Before we left on our mission, we read on the internet that Kenema was “an industrial city”. Now that probably means something different to me and to each of you than it did to the author, because as far as I can tell there isn’t much “industry” here. But as I have continued to think about the term “industry”, it is true that there is not much manufacturing here, but there are a lot of different kinds of ways people earn money. I thought it might be fun to share some of those along with a few pictures.
Retail is by far and away the most obvious “industry” here in Kenema. There are
markets everywhere selling just about everything you can imagine. Brick and mortar stores are the exception rather than the rule, although they do exist, just on a much, much smaller scale.
Telecommunications. Okay this might be a stretch but we do have our own Orange store (think AT&T Store equivalent). Thank goodness for that! Data is paid for by the kilobyte. It costs Le 200,000 ($25 USD) to purchase 6 gigabytes of data. I used to think that was a lot of data, but am amazed how fast it goes. I have learned that iCloud Drive is a real data hog and have stopped using it altogether. This Orange store is the only place in Kenema that data can be purchased from Orange. There are two other competitors that are not as strong. They are Sierratel and Africell.
Public Transport consists primarily of Okada’s as I have mentioned before. These are motorcycle taxis and by the far the most popular form of public transport. There are also KeKe’s, the three wheeled motorcycle carriage. There are also vans called Poda Podas which are generally stuffed with people inside and goods on the outside. They travel between the cities and villages. I often wonder what it is that keeps them running because most of them look pretty beat up. There are larger buses that make trips between the cities themselves. They are often hot and full up with passengers.
Freight hauling – There are large trucks (okay not 18-wheeler large, but still pretty good size) that carry freight in the area. This could be things like sand, lumber and building
materials (mostly cement blocks). When a truck breaks down, the mechanic comes to it and repairs it on location, even if that is in the middle of the road.
Mechanics – This is another job that is in demand. There are a number of shops around, but you have to look hard to see them. The clue is a plethora of cars in the area. There are some mechanics that specialize in the larger trucks, several that are focused on motorcycles and a few that deal with cars.
Waste management. There are a number of dumpsters throughout the city that seem to be always full and overflowing. I am not sure what the cycle for hauling away the trash, but it doesn’t seem frequent enough.
Government is a big employer, including the teachers. From my understanding, there seems to be a bottleneck in the teaching pools, where the older teachers don’t want to retire and lose their salaries so the younger teachers have no jobs. Many teach as volunteers and even those on the payroll may go months without
being paid by the government. We live near the area where all of the government offices are located. I think there are as many government offices here as there are in Houston e.g., water, electricity, courts, security, education, sanitation, tourism, health… to name a few. When I go running, I run past many of these buildings. One of my favorite is the Court House, where there are always dogs on the stairs. I call these the “Dogs of Justice”.
Diamond brokers. The diamond mines are not far from Kenema and there are many Diamond brokers here in the city. I don’t see many people in and around these places, but they must do a fairly large amount of business as many of their compounds are relatively large.
Fuel. We have a couple of TOTAL gas stations and a couple of NP stations. I think NP stands for National Petroleum. It is the nationalized oil company. There are a few generic stations as well, but not many.
Carpentry is big here. There are many shops just like the one where I had our shower rod made. I guess historically this was a big logging city, probably because of the mountains and all the trees. I am not sure where the lumber comes from now, but there are at least two large lumber yards in the city. It is not
uncommon to see someone pushing heavy hardwood lumber on a makeshift wheelbarrow from the lumberyard to the carpentry shop or jobsite.
A related industry to carpentry is construction of homes and buildings. There is always a
lot of building going on. One can see many homes that were started but never finished because the money ran out. There are no mortgages here, so people build as they can afford to build. Unfortunately the materials are not always the best and the workmanship is still improving, but there are many builders and many building supply stores. Cement is by far the favorite material of choice as far as I can tell.
One last industry I will mention is textiles. We have seen at least three different sewing machine shops within about 1/2 mile from home. They do mostly custom sewing, although I am not sure on the quality. It is likely as it is in most
places where some shops are simply better than others. There are many beautiful African prints that LaDawn is planning to buy each month and then bring home with her at the end of our mission,.
Highlights of the week:
On Monday I spent most of the day getting the car fixed. Felix Kanneh, a young single adult in the Simbeck Branch had mentioned to me that he apprenticed with an honest mechanic. So I took the car there and they did a great job replacing the seal on the back right tire and fixing the back-up light (it was a wiring problem, not a burned out light bulb). I was grateful. I was there for 6 hours and it cost me 300,000 Le which is not quite $40. Quite the bargain I think.
On Tuesday morning we received a text from the Elder’s Quorum President of the Dauda Town Branch. Here is what it said: “Good Morning Elder and Sister Kumz (sic), this is Elders Quorum President of Dauda Town, We are to Transfer to our new apartment today but we need your help with the truck to help transport our materials. We are at 27 Sheik Sheik Drive, One Man Abu Road, Waiting for your Kindly respond.” After checking the address with Google Maps, it was pretty obvious that we were not going to drive to United Arab Emirates to find an address on One Man Abu Road. (Chuckle). We
then called Elder Pyrah who works in that area and drove over and picked him up and his companion (he was with a branch missionary) and he took us to the house. We would never have found it without them. The road was pretty washed out, but I put the truck in 4-wheel drive and drove up the hillside to his house. It was actually kind of fun. We loaded the truck to the top (that is a USA “top” and not an Africa “top” and drove over to their new apartment.
Later that day we met with with a District Councilman named Bother Nyagua (pronounced KNEE OG WAH). As we were coming down our road to our apartment there were 5 or 6 men trying to push a car up the hill (there is only one lane for cars to drive on at the hill). So I turned the truck around and backed down to where they were, got out the tow strap and pulled them up the hill. As I was initially turning around, I asked a man that was walking by to tell the guys pushing the car that I would tow them up the hill and to stop and wait for me. He finally understood and so he yelled to them and when he did so he came back to LaDawn and asked for Le 5000. Now that is only about 60 cents, but it was the principle of the thing. LaDawn told him she was not going to pay him for doing a good deed!
One of the things I am trying to do is to help one of our guards read. Charles David is a convert of about 2 years. He had to have two hernia operations (the first surgery resulted in the need for a second surgery) and while he was recovering he stopped working long enough to learn about the gospel. His wife and children were already members. He is a sweet man who has an insatiable desire to learn how to read English. This desire has been born of being involved in some of the initial gospel literacy classes here in Kenema. His branch president, President Komba invited him to attend and now he is beginning to believe he can learn to read. So we have started with 1 Nephi 1 and he can now read the first 4 verses. I am so proud of him. It has been amazing to not only read the words but to explain them to him and talk together about how it applies in both of our lives. Seems like every verse we read makes the next one go faster. I try to spend some time with him each day. It is very rewarding.
On Thursday August 2nd, I celebrated the day of my baptism 43 years ago on August 2, 1975. That decision I made on that day has been the most amazing decision I have ever made. From that I decided to serve a mission (Germany Munich) and later it opened the door to marry LaDawn Ogden in the Idaho Falls Temple. Everything else in my life that is good has been a result of that initial decision. How grateful I am for that day!
On Thursday morning I met with President Cobinah, the District President and we discussed together what the training for the branches might look like. We decided that round 1 would just be the branch presidents and that round 2 would be the Young Men and Young Women presidencies along with the branch presidencies. Round 3 will be the Relief Society and Elders Quorum Presidencies and Round 4 will be the Primary and the Sunday school presidencies. It will take 4 months or more to get it done, but we hope it will make a difference as this district prepares to become a stake. We are excited to help them transition from being branches into becoming wards.
After my meeting with President Cobinah, LaDawn and I sat in on a Branch and District History training meeting. I was impressed that all of the branch clerks were in attendance along with men and women for nearly every branch that have been called as branch historians. This is one thing that is so prevalent here. People want to learn, to do their calling, to be faithful and do what is asked of them. It was a good meeting and the district councilor, Br. Foday did a nice job.
Later that day we went with Sister Momo and Sister Enock to visit two member families who had been sporadic about attending church. The first was Sheku and Massah Kutubu. Such a sweet and wonderful couple. She is 6 months pregnant with their first child, although she has two other children that are with her mother in Kailahun (apparently from another marriage before she joined the church). We then went over and visited Susan Kamgbia. She is a counselor in the primary but has not been consistent in coming
to church. Her niece is named Samarian and is Muslim. Her mother was there and asked the sisters to teach their daughter because she wants her to come to our church. Samarian is a smart girl about 17 or 18 years old. The Sisters will start to teach her and we will see where it goes.
Today (Sunday) I attended the branch council meeting of the Kenema Branch. The branch president there is Ibrahim Komba and he is exceptional. Humble, teachable, committed with excellent leadership skills. We have been working together to develop an agenda that might help branch councils be more effective. Today President Komba, with some additional help from the District Councilor
Augustin Nyagua, led a masterful branch council. There were three individuals he was concerned about that they counseled together about how to help them. I was amazed (and I think he was as well) that two of his branch members were very close to two of the individuals. That was very helpful in coming up with some concrete actions to help them. On the third person, the YW president knew of a similar situation and was going to ask her mother for some information about how they solved it. It was wonderful to see this council work together to make life better for each other. It was a model meeting. After the discussion on the needs, President Komba then posed a question to the council about how they could increase the spiritual strength of members of the ward. Such a wonderful question, and one that they counseled on together and came up with a plan that uses the Book of Mormon to deepen the testimonies of members of the branch. Truly revelation is scattered among us and it is only through counsels that we solve the toughest of issues.
So is there industry in Kenema? Not a whole lot when it comes to manufacturing, but when it comes to spiritual development and building better people, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is leading the way. It is an industrial revolution of the spirit! I continue to be amazed at just how strong the church is here. With significant cultural diversity, limited resources, few jobs, difficult transportation and minimal communication, the church is not only growing in Kenema, it is thriving! It is clear that the Lord’s hand is in this work.