Monday, February 28, 2011

What We Have Done in Freetown

What Have We Been Doing?
Our team of 35 has been a LARGE group to maneuver through the town.  We have had two rented poda-podas (crowded, 18 passenger vans with metal bench seating)
and have been working in mainly two areas:
1) The majority of our group worked every day at what would become the Hospitality Center - a building just a few minutes walk from the docks that now has been converted into the dental clinic and three patient wards.  Some patients need to have some physical therapy after surgery (orthopedic patients, for example), or need before or after care.  These wards will be used for them.  Our team built walls, put in screens in all 40 of the windows to prevent mosquitos, got the water source hooked up for flush toilets, installed electrical wiring for air conditioning in the ward needed for burn victims and casts, and transformed this building from a giant open space into a second hospital.  It is amazing how much work they accomplished.
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2) The rest of us worked at the Cheshire Children's Home - a home for children who suffer from polio related deformities.  There were 38 kids that were there while we were there- some of them live there, others come there for school during the day, but live at home, and don't have physical ailments.  We helped in the classroom, doing some songs, puppets, drawing lessons, English classes, and loved on the kids through games, songs, jump rope and the like.  The ADA would be appalled to see the condition of this home and what the kids would manage to do in order to get from place to place - they are incredibly strong and resourceful - rolling themselves up steep, steep ramps, rolling over large drainage ditches in the concrete - pulling themselves out of their wheelchairs and climbing up steps and pulling themselves into their desks.  While some of us were in the classrooms, we also helped paint the exterior of several of their buildings, picked up garbage from all over their campus, and built some new bookshelves for their library which was in complete disarray.  Hopefully it will become a place where the kids can go and relax themselves.
Kylie and Savannah accompanied me here almost everyday, and they were a hit. The kids loved them there, and our girls quickly warmed up and interacted with them easily and comfortably.  The children here speak Krio (a type of Creole) and English- some prefer one more than the other, but there is usually someone fluent in both who can help you translate.  The beauty of children is they can play together - card games, clapping rhymes, jumping ropes and coloring can be done in any language.  We look forward to visiting here often - it's about a 25 minute walk from the pier so this can be easily done.

Eventually you get used to the heat, the humidity, the ability of your body to absorb liter after liter of water without even feeling the need to go to the bathroom, and you look forward to your paper bag lunch of pb & j, again....  Pineapple or coconut rounded out almost every lunch so this was a highlight - and a bottle of Coke from the store up the street (just don't forget to return the glass bottle!). 

On the weekends after doing construction or painting or playing with kids in the hot, African sun, we wanted to relax a bit.  We checked out Lakka Beach - about an hour outside of Freetown (with not much traffic), and 2-3 hours with bad traffic.  This was a beautiful place to refresh.  The riptides can be very strong here, so we were careful with where we swam, and the locals were very helpful to show us which areas are safe for swimming and which weren't.  Another place to relax was at a large hotel that overlooks Freetown, that has been restored and re-opened by the Chinese.  They have a big swimming pool and a kiddie pool, and for $4-$5, you can get entrance in the pool for the day.
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By this weekend we were very ready for the arrival of the Africa Mercy, as it continued it's journey up the coast of West Africa.  Read the next post for this eventful day.

Life in Freetown, Sierra Leone

We have arrived onto the ship (next blog will be about the Africa Mercy!), and have completed our two and a half week stay in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Here are some thoughts:
Crazy traffic.
  Imagine a city intended for 200,000 people, with more than 2 million people living in it (Because of the civil war that Sierra Leone endured in the 90s and 00s, many people fled to the city for safety, and left areas upcountry, closer to the diamond fields.  Most have stayed).  Two lane roads jammed full with motorcycles, cars, buses, 18 passenger vans (Poda Podas), man-powered carts loaded high with 50 pound bags of onions, or stacks of firewood, and walking vendors. A five mile journey on paved roads through the city may take two hours while you are at a stand still- everyone honks.  Cars swerve wherever needed avoiding collisions by inches.  Roads may be one-way in one direction in the morning, and become the other direction in the afternoon- without signs that indicate this.  How do you know?  "You just know," says the police after they pull you over for going the wrong way.  This is hard to know for visitors!

Conveyor belt shopping. 
While you are at a stand still in traffic, the beauty of it is that the shopping comes to you.  Feel like a snack?  How about a bag of dried plantains or banana chips?  (about 12 cents).  Popcorn?  Same price.  A fresh coconut (they'll open it with a machete for you, you drink the milk, then they'll whack it in half and scoop out the flesh for you).  They come in old, new and half and half.  (Old is what you think of when you see a coconut- brown on the outside, lots of dried husk, flesh is firm.  New is greener- the flesh is still kind of slimy.  Half and half is somewhere in between this).  Peanuts are also available roadside - you determine the price, and that will determine the amount.  25 cents worth is about 1/2 cup of shelled peanuts.  They carry them on a large flat bowl on their heads, scoop them up for you and make a paper cone for take-away - we've had newspaper paper cones, and also a page from someone's school notebook.  They are very creative and resourceful.

And the shopping isn't just limited to food.  Coal, air fresheners, cd mixes for your long journey, underwear, socks, jeans, skirts, plastic containers, cheese graters (coconut graters, really), plastic hangers, and basically a walking Walmart passes your car.  If it's not being carried on someone's head, it's for sale curbside- you make a loud kissy sound, and get the vendor's attention- they will bring it to you - even if traffic starts to move and you have inched forward 50 feet, they'll bring it to you.  We could easily get used to this kind of shopping.  There are two types of clothing: ready-made (new, in the package) and junks (used).  Junks are all those donations that get sent to Africa.  We have seen clothes with Goodwill price tags still on them, t-shirts from our hometowns, and everything you can imagine at home.  One intersection we dubbed "Wal-mart" because of the vast selection of clothing.

The people of Sierra Leone are happy, peaceful, loving, and eager to see Mercy Ships back in the country.  The Anastasis was here in 1993, 2002, 2003, and 2004, so they are familiar with the ship and the help that it can provide.  We have been greeted with many friendly faces who are anxious to see the ship at the port.  There have been many, MANY NGOs here (Non-Governmental Organizations) during the past 10-15 years in the aftermath of the war.  While they might tell us "white man" price instead of African price, we have not felt threatened or in danger in any way while we have been here.  For some further info on Sierra Leone, check out the movie Blood Diamond, or the book A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Bean. 


Monday, February 14, 2011

Safe in Sierra Leone

This will be a short post- I have unexpected access to internet at the Advance Team's housing, so I'll keep it short and sweet.

We arrived safely after easy flights- ALL OUR LUGGAGE made it! No hold ups at the borders or even any sort of inspections of our possessions.  We took a very interesting water taxi ride over from the airport to the other area of Freetown where we're staying.  Kylie got nauseous on the plane and experienced throwing up on plane, boat, and van all in the same day, but was an amazing trooper with it and most people didn't even know she was sick- very discreet, and no fuss at all.

We were greeted with other Mercy Ships people when we arrived off the taxi on Wednesday night.  We're staying in a very nice place - a hostel near the national stadium, where football (soccer) games are played on a frequent basis.   Our family has our own room- a locked door, an air conditioner that (after getting repaired three days in a row) works fairly well, as long as the power doesn't go out in the city.  We have a sink, toilet, and shower.  The girls have their own beds - no mattresses, just velvet covered boards in a bedframe, and we have a king sized bed!  Probably the biggest bed we've ever slept in.  The mosquitos are pretty bad, and our room didn't have netting up yet, so we hung up some netting - it's not just bug bites we're trying to prevent, but Malaria which is carried by mosquitos. This entire country is "malarial," so it's a real issue.  We are taking preventative medication as well, but bug spray and bed nets are two of the best ways to prevent.
Some of our fellow students have had some rat sightings in their rooms.  Fortunately we just saw lizards and giant cockroaches.  These we can get used to easily.

We are working in two areas - constructing the walls, power and interior of the hospitality center where patients will recover.  This is near the port and has a lovely breeze- an incredible building.

We are also working at Cheshire Home, an orphanage and school for children affected by polio.  We're doing a VBS type program with them and are thoroughly enjoying hanging out with them.

This weekend we had some down time- a day at Lakka Beach (delicious barracuda!!) and another day at a hotel where we were able to pay for the pool.

It's hot, humid, and everything we expected, and then some!

Church is three hours long- loud, crowded and wild. :)  We had a great time.  They claimed their church had never been so "bright!" (meaning all the white faces).

Freetown had a population of 100,000 prior to the war, now it is estimated to have two million- traffic is unlike anything I've ever seen- single lane roads, motorbikes going down the middle, chickens, goats, dogs, peddlers and cars and vans all merge together.

We're safe!! :)  Thanks for your prayers!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Africa Bound!

Now that we're all packed up, I'm brave enough to show you what our room looks like! :) The girls each had a bunk in the back half of our room, with a doorway inbetween, 

Then the front half of the room had an office area on one side, and a full sized bed on the other. 
Here you see our eight bags to check and our four carry ons - loaded and ready to go.

Tomorrow is the big day!

October 8th, 2010 was the date we received news that they would have a family cabin available for us on the Africa Mercy.

February 8th, 2010 is the date that we leave the US and start our journey to West Africa.

(being a numbers and word fan, I love this). 

When I think of all we've done in the past four months, I stand in amazement at what God can do. 

As Loren Cunningham's Book, Making Jesus Lord, says,
(The body of Christ) is a fellowship of those who have found true liberty in Jesus Christ.
As we walk in that liberty, we will find that
He calls us to leave behind even the good things
that He has given us in order to find something greater  -
servanthood to His Great Commission
and unity with others who are different,
but love Him as we do.

We have definitely left behind some good things these past few months: family, friends, houses, vehicles, nice things, our beloved doggy, familiarity, comfort, self-reliance, good jobs and relationships, etc....

But we are blessed beyond measure at the glimpses we see of serving to make disciples of all nations, being in unity with those who are different, yet still love Him as we do.  This is a privilege.

While you might be called to go to Africa, what is the something greater that He is calling you to?

We appreciate your prayers as we travel: for connections, weather, luggage arriving, health, and all aspects of our time in Sierra Leone.  We will update as soon as we are able!