Court Street Press

You Never Try, You Never Know: Six Years in Liberia

by Ruth Jacobson

Exerpts from the book

...Last night, just as we were about to sit down to eat, the director brought an old man to the house. He had cut the end of one finger off just by the first knuckle, with his cutlass while cutting sticks. I cleaned it and dressed it and told him he had to go to the doctor and have it repaired. They said he didn’t have any money, and besides, it would be OK. I haven’t seen him today and shudder to think about what it looks like, and feels like, especially if it gets infected.

...Yesterday, we drove to Saniquellie to the market. It is always a fascinating experience. There are people everywhere, with their produce spread out on a mat or displayed on the ground. We always take a couple of rice bags along and stock up for the week on meat (tough cow meat), fish, maybe if we’re lucky, some deer meat. You can buy other kinds, like monkey and snails, but we “can’t able,” as they say here. I bought a small pineapple for 2 cents! Also got ground peas (peanuts). They cost us 20 cents for about a pint of shelled nuts. We pound them up in a mortar and make peanut butter.

...Harold’s projects are coming along fine. The mud-block house is almost up and the roof should go on this week. The farmers made the blocks for the house, from mud and a little cement, using a hand-operated ram (press). They had to make about 5,000 of them, then sun-dry them for a few days. The land clearing is coming along well, too. The 40 acres will soon be ready for planting. The ditches are being dug by the farmers, by hand, and then they can plant the rice.

...When we reached John’s village, people ran to greet us — some little kids ran and hid however — and took us into the house, and from then on we were on display. People came in and sat down, greeted us by shaking hands, and then sat back down and looked at us. After a while, some of the people left, and soon others took their place. John’s mother frequently came to me and took my hand, saying “E-zuo,” meaning thank you. She told John to cook for us and then took a chicken out from under the box-like chair that Harold was sitting on!

The kitchen is always outside, a thatch-covered round hut, where cooking is done over a fire on the ground. They use either three stones on which to set their pots or a metal three-legged frame, which is set over the fire. John cooked country rice and chicken soup, which they served at a table with a bowl for each of us, as well as a spoon for each of us. Usually, people eat from a common bowl, using their hands.

People kept coming and asking me to take care of a sick child — infected scalps, fevers, scabies, yaws, runny belly, infected eye. I had brought some first aid supplies and could take care of the worst things.

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