Following four years in Uganda, Dave Waterman – MAF engineer and regional avionics manager for Africa – is now serving in West Africa based at the new hangar in Monrovia. Four months after moving to a new country, Dave and his wife Becky lift the lid on Liberia and reveal how they are adjusting to their new life so far…
When did you arrive in Liberia?
On 9 August 2021, we waved farewell to Uganda. Three months later, the wheels of our plane touched down in Liberia on 9 November. In what was an incredible answer to prayer, the boxes we had shipped from Uganda arrived at our new house on the very same day! We’ve been busy getting unpacked and settled, and making this house feel like home. We took to the streets to explore the local shops to discover what supplies we could pick up for the house. Stock seems to vary weekly, but we’ve found plenty of food to keep us going.
How different is Liberia from Uganda?
The culture is completely different. Liberia is as different from Uganda as it is from the UK. Many people from the West think of Africa as just one whole, but there are 54 different countries and each of them has their own distinct culture, climate and ways of doing things. It’s hard work coming into an entirely new environment trying to work out how everything works. It’s hard enough moving across a country that you know – where are the supermarkets? What’s the best route to get to work? So imagine that, multiplied by a 100!
What were your first impressions of your new home?
Amidst the sweatiness of hot Liberian days, we have battled frequent power and water cuts, crazy traffic, enormous storms, insane levels of rust, cockroaches and even scorpions! One even made its way into the house next door – we’ve been checking where to put our feet ever since! The compound we live on is beautiful, and it’s so lovely to have a beach just minutes from our front door. It’s a wonderful way to relax after a busy and hot day.
It’s strange to be in the unusual again, but we are so glad to be here. Liberia is a place of striking contrasts, from storms with huge amounts of rain, to a scorching dry season forcing Dave into the role of firefighter when the dry brushland near MAF’s new hangar caught fire.
There’s extreme poverty, with people begging in desperation outside shops, to people with contented beautiful smiles worshiping God within the churches.
Dave, describe your new job in Liberia
‘After spending time in the UK, it’s great to be doing work on MAF’s planes again. I was strangely pleased to come home and find my fingernails caked in dirt and oil. I enjoy the work here —one day I’m out on the hangar floor doing an inspection or fixing a fault, the next I’ll be working in the office, planning for the West Africa Maintenance Base.’
Dave Waterman – MAF engineer and regional avionics manager for Africa
Every day is different. As the regional avionics manager for Africa, my days are incredibly varied. I help with plans for building new houses in Liberia and I’ve recently joined in with setting up the Guinea programme, which includes taking on the role of maintenance controller. I’ve organised a backup generator to plug into our solar panels and batteries, to ensure our houses keep power when the rest of the city goes dark (a frequent occurrence!) That’s just a taster – jumping from job to job is a challenge, but I love it!
How do you envisage MAF’s work in the region expanding?
In West Africa, MAF has two planes in Liberia and a third in Guinea. Life is busy working in the hangar and office, while supporting the fleet of planes in Africa with avionics issues. Our hangar in Monrovia not only supports Liberia, but MAF’s work in West Africa. It’s a different way of working. It’s amazing to think about the impact those planes will have in countries where the roads are completely impassable during monsoon season (and treacherous the rest of the time!)
From tyres to vaccines, medevacs for people too sick to reach hospital by road, to sacks of onions for missionaries living in remote areas, our planes are always packed to the brim with essential supplies and people, making a massive difference across West Africa.
Becky, how are you supporting MAF?
One role I’ve taken on is looking after MAF kit— a supply of kitchen equipment, bedding, towels, curtains, etc. That kit is provided to new families entering the programme, to give them a bit of time to sort out their own supplies. The job involves working out what we have already, doing some shopping to fill in the gaps, and then making sure everything is in place for new families. Our newest family arrived in February. Our team will double in size in the next year or two, so there will be many more sweaty days getting organised!
What are some of the challenges here?
Working in multiple currencies (US dollars and Liberian dollars) is complicated enough. Throw in a bit of Liberian English and simple shopping becomes complex!
A couple of ladies visit our house most days to sell us fruit and vegetables. In our first week, I accidentally bought 30 bananas from one lady. I asked for five, but she unloaded 30 because she thought I wanted five dollars’ worth! We ate them all eventually – banana cake, banana oatmeal cookies, banana bread, bananas with cereal, bananas with absolutely everything you can imagine!
These little things you don’t even think of back home are challenging here. I’m missing butter because we haven’t been able to get hold of it for the last couple of months. It’s definitely going to take some time adjusting to shopping here.
One of the biggest challenges here is the language. Technically, Liberia speaks English – that’s the official language, but they speak ‘Liberian’ English which is like pidgin English. You hear the odd word and think, I should be able to understand that, but I have absolutely no idea what you’re saying!
The climate is also very hot here – the coldest our thermometer has gone down to is 29 degrees and the humidity is insane. The only reason why we’re not dripping with sweat right now is because we have air conditioning on. It’s so hot and humid – it takes it out of you.
There are ants who have a taste for human flesh, giant spiders and jellyfish which wash up on the lovely beach with their vicious stings. There’s a lot to get used to and it’s going to take a while, but those challenges will be overcome one day at a time. Hearing about the work enabled by MAF, makes it all worthwhile.
What about the power cuts?
Frequently, we have no power for two to three days at a time. Without our solar panels we would have no power at all, but our system isn’t quite powerful enough to keep all the houses running throughout the night (hence the need for a new generator). It’s stressful wondering what you’ll be able to keep running and trying to sleep in 30+ degree heat without a fan to cool you down. Couple that with occasional water outages, and you can imagine the difficulties getting smelly and sweaty clothes washed and dried (not to mention smelly and sweaty bodies!)
We are in the process of building new houses that will be equipped with individual solar systems, as well as solar water heaters – that will be a huge help. We’ll also be reducing our environmental impact, as much of the power generation in Liberia is based on burning diesel, especially in the dry season when Liberia’s hydropower stations struggle to keep up because of lack of water.
What do you enjoy most about Liberia?
This country is so green and full of life – most of the interior is rain forest. There are wonderful birds flying around and multi-coloured lizards darting across the path in front of you.
There’s a beach that runs down the whole side of the country that’s just beautiful. The people are welcoming and lovely – they’re happy that we are here. I’m really loving this country and enjoying it here.
Remind us again – why is MAF in Liberia?
So much of the amazing work here would fail to happen without MAF. From medevacking patients to hospital with critical spinal issues – who would be impossible to take by road – to transporting newly translated New Testaments in the local language to ecstatic believers. We hear these stories day in and day out. Our partners can use their time so much more effectively by travelling with MAF – an hour’s flight rather than a 20-hour car journey.
What would you like to say to your supporters?
We have no words to express our thanks to all our supporters. The love we receive just blows us away. As we learn to navigate the complexities of a new culture, we feel buoyed up by their thoughts and prayers – it’s their generosity that keeps us here at all. We wouldn’t be here without them! Thank you for walking with us on this amazing adventure.
Follow Dave and Becky’s Liberian adventures here