From time to time we get questions from people back home about what it is that we eat on a regular basis. First let me start with the food many eat here in Kenema, and most of Sierra Leone. As many of you already know, rice is a staple here. Inexpensive, easy to find and buy, and very filling. Here in Kenema I am guessing that over 90% of all food is cooked out of doors, Everyone has a place for an outdoor kitchen. It is generally a small shack to protect the fire from wind and rain. Here is an example:
To make the rice tasty, there are two main toppings, although there are many other varieties of toppings served with rice. These two popular toppings are cassava leaf and potato leaf. And the potato leaf is not the potato that we know in the US. These greens are chopped up and cooked in oil and water, onions, maybe some beans and some spices are added and then it is poured over rice. Generally, some fish or chicken is added to the mix. Oh, and I cannot forget the “peppe” which is very hot small peppers mashed into a pulp and used to spice up everything! Last Thursday the Kenema South District (missionaries) had an activity at our apartment and cooked some potato leaf and we were able to have it for our dinner. Probably not my favorite dish, but definitely eatable. The chicken that was cooked with it was exceptional. While we were out walking this week, I saw a woman cooking a kettle over a fire and when I asked her if I could take a picture, she took the cover off and it was
cassava root. Very similar to potatoes, but a bit stringier and tougher. We had a baked cassava in Freetown when we first arrived and found it to be very good. Fruits and vegetables tend to come in and out of season on a regular basis. Right now, oranges (well I call them greenges) are in
season. They are picked and sold green, as are the grapefruit. We have been trying to ripen them in a cardboard box with limited results. We have also been able to buy avocados quite regularly. Sometimes they are referred to as “plums”. Bananas are plentiful, although finding them in just the right stage of ripeness is a challenge. A couple of weeks ago we bought two “limons” which turned out to be mandarin oranges. We wish we would have bought more. I love to buy limes and make limeade. Such a treat! Pineapple is also supposed to be in season right now, although it is not easy to find them and even harder to find the larger ones. We can buy potatoes, cucumbers and onions regularly. Tomatoes are small and tasteless (picked green) and the few bell peppers we have found have been small and poor quality. Cabbage is plentiful, but it is a pain to prepare since it has to be bleached first, piece by piece. We buy all of our fruits and vegetables from the street market.
So what is that we eat regularly? For breakfast it is generally either eggs, oatmeal or bran flakes (which we can buy here out of the UK). Sometimes LaDawn will cook some hash browns and occasionally we will have pancakes or French toast. Our favorite bread is fullah bread which is much like a loaf of Italian bread. People bake it in their homes and sell it on the street. Unfortunately, there is no wheat bread here in Kenema. Well, that is not totally true as the definition of wheat bread here is bread made from bleached flour milled from wheat. We can buy peanut butter that is good and in Freetown we have purchased good syrup. The syrup we buy here in Kenema comes out of the UK and is extremely sweet. We probably eat half as much meat as we did back home. We did eat some SPAM with beans one night, something I have refused to eat my entire adult life. But I have to say, even though it was not the most healthy of meals, I appreciated the robust flavor of the SPAM. Most of our protein comes from eggs and peanut butter. It is not unusual for us to have some white sauce gravy with corn over rice, or that same white gravy with peas and potatoes. Pasta is
also easy to find, so meatless spaghetti and pasta is common for us. We can find cans or jars of spaghetti or lasagna sauce that we pour on it. When we do eat meat, it is almost always chicken. We even like to eat chicken hot dog sandwiches for lunch. We found some frozen chicken burgers (both grilled and breaded) at the one aisle “supermarket” we have here that are pretty good, so we eat them regularly. We can also buy frozen French fries at the same store. We stocked up on tuna from a store in Bo before it went out of business and tuna fish sandwiches have become a good lunch treat. But I think my most favorite thing that we have had here since arriving is the sweet and sour
chicken that LaDawn made. It took her about 90 minutes to prepare it but it was so dang good! Just thinking of having that again makes my mouth water! There is one thing that we find here that is better than anything else we have ever found anywhere
else. It is bottled mango and pineapple juice that is made here in Kenema. It is called Sierra and we usually have it every morning for breakfast. Probably fair to say that we are not eating as healthy
as we were back home because of the all the processed foods, white flour bread, pasta and the lack of good fiber foods, but nevertheless we are staying well-nourished and healthy. LaDawn continues to expand the things that she prepares and a little experimentation with food is just part of the overall adventure. Last week she prepared two African dishes, jollof rice and coconut chicken curry. Both were delicious!
Highlights of the Week
On Sunday we attended the Simbeck branch primary program. Most of the children had a part and shared a brief testimony on some aspect of the gospel. They also sang the opening hymn for sacrament meeting and then one other hymn during the program. Music is not a deep tradition here, and many of the primaries are still learning the tunes
in the Children’s Hymnbook. This is an area that LaDawn will be working on with the branches once the new sharing time outline comes out for 2019. After church we stayed for branch council where much time was spent on current investigators and how the branch might help them. Like most wards I have been in, priesthood and auxiliary leaders are often too willing to transfer issues they should tackle over to the bishop or branch president. It is no different here.
On Monday we attended the Kpayama Branch Young Single Adult Family Home Evening. We had 17 YSA in attendance. We spoke about the Book of Mormon and the power of reading it Every Single Day throughout our lives. We talk about Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life and how it was that the only group that Lehi said made it to the tree, partook of the fruit and then stayed at the tree were those who came to the tree “continually holding fast” to the iron rod. All of the other groups who began their journey to the tree were eventually lost. We spent some time talking to them about what it means to continually hold fast to the iron rod and how the Book of Mormon, as the most correct book on the earth is the rod that is spoken of in that vision. For dessert we made some cupcakes that were very well received. We had a delightful evening with them and I believe we were all edified with the discussion.
On Tuesday I did a couple of missionary apartment inspections while LaDawn met with a sister who needed to be measured for and then order new temple garments. In the
missionary apartment inspections, we check to make sure everything is clean and to determine what, if anything, needs repair. The missionaries are good about keeping their apartments clean, but it is not uncommon to find a number of things that need to be repaired. Here are some examples: stove tops with burners that will not work (they are propane stoves), toilets that will not flush, water leaks in sinks and bathrooms, roof leaks, generators in need of repair, and well-water pumps that leak. Well, you get the point. In the afternoon we did our 5th and final music class at the Kenema Branch building. While our “students” were taking a quiz, I did an inspection of the meetinghouse with President Komba (branch president) and showed him how to use the Facility Issue Reporting tool on LDS.org to submit a request for repairs. I had done the same thing with President Foday of the Simbeck branch on Sunday. Each of them had 11 major repairs that needed attention. It is not unusual for people here to get used to substandard buildings because many have experienced this their whole lives. Raising the standards of the meetinghouses here is something I have been asked by the mission president to help with.
After the building inspection and the music class we went out with Elder Gray and Elder Issac to visit some less-active members. Their ward mission leader, David Gbow also went with us. Most of the people we tried to visit were not home, but we did find Solomon laying cement blocks on a wall at another person’s home. He stopped working and we sat down together. I then asked him, “Why did the Lord send us to you today?” He responded without a trace of hesitation. “Because I need to repent and start coming back to church.” The spirit had been working on him all week, preparing him for our unannounced visit. When we came, he knew exactly what he needed to do. I am happy to say that he not only came to church on Sunday as he said he would, but he also came on Saturday morning and helped to clean the building. The power of a ministering visit!
On Wednesday we did the remaining two missionary apartment inspections in the morning. Here is a picture of four of the missionaries at the airfield apartment (Allen, Bledsoe, Isaac and Gray) and in the afternoon we worked on putting together the packets of handouts for the young men / yo
ung women training. At 4:00 we met at the District Center for a meeting with all of the Branch Presidencies, the District Presidency and all of the missionaries. The theme of the meeting was how we can all work together to increase the number of quality baptisms in the District. It was a good meeting and now requires some follow-up to make sure that the key messages don’t get lost.
On Thursday we had quite the adventure as we traveled about 75 kilometers northeast to the missionaries in Kailahun. Kailahun is the absolute furthest city from the mission
home and part of the Kenema District. We have four missionaries there. It is also the fastest growing branch in the district, and possibly the mission. They have 75 members
and a sacrament meeting attendance of 90! The adventure came in getting there. The road from Pendembu to Kailahun is not paved and during the rainy season it gets pretty muddy and rutted. It is the main road to Kailahun and quite a few motorbikes, small SUV’s and large trucks use the route. We drove nearly all of the unpaved portion of the road in 4WD due to the mud. It was both fun, adventurous and a bit nerve-racking. In many places, large rocks had been used to fill holes and they have
become the bigger navigation challenge. At one point a large truck got stuck going across a “bridge” which then backed everything up. Part of their problem was the tire came off the rim and they had to change it in the mud. It took over 2 hours to get the truck out and the road opened. By the time we got to Kailahun, we only were able to spend 1 hour there. 3.5 hours there and 3 hours back home, for one hour with the missionaries. It was a long day and far from being over.
We got back home just in time to head over to the branch next door for training with the young men and young women’s presidents. The branch presidency was also supposed to be there but did not make it. It was pouring rain and the whole time we
were competing with the sound of the rain on the steel roof. Joining us for the training was the District young men president, John Lima and his first counselor, John Mansaray. The District Young Woman president, Tiangay Kamara got caught in the rain and could not get to the building. With help from my good friend Neal Rackleff who sent me a presentation he had used previously in the Klein Stake, we talked about shadow leadership and the responsibilities of a YM and YW president. We also gave them outlines to create bi-weekly activities consisting of Duty to God, Personal Progress and combined activity ideas from the youth.lds.org website. The youth programs here rarely have activities and need to be greatly strengthened before Kenema District will be ready to be a stake.
Right after the training we came back to our apartment and the Kenema South District missionaries came over and had a district activity, preparing the potato leaf dinner mentioned above. Elder Pace made some delicious brownies for dessert. Clean-up was a bit tough because so much oil is used in the cooking. Most of the pots and pans had to soak overnight. All in all I think everyone had a great time.
Friday morning we attended the branch presidency meeting of the IDA branch. President Samai is a young, energetic, gentle, intelligent and hard working leader who is trying to move the work forward in his branch. We loved the opportunity to be with them as he talked about his vision for the branch and how he might engage the branch council in establishing goals to support the vision. We asked if we could come to his branch council on Sunday and he readily invited us. Leaders like President Samai who are so eager to learn and apply that learning to furthering the work of God is one of the reasons we love being in Kenema.
On Saturday we attended the baptism of Mattia Moseray who has been coming to our
music lessons. He is a fine young man who was baptized by his friend Edward Kemokai, also a music student. It was a wonderful service. LaDawn and I were both asked to bear our testimonies and I was asked to be one of the witnesses. Bindu Koroma was also baptized. Elder Adjety was asked to perform that baptism. How we loved being there and participate in these saving ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
After the baptism we went to the Burma branch for YM/YW training similar to what we had done on Thursday at Nyandeyama, but only the second counselors and secretaries of the both YM and YW showed up. Without the presidents of the organizations and the branch presidency we felt there was no reason to proceed. I called the branch president who was ill and agreed we would reschedule.
Later in the day we picked up the luggage from the 6 departing missionaries from the zone (transfers had been announced the prior evening) and the Bo Supply Elders came and got them from our home that evening.
We then met with the Simbeck Branch Presidency and their Relief Society
and Elders Quorum presidencies. Francis Bundu, their district councilman, had been working with us to prepare training for these leaders about their role in solving welfare issues. I have to say that the meeting exceeded my expectations. We had a wonderful discussion on how these leaders can take much of the burden of solving long-term welfare issues away from the branch president. We were all edified as we learned from the Handbooks of Instruction and more importantly from the Spirit of the Lord.
On Sunday we attended the Burma Branch primary program. I have to say they have some impressive young children. One boy got up and recited the first 6 articles of faith
and did so without a single mistake. Each child participated by bearing their testimony and they sang “I am a Child of God” and “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. All of the primary teachers and leaders were able to bear a short testimony as well. It was a wonderful meeting. Following the Burma Branch meetings we went back over to IDA and participated with them as they adopted the branch president’s vision and began to make goals about how to accomplish it. It was wonderful to see this branch council work together to accomplish the work of the Lord!
In closing, I want to go back to food. Food is imperative to sustain life. Here food is found in limited variety, but people have figured out how to make it delicious and nourishing. Just as food is imperative to sustain our physical life, the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are imperative to sustain our spiritual life. Here in Kenema we are working to improve the “food” of the gospel and how it is served. As we do so, we are experiencing our own delicious variety of teaching, training and application.