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.

Settling In – Less Is More

As I get settled into my new apartment in Liberia, Africa, I’m acutely aware of the difference between moving today and the last time I moved in the States. That time, I had left some of my things behind when I moved from Oregon to Texas, and it was easy to replace what I needed; or more specifically, what I wanted. You know – the little things that make life easier, cleaner, more organized. Things like welcome mats, dish and bath towels, a new comforter set to give my bedroom a new feel, candles to make the house smell good, feel homey, and look beautiful. Beautiful surroundings have always been important to me.

I have moved into a furnished apartment in an area of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, called Sinkor. I’m up on the third floor in a safe building, what’s called a compound, with twenty-four-hour locked gates and guards. The back balcony offers a wonderful view of the Atlantic Ocean. The apartment is clean, and most everything is provided – furniture, pots and pans, dishes, new sheets and comforters still in their packaging sitting on the bed. But there were still a few things I needed, so I went to the local store and bought two bath towels, two bath mats, two welcome mats, and a dish towel, all for $60 USD – definitely not Bed Bath and Beyond pricing, nor was there anywhere near the selection found at BB&B. The choice of bathroom rugs was between blue, orange, and taupe, and they came in just one style.

As I looked around the store and at the many gadgets and goodies I would normally have chosen to buy to fill in the empty spaces in my home, I instantly realized they were just not needed. And I felt happy with that thought, and with a new reality – less is indeed more.

As I unpacked my three suitcases and began finding a place for my things, a memory of my last trip to Kenya surfaced. I had been invited into the home of a woman living in one of the slums we were visiting. Her name was Alice. She took me by the hand and excitedly led me to her ten-by-ten-foot shack with a metal roof full of holes and an entryway covered by only a thin piece of tattered pink fabric. She pulled back the fabric and invited me inside, into the dark hole lit only by the light streaming in through the doorway.

During my humanitarian trips to developing countries over the past several years, I have visited many slum shacks and I’ve learned to not expect the worst. Alice’s hard dirt floor was swept clean. Dainty lace hanging from wooden shelves covered her small space of belongings: clothing, books, cleaning supplies, and dishes. The two twin beds were made into couches and were covered with mixed fabrics with colorful patterns; pillows were propped up against the wall. She shared this small space with her aging mother and her four children. And she was proud of her home. I’ve seen many homes in both wealthy and poor neighborhoods in the US choked full of so much stuff, and so filthy, and I realize how our perception of those living in slums can be tainted by our western experience. On the contrary, the homes I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in the slums in Africa are sparse but usually clean. The things these people do have are often treasured and taken care of to last for many years and often for generations.

As I finished putting my things away and sat on the couch to relax, I recalled how Alice motioned for me to sit down on her “sofa” bed as she stepped into the cramped living space and gave me a “tour,” barely ever moving from her spot. She lifted back the draped pieces of tattered fabric to show me a couple of books, her folded clothing, some soap and a sponge, and some pieces of jewelry, all of which were housed in her “bedroom”; she pulled back another piece of fabric to show me her kitchen area, which consisted of buckets, some dishes, and a few pots and utensils.

Alice was as proud of her home as I have always been of mine. We instantly had that in common – a love for beauty and cleanliness. And she had done the best she could with what she had available to her to create beauty. Her first priority was finding a way to feed her children, her mother, and herself each day, usually by begging; occasionally by negotiating to purchase items to buy and sell on the street; and sometimes resorting to selling herself. And yet she managed to keep a beautiful and clean home as a priority, as well.

I am blessed and grateful for the rather extravagant way I get to reside in this struggling, rebuilding, post-war nation, knowing that I have more than I need at any given time.

The Blessing

I am blessed.

So blessed.

Gifts every day – support from everywhere.

That feed my needs.

That feed my body, my heart and soul.

The Angels – all around me.

Blessings abound from each smile, each hand, each twinkle of an eye that is happy to see me.

And happy to give to me.

I decided, you see, long ago,

That the world is a friendly place.

That the world is a playground for my and your evolution, service, learning,

And that it responds to deliberate thoughts of LOVE towards it.

These thoughts stream back to me, through the miles and hours past, to bless me

Here and Now.

Always and Forever.

Never demanding of life – just grateful for what is.

As it is.

Come dance with me in a world that is blessed.

Come LOVE with me, those whom know not this Gift – and live in a world of self-created fear.

That LOVE may open their eyes to the joys and peace they have yet to Receive.

But that awaits patiently, abundantly, serenly to bless,

In this life.

Or the next.

May they too know,

The Choice, always that of the Soul, never of the Creator.

Africa – a love story

We have all heard many kinds of stories about Africa. But to the wakening mind of humanity, with its struggles of perfection, production, and conquering, there is no understanding her magic until one engages in her rich innocence through personal experience, off the beaten path. And not by going to see how one can change Africa, but by being embraced by the sweetness of her people—those who expect nothing, embrace everything, and emanate a tolerance for others who are unlike them that is so foreign to our modern, western ways of being.

I am in love with Africa. Africa changed me. I’ve traveled to other developing nations, but it’s hard to describe how differently Africa burns within my heart. It’s more than the honoring of community and family over progress that all developing nations seem to have at their heartbeat. It’s more than the appreciation one receives when traveling anywhere to be of service to others, which I’ve been fortunate to have been doing now for several years. To me, Africa sends a call deep into my cellular memory—like a call home. She awakens a dormant gene, seeded millions of years ago, that reminds me that I am a piece, a connected part, of all humankind. And witnessing a race, a culture, a people, that resembles the color of the earth, who are so at home on the earth—as if their limbs are extensions of the trees and shrubs—reminds me of my own connection to nature and my true essence.

I am in love with Africa. She holds an innate innocence that has been so misunderstood and exploited, even by her own people. But that’s really not so surprising. Humankind—in every country and on every continent—is made up of those who will sell themselves in order to survive, as well as those who will trust in the devil in order to thrive. I saw a documentary recently about the plight of the Masai tribe in Kenya, who “sold” most of their land for a song to the British during colonization. A wealthy white landowner, whose family “legally” purchased land from the Masai three generations ago, claimed on camera, “If the people do not know any better how to make the land produce wealth, like I do, then they don’t deserve to have the land.” See, I know some of you reading this will agree with that statement. And, like me, some won’t. It is interesting to note that anthropologists and ecologists now agree that the nomadic life of the Masai and their grazing cattle was the key to the ecological balance of thousands of acres of vegetation and millions of animals that are now dying off in devastatingly high numbers. This, of course, ultimately affects the very businesses created from the land, like safari and tourism. But progress does not make time for understanding this side of life; instead, its mantra is, “We’ll fix it later if we need to.”

I am in love with Africa. What I see when I visit her is a wealth we westerners know little about—we who have grown complacent with our lives of convenience and restless in our pursuit of more. Africa is full of survivors. It is full of ingenuity and entrepreneurism. And contrary to most people’s ideas, she is full of the hardest working, most grateful people I’ve ever met. These are people who do not want to be given anything. They only wish to feed their families and develop themselves by their own inner call, not to the call of those who do not understand their ways. This is the Africa I’ve come to know. And because the roots of exploitation, abuse, guilt, and intolerance run deep, Africa still suffers.

But I hold a hope for Africa. My hope is that her people will, through an increasing uplifting in humanity’s consciousness, be blessed by more of those who respect her true innate wealth and beauty. And that new partnerships of respect will form that will, over time, transform her current plight of being a nation rich in natural resource and poor in human value to being a new world that teaches the rest of us westerners how to Be.

If you are interested in experiencing Africa through my eyes, join me on my next tour. Email me at spryteloriano@gmail.com for more information.

Dance, love, smile…Spryte

What are you for?

I have a story to tell you.

Today I danced for freedom. I danced for the rights of women and children to live a life free of abuse. I danced, though the campaign that inspired me—along with millions of others in two hundred countries—was promoted as a protest against violence. The campaign is called OneBillionRising.org. And while I am proud to lend my voice and, in this case, my tapping feet and swaying hips to the rising of unity that occurred today, I must tell you that, initially, I was not going to get involved in this movement. I was inspired to do so only because my humanitarian work and my transformational work have always been focused on women and children, and this campaign was an obvious fit. But I wasn’t inspired about the idea of dancing as a way to make a difference, and I was not inspired to dance against an injustice.

Honestly, dancing  seemed trivial compared to the real issues and the real women and children who are suffering. My mind judged the campaign as a fluffy attempt at gaining publicity and getting peoples’ fire roaring for something that wouldn’t create lasting change. But, despite my misgivings, I went to the event.

So now I feel inspired to share my story with you because of a woman I met at One Billion Rising. Her name is Monica. She was the organizer of the Dallas-area event that I attended. At the end of the deal, Monica shared with the group that she had felt uninspired to participate until just two weeks before the event. Her spiritual teacher had kept gently nudging her to probe deeper into what she was feeling about not participating. As she explored her feelings, she discovered a wellspring of grief, personal and collective, that was attached to her judgment. When emotional healing occurred, her resistance, her no, became a yes. She knew she needed to let go of how the message was showing up and instead join in with the collective healing. She and a core team then scrambled to put together the local event in just two weeks.

Thank goodness!

I was so surprised to listen to her share her story and grateful to know I was not alone in how I had felt. It saddened me, at first, as I thought about how many more people may have gotten involved had the event been promoted in the energy of the New Day, how many chose not to go deeper into looking at their resistance to being part of this collective action for sisterhood that occurred today.

I believe that a new day and a new way are now here. And I do stand for us co-creating campaigns and movements that speak to this shift. Our voices will ring more powerfully in calling for what we want, what we are for, what we declare, what we envision and co-create, rather than what we are against. I hope that I remember this lesson as I bring my gifts of inspiration to the world, just as Eve Ensler did when she was inspired to see one billion women rising, striking, or dancing. Eve wrote The Vagina Monologues and founded One Billion Rising. I admire her so much. I have been a fan of the VMs since 1997, and I used them in my women’s sacred sexuality workshops back in the day. I’m grateful that this movement will shine a new light on the VMs and will hopefully help engage women and men in their wisdom more than ever.

I had a shift in my perspective, as Monica did. If I had chosen to remain stuck in a belief, I would have missed out on an opportunity for a deepening. And that is what occurred today—an awakening and a deepening.

It was glorious fun!!! I was in tears when we all pointed to the sky at song’s end, feeling the collective tears, fears, laughter, joy, and love of one billion souls. I don’t know how many people actually gathered today, but I am grateful for it, and hopeful that today’s action, in love, will continue.

Today I danced for freedom. What are you for?

Thanks for listening.

Love and joy, Sprtye