Return to old watering holes for more than water – friends and dreams are there to meet you.
I wish I could have met Hilary Lyons. She was born in Mayo, in the west of Ireland, but she lived a large part of her life serving as a doctor and a nun in a place called Serabu in Sierra Leone. It just so happens that this is down the road from my home in Ngolala and the hospital which Sister Hilary helped build up between the 1950s and the 1990s is where we take our kids when they get sick. Her book, “Old Watering Holes” paints a great picture of a life's journey I connect with deeply. Sister Hilary even contributed to the training of our own head nurse in Ngolala, one of my African mothers, Mummy Jombla.
One of the things Sister Hilary's story leaves you with is an expanded idea of the destruction the war brought to Sierra Leone. So much of what could be said to be Sister Hilary's life's work was destroyed when the convent and hospital were burned to the ground in 1995 by, in the words of Mummy Jombla, “those stupid boys.” The destruction was far wider than this however as the barbaric violence of those years would also have disastrous consequences for so many of the people Sister Hilary had trained in her hospital and partnered with to create community health committees. You are left with a deep sadness for a place so brutally dragged back to a kind of square one, a sadness intensified by the knowledge of how long lasting and painful the consequences of that have been for this part of this country.
When in Serabu with one of our children recently I took some time away from her sick bed to walk around the grounds. The burned ruins of Sister Hilary's convent and some of the other buildings around it are still there and I stood amongst them for moments which felt edged with a kind of holiness. The utter peace of what was a natural memorial garden stood in sharp contrast to the violent way in which it was created. Small, swallow-like birds were sailing through the air and I tried to imagine the place as Sister Hilary would have seen it. She describes with great affection this part of her world, its flowers and its soul soothing serenity. I wondered about how God feels when he looks at what we do to one another and to the artistry of his creation. It is strange to feel such sadness and such beauty so palpably in the same place and at the same moment but, as Sister Hilary would have known better than me, Sierra Leone has a way of bringing those feelings together.