There is just no way for me to sum up a month in Sierra Leone in one post but communications stuff has been impossible, for various reasons, until now so I am gonna have to give it a shot! I am right now on a weekend trip to Bo, SL's second largest city and we have found our way to an internet cafe. So here goes...
Travel stuff all went really well apart from a couple of moments before landing when it looked like weather conditions in Freetown might force us on a detour to Senegal! Not sure what we would have done then but thankfully we didn't need to work that out. My first impression of Sierra Leone was one of darkness...we arrived in to the city at night and since electricity is a luxury item here the city took on an almost forboding feel... Our stay in the capital was pretty short however and we made the eight hour trek to Banta a day or two later, without a hitch. The roads are really bad, in places almost nonexistent, but due to the mining in our area a lot of our journey was smoother than I had expected. We arrived in to the children's village a day or two before a team of american teachers was leaving and so their leaving party was our welcoming extravaganza...a concert of poetry recitals, dancing, sketch comedy, singing and even a "contribution" from a group of white types from America and Ireland...which involved rapping...in Mende... My first night in Banta was interrupted by the need for a toilet break (it is important to work out your hydration needs in harmony with your sleep schedule...ha...) and an amazing racket from outside which would come in bursts and then vanish as suddenly as it had begun. I found out the next day that it is the frogs...
I live at the COTN children's village...a horseshoe shaped formation of ten homes surrounded by our farm (Bananas, pineapples, corn, potato, cassava, rice, palm trees for palm oil amongst other things) which is in turn surrounded by...well...jungle... A five minute walk up the hill from the children's village is where the schools are (primary and secondary), the skills centre, the clinic and our director's house (where I will live once the intern team leaves). Right next to the school is Ngoulala Junction, a small village at the side of the road and about a ten minute walk further is Ngoulal Town, quite a sizable village.
We have a pump well for the children's village - water we wash with but don't drink (we buy water for drinking...). We have toilets which you flush when it is deemed neccessary by throwing water into the bowl. We have what are called "bucket baths" - we wash by throwing water over ourselves with a jug...cold water... We have electricity in the evening for an hour or two - it gets dark at 7.30 and is pitch black by about 7.40. Our food is prepared by Auntie Chris - a wonderful Sierra Leonean woman who can bake cakes on a fire and help us fumble our way through cultural questions.
The kids live in similar circumstances although they don't have the luxury of electricity and Auntie Chris's culinary genius. In the villages it is a different story - houses are much more basic mud and thatch affairs and water is often just pulled out of whatever stream is closest.
My thoughts at the moment about living conditions for people here is that while everything is so much more complicated in so many different ways, it is also really beautiful - you grow what you eat, preparing everything from scratch, you work with your community and life takes on a rhythm which is really attractive in so many ways. However the huge problem is that whenever there is any kind of problem...a health issue, a security issue (someone steals from you or is violent towards you)...there is so often simply nowhere to turn.
What I am doing:
Okay so I am yet to get really stuck in to the work I am here to do for the year as I am currently working with the interns that are here for two months. The way I would sum up the aim of this first two months then would be that the interns are trying to share hope by offering education, building relationships and showing people Jesus. So let me give a brief run down of what that sees us doing.
Sundays: We have been split in groups of two and assigned villages. Mine is Ngoulala and my partner is a wonderful girl from Washington State called Stacy. On Sundays we go to church in our villages and the afternoon we prepare for the week and hang out with the kids from the children's village. I have been here for three Sundays: the first I was allowed to enjoy the service, the second I taught some Sunday School and then two seconds before the service began I was asked to lead it and on the third I preached the sermon. So so far church has been a blast...
Mondays: We spend our mornings teaching English at summer school and our afternoons in our village doing a children's holiday bible club type programme. Summer school is for the kids which struggle in each class and with year groups of up to 100 kids this has meant teaching a class of up to 50. I have loved it but it has been a real challenge as the kids really struggle with even the most basic stuff - I am teaching P4. The village stuff has been really great - we are working with Mr. Gonay, the pastor of my church, and the kids just seem to really love it. This kind of thing hasn't really been done before so it is an exciting break from the norm for them.
Tuesdays: We spend our mornings doing what has been called "personal ministry" and for me that has meant working with the counsellor - a Sierra Leonean woman called Patricia who joined COTN in April but has only started as a counsellor (she has been teaching in the school up till now). She is great and I am looking forward to working with her - we have already done one group counselling session (although it took the form of an educational talk type affair really) with the older girls, jumping in to the deep end of sexual abuse and how to look after your sexual health.
In the afternoon we have "new skills" which means we head to our villages and build relationships with people as they teach us how to weave baskets and cook and speak Mende (I really want to learn as much as possible of this local language...and people get a huge kick out of me speaking to them in it).
Wednesdays: Mornings are spent at summer school and afternoons see us just hanging with the kids in our village and taking a group bible study/bible club type deal for them in the early evening.
Thursdays: Morning is counselling stuff/general preperation time and afternoons is new skills.
Fridays: Morning is spent at summer school and afternoons is free.
Saturdays: These are free with some football thrown in in the afternoons.
Basically I am in love with this organisation. It is of course far from perfect but when you stand in the centre of our children's village and watch my new little brothers and sisters play and laugh and fetch water on their heads...it is just beautiful and so exciting and inspiring. People in the surrounding villages have welcomed us with open arms and it is not uncommon for people to be sent home with arms full of coconuts or pineapples or cucumbers. One of our intern guys actually had a new born baby in his village named after him!!
I have a lot to learn about this place and these people but I am having a thoroughly provoking, inspiring and challenging time so far. Sorry for the colourless nature of this post but hopefully you have been given a basic understanding of what is going on here. Please keep praying for what we are doing and for the kids we are working with. And let me thank you again for the love and support you have sent me here with.