are suffering tremendously. With little help from the government, the million people, who are trying to survive on $2 a day average wage need our help.

I’m grateful for the report. Perhaps now others, and less corrupt governments with interests here, will do more to help make changes needed to right the injustice being done. I moved here recently with assistance from my boyfriend who is involved with the US State Department, and knows first hand of the corruption that occurs daily, and the efforts being made by involved nations, like the US, to support Liberia out of a post war corrupted state, into a stable and thriving nation. Its not through lack of resources that Liberia stays poor. It is through the corruption at the highest and through all levels of government that its people are still struggling. Since coming here dating back to 2008, I’ve personally witnessed much progress. When I first arrived the roads were so bad, it took four times as long to travel anywhere as it does now; I didn’t have fresh, good food to eat at restaurants like I do now, and there was little construction occurring, where now, you see building occurring in many places. However, these improvements have yet to trickle down and widely affect the many people still living in extreme poverty conditions, now ten years after the end of the civil war.

Efforts made by grass-roots organizations like the one I’ve been working through since 2008, Youth Action International (headed by acclaimed youth activist, and Liberian native, who formed the Child’s Disarmament Campaign during the civil war, Mr. Kimmie Weeks), have done much to bring opportunities to women and youth, and clean water to thousands of people. This has all been accomplished through private donations by caring people and foundations, not government financial support.

One may argue that relief efforts are better spent in a nation where the people are better supported by their own government. While this may be true, I cannot deny the poverty I witness daily, nor the sincere frustration I witness from good, everyday people who just want to live a decent life and support their families. I love the people I’ve met in Liberia. I love and am inspired by the strength and resilience I’ve witnessed in them over the last six years in their desire to forgive the atrocities of the present as well as the past and rebuild their nation against incredible odds.

And, this report only fuels my passion to serve at a greater level. One way we are able to do this is through education. When a government purposely keeps its people ignorant and without opportunity, it allows for corruption to continue. By providing opportunities for girls to go to school and women to start businesses, statistics globally show that the poverty level rises. Hence the recent campaign called, Girl Rising’s efforts to engage more people in the support of these types of programs.

I ask you to join me in this effort here in Liberia. Here’s how. We are starting yet another center for Women’s Empowerment this year in another new community. We began our first back in 2008, and have seen them grow to serve hundreds of women. I’d like to see us serve thousands of women to find their voice, their power to serve their communities (even with a corrupt government) and to start businesses at the grass-roots level. Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohammed Yunis, whom I had the great privilege of meeting personally in 2008, showed the world that the surest way to reduce poverty statistically is through providing a women a small loan to start a business, fueled with education and empowerment. Please join us, is our small but sure-fire and steady way to thwart the corruption here by empowering women to become community leaders.

Being smaller in population than the size of Los Angeles, a great change can be felt with a small effort in this country. You can join me by making a donation to our new center through this link: http://www.youthactioninternational.org/yai/index.php/2013/05/liberiamessengers/  
You can also join me personally on one of two VoluTour trips I’ve developed and am leading here in Liberia. I’ve been leading trips here for six years without incident or concern for our safety, and am proud to bring groups here to discover first-hand the beauty of this country and its people, and to be an instrumental part of a larger vision for peace, development and justice. If you would like information about upcoming trips in October and November, and to obtain an interview as a potential participant, please email me at spryteloriano@gmail.com .

“Great changes are made in small ways with great love.” Mother Teresa

Liberia – A Strange New Place

It’s taken a week since getting to Liberia to have the realization sink in that I am finally living in Africa – a dream I’ve had since 2008, when I began offering and leading humanitarian service trips to developing nations. It took sitting on my balcony with a cup of coffee, staring out at the Atlantic waters, and realizing that the home I knew for the last few years was now ten hours away across those waters and I was here. My new home is a strange, puzzling place with tastes, sights, sounds, and people so unlike what I am used to.

My daily walks with Barnaby, my Cairn Terrier, were once serene and simple. Now those walks are spent with me on constant alert for feral dogs, speeding motorcycles, and cars beeping their horns at every intersection – that’s how they mitigate accidents here, as there are no stop or yield signs as there are back in the States – and of course, I must watch out for people. It’s not that I’m in an unsafe area; on the contrary, I’m in one of the safest neighborhoods. But Liberia is still a country awash in corruption and crime, and very deeply rooted poverty, making me, a white girl with a dog on a leash, an identifiable target. So being observant and predetermining my routes and potential exit strategies are constant necessities for living here.

The grocery store has more “state-side” food choices than I would have expected to find, from Prego Spaghetti Sauce and Kraft Mac & Cheese to Haagen Dazs Ice Cream (though it’s $13.95 a pint!). The difficulty is in finding fresh produce and meats at the grocery store, and I had to just forget about buying organics. That is until last night! I am on the Expat Google List, and saw a post last night for sustainably raised vegetables! I called the grower immediately, and at 9pm last night he delivered a box full of fresh arugula, lettuce, zucchini, peppers, eggplant and basil to my door! The variety of produce is still very limited, yet now I’m able to make fresh organic salads. I didn’t have to wait to long for that to manifest – a very welcome surprise! My diet, normally consisting of fresh fish and juicy steaks, is now mostly confined to chicken. I experimented with the beef the other day – it was tough and not very delicious – so I’ll be skipping that from now on for the home-cooked meals. At least until the farmer I just met online begins producing sustainable meats (which he says is not too far off!) – I’m impressed!

I am lucky. The area I am in is fairly quiet, as well. Not like the tree-lined, lakeside streets of White Rock Lake, Dallas, where the only sounds are the occasional motorcycle or dog barking in someone’s backyard as I pass by. Instead, during the day it’s bustling with locals heading to and from the main area of town to trade and sell and look for work or to attend school. Liberians are friendly, and they appreciate those who have come to support its rebuilding, so I am regularly met with the local greeting, “How are you?” The only disturbance so far has been what the locals call a “crusade” at the nearby church last week, with its Pentecostal preacher on a loudspeaker wailing away in tongues from 5:30 am to 8 am and again from 5 pm to 11 pm. I asked my security guard how long it would go on. He said they can last several days or more than a week. I told him that I’m doing my own praying – that tonight would be the last of it! He said, “Well, it’s the word of God; what’s wrong with that? Don’t you like it?” And I replied, “I like God, but why do they have to be so loud? Don’t they know God can hear them without a loudspeaker? God hears our whispers, too.” He and I both laughed and I went back to my apartment, where I resumed my own praying.

Yet there are familiar sights, sounds, and tastes, also. Today I walked six blocks to a newly opened coffee and pastry shop, which has the most delicious, perfect chocolate croissant I’ve ever had, served up with a perfect vanilla latte! Their freshly made sandwiches of smoked salmon, chicken pesto on ciabbatta, and roast beef with Swiss rival any I’ve seen or had at Panera and outshines Starbucks by ten! I can simply scale back on my variety of protein and save it for my nights out! There are many great restaurants close by that ship in Angus beef and fresh fish, even sushi grade, weekly, which I’ve been deliciously served to my great satisfaction.
Wednesday nights there’s a great local reggae band playing up the street just three blocks away, and Friday night is Salsa Night, if I get ambitious.

Living here, I know, will be quite different from being here as a tourist for a week at a time, several times a year, for the past five years. I am prepared to keep discovering a new, simpler lifestyle, and I have a growing appreciation for a way of being that allows the majority of people in the world, who are living in developing nations, to live happily with less. I will learn from them, perhaps as much – I suspect more – than they will learn from me.