On Friday morning, July 13th we left “civilization” in Freetown and headed out to Kenema. President Clawson and I rode together in the Toyota Hylux pickup and Sister Clawson and LaDawn rode together in the Toyota Fortuner. All in all it was about a 6 hour drive to get here, leaving around 1 pm from Freetown and arriving here just before 7 pm. Now I was the one driving the pickup so I suspect we were traveling a bit slower than what the Clawson’s might otherwise have driven. It’s been a while since I have driven a stick shift and getting used to the rhythm of the traffic and the people took me some time. We stopped for a couple of cases of water in Grafton (just outside Freetown) because they are known for their excellent aquifer (which I am learning is extremely rare in Sierra Leone). We also made a stop a little further along the way where President Clawson bought some apples, popcorn and cookies from young people along the side of the road. It was good to get a feel for what one can purchase with confidence from street vendors and what one cannot. I think the general rule of thumb is no meat. Fruits, vegetables, (both cooked and raw), breads as well as non-meat cooked food is generally okay. I was surprised with the popcorn especially, but I have to say it was just like home.
Friday evening we spent a lot of time just trying to understand the apartment. While it is called the couples apartment, it is actually a 2 bedroom house.
The “apartment” is new construction and located directly on church property next door to the Nyandeyama Chapel. Our son Tyson would be having a heart attack if he could see the state of the house at the time the keys were turned over to the church and the contractor was paid. For example, on Saturday we spent time trying to fix the sink. The faucet was leaking because where the flexible hose screwed into the faucet it was cracked. So we took it back to the “store” where it was purchased and exchanged it for another one (that was not quite as easy as I just made it sound). Well we got that home and upon close inspection, it too was cracked. We eventually worked out a deal with the “store” and managed to get a good one without any cracks and had Mohammed (the plumber) install it. So by Saturday evening we had water in the kitchen sink where the 3-filter filtering system for drinking water is located. So that was good. This morning we discovered that the master bath shower does not drain (I mean not a drop), the master shower flexible hose to the hand sprayer broke in the middle of my shower (that was fun). I busted the plastic seat on the toilet the first time I sat on it. In the other bathroom that the Clawson’s were using the flexible hose blew off at the compression fitting and that resulted in about 1.5-2.0 gallons of water on the floor before I found it and stopped it. Today LaDawn discovered that the sink insert that connects to the drain line is loose so that sink is leaking anytime we pour water down the drain. Soon we will work through these kinks and all will be well. Just a couple of other things about the “apartment”. It has seven solar panels, a diesel generator and eventually a connection to EDSA which is the unreliable National Electric Company. We are learning how to maximize the solar power which is stored in batteries. We have LED lights around the house that are on light switches and run from the batteries. We also purchased two DC powered fans (solar power is DC power), which we run during the night off the stored power. We run the generator for 2-3 hours in the evening and a couple in the morning to cool down the house (evening) and then shower in the morning. We have small water heaters just outside the windows of the bathrooms which heat the water, but we need the generator to do that. The solar system also has an inverter that will convert the DC power to AC power and it will run the refrigerator and fans for some period of time before becoming exhausted. We are still learning how to optimize our use of power to keep from incurring too much expense. We have a set of four guards (Lucinda, Charles David, Alfonso and Christopher). Their job is to keep anyone out that is trying to cause trouble and to open the big steel gate as we come and go. From my perspective, it is a bit of an overkill and we could live without that feature, but so be it. It was interesting when I asked the Solar Installer why they put the panels on the west side of the roof instead of the part facing south, he reported that they did this so “bad boys” would not throw rocks to try and break the panels. Go figure.
One of our highlights this weekend was attending a meeting of the branch presidents with the District President (President Cobinah). He is a good man, with quite good leadership skills. He is young and energetic and has a strong testimony of the gospel.
Eight of the 9 branch presidents from the stake were in attendance. They too are good men. Trying to do their best, overcoming all kinds of cultural traditions in order to implement a gospel culture in each of their units. One of the parts of the meeting I enjoyed most was a discussion that President Cobinah led about what it meant to act like a ward (instead of a branch) and what that meant for each of them individually. It was a mature discussion and right on point. Since we will be working with the leadership of the 9 branches and the district presidency as we help prepare the district to become a stake, this was an excellent opportunity to meet all of them and put names with faces.
Saturday evening we went out to dinner at a local restaurant called Waka Fast. It took about 30 minutes to get our food and it was delicious. Unfortunately, Sister Clawson ordered half-a-chicken so we would have left overs for Sunday, but somehow that got lost in the system and after 55 minutes she got her food, but it certainly wasn’t what any of us expected. More like a quarter of chicken charbroiled to a crisp. The good news is that for everyone else the food was excellent and the total cost for four of us was less than $20. A place I think we will go back to (and make sure never to order the half chicken!).
Sunday morning we attended the Nyandeyama Branch which is right next door to us. The Clawson’s visited another branch. I have to say that the sacrament meeting was excellent. It started on time, the talks were good, the sacrament was prepared, blessed and passed with great dignity and respect. All in all it was as good as any ward I have attended. During Sunday School it was extremely difficult for me to hear and understand what was being said. The windows were open (allowing in street noise), the ceiling fans were on full blast and the generator was running in the background. Couple all of that together with the Sierra Leone accent and it was tough. I think I managed about 40-50% of what was being said. I noticed that the women said nothing during the class. Near the end I invited the 5 of them who were there to comment. One sister took the challenge and spoke up. I have no idea what she said, it was all in Krio, but I was so happy she was willing to share her view. Something to work on in this male dominated culture.
Priesthood meeting was even more difficult for me. We were on the second lesson in the Gospel Principles manual and the noise in the room coupled with soft voices made it very difficult. From time to time, the men would launch into Krio in the middle of a statement and that lost me further. Despite all of that, it was still a great day. After the meetings, I spoke with both the Branch President and Elders Quorum President about visiting with them in their presidency meetings. Both were very responsive. Our goal is to teach the leaders here how to ask powerful questions that cause people to contemplate deeply about the subject being discussed.
Before dinner on Sunday we decided to take a drive around Kenema and see if we could
learn a bit more about this amazing place. To be honest, the roads are so bad we were both getting car sick, despite the fact I was in first gear (the truck is a manual transmission) and going slow. Bumpy is not the word for it. The good news is that some of the roads are getting pavement even as we speak so hopefully it will only get better.
For dinner yesterday we had spaghetti (no meat) along with mango, cucumber and delicious bread (with butter and honey). It was excellent!
Today was our preparation day and spent most of it doing just that. With help from a young single adult member, we bought 5 plastic vegetable oil containers (now empty and “clean”) to transport diesel to our generator. They are referred to as “jerry cans”. We had two and I bought 5 more. The cost was 12,000 Leones which is about $1.50. I then bought diesel fuel to fill 5 of the 7 containers (I realized while the attendant was filling them I was short of money) but what I didn’t realize was that I was actually short about $1.25 (10,000 Le). Fortunately he told me just to bring it back. I was grateful for his trust and actually surprised. We went back to the house, filled the generator and then went and filled four more jugs. Now we have fuel in reserve!
Also today the plumber returned and fixed the sink in one bathroom and the shower in another, Grateful to have that done. The A/C guy was supposed to come today but never did. The wall unit in our bedroom squeaks loudly after running for about 45 minutes. Not the worst problem as we don’t run it that often.
Tonight we went to three of the 8 buildings here in Kenema. At two of them the Branch President was there. One was doing some church work and the other was there with 5 young single adults for Family Home Evening. We were grateful for the “chance” meeting with these fine members as we try to get more involved in the District.