We were with one of the branch presidents one day and LaDawn asked him whether or not they have vacuum cleaners here. He got a puzzled look on his face and asked her to ask him again because he did not understand. She again asked and he was still uncertain what the question was. I tried to clarify by explaining what a vacuum cleaner was but he said he had never seen anything like that and said, “maybe in Freetown.” And so it is, with electricity being the exception and not the rule, vacuum cleaners are an unknown commodity in much of Sierra Leone. We later confirmed that a vacuum cleaner can be purchased in Freetown, but I suspect it doesn’t happen often. And the cost is prohibitive for 95+% of the population.
For the last several weeks, I have been on the lookout for appliances and tools that I could write about in today’s blog. Nearly everything here is manual, but in the truest
sense of the word they are still appliances. My favorite appliance here is an iron. As you can see from the picture, these irons are heated by wood-based charcoal placed in a chamber above the face of the iron. It is not uncommon, especially at small tailor shops, to see a young man who is “working” for them doing nothing more than keeping the coals in the iron hot in hopes of maybe earning 2000 Leones at the end of the day (about 25 cents). We have a conventional iron here in our apartment as do all of the missionaries. They are made in China and can be purchased for $8-10. One thing I will say about them, they get hot very quickly. I doubt there are any resistors or capacitors to slow the heating speed.
There are many tailor shops around Kenema, in fact I continue to be amazed at just how many there are. It is rare to find a woman that sews, it is almost always men. Electric sewing machines again are very rare. Most are the old Singer treadle sewing machines that our grandmothers used. It is not uncommon to find a very small wooden structure with 5 or 6 men sewing all day long. Our experience with these shops has been pretty good. They are talented tailors who can take your measurements and make a shirt in a few short hours. Over at the Opportunity Training Center, they also have a sewing room, but it is much larger and the workers are not crammed into the room. Here they teach others how to sew and to make various items that they then can sell to provide for themselves.
Washing machines are another luxury that are extremely rare. We feel fortunate to have one in our apartment and even though it can only handle very small loads, it does a good job. Nearly everyone here in Kenema washes their clothes by hand on a scrub board. It appears to be a near daily ritual for the women of the family. Scrubbing clothes tends to make them have a shorter life. This is how our missionaries wash their clothes, either by themselves or a member in need of some small work. As you can imagine, washing white shirts this way, especially the collars, can be very hard on them. It is not unusual to see missionaries who are near the end of their missions have frayed collars as a result. We also have a small dryer, but have used it only once. It is expensive to run (it is electric), gets hot very fast, and heats the entire apartment very quickly. Our preferred method is to simply hang them out on a line at the back of the house.
We were over to OTC one day and I watched them use a hand cranked forge fan in order to get the steel hot enough to shape. It was impressive to watch this man turn the crank consistently in order to get just the right amount of heat out of the forge.
On Saturday, we were over by the Dauda Town building and there were some men
cutting some planks of wood into strips. No electric saw here. This young man was using the handsaw in the opposite direction we would expect in order to take long, effective cuts into the wood, I asked what they were making and the older man indicated they were making wooden forms for cement property markers. These cement pillars are placed into the ground, much like the steel stakes in the U.S., in order to mark property boundaries.
Because there are no vacuum cleaners here, perhaps the most important “appliance” of all is a broom. The small whisk-like brooms they use here are ubiquitous. They are similar to what we experienced in the Philippines, but here there are no handles. Sweeping with them is an arduous task as it requires significant stooping while sweeping and moving around. Fortunately for us we can buy short-bristled nylon brooms with handles here. I doubt our backs would last very long using a native one!
The last appliance I want to mention is a baby carriage. There are quite of few of them on the streets, but we have yet to see a baby in a single one of them! African mothers carry their children on their backs, using about two yards of cotton material readily available in the market. These “wraps”, cost between $2-3 and can also be used as a skirt. That is a far cry from the Solly Babys available in the U.S. for around $65! Talk about taking a generic item and turning it into a niche product! Back to the story. These baby carriages are used to transport coolers. We learned this past week that we can buy “ice blocks” at our small grocery story. These ice blocks are small bags of drinking water which are frozen and sold as ice. This allows these street vendors to sell food or drinks that are cold, which helps them to sell their product vs. those who sell the same foods unchilled.
Last week, everything we did revolved around two events. The first was a training session with the entire leadership of the Kpayama Branch requested by the Branch President, Kenneth Lamina, scheduled for Saturday at 3:00 pm. The second was two full days of filming for the Church’s new literacy program. Kenema was one of the initial roll-out sites for the literacy program, and as a result has some pretty remarkable success stories. More about that in a moment.
Our YSA family home evening this week was on Tuesday, as that is the day that worked best for the young single adults of the Kenema Branch. We had a wonderful time with them, again talking about the atonement of Jesus Christ and the symbolism of the brass serpent on the pole that Moses held high. Again, peanut butter cookies were served to gladden the palates of the attendees. We had 18 in attendance and sat out on the front porch of the branch building where it was a bit cooler. Unfortunately, the street noise was a bit louder, but we managed to have a wonderful discussion despite the distractions. As we have mentioned before, it is getting dark around 6:30 pm these days, so it is getting more difficult to get a good picture without someone being blurry due to movement.
We also had some more fun with the plumber this week. We have a high pressure pump for use when we shower and when we wash clothes or when we want something more than a trickle from the sinks. The problem is that the house was plumbed with low pressure piping and the pump was added after the fact. Last week the problem was at the back of the house where the water comes into the second bathroom. The mainline tee to the house broke and water was coming up the wall. We got that fixed and then this week the piping coming out of the pump failed. It took the plumber 5 different tries before he managed to get it to work without breaking. Hopefully it will last for awhile now!
On Wednesday we took all of the handouts we had prepared for the Kpayama Branch training to the stationery store so that we would have copies for everyone. The handbooks are hard to read for many of the leaders here and often the information that is pertinent to their organization is scattered throughout the instructions. We pull the most important information out and put it all on one or two pages. For example, topics for a presidency meeting, major responsibilities of the calling, meetings to be held and interviews to schedule. All of these are basic building blocks of good leadership. We are finding that leaders are willing to do what they are asked, but often they do not know or fully understand the expectations. We love helping with training to clarify these simple points which then help the branches to continue to progress at a faster pace.
Also on Wednesday, we met with Divine Kanneh again, the District Sunday school President. We had been working on training for teacher councils and Teaching in the Saviors’s Way for a couple of weeks NOW and wanted to review it with him. Since the branch training would include all of the auxiliaries at the same time, it became critically important to help each of the district leaders understand the materials that they would need to train on. Br. Kanneh really understands the approach the church is taking on teaching and was excited to be a part of this first ever training of its kind.
On Thursday Melissa Hawkley, Dempsey Wheelock and Cason Curriden arrived along with the camera crew from the U.S. (Tom Gardner, Justin Cook and Cristina Smith) and a helper crew from Ghana to do the filming for the roll-out of the updated Church Literacy Program. They are preparing for a formal rollout of the program here in West Africa and are making some training videos to go along with the new teacher manuals. We spent two full wonderful days with them, going from place to place as they filmed members whose lives have changed as a result of the literacy program. Agnes Sallay Foday, Mattia Lusine Kongoley,
Moseray Christiana Brima, Fatu Kenewai Gamanga and our own guard, Charles David. They also did an interview with President & Sister Cobinah and their family since he is the District President and encouraging greater literacy among the members. We were not able to attend but heard that it was fabulous! There were others involved in the filming as well. Mabaindu Grace Kongoley and Susan Zainab Macavoray were interviewed as they served as teachers of several of those interviewed. Doris Kallon, Jacob and Maxwell Foday, Blessing and Hawa Kamara were also featured in some of the segments as family members who helped the learners progress while they were taking the literacy class. On Thursday, even LaDawn and I were interviewed as the Member Leader Support couple who will be helping to train and sustain the program here in Kenema. It was a wonderful experience to be involved with the filming and hear firsthand the impact the class has had on the lives of these wonderful members. On Friday evening, even though it was threatening rain and even sprinkled a bit, we went to a new open air restaurant here in Kenema called Food Masters. It is owned by the same guy who owned Waka Fast. When Waka Fast closed he apparently moved in closer to the center of the city and renamed the restaurant. I have to say the food there is excellent. We had a wonderful meal together and enjoyed the cool breeze that accompanied the light rain.
On Thursday at 2 pm, we excused ourselves from the filming long enough to travel back to the Kenema Central branch where we met with the district Relief Society president, Mbalu Bangura and the district councilman over the Kpayama Branch, Joseph Aruna. There we went over the materials for training the Relief Society presidency and the Elders Quorum Presidency. Both of these district leaders agreed to teach the respective classes. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate the willingness and desire of these leaders to learn and then teach others. We feel so grateful to be here in Kenema among such strong leaders.
On Friday, we “redid” the assessment of the members of the IDA Branch so that what happened last month when we did it live could be captured on film. We had a great turnout of members willing to be a part of the training film. I continue to be impressed with all aspects of the literacy program and how it helps members, especially those who cannot read and write, to begin to gain confidence in their own ability to learn.
Saturday afternoon finally rolled around. The literacy film crew were gone and things were returning to normal for us, just in time to arrive at the Kpayama branch for the training that we have been working on for several weeks. We arrived a few minutes before 3 pm and the only person there was the clerk, Ibrahim Saffa. He had the building all set up and was ready to go. By 3:15 all of our district trainers had arrived: Joseph Aruna (District Council), Mbalu Bangura (District RS President), Divine Kanneh (District Sunday school President), Tiangay Kamara (District YW President), Jeneba Kamara (District Primary President) and John Lima (District YM President). By 3:40 we had about 20 people and so President Lamina decided to go ahead and get started. By 4 pm we had 25. All of the auxiliaries were represented as was the Elders Quorum. President Lamina sat in with the Young Men and I helped Brother Lima deliver that training. I also delivered the presentation on Shadow Leadership to both the YM and YW leaders before breaking out. Unfortunately only the YM first counselor and secretary were in attendance, but they are both very dedicated Young Single Adults with deep testimonies. It was also good for President Lamina to get a full perspective of the YM program. LaDawn sat in with Sister Jeneba Kamara and delivered the Primary training. Again, only one counselor was in attendance, but it was very helpful to her. After the individual breakout sessions were concluded, we gathered once again in the Chapel and President Lamina spent about an hour discussing leadership in the church and how councils are to work. It was extremely well done. All in all we were very happy with the training. If we were to summarize the 5 key points of the training it would look something like this.
- All of the district leaders with responsibility for their respective areas were in attendance and either delivered all or part of the training. This had a bonus effect of helping the district leadership understand their own roles better.
- Since all of the auxiliaries and elders quorum were represented, the entire branch leadership has a new vision of their responsibilities. I have always believed it only takes 35% of a group to be onboard with new ideas in order to create change. We had 17 of a possible 25 in attendance which is nearly 70%. Kudos to President Lamina and Brother Saffa who worked tirelessly to encourage people to attend.
- Teaching in the Savior’s Way is a huge opportunity here. Getting the teacher council meetings in place and working will make a significant difference.
- The Spirit of the Lord was present in all of the sessions of the training. Since it is the Spirit that is the real teacher, all of us were well instructed!
- Can one man make a difference? Yes! President Lamina has been adamant about wanting to do this training for a month now. At first we were hesitant because we weren’t sure we could figure everything out and get all of the right people there with the right information, but President Lamina would not relent. He had a vision and he certainly convinced us it could be done. The power of one is real and is something we must never forget!
On Sunday we had a Stake Conference broadcast for the Africa West Area. Saturday morning I met Augustine (Nyandeyama Branch ward clerk) and we set everything up and made sure we had sound and a picture. The idea was that half of the district would go to the district center and the other half would come to Nyandeyama. The sound was weak but we thought it must be the feed at the time. Unfortunately we were wrong about that. On Sunday, I went over at 9:00 am and setup my portable LED projector. It was working great, but the sound was still weak. As we worked on the sound, I closed my projector, but still had the HDMI cord plugged in. I don’t know what happened, but when we went back to try the projector again it was absolutely dead. This is very sad for us as we have been using that projector for every training we have done. I will take it over to OTC today and see if Eku can work his magic on it. Anyway, as it turns out, we could not even get the audio feed working for the conference. I tried to pull up the streaming feed on my iPhone using both Orange and SierraTel networks. Both were down nearly all day on Sunday. It was the perfect storm. The first counselor in the district presidency spoke for about 20 minutes and Br. Koroma, a counselor in Nyandeyama Branch presidency spoke for about 15 minutes. Sister Nancy and Brother Siddie were asked to bear their testimonies, we had a closing hymn and prayer and we all went home. All were disappointed that we were not able to hear this conference that we had come to partake in.
Back to the Appliances of Kenema. One of the definitions of appliance: A device or piece of equipment designed to perform a specific task. Just because a device is manual does not mean it is not an appliance. In the western world, we have been programmed to believe that everything has to be the way we think of it or it doesn’t count. We are impressed that here in Sierra Leone there are many devices and pieces of equipment that are designed for specific tasks and the good news is that they work, even without electricity. Literacy is similar. Just because someone cannot read or write does not mean that they are of no worth, which is sometimes the view in the western world. The Literacy Program is like a well built, efficient appliance intended for a specific task: To teach those who desire to learn to read and write. The nice thing about this appliance is that there is a second, perhaps more more important task that it fulfills: To help sink the messages of the gospel deep into the hearts of the learners. We are thrilled to be a part of gospel literacy and we are thrilled to be a part of the church here in Kenema.