Friday, August 15, 2014

Sierra Leone - Part One


Oh Sierra Leone...

I never quite know how to share after a trip.

I could talk your ears off for hours. Or, I could give you the elevator pitch version. Either way, I'm not sure I can effectively communicate how blessed I am to have this second home.

Asia and Phillip, the newest member of our family
How can I begin to tell you the deep sense of family I feel there... how each time we go back, the relationships go a little bit deeper... the love becomes stronger... the affection is freer... the sense of home fiercer...

Alhassan, the first boy we ever sponsored
The kids we work with and sponsor there are growing, as children do. This trip it was very evident that what used to be a home for lots of little kids is now home to big teenagers and young adolescents... it's similar to the change I feel in my own home. Which is maybe while things feel so familiar there...


We now sponsor four boys at the Children of the Nations children's home. We went with three and came home with four... Asia 'adopted' a new son, Phillip on this trip.

While we took care of Tejan in our home in 2007- 2008, he was not the
Mustapha, our friend from Ngolala Junction
first child we sponsored. He was fully sponsored when he left our home to return to Sierra Leone, so I went on the website and chose someone - this sweet boy named Alhassan. The last time we visited, he was 8 years old. All cuddles and love. I thought, going this time, that he would be more independent at 11 years old... and that he might hesitate to spend time with us. But within seconds of seeing him again, his hand was in mine. Alhassan is a delight - a boy who loves football, cars and his friends and I'm so proud to be a part of his family.

Our boys: Spengy, Alhassan, Tejan and Phillip
Soon after, I discovered that Tejan did need a sponsor, so we jumped in and added him.

The last time we visited, Asia fell in love with Idrissa, whose nickname is Spengy. We started sponsoring him shortly after we returned. Spengy is now 19 and working toward finishing secondary school. He leads the hospitality team, taking care of the guest house whenever visitors like us come. He receives a stipend for his work and gives most of it away to pay school fees for his friends who live in a nearby village. Amazing...

Mama Josephine - my dear friend



  This trip we were also thrilled to connect with others on staff and in the surrounding villages that we had met previously. One young man, Mustapha, came to visit as soon as he heard we were back... telling us he's studying to get into nursing school and immediately asking about our kids. What a treasure it is to know such ambitious, kind, and resourceful people. I also was so excited to spend time with Mama Josephine, the house mother for all the children in the home. She has been a dear mother figure to Tejan over the years and I feel a real bond with her as we co-parent this amazing boy together. Her sweet spirit, her beautiful garden, her friendship are so dear to me. I cannot wait to see her again. The affinity I feel with her is so strong.

Tejan and I with a blanket we brought for him
covered with pictures of our family



  I wish I could take you all there with me... to show you the beautiful landscape and touch the red earth together. To wander together down the path to the children's homes, around to the back of each house where the aunties are cooking and the children are doing their chores... as soon as we rounded the corner, the kids would say, "Auntie... come and sit!" and vacate their chairs so we could sit with them. Life there is a constant rhythm of chores and gathering and caring... one girl may be butchering a chicken while another is sweeping... two or three may be playing a game while someone is sitting on the floor with her head in another's lap, having her hair planted. It's hard work and community and laughter and love and family and food and smoke from the fires and laundry lines and affection and teasing all wrapped up in the loveliest place on earth.

Being included in this rhythm can mess with your heart... it makes our busy-ness and our technology and our striving seem silly. These people focus on what matters. We focus on what makes us look better. Every time I've gone I've longed to bring the simplicity and beauty of their way of living home, and every time I've disappointed myself with how quickly I get sidetracked by the pace of life here.

I'm thankful that I've experienced it. And it has made a difference in how I live my life. In how I spend my money. In what I value. But the truth is, I still lose sight of the things I love most about Sierra Leone. It's just about impossible not to.

But I want to remember a few things... so I'm writing now while they are still fresh... more as an encouragement to myself than anything else.

  1. I have never felt more beautiful than when I'm there. My face is unmade, my hair is in a perpetual ponytail and I wear the same basic uniform of skirt and t-shirt every single day - no heels, no makeup, no jewelry, and I hardly look in the mirror. And yet I feel better about myself there than anywhere I've ever been in the world. It's a huge relief and an amazing feeling. I wish I could bring that freedom home with me. Here, I care too much about what people think about me and I get caught up in fads and Nordstrom ads and stupid, stupid stuff. I tell everyone I talk to how beautiful the people in Sierra Leone are. Without malls and makeup and manscaping and makeovers. We don't even see people here... we see who we are all trying to be. In Sierra Leone, you see, and are seen. That is beauty.
  2. People are really, REALLY resilient. Folks, life there is HARD. Really, really hard. And yet, this nation of people has found ways to get things done. Their chores take hours where mine take minutes. And they don't complain. They just do. I was talking to one of my friends there who was cutting a chicken apart for dinner and I told her when I want chicken, I just go to the store and buy it, already all cut up, no skin, no bones. And she said "Yes, but your chicken isn't sweet like this..." And she's SO right. I don't think much of anything is as sweet, as appreciated, as respected and honored here as it is there. When you work hard for something, you value it and are conscious of it. We walk through life so terribly unconscious... hardly noticing anything because we just haven't had to work for it.
  3. Independence isn't all it's cracked up to be. In Sierra Leone, everyone relies on everyone. In the states, everyone lives in their own house with their own cars and their own private lives and their own selfish sense of space. And we have famous people who have all of those amazing things who take their own lives because they're so alone... there is something to be said for true community. For cooking and sharing meals. For sacred moments when the young are helped by the old. For sharing. For common property. For giving up some privacy in exchanged for being understood, accepted, and truly loved.
  4. I simply must make time for quiet. Every morning in Sierra Leone, I would make my Nescafe (which, by the way, tastes better when it's all you've got) and head out onto our veranda to read my bible and soak in the view of God's amazing creation. I was thankful every morning for how BIG the world is - and for the privilege of knowing a corner of the world very few people will ever get to know - and for the expansion of my heart as I have opened myself to truly love people a half a world away. I should be so grateful every day...
That is all for today. I have to break it off into small chunks... otherwise I get really sad. Or frustrated. Or overwhelmed. There are days the tension between life here and life there is almost too much to live between - and it feels nearly impossible to communicate it to you.

I will keep trying. And I will keep recruiting others to join me in the tension... we live in a REALLY big, big world. Open your heart. Let the inequality bother you. Notice your own tendencies to want to be comfortable. I've taken the plunge and while there are days I wish I could go back... days when caring feels exhausting... days when I'm so heartbroken for the people I love who are so far away... but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not for ANYTHING.

Thanks for indulging my stories. It's an honor to share them with you.

Smooch you all.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:40 PM

    Cathy,
    So glad you are home safe with wonderful stories and memories. Can't wait to read more about what you experienced. The new is full of stories about the Ebola virus and a doctor who got sick. I admit, I checked here frequently and sent prayers for your health during your stay in SL.

    hmbalison

    ReplyDelete

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