Letter from Fr. Ted Hayden
It’s five months since I arrived in Liberia. I am well. I have not had malaria or any other health problem. I check my weight and blood pressure once a month. Last month I weighed 210 and my blood pressure was 120/80.
Much has happened – much more has not happened. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being high I am proceeding somewhere between 0.5 and 1. Everything takes so much time. Skilled tradesmen are difficult to find. This is because the economy here in the Cape Palmas area is in dead water. Skilled tradesmen have moved to Monrovia and other parts of the country where building construction is going on. I am still looking for a good carpenter.
A local carpenter made two screen doors for my house. At the bottom there is a quarter inch opening and small ones in other areas. I am looking for another carpenter to solve the problem. In addition, the local stores only carry the most basic items. Door locks, paint, good hinges and other items must come either from Monrovia or Ivory Coast.
Cape Palmas is 470 miles from Monrovia by road. It is a two-day trip. Last month the first leg -300 miles- took 9 hours. The second leg of the road -170 miles- is very bad and requires multiple use of the 4 wheel-drive of my Toyota pickup. This leg of the journey took 11 hours.
The rectory here at St. Anthony’s is 90% complete. My living room furniture consists of the lazy-boy chair which Tricia and Rod bought for me and ten plastic chairs, which I purchased in Monrovia. The solar lighting has been installed and the solar freezer which Julianne and Nik bought for me is working well.
I like Liberian food. I have rice five or six times a week. The alternative is spaghetti, which is available in the local stores. Fish is the mainstay. In Pleebo, which is 9 miles away I can purchase fresh beef. It is tough but when parboiled first it is edible. But it is expensive – almost $2.00 a pound. People bring food from the farm almost every day. Pineapples and papaya are in abundance. The people also bring cassava, fresh pepper, okra, bananas and plantain. The food is plain but tasty and nourishing.
The church is full every Sunday. It can comfortably seat 125. Almost every Sunday the attendance ranges between 150 and 200. Congregation singing is loud, right on tune and full of faith and enthusiasm. Young girls and boys with multi colored painted faces dance their way up and down the aisle as Mass begins and at the offertory. The collection consists of money, gifts, and food. Often there are 20 platters of cassava, pineapple, oranges, grapefruit, bananas, plantain and edo. It is far more than I can use. I generally make two or three packages, which I deliver to widows when I go to Cape Palmas on Monday.
On Sundays and some other times when I go to Cape Palmas I go swimming. There is a safe and good beach there. The surf is at a minimum so this is where almost all of the Cape Palmas people go swimming. The water is cool and refreshing. I generally stay for about two hours. I generally go around three in the afternoon to miss the strong sun.
The farm has begun. It has not developed as quickly as I expected. I have some ducks and chickens.
People have given me a pig and a lamb but I have nowhere to put them so they are still with the donors. The towns people have cleared a two-acre plot in back of the rectory and church. They have planted corn, cassava, pepper and okra. Tomorrow they are clearing another area where they will plant bananas and plantain. I haven’t started to plant fruit trees yet because I have not found a source for good seedling trees. Yesterday the parishioners cleared another two acres of land. This area is relatively level and fertile. I plan to plant bananas and plantain there.
On my way back from Monrovia I bought a puppy for $1.50. He is a small short haired mongrel. At full growth he should be about 12 inches high and weigh about 30 pounds. The parishioners named him “Namu” (Remain here). I enjoy having him around for company.
Bishop Dalieh is going to install me as pastor on May 1 st. The people are looking forward to that. For 40 years they have had priests coming from Cape Palmas. This is the first time they have a resident parish priest. They are very generous and hard working. They keep the church and the grounds clean, and do any task asked of them.
There are two outstations attached to the parish – in Wachake and Libsuco. I visit each of them two Sundays a month. When I am not there the catechist holds services.
I have a combination DVD, video, TV player and watch films several nights a week. Last night I watched the DVD account of the 2004 Red Sox season that Elaine and Paul sent me. I have a small gasoline generator. It is a 950 Watt generator manufactured in India. Smaller than a regular microwave oven, it cost $100 and gets 9 hours on one gallon of gas. I am using that generator to power my computer for this letter.
During Holy Week I showed some history channel accounts of the life of Christ and Mel Gibson’ s film “The Passion.” Tomorrow I am having the first showing of videos for children. I have a cartoon and one religious video specifically designed for children.
I remember all of you in my daily prayers. I miss you. However, I am happy in what I am doing.
With love and prayers,
Fr. Ted Hayden, SMA
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