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December 1984

MLT Newsletter

Thomas Breznau
Kenneth Dahlberg
Jan Filonowicz
Albert Huntoon
Maynard Kaufman
Sally Kaufman
Michael Kruk
James Martin
Lisa Johnson Phillips
Michael Phillips
Thom Phillips
Mark Thomas

They shall beat their swords into mattocks 

and their spears into prunning-knives;

nation shall not lift sword against nation

nor ever again be trained for war.

Isiah 2:4

This is a somber holiday season.  The peace and happiness we wish for the world are overshadowed by violence and hunger,
something reflected in the articles in this holdiay issue of the MLT Newsletter.

The poem and first article are by Tom Breznau, a director of MLT.  Tom teaches in the Economics Department at Kalamazoo College.  Then we are allowed to eavesdrop as Greg Smith makes breakfast.  Greg lives on a farm west of Kalamazoo and is a glass blower.  He also has the distinction of having been in the first "class" at the School of Homesteading in 1973.

Tom Breznau

Patterns of repression, oppression.
Depression. . .
Jabbing me from somewhere within.
I've heard this tale before
I've seen the expressionless faces
Givenin, givenout, givenup.

My country's hands are in this struggle too
Greed in the right
And aid in the left. . .
And I can't tell which has left the most grevious wound.

The land is snared in the Development Trap.
Buy the glitterous bangles of the west
But then you must
Raise rubber instead of rice

Live in the filth of the city instead of the lushness of the


Sell your ancestors land

For 16 cases of beer

And work for LPMC

For 10 years and take home $60/month. . .

Buy your bag of rice - $22

Pay your rent - $15

And try to survive another month.

The worst comes last.

The real key to growth lies within

And the hearts of many oppressed

Are filled with greed . . .

Even more than the oppressors.

August 22, 1984
Cuttington University College
Liberia, Africa


I recently spent 3 weeks traveling in Switzerland and Kenya and 5 weeks doing economic and agricultural development research in Liberia.  I want to attempt to give you some impressions I formed about culture and agriculture in Liberia.  Liberia is a lush tropical country on the southern coast of Africa.  During the rainy season (our summer and fall) it gets 100 - 200 inches of rain.  The terrain is very rolling and the soil is a red clay and gravel mixture with a shallow topsoil.  The traditional form of agriculture includes upland rice farming which requires brushing, burning, planting, weeding , keeping the birds and groundhogs out, and harvesting. It is very labor intensive, usually a new plot is cleared every year.  A previously cleared plot may be used for vegatables for one year and then allowed to grow back to  jungle for 5 to 15 years.  The agricultural limitations are large amounts of rainfall in the rainy season, not enought rain in the dry season, thin topsoils, and severe nematode problems.  In addition to upland rice, Liberia is agriculturally suited to swamp rice, fishfarming, citrus, green vegatables, bananas and plantains, sweet potatoes, cassava, cocoa, pineapples, oil palms, coconut palms, coffee and rubber.  At least 50 to 60 % of the interior of the country is jungle and many parts are being timbered off, but not made any further use of agriculturally.

Our country gives 15 million dollars a year in rice credits to the Liberian government which can be used to buy rice from US rice producers.  The effect of this policy is to lower the price of rice in Liberia to below international market rates (currently about $24 per 100 pound bag) which keeps the bush farmers in a poor economic condition and keeps thousands of acres of land out of production because the return is so low on raising rice.  This also keeps the city dwellers happy because they can buy cheap rice. Rice is the staple food in Liberia.  Many Liberians eat over 300 pounds per year.  A few years back the government tried to raise the price of rice and bloody rice riots exploded in the cities.

The culture and values of the typical Liberian are very unusual to an American.  People are very polite in their formal and many times their informal relationships.  They shake hands with you (they have their own special handshake) each time they see you even if it is 10 times in one day. When I went to a college administrator's office on business it was expected that I sit and talk for sometime before I stated my business.  To mention business right away was considered rude.  On the other hand, nothing ever starts on time and if a faculty meeting was supposed to start at 8:00 it's not considered rude at all if it doesn't get started until 8:30 or 9:00.  Liberians also enjoy long speaches with very flowery language.  They like eating huge meals and the basic staple is a large plate of rice served with some kind of soup or sauce usually made of palm oil and beef, pork, fish, or greens with assorted vegetables and many hot peppers.  There doesn't seem to be a high value placed on telling the truth or being honest.  In fact in the situation where a person is "caught" lying or stealing from an employer, many times there is a great effort to help the person save face.  "Begging" is another part of the culture that is foreign to us.  If you want something from someone or if you have done something wrong, perhaps taken money, etc., you make up for it by groveling at the feet of the person you stole from and saying "I beg you, I beg you", or "I'm begging you".  This action apparently redeems you completely from your wrongdoing and most Liberians would consider it unfair if the person that did this begging after stealing or lying were then fired or disciplined.  Students often do the same "begging" from a professor for a grade change (I guess not that different from the US!)

Saving or planning for the future is rare.  Liberians have a strong, almost fanatical, commitment to anyone who is a blood relative.  "Others," those who aren't relatives, are to be taken advantage of.  Because of this feeling, whenever one person does well, gets some money, or has a surplus rice crop, his relations show up on his doorstep to ask for money or to move in if he has extra food - the prevailing thinking is that you must give it to relations if asked .  As a result, people tend to try to consume anything as fast as possible before they have to give it away.

Traditionally, the men form work groups to bush and burn for the rice planting and they work together until all the town's fields are prepared.  They work hard during this time but are used to some slack time once this job is completed. There seems to be a very different attitude in Liberia towards work.  In fact there seems to be very little work incentive at all.  If you go to hire someone, especially a laborer, (people will mob you and beg you for work if you have some available) and then they will quit when they get their first or second pay. Relationships that result are often paternalistic. . . practices like paying a farm worker each day rather than at the end of the week or the month, so that they will never have enough money at one time to want to quit. Finding consistent laborers is a real problem in Liberia.

Sexually the Liberian culture has a much more casual or natural view of sexuality.  Many girls are sexully active by the age of 10 to 12.  Many of the 18 to 20 year old female students at Cuttington had already had a child or two before coming to college.  It seemed to me that sexuality was not as exploited as in our culture, and was taken much more for granted.

The power in the culture is clearly held by the males who rule the family and hold important government posts.  It is not uncommon for a man to beat one of his wives or children for misconduct. At the same time the economic system would fall apart if it weren't for the women.  The division of labor between husband and wife in a traditional household is interesting. The man cuts and burns the fields in preparation for the rice planting.  If there are ground hog fences to be erected he will also do that, possibly construct a country kitchen at the rice field (people live in villages and farm on the outskirts).  He may or may not help with the rice harvest.  If coffee or cocoa are planted the man will also be in charge of that.  The woman will scratch the soil and plant the rice; she or the children also need to keep the birds away during this tender growth stage.  She will then do the weeding and harvesting and is in charge of the vegetable garden and all food preparation (including getting water), childcare, clothes washing (a big job) and housecleaning. It is interesting to note that women do have some power but it is usually not overt.  They can have their own rice farm and keep the money from it as long as they do their share of the other work first.  They can either get a "boyfriend" to do the bushing and burning or plant swamp rice where it (the bushing) is not required.  In some families the head wife acquires a lot of power and is really the one making most of the decisions.  Children in Liberian society are to be quiet when around adults and in general have many fewer transactions with adults than children in our culture. Traditionally, children are carried around on the backs or fronts of their mother or an older sister.  Many grow up very bowlegged as a result of being carried for so many hours a day. They also have little curiosity about the world in comparison to American children because their physical movements are so restricted when young and they are not encouraged, in fact they are discouraged, from asking questions. In general, the school system is terrible. Many schools have been opened recently but they are staffed by undereducated teachers who for the most part have no idea of how children learn.  This is a very severe problem to development in Liberia.

One of the hardest things to see in Liberian culture is an almost total disregard and even a hatred for Liberian cultural heritage. Most Liberians seem to want to either leave Liberia and go to the United States, or they want to get a government job so they can have power and status, and extort money from the rest of their countrymen.  The government is very corrupt and syphons off a huge amount of the GNP of the country.  It was strange visiting a country whose inhabitants seemed to dislike their own country and history so much.

How is it that I fell in love with Liberia, and came away with a sense of awe at the birth struggle this nation is going through? It is a complicated question and puts me into the second half of the topic of this paper, Liberia: A problem to be solved or A Mystery to be Lived.  During my time in Liberia, I visited many, many agricultural projects, many farmers, many towns.  I talked to many farmers, government workers and professors about the problems of Liberia.  "Living" at Cuttington College in Liberia was truly an amazing experience and although I couldn't help but spend many of my research hours trying to "solve the problems of Liberia" I also had the opportunity to participate in and experience the "mystery" of culture in many unique ways.  Liberia seems to have gotten all the worst things of western culture and, missed the beneficial aspects.  The people of Liberia strike you as incredibly materialistic.  Some of that seems to come just from being on a low rung of the developmental ladder.  As Maslow's hierarchy of needs demonstrated, when you don't have the basic needs, that's what you really want, and people in Liberia want "things." Material things are very, very important.  Beyond that, the country itself seems to not have an identity or know where it is going.  People are not proud of being Liberians.  I had a number of people tell me in discussing these kinds of problems, that a black man "is no good, black man bad," and these words would refer to the fact that Liberian men find it difficult to commit themselves to a job and come to it every day and work hard.  They also would tell "stories" as it suited their needs.

Solutions to Liberia?  I don't have solutions,  I mostly came away with impresions, concerns, ideas, and wonderings.  Certainly some issues and some principles of development emerged for me while I was in Liberia. One of those is that it is impossible to design an aid program without being intimately aware of and having participated in the culture of a country.  Many, many of the things that are happening to the USAID and other government assisted programs in Liberia are negative, or neutral in terms of their long run impact on Liberia.  The biggest one I saw was the 15 million dollar rice program that I already mentioned .  This is a program, that not in its intent (maybe), but in its effect, keeps Liberia a dependent country, continues to keep it from achieving food self-sufficiency, and worst of all, continues to keep the bush people, (the country people) in a state of poverty. If this 15 million dollar rice program were converted to a program of giving the Liberians, or loaning the Liberians capital or capital equipment that is needed to develop processing for their own agricultural products, or processing for some of their mining products, the money would be much better spent and the return would stay in the country.  Liberia could easily raise enough rice for all of its own people.  My own opinion (mostly do it yourself) is that Liberia could raise enough rice for part of west Africa besides Liberia itself.  In order to do that, I am not talking about clear cutting the jungle and using plows and tractors and planting huge rice farms, I am talking about traditional forms of agriculture that would be carried out if the impediments that are in the way of those traditional forms of agriculture were removed.  One of these impediments, is the cheap price of rice. If the price of rice were allowed to rise to normal market prices, the people of Liberia, the rice farmers, would have much more incentive to cultivate more land, they would be able to hire people to help them, and they would be able to produce much more rice.  A second impediment is the view the educated Liberians have toward the bush people.  As they get better eduated, most Liberians reject the old values.  They disdain physical labor of any kind (even walking) and reject the natural products and produce of their native country in favor of imports!

The last area I want to summarize briefly is the political situation in Liberia.  There was a coup a couple of years ago and a sergeant in the army with a third grade education named Doe overthrew the government, killed a number of people, and took power.  His stated goal was to turn Liberia into a real democracy  with free elections.  My impression of his administration is that it's very corrupt.  Elections are supposed to happen in 1985. While I was in Liberia, the main opposition leader. Sawyer, who was also the Dean of the University of Liberia, the only other institution of higher education besides Cuttington College where I was staying, was put in jail for conspiracy.  A number of other people were put in jail and the students at the University of Liberia went on strike.  After a couple of days Doe sent the troops in and they fired on the students.  They raped, beat, and terrorized many of the students, and caused people in general to be very afraid.  It was a very intense and very dangerous situation; the combination of low intelligence and poor training put together with a soldier's uniform, weapons and a culture that values the old "macho" or aggressive behavior of males unleashed some very dangerous people on the civilians.  The soldiers apparently went wild on the University of Liberia's campus. 

The feeling I had in the country as I was doing some traveling was a clear one of being in a police state where the military was in charge and could do whatever they wanted to do.  There are government checkpoints which are literally roadblocks all over the country.  You cannot move anywhere in the country without going through these government checkpoints.  At any one of these places people in uniform can stop you, can make you get out of your car, can hassle you to a great extent, and in fact, many times, extorted bribes from you for trumped up reasons. Personally, I felt safe the great majority of my time in Liberia and at Cuttingfcon.  The campus of Cuttington is up country, in the rural area which removed it from the sight of all the political and police activity in Monrovia, where the University of Liberia is located. At the same time, it was interesting to realize what life  would be like in a country where your freedom ends whenever you come in sight of a person in uniform.  I look forward to discussing these issues in greater depths at a future MLT meeting at which I give my slide show.  I realize that many of my impressions are contradictory. . . but the limited space here doesn't allow for further discussions.  On a related topic, I received a phone call from the Kellogg Foundation and my grant proposal was accepted intact.  This means some tuition, room and board grants for "K" students to the Homesteading Farm will be available this summer!

Tom Breznau

"HEROES" - Greg Smith

Up earlv, puttered around, went out and bought some bacon and eggs (pound of the first, dozen of the second) and had breakfast started before Jean even turned over.  Listening to the radio with some bacon going pretty good and I have this Dr. Caldicott telling me how she quit the medical practice of treating hopeless cystic fibrosis kids in order to treat the broader helplessness of opposing nuclear war.  A modern decision and I listen up, admirer of courage, morals and ethics that I try to be, and back down the fire under the bacon.

From her accent I can tell she's Australian, but I don't mind, and she goes on to say that people in small towns like myself and Jean will survive the initial blast but this is not good news because the ozone layer will be obliterated and everything with eyes will go blind within a few days. Including Jean's, whose are startling green, and mine, whose won't be able to behold hers anymore, then, and so might as well be.

The bacon grease is smoking, so I turn it down a little more and think I'll maybe change the station, having started out the day, so far, feeling proud to be up cooking before Jean for a change and the sky so blue and everything, and this noble lady, here, sort of turning it all sad.  But instead I twist it up a bit, at the same time glad that Jean's not awake to hear it, and find the good doctor going on to say that millions of dead bodies will greet us hick survivors and they will grin and stink and rot and spread disease like typhoid against which no vaccinations will be available, what with rubble, hairs, and atoms adulterating the serum. 

Jean, who does not know any Russians, is more than likely still asleep, unless she's gently wakened to the bacon smell, and I've not met any either, but both of us are pegged for blindness and typhoid, now, and I've got a hunch there's worse to come.

I've been sick with bronchitis for a spell and just this morning started feeling myself again and the bacon is done, the cheery toast is up and I call out to Jean, five minutes to breakfast.  I get a groggy OK as Dr. Caldicott tells me the people in charge of nuclear bombings are old politicians who wish to consecrate their careers with winning and victory and glory and treating blind, typhoid Jean and I to a glowing breakfast of radioactive eggs, bacon, toast, butter, orange juice , one-a-day-brand multiple-vitamins-with-iron and jelly.  I have this vision of all the life on the planet standing inside a gas chamber waiting for some doddering old fool to pull the lever and I can see why Dr. Caldicott quit nursing children in there and I'm once again glad that Jean isn't pregnant and hope she never will be and automatically move to the window to look out at the big oak in the front yard that almost always cools this rage and hurt and hate.  And from there, on upstairs to kiss Jean and tell her c'mon, hon, I'm gonna put the eggs on, now, and then start crying on the way back downstairs, anyway, goddammit.

Dr. Caldicott rattles on, and, crying harder now, I pour some bacon grease on the dog's crunchies which is much appreciated, and as the butter melts brown, I drop the eggs in the skillet.  Neither yolk breaks and I make myself take it as a good sign.  Dr. Caldicott gives an address I can write to but I only get part of it and then she's gone and some classical stuff comes on.  Jean is getting up and this is a helluva way to greet someone at breakfast, tears spitting in the pan, all blind and typhoid, the putrid swollen millions rotting...Christ. Even if I'd got the address, what was I supposed to say?

Business and Other Notes

At the September meeting of MLT the membership voted to lease the Land Trust Hormesteading Farm to Jonathan Towne and Bobbi Martindale. Under their direction there will be a strong emphasis on Permaculture, and in conjunction with Jan Filonowicz, a proposed MLT Center for Land Use Studies.

* * * *

The following are excerpts from Swan Huntoon's minutes of the annual meeting, October 28, 1984.

...Elected to two year terms on the Board of Directors were Mark Thomas, Mike Phillips, Mike Kruk, Sally Kaufman, Thorn Phillips, and Jan Filonowicz. ...Jon Towne and Bobbi Martindale reported that they had begun work on painting the MLT farm house using paint donated, in part, by Bobbi's father. Thom Phillips submitted an inventory of the MLT Hornesteading Farm. The total inventory amounted to $4673.50 and was accepted by the members as submitted. Committees elected were: Permaculture Committee - Thom Phillips, Jon Towne, Mark Thomas, and Jonathan Wyland. Membership Committee - Jan Filonowicz, Jim Martin, Bobbi Martindale, and Mike Kruk. Lease Committee - Thom Phillips, Mike Phillips, Bobbi Martindale, and Swan Huntoon. Inventory Control Committee -Thom Phillips, Jone Towne, Swan Huntoon, and Maynard Kaufman. ...Mark Thomas moved we set a monthly rental fee at $150 and have a formal lease ready for approval at the next Board of Directors meeting. The motion was seconded and passed.

...After agreeing on an agenda including officer elections, MLT Center for Land Use Studies report, lease review, and a date of December 9, with potluck at 5:30 and meeting at 6:30 for the next Board of Directors meeting, the meeting was adjourned.

* * * *

Some introductions are in order. Bobbi Martindale, has been a resident at the Land Trust Homesteading Farm. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University, and has spent the past two summers teaching in the migrant program for pre-school children. Mark Thomas, a new director, grows vegetables on 15 acres near South Haven. He was one of the organizers of the South Haven Farmers Market five years ago. Mark is also a WMU graduate.

* * * *

Outside it was glcomy, but inside there was excited chatter as people gathered for the Country Skills workshop in October. People enjoyed tasting the fresh cider, tempeh and cheese, watching spinning and weaving, learning about felt making, canning , quilting and rug braiding, and trying out macrame and corn husk dolls. The rain held off long enough for tours of the farms and the trio of folk guitarists climaxed the afternoon. We are extremely grateful to all those talented people who "made" the afternoon.

* * * *

There is an unsung hero in in our midst. It is time we give credit to Ken Dahlberg who shepherds nearly all of our publications through typing and xeroxing at WMU. Thanks, Ken.

And while I'm giving credit, the art work was contributed by our "artist in residence", Conrad Kaufman.

Following the mailing of the annual meeting notice, which was written by Mike Phillips, we had enough requests for the Permaculture paper to put out a second edition. So if any of you have put off writing for a copy, they are still available at $1 each.

Speaking of dollars, there are a few who have not mailed in their annual donations. Please be warned this is your last New letter. For $5 (or more) per person it will keep coming! We welcome new members, too.

* * * *

The MLT directors want to say thanks to Thom Phillips and Jan Filonowicz for their year and a half on the Land Trust Farm. They made many improvements on the farm, and this year proved that vegetable production can be successful. We're happy to note that they have moved around the comer and will remain neighbors.

* * * *

A new Phillips has entered the fold - Mike and Lisa Phillips are proud parents of a baby boy, James Darwin, bom in August.

* * * *

Don't forget the December meeting on the 9th, 5:30 supper, 6:30 meeting time at the Land Trust Homesteading Farm. Want to see Tom's slides on Africa? Come to the meeting to leam the date, or call me 1-427-8986, after the 9th.

Sally Kaufman, Editor

Peace and love this holiday season.

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