One of the more interesting practices here is the burning of the weeds along the roadside. During the rainy season, some of these weeds will grow to be over 6’ tall. Since there are no tractors with mowers here, at some point these weeds begin to encroach onto the side of the road as they “hang over” the shoulders. This can be especially troublesome when the road has a bend in it, as these weeds can partially obstruct the view of what is up ahead. The “highway” road we drive most often is the road between here and Bo. It is paved and takes us just under an hour to drive it. The posted speed is 80 kmh (50 mph), but seems that most vehicles drive either slower or faster than that. Slower vehicles are slow because of the loads they carry.
Vans that are stacked incredibly high with doors or trunks often tied shut because they will not close due to the amount of “stuff” they are carrying. This week we saw a big truck carrying a load (we are not sure what it was, perhaps cocoa beans) and there was a guy standing on the cab of the truck leaning against the bags behind him. I shudder to think what would happen if that truck had to stop suddenly. Okay, but I digress….
It is amazing how many people here walk along the roads. My guess is that we see between 50 – 200 people walking alongside the road between here and Bo every time we go. Often there is no village for miles in either direction, but there are people with containers, wood bundles, greens, etc. balanced on their head walking. When these weeds from the rainy season grow tall and begin and encroach onto the shoulders of the road, it also impacts the walkway for the people on those shoulders. In some places along this road, we have seen men with “cutlasses” (machetes) cutting down those weeds. Progress is extremely slow and the work is backbreaking. Which leads us to the title of this week’s post: Fire!
Since the rain stopped at the end of November, we are seeing more and more fires alongside the road. This would not be that surprising, as burning of roadside weeds is a practice common in places other than Africa. What is unique here is that these fires are totally unattended. It is as if someone who was walking alongside the road decided to light a fire to burn the weeds and then just kept walking. Right now, there is still enough greenery that the fires tend not to spread. However, that is not always the case. On the road to Tongo for example, one of these fires has burned an entire hillside that is probably up to ½ mile from the side of the road. Needless to say, the amount of smoke that is generated from this burning is significant and impacts air quality and potentially weather patterns. I did a quick search on the internet to see if there are articles about this.
Surprisingly there were not, as I suspect it is so common as to not garner headlines. However, I did find an image from NASA dating back to 2015, showing the number of fires in Sierra Leone in the month of March. Much of this is attributed to agricultural fires prior to planting new crops, but undoubtedly some of these are roadside fires as well.
Monday morning we went for a nice walk. We were surprised how foggy it was. After we got home, Clinton Gaima come over and did some work around the apartment. He is trying to earn money to get his police report for his mission. We have some solar lights outside the front and side doors which are directly over our two main living room windows. Because the lights are there, they attract bugs. Because the bugs are they they attract spiders. Because of the spiders there are webs and because of the webs, dust is attracted. Therefore, light must attract dust? In any case, the windows and screens and window base were terribly dirty. Clinton helped to clean that whole mess up both inside and out. It looks so much better now. In addition, we had dirt and rocks that the plumbers left after setting the new PPR pipe for the water line. This was piled in a corner in the compound and he took it outside our gate and filled holes in the area where we drive up to the gate. There is never enough work for all of the young single adults who want to earn money to buy their passports. We try to prioritize based on who is closest to completing their requirements. We know the need for work outweighs our ability to find it for them, so we do the best we can.
On Monday we also had Junior Bendu come over and we went over the requirements to put solar power into Airfield and IDA apartments. This requires getting “purchase orders” or proforma invoices from each of the vendors so we can have checks written from the mission. With Junior’s help on Monday we were able to have the checks on Saturday so we will begin with the installations this coming week.
On Tuesday morning we did apartment checks. This means we went to each of the apartments to make sure that everything is as it should be and to determine if there is anything that is broken that needs to be repaired. I have to say that overall, the apartments were in very good condition. It is not unusual to have small things that need to be fixed like a toilet or a sink faucet. Mostly what we want to see is how well the missionaries are doing at keeping their environment clean where the Spirit of the Lord can dwell.
Tuesday afternoon we went over and visited with Phillip Bunduka. He is the father of the young man who washes our truck and was recently baptized. We went to help him with his family history. One of the mission “Standards of Excellence” is to have every new convert submit at least one name to the temple within their first six months of membership. We had a great conversation and in the end, the spirit was teaching us as much as it was teaching him. We came away with 3 insights:
- While most know little or nothing about great grandparents, if we start with those who know their grandparents, then their children will have an opportunity to know their great-grandparents. And thus it begins.
- It is easy to talk about everything we do not know about our ancestors and thus have ample reason not to do family history. But we have to change the narrative to talk about things we do know. Most have memories of grandparents and everyone has memories of parents. This is the beginning of family history for every individual.
- When we start to put names down on a piece of paper and begin asking other relatives what they know, we learn things about our ancestors that we did not know and we did not know that others did know.
Speaking of family history, I had a miracle occur on Wednesday. Through my DNA testing at Ancestry.com, a 4th cousin, Jenny Floyd, contacted me about the Vesely’s. Jan Vesely was my great great grandfather. He married my great great grandmother and she died. He then married Fannie Novy and they immigrated to the USA and she died. Lastly he married Barbara Fleisleber and she outlived him by 18 years.. He had children with each of these women, but he is buried in Brearley Cemetery in Dardanelle, Arkansas with his second wife Fannie. It just so happens, that my great grandfather, Frantisek (Frank) was the second child of the first marriage. For the last 5-6 years I have been searching endlessly for the name of my great great grandmother and the village where they are from. I even employed a researcher in the Czech Republic to find them, but it was to no avail. I have consistently come up empty handed….until Wednesday. Turns out that Jenny is the great great granddaughter of Jan Vesely as well. Up until Wednesday, both of us believed that his first born daughter Anna was a daughter of his second wife. As it turns out, she and her brother Vaclav (William) are both children of the first wife. And more importantly, we now have the name of their mother (my great great grandmother). Her name was Frantiska Kuncova and was raised in Myto, Czechia. I cannot tell you how excited I was about this discovery, made by someone I did not even know a week ago. Jenny hired a Czech researcher who lives in St. Louis and within a day he had the pertinent information. He is still working on the rest of the family information but we hope to have it this week. Jenny paid for this herself, even though I offered to split it with her. In May of 2016, I was promised in a prayer that I would find the Vesely’s. I had no idea it would happen this way. I did nothing except take a DNA test! It feels to me like they found me. Jenny and the researcher did the rest. How grateful I am!
Wednesday morning we were supposed to take a sister to Bo for her patriarchal blessing, but somehow the message did not make it to her and she was not ready to go. As it turns out, LaDawn and I went anyway, taking Junior Bendu with us so we could get a purchase order for solar batteries from a retailer there since none were available here in Kenema. We made quick visits to the grocery stores and picked up a few things while there. We also contacted the patriarch from the West Stake and picked up Magnus Harding’s and Mohamed Bockerie’s blessing and brought them home to them. They were both ecstatic!
On Thursday morning, LaDawn and I went for a walk and witnessed a beautiful Sunrise. The dust and fog in the air blocked much of the sun, leaving a bright red ball in the sky that was perfect for picture taking. Here is a picture looking down Jenneh Street to the East. The Harmattan dust has been pretty thick this last week, and very visible in the morning hours.
When we got home, LaDawn made us a pineapple, banana and yogurt smoothie. When she finished she noticed there were ants coming out of the base of the blender. We were able to follow them up the wall to the outlet where they were creeping through one of the plug holes. As she poured the smoothie out of the blender container, she noticed a lot of black specs. We decided maybe we would forego this particular smoothie and start over. We have these small ants here that have a voracious appetite. We can kill their front line, but can’t really do much about their headquarters. It is a constant series of battles. We win a few and they win a few. But there are always more causalities on their side!
Afterwards we attended the combined District Council of the Kenema North and Hangha Road Districts. Elder Hadlock conducted the meeting and led an amazing discussion about personal righteous and how we gain it. I took down a few of the comments. “Love is at the root of personal righteousness. The more we love the Savior, the greater the desire we have to be personally righteous”. “We increase our love for the Savior by putting him to the test. Unless we exercise faith in Him, we never know how much He loves us”. “When we learn of Him, we will have a greater desire to be like Him”. “When we choose not to be accountable for the small things, we will end up not taking accountability for the big things”. It was a spirit filled council discussion where truly the Spirit was the teacher. Great job Elder Hadlock and everyone in attendance!
In the afternoon, Samuel Sesay came over to retrieve his call from the online missionary system. We have internet and a computer and that makes for an excellent combination for receiving an electronic mission call. Samuel was wonderful. He was so excited to open his call and what’s more, once he opened it he was even more thrilled. He said since the day he was baptized with his family he wanted to go and serve a mission. He is the last of 5 brothers and they have all served in Nigeria. He will now join in that legacy! It was so fun to see his excitement and gratitude to be called to serve.
Friday was Tongo day. Our first series of discussions ended up consisting of three different groups, all sitting under the Mango Tree (I love this setting).
Rebekah Grace, John and Konawa were in the advanced group (taught by Elder Bledsoe and Mohamed Bockerie), Kadie, James and Peter were in the intermediate group (taught by Elder Wallentine and Magnus Harding) and this week we had a beginners group because James invited two of his friends to come. They even brought their kids with them. Lets see, we had Esther (she might move to the intermediate group), Umoro Jr (15) and Umoro Sr (adult), Shieku (14), Ibrahim (15), Ibrahim (10) Ahadje (10), Musa (12) Lasana (adult). Elder Wallentine asked Br. Solomon Kongoley and me to teach that group. Uh, did anyone mention that I don’t speak Krio? Somehow between the two of us we were able to teach about the restoration and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It was good. Through Magnus we were able to find two more worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holders that are staying in Tongo but did not realize that the church was now established there. They came with us and participated in these discussions as well. I love the growth we are seeing in Tongo!
From there we went over to Sahr Lahai’s home. Last week the whole family was there, this week, only Br. Sahr. He is such a wonderfully humble man. He is filled with faith and believes everything the missionaries teach him. While he does not speak much English, he is an intelligent and capable man. I took a few pictures of his grandchildren as Elder Wallentine and Magnus taught him. While we were with Br. Sahr, Elder Bledsoe and Mohamed taught “sister” Iye. She is making great progress as well!
Our last teaching appointment was at Br. Conteh’s home. His wife is not a member and he has also befriended two of his students at the secondary school, Thomas and John, who have indicated they want to know more.
John is the son of a Methodist “reverend” whose father we learned this week joined the church in Kenema in 2014. He also has a brother and a sister who are members. It is interesting that he continues to introduce himself as the son of a Methodist reverend. John has been much more resistant to learning, almost being more argumentative than sincere. We think he is making progress, but it is small. After Elder Wallentine finished teaching Sister Conteh, he came over to where we were and I gave up my seat so he could teach John and Thomas. I was grateful to have him come in and bring a bit more experience to the discussion.
I got back to our apartment right at 5:00 pm, so I picked up LaDawn and we headed over to OTC (Opportunity Training Center). We had an appointment at 5:00 with Eku to continue our discussion of the Book of Mormon. We had asked him read 3 Nephi starting with chapter 11. We talked for just over an hour and had a wonderful spirit filled discussion. He had gone so far as to compare chapters 12-14 to the chapters in Matthew in the Bible. He had a lot of questions about chapter 11 and all of them were really good. It is obvious he feels the spirit of the book, but he is still learning the context and setting of the stories. So often we deviate into other questions that he has about his own faith and how it compares to ours. For example, when he was baptized, he was told that he would be baptized at the end (there were 10 that day) because the Bible teaches that the “infirm” are to be last. I have searched the New Testament and cannot find any such teaching. He was really troubled by this at the time and it continues to create questions for him. I have told him over and over again, that if Christ came to Kenema, I think his first stop would be OTC. These people are humble, teachable and full of faith. We look forward to our next conversation in the coming week.
On Saturday we spent most of the day with Juliette Massaquoi from Freetown. John Conte, one of the mission drivers brought her in Clawson’s vehicle. She is the new Real Estate analyst from Freetown that works for the church. She came to Kenema because she wanted to see and understand the church buildings that we have here. She indicated she would be here at 8:00 am (they were coming from Bo) so that we could get to many of the buildings while the members were there to clean them for the Sabbath. This would make it easy for us to have access to them. As it turns out, they didn’t arrive until 9:30 am, which really made the whole process much more difficult. However, despite the challenges it created, we still managed to see all of the buildings by 1:00 pm. We had to wait 15 minutes a couple of times, but overall we managed to get it done. We were grateful for the members who dropped everything to come and open several of the buildings for us.
Saturday evening we decided to take a break and go out and enjoy a nice meal together. That means back to Food Masters and their barbecue chicken plate. Yummy!
On Sunday we attended the Kpayama Branch. The meetings were excellent. We really love attending church with them, especially now that we are getting to know many of these young men who are receiving mission calls. Mohamed Bockerie, Samuel Sesay, Mohamed Flee, Clinton Gaima. All of them attend that branch. We also love to interact with President Lamina, the branch president. Such a dedicated man. Sunday school was taught by Mosiah Sesay, Samuel’s older brother. He did a great job. Most of the branches are still struggling with the RS/EQ meetings every other week. For Sunday School they have a manual with a weekly lesson, but for RS/EQ they need to use the Liahona and there are only two in the entire branch. Still a bit of challenge, but we know we will get there eventually. Patience is a virtue. Fortunately, Kpayama’s District Councilman is Joseph Aruna and he is on top of helping them adjust to the new curriculum and schedule.
As soon as church was over in Kpayama, we traveled over to Simbeck where we worked with President Cobinah to teach their branch council about Self-Reliance and helping the poor and needy in the Lord’s Way. President Cobinah took some time at the end to talk about the importance of integrity. This was a duplication of the training given at the district level a couple of weeks ago, but since there was only one person there from Simbeck, and because they have been having a lot of struggles in this area, President Cobinah wanted to take the training to them. The entire training lasted just under 2 hours, but there was good interaction and discussion and I think we all walked away just a bit more knowledgable about what the Lord expects from us in this area of church welfare.
One last comment for the week. Most people know there was a total lunar eclipse Sunday evening / Monday morning. Here in West Africa it reached its zenith at 5:13 am. It was stunning. I had awakened at 4:30 am and could not get back to sleep so decided to get up and go take a look. The sky was clear and the eclipse was completely visible. I grabbed my camera and tripod and took some shots. How I love to see the wonders of the heavens. My only mistake was I failed to wake up LaDawn to see it as well.
Fire is hot. Africa is hot. But neither of these compare to the warmth that we feel when we are engulfed by the Holy Ghost. This has been another good week as we have felt the influence of the Spirit that continues to create in us a desire to be better in all aspects of our lives. When we see that influence extend to others such as the the people in Tongo, people with disabilities, branch councils, Sunday school teachers, a great district president, missionaries and many, many members we are again reminded that this is the Lord’s work. How privileged we are to be a small part of it!