In Sierra Leone, electricity is governed by the National Power Authority, generally referred to as NP. National Power has two utilities attached to it, the Electricity Generation and Transmission Company (EGTC) & Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA). There are also two major sources of power in Sierra Leone. The first is the oil fired Kingtom Power Station that sits on a ship in the ocean water just off the coast of Freetown. The second is Bumbuna hydro-electric power plant located on the Seli river near Makeni, 230 km north of Kenema.
The hydro-electric power plant was started in 1975 and put into operation in 2009, delayed by two civil wars. Though the plant was constructed to produce 50 MW of power, it currently produces only 10 MW and during the dry season, there is often insufficient water to run it regularly. The problem with production appears to be associated with the lack of maintenance on the turbines, which one by one have been taken out of service. There is a new Phase II to the plant that has been approved and is expected to begin construction next year and finish by 2023. It will expand the capacity to 400 MW. If successful, this will make a huge difference to the entire country.
While it is true that not many people here cannot even afford to have electricity, there are many who, if they had reliable power, could do so much more. The dependence upon generators is high, but they are expensive to run so only very few see much use. Based on our own experience, it is about 5 times more expensive to run a generator than it is to use National Power.
I have mentioned before that all National Power is prepaid. The way we are setup here is that all prepayments are made by the mission office in Freetown. The mission office elders communicate with EDSA and provide money upfront for the amount of electricity they want to buy. Once that is received, EDSA issues a 20-digit code that has to be entered into the keypad attached to the meter on the outside of each person’s house that is wired for electricity. The cost is about 18 cents per kilowatt hour, which is double what we pay in Texas, but still considerably less than running a generator.
As we mentioned last week, the alternator in our generator burned up. We were hoping for a quick repair and resolution, on Saturday I found out that decision has not even been taken on the way forward. Apparently, this is not the first time this has happened to this generator as it has been here in Kenema for a number of years now. Cost to repair it is about $1000. The question is whether it is better to repair it or replace it. For me it is an easy decision, for to buy new will be 10x that of a repair.
What is life like without a generator? Well the first few days it wasn’t too bad. National Power was consistent and over the first weekend we had nearly continuous power. Unfortunately, it is rarely delivering anything over 200 volts (it should be at 220 volt) but that is still sufficient to run most things. But then it started to get spotty, generally coming on at midnight and lasting until about 8 am. On Friday of last week, we had a couple of hours in the afternoon and it has not been back since. With a generator, we would run it in the evening to cool the house before going to bed, as having NP in the evenings is rare. We have a small A/C unit in our bedroom and if we ran it for an hour before going to bed, sleeping was easy. We also have a slightly larger A/C unit in our living room, that we would run in the evenings and cools the room nicely with the generator (but it is slightly larger and so it doesn’t run so well on NP’s limited 200 volts). Another unfortunate thing is that this last week, the wet season officially ended. I don’t mean based on a day on the calendar, I mean it was raining nearly every day (which tends to cool things down) and then it stopped raining and has not rained a drop in the last week. This has now created a new problem for us associated with the solar panels.
With the loss of the rain, the dust collects on the panels and impedes the amount of electricity produced. This limits how long we can keep the refrigerator running as the panels are unable to collect enough to charge the batteries AND keep the refrigerator running all day. Couple that with the December fog which usually doesn’t clear off until about 10:00 am and the partially overcast days consistent with December and we end up with limited solar power as well. What is the result of all this?
- While we have a small washer that will run on solar but the high-pressure water pump has to be on for it to run and the solar cannot handle that to last through a cycle. This means clothes washing has become an issue. LaDawn washed her nightgown in the sink on Saturday.
- It is difficult to sleep at night because of the temperature. We are fortunate that our solar fans usually last all night, but the last couple of days they have been running much slower in the morning. Fortunately, the body has its own cooling system called perspiration. Couple that with a fan and it gets cool, sometimes too cool, which then results in pulling a sheet up, which then gets too hot. It would be hilarious to watch a movie of a night’s sleep!
- In the mornings, there is generally no NP, no solar power remaining in the batteries and now no generator. Which means no microwave, no high-pressure pump for the shower and no warm water. Fortunately for us, there is enough gravity to run water through the shower head, albeit slowly and a bit on the cool side, but showers are still possible.
Last week we closed the blog with the words, “Bring on the Heat”. This is not exactly what we had in mind, but this too is a refining opportunity. We are grateful for these kinds of experiences which really help us to appreciate a recent video making the rounds on the internet. It was put together the Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, NC and is a wonderful reminder about just how grateful we should be. Right now, we can identify with that video in a very real and personal way. You can watch it here.
On Monday we visited Dr. Grant’s office at the Government Hospital. He is the doctor that our missionaries see when they are ill. He went to medical school at Tulane University and is very good. We owe him money for past visits, but have struggled to get him to tell us how much it is. Sister Moomey is the mission nurse and the contact person, but we try to help out by getting him paid. We will keep trying. We also tried to visit Marvel Vincent, the women in charge of the area midwives. We have been trying to help a good friend of from my mission to Germany who is a doctor now and living in California setup a trip here to teach a course titled “Helping Babies Breath”. Unfortunately she wasn’t there either, but we did connect with her later in the week and were able to move the idea forward with her. We are hoping it will happen and believe it will.
Later that day we met with President Lamina from the Kpayama Branch. He came to our home to use the internet and get help to input his comments on a young man from his branch whose mission papers have just gone in. Mohamed Flee is another fine young man who is eager to serve a mission and we are always grateful to do whatever we can to help one more young man receive a mission call.
On Tuesday, I took some keys to a place Charles David, our head guard, suggested in order to have copies made. I took them around 10 am and they had them for me at 3:00 pm. The thing that is most interesting is that these duplicate keys are hand made with chisels, files and small hacksaws. Nothing sophisticated here. As you can imagine only about half of them worked the first time, which then required another trip later in the week. If they don’t have a proper key “blank” from which to start, they have to make the key from a piece of metal starting from scratch. It is impressive to believe that they can even do this. When I took one of the keys back that didn’t work he said he would “go there” with me and then file it as needed to make it work. I decided I did not want a key maker to know which apartment the key fit. Just to be on the safe side.
While I was out running this errand, the spirit unmistakingly directed me to call Charles (our guard) and offer to help him give his daughter a blessing. She had been very sick the day before and he had taken her to the hospital on Tuesday morning. So I called him, picked him up from where he was running his own errands and we went to his house and gave her a blessing. This was the first blessing Charles had ever participated in and he was so happy. I might add that his daughter was not too keen having a strange white man put his hands on her head, but despite that she is doing much better now and almost back to 100%.
On Thursday we attended Zone Council. It was really great because the entire zone was together, including the Elders from Kailahun. It was wonderful! We have such strong dedicated missionaries here in Kenema and they all carry a spirit of charity and compassion with them to the people they teach. We are so happy to be a small part of this great team!
After Zone Council we hurried over to OTC to visit with Eku Scotland. He has read all of the introduction to the Book of Mormon, including the Joseph Smith story. In fact he told the story back to me about how Moroni visited Joseph Smith 3 times in one night and then again the next morning. He told me how Joseph’s dad told him these things were of God and that he needed to do what the angel had commanded him. It was amazing. We were only able to spend about an hour before he had some other people came to see him. One of his questions was about the process one goes through in order to become a member of our church. He indicated that he had taken quite a long while to go through the process with the Jehovah Witnesses and he was surprised that the men from OTC who had recently been baptized had moved so fast to become members. He said he thought it was too fast. I asked him to open the Book of Mormon to Moroni chapter 10 and read verse 4 out loud. “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” When he finished reading, he looked up at me and simply said, “I understand”. While we only spent an hour with him on Thursday, we came back on Saturday afternoon and spent almost 2 more hours with him. While he had started reading at the beginning of 1 Nephi 1, he said he hadn’t gotten very far but that Sunday was his day and he would have more time to read. In that meeting we talked about the 144,000 and how our doctrine does not limit those who can be saved in the highest degree of glory. He liked that. We also spoke about Temples and how they compare with the Jehovah Witnesses concept of “Bethel House”. He is simply an amazing man that we have really come to appreciate and love. He is sincere, genuine and honest.
On Friday we took Smith Tamba Barclay (another young man preparing for a mission) and Ibrahim Morison (a polio victim who is a member of our Burma Branch) to Bo. Smith needed an interview with a member of the mission presidency and President Musa said he could do it as long as he was done by 10:00 am. So we dropped him off at President Musa’s and then took Ibrahim to the Cheshire House where they were able to repair his wheelchair. Cheshire House is another amazing organization that helps out polio victims and helps them get through high school. They also have a workshop there were they make and repair wheelchairs. LDS Charities has played a big role in helping to provide them equipment and materials to make and repair wheelchairs. The wheelchairs are then delivered to the Bo Government Hospital who then fits them to disabled individuals in need of some degree of mobility. Ibrahim was so happy to get a new front tire, new front brake and new sprockets to keep his chain from slipping when going uphill. It made our hearts glad to help out both of these young men further there own dreams of being self-reliant and contributing members of the church and the country.
On Saturday Phillip Bunduka was baptized. Here is a picture with him and his son. Br. Bunduka is intelligent, articulate and driven. His heart has softened over the last few months and joining the church was a natural result of his own realization that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom here on the earth. While his wife remains a Methodist, our hope is that with time she will see his growth and change and want to join in. There were 5 others baptized at the same time as Phillip, but as we have felt a special kinship with him we make special mention of his special day.
On Sunday we attended the Dauda Town Branch. Such a wonderful fast and testimony meeting. We were especially impressed with the number of young women who stood and bore powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. We were also happy to see Joseph and his finance’ Isata who will be married this coming Friday. They are both powerful leaders already. Together they will be a long-term blessing to the people of Kenema in many different capacities. This is a union that makes us so happy! After Church we drove to Bo, picked up the Moomey’s and headed to Freetown. The clutch in our truck has been failing since before we arrived and it has progressively gotten bad enough that we felt we had to do something to repair it. Rather than do it in Kenema, we decided to come to Freetown back to the dealer where it was purchased so that genuine Toyota parts would be used to replace the worn ones.
While here it is so refreshing for us to spend time with the other senior missionaries. On Sunday evening, Sister Evans made some delicious pasta and we all enjoyed an evening together. We love the members we work with, we love the young elders and sisters we work with and yet, these senior couples that we have come to know will hold a deep and meaningful place in our hearts for the rest of our lives.
Is there power in Sierra Leone? Yes! Electricity is spotty, but the power of God is in full force. Priesthood power is being manifest through good men everywhere and is blessing the people. The power of the Holy Ghost is manifesting to more than 100 people a month in this country that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored and His church has been reestablished once again. How grateful we are to be a small part of the work!