"Not sure of the time - my cell has no coverage here and there is no clock in my room.
I was awakened before dawn to the sound of praises being sung and since then there has been constant activity outside my window. I've heard water being carried and poured, chickens making chicken sounds and men and women chattering about their chores.
These people work SO hard. And they are so hospitable. I am humbled... they work ten times as hard to make me comfortable as I do when I have a guest.
I have two beautiful girls assigned to me - to making sure I am comfortable and cared for... Sybil and Madiana. They are so lovely. We had a brief chance to visit last night... I'm eager to get to know them better.
I didn't sleep well at all last night. There was loud music playing for so long - not singing, but some sort of radio. I wanted silence so badly - it finally came and I slept. Perhaps the lack of a clock is a blessing - I have no idea how much or how little..."
The view from my window - early morning...
When I finally got up and went out of my room to find a clock, it was only 6:15. I'm certain I had heard people working for at least two hours before I ventured out... can you imagine?
I took my first bucket bath this morning... Sybil went out to the fire and brought in a bucket full of hot water - the bucket still smelled like smoke. It's tough to get your hair washed over a bucket - but it felt so good to get clean. I wore one of my African dresses - a beautiful full length blue floral.
Breakfast was poached eggs, bacon, sausage, toast and coffee.
After breakfast, Debbie, Becky and I went to do part two of the women's conference. I only had to give the opening prayer on this morning... Becky gave a devotion and Debbie was the keynote speaker... the women's worship was my favorite part - I loved hearing them sing. There's a beautiful song they sing... Nadyo, Papa - they sing it over and over in the most perfect harmony. I made a note to ask Sybil what it meant.
We had three Muslim men sitting in the front row the entire morning. Their faces never changed... They were sitting there long before the women gathered and seated themselves... and they were there until the very end. They were a teeny bit intimidating... I was glad I didn't have to speak.
We had to have an interpreter for everything - while the official language of Sierra Leone is English, there are two other dominant languages in the Banta region. Mende - which is a tribal language, and Krio, which is the predominant trade language. Here you can see Debbie speaking with the translator... and one of the many dogs that run around the compound at her feet...After the women's conference ended, we went back to have some lunch - then we went back to the veranda for the First Annual Banta School Award and Speech Day.
Mama Angie giving her welcome speech
And here's where I tell you how patient Sierra Leoneans are. And how much they like to be on stage and make a 'contribution' to the event at hand. Because this program stretched out for three hours... with speeches by everyone, including the Minister of Education, who was a Muslim man who on several occasions throughout the afternoon praised God for the work of COTN in Banta... it was quite remarkable.
The school is an amazing testimony to God's work in this region... there are over 600 kids attending school there, from preschool through secondary school. Ninety-seven are on-site, and the other 500+ come from the surrounding villages. Some walk for hours to get there each day.
All 600 children are fed a hot lunch each day - for some of them, it may be the only nutritious meal they eat... this is the kitchen where all the food on site is prepared... no running water, no electricity, no stove. Just a few rough tables and some rocks around a fire. Everything is cooked in huge pots over the fire - every day - for 600 kids.
The speech day included contributions from many of the children as well, including a play from the French Department, which Tejan narrated. They LOVE doing plays and skits, and many of them are quite long and drawn out, with set changes and numerous scenes...And all the while, these 600 school children sat. And watched. Without any complaints. In the hot African sun. Sheltered by only a few palm fronds. It was amazing.I was up on the veranda with fans blowing on us constantly and I was about to die. But these kids just sat and sat... American kids would never be able to sit that long...After all the speeches and 'contributions' were completed, then they gave out awards to the top achievers in the school for the 2007-2008 school year.
It was a long afternoon, but a great opportunity to see how education is changing the lives of these people... there were so many proud mamas and papas from the villages applauding the work of their kids. Kids who will have a chance to go to college - and become the future leaders of Sierra Leone. It's a huge part of COTN's vision - and it was a privilege to celebrate with them.
After the program ended, Tejan came and found me immediately and said "Auntie Cathy - you know I didn't get any awards because I was in America..." I assured him that I was aware of that... and I reminded him that he received awards at school while he was in America... he's a smart boy.
We were able to sit and visit for awhile and then he walked with me back to the office complex where my room was and where we ate our meals as a team. As we walked, he put his hand in mine and we talked... I have missed his scrawny little hand in mine so much... while he was with us, his hand would always find mine as soon as we got out of the car and started across a parking lot or whenever we would walk anywhere... I've tried to get my kids to hold my hand since he left, but none of them are willing to oblige. It's not cool, I guess. So I was thrilled to find his little hand in mine as we crossed the property... it truly was one of the things I've missed the most about him.
Dinner that night was chicken, nutmeg pancakes, fried plantain, fries and gingerbread. A strange combination, but a really delicious dinner. I had seconds.
After dinner, we were blessed with an impromptu visit to the children's homes... Debbie wanted to show them "Cinderella" and so after the generators were all set up, we all went down to get the movie started.
When we got there (it's on the far end of the property from where the office complex is) it was already dark. The night sky was lit up with millions of stars, and each of the homes had just a faint light showing through the windows. It was time for evening devotions...
We walked from home to home (there are ten separate homes), watching each group praise God together - and having their devotions - the older children teaching the younger by kerosene lantern. I will never forget these dark rooms - full of little pajama-ed children - and their obvious love for each other. God has provided in amazing ways for these orphans. They are so well cared for.
Our last stop was house #5 - T.'s house. He showed me his room and introduced me to his house mother - Mama Josephine. I gave her the biggest hug and whispered in her ear "God bless you."
It was dark - but I could see clearly how well loved he is.
God is so good.
All the time.
God is good.