Back home in Houston when it would really get hot during August, it was not uncommon for someone to say “it is hot right now, Africa hot”. I never knew where the saying came from, and from a quick search on the internet, it doesn’t appear anyone else knows either. There is a clip from “Biloxi Blues” that I found where Mathew Broderick complains about the heat. If you are interested, you can watch the 8-second clip here. We were warned that March and April are the hottest months of the year, and now we can confirm that is the case. Most days it is over 100 degrees F. We are in the dry season and so it is dry, very dry. We are amazed that weeds and trees are able to grow at all. The concept of deep roots, and their importance, is very obvious here. Many of the wells dry up as the water table drops due to lack of precipitation, and yet trees seem to do fine. We are sure it is from years of conditioning and their ability to send roots deep enough to find water.
Perhaps one way to show the comparison between the dry season and the rainy season is to show you a couple of drone shots from above our apartment compound. As we have written before, the Harmattan dust that is blown here from the Sahara creates a fine brown powder coating on everything. Add that to the heat and it is quite a combination. Nearly all of the buildings here have colored tin roofs. Blue and Red are the most common, although right now they are pretty much all brown. On our roof, you are able to see some of the blue because Charles (one of our guards) insisted on washing the panels Saturday morning before going home after working the night shift. These roofs heat up significantly during the day, turning the buildings beneath them into ovens. Insulation doesn’t exist, so whatever heat is generated moves from the roof, to the attic and then down through the ceiling into the homes. It is not uncommon for it to be cooler outside than it is inside (relatively speaking of course). The other important point is that there are very few places to go to get out of the heat. In Manila, people without air conditioning would flock to the malls. In the U.S., nearly everyone has a/c in their homes. Here people just work thru it, finding a shady spot now and again. It is not uncommon to be in a church building with no electricity, training or listening to a speaker and having our top undergarments soaked with sweat. The native Kenemites just don’t seem to be bothered by the heat. We are taught that dark colors absorb the heat and white repels it, but we are pretty sure that having dark skin here is a definite advantage when it comes to dealing with African heat.
In our apartment we have 3 mini-split air conditioners that combined will reduce the temperature inside between 10-20 degrees. But as soon as we turn them off, the heat returns in minutes. We figure it costs about $2.50 an hour in diesel fuel to run the generator and we want to be good stewards of our available resources. We use it mostly in the evenings for 3-4 hours to cool off the house before going to bed and in the morning for 1-2 hours to run the microwave and blender for breakfast, and the water pump and water heater for showers. Our schedules vary, so even when we are home in the afternoon, at the peak of the heat, we usually will just run a couple of fans so as to be able to run the generator in the evenings. It is amazing how nice a fan blowing on a sweaty body feels! Just like in places with cold winters, everyone looks forward to the spring, so it is here with the dry season. People actually start looking forward to the rain, and then after 6 months of rain, mud and potholes, everyone is ready for the dry season to return. Right now, we are ready for the rain. The changing seasons, even if there are only two, creates enough change in routines and activities to add a little spice to everyone’s life. We are ready for a little spice because it is hot here, Africa Hot!
As mentioned last week we went to Freetown on Sunday to get the truck looked at and enjoy a short break. It was also an opportunity to buy some food that is not available here in Kenema. Of special note was the Chile Con Queso that makes fajitas possible and the applesauce that is an incredible treat for us. We also stocked up on peanut butter, pancake syrup, Fruit and Fiber cereal and some soy milk. Okay, let’s be honest. These are the things that I stocked up on. LaDawn purchased much more practical food!
The furniture we have had in our apartment has been very uncomfortable for us. The seats are extremely deep and the only way we can describe the cushions is to say they are made of memory foam that NEVER forgets. After 5 minutes of sitting, the cushion turns into a hole, which then creates pressure on our backs and necks. While the Clawson’s were here for the trip to Kailahun and Tongo, they agreed that we should get new furniture and approved the purchase. That too became one of our goals while in Freetown. On Monday after taking the truck in, Sister Clawson took us to a furniture store (well more like an unairconditioned warehouse with two storefront windows. The selection was not huge, but we found a set that was reasonably priced and comfortable. It fits LaDawn very well and is a little smaller than ideal for me, but SOOO much better than what we had. We are very grateful for this small comfort.
On Tuesday morning Sister Clawson, Sister Moomey and LaDawn decided to go for a walk on the Freetown streets near the mission home. I decided to go with them, although I spent most of the time just trying to keep up with them. I stopped along the way and snapped a few pictures.
I was surprised at the amount of carbon deposits from cars, motorbikes and keke’s at street level. It was dirty and I found myself thinking about the pollution in Manila that gave me breathing problems from time to time. Immediately I was again grateful to be in Kenema where the air is so much better than in Freetown. It is not uncommon for someone along the way to say, “ah, the church of the latter-days” when they see us with our nametags. It is an opportunity to stop and talk to them for a few minutes, ask them what they know about the church and then invite them to “come and see” for themselves. Such was the case on this walk with one man. It is so easy to share the gospel here. The church is well known, has an amazing reputation as a “good” church as many have come in contact with missionaries in the past or have heard about it from friends. We are grateful to be in a country with such open hearts and spiritual dispositions.
On Tuesday we went grocery shopping with the Moomey’s and stocked up on goodies (and maybe a few essentials). At the end of shopping we had our wives drop us off at the dealership where our vehicles were so we could pick them up. The Moomey’s drove their truck to Freetown so they could get an oil change. We brought ours in because of a vibration and a brake problem. We were a little surprised to find that the Kunz truck was ready to go and the Moomey truck required another hour before it was finished. Go figure. I drove back to the mission home (only getting lost once) and Elder Moomey waited and came when they finished his truck. Later that afternoon we were able to help Sister Clawson and Agnes (a member they hired) prepare the Liahona’s to be sent out to the members. Since there is no mail service, all of the Liahona’s come from Ghana to the mission office. Sister Clawson prints out labels and Agnes then attaches one to each magazine with member and branch names. The whole process takes about 6 hours to complete. Just one more thing that we take for granted in the U.S. and other developed countries.
On Wednesday we drove back from Freetown with Melissa Hawkley and Cason Curriden. We dropped them off at the Moomey’s in Bo for a literacy implementation in the New England Ward of the Bo West Stake. After we returned to Kenema, Junior Bendu came over and we went together over to Mohamed’s shop where we had purchased the solar freezers. He had purchased 5 in total and we had purchased 4 of them. He thought he had the 5thone sold, but it turns out the man wanted to pay him a little at a time, so he called Junior and asked if we wanted to buy it. The sister’s apartment next door has not had a freezer for some time, so we wanted to purchase it for them. We had brought the check back from Freetown so we went over and picked it up. I am disappointed that the sisters’ solar install is not working as well as the ones in Airfield and IDA and fear that we have a serious battery problem. Something still to be sorted.
On Thursday morning Junior came to our apartment before 8:00 am and we drove to Dauda Town and did an assessment on what we would need to do a solar install there. After returning to the apartment, we updated the spreadsheet with the materials and the costs so that Junior could take it to the man in Bo where we buy everything. Justin Gandi then showed up and we discussed what he had found out about connecting the IDA apartment to Kenema City water. Because of all the road work currently in Kenema, the water pipes that take water to that area are not working. However, what Br. Gandi learned was that by paying $75 for the materials and another $50 for the labor, they would put us on the list to connect the apartment to the water line. We are currently paying about $70/month to have water brought in, so the payback period is less than 2 months. I wanted to confirm with President Cobinah that this was the correct process so I called and talked to him. By the time we finished with all of that and provided the money to Br. Gandi to arrange for the connection, it put us at the Hangha Road district council with Elder Hendricks, Elder Abad, Elder Bledsoe and Elder Marava about 30 minutes late. Despite being late, we were still able to participate in an excellent discussion on what it means to bury our weapons of rebellion. For full-time missionaries, it is easy for them to see the faults of their companion that could be considered “rebellious”, even if just small acts of disobedience. As the missionaries were discussing how they might encourage their companion to be more obedient, I suggested that perhaps the greater challenge is for us to identify the rebelliousness in ourselves and work on that. If we were all more aware of ourselves by pleading with Heavenly Father to show us our own shortcomings, we would likely have no weapons of rebellion to bury. One of the elders was asked to read Ether 12:7. As he started to read, I interrupted him three times. Each time that he read the verse, he said the word “weaknesses” instead of the word “weakness” which is actually written. We had a wonderful discussion about how our “weakness” is our mortal condition and that through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can strengthen everything in our lives associated with mortality. That is a huge promise and one we are all trying to claim.
After district council, we returned home just as the South District Council was ending at the Nyandeyama building next door. We stopped and asked Elder Smith and Elder Luaba to come to our apartment and carry the freezer over to the sister’s apartment that we had just purchased for them. That was good timing! It then took me a few minutes to get it wired and turned on and explain to the sister’s what they need to do each day.
About that time Melissa and Cason arrived from Bo and we spent much of the rest of the afternoon working on the plan for the roll-out of the literacy program in Dauda Town.
On Friday I left the apartment at 6:45am and drove to the IDA apartment to pick up Elder Roche, Elder Lunga, Ibrahim Saifa and Solomon Sesay to travel to Tongo. We left early so that we could meet Br. Kongoley at the chapel, pick up the swimming pool we brought from Kailahun and go over to the place of the planned baptism and setup the pool and fill it with water. John Charles and Bockerie Konawa joined us.
It took us three tries to finally get it setup properly. The first two times we had water in the bottom that had to be emptied out before fixing the problem and starting over. One of the men being baptized (Bockerie Konowa) had arranged for a pump to transfer water from the lake into the pool. The hose had a lot of holes in it so whoever was holding the hose in the pool ended up getting pretty wet. We had some good fun with it. I poured a half gallon of bleach in it when it was half full and the other half gallon once it was completely full.
We stirred the bleach in and headed to John’s house where Elder Lunga and Solomon taught John, Rebekah, Konowa while Elder Roche and Ibrahim Saifa taught Sia. Kadie’s older sister had died and she had gone to the village for the funeral. When we asked John (Kadie’s son) how old her sister was, he responded she was very old. When I asked, how old, he said “145 years old”. We smiled at that one. Time, birth years and age just don’t mean much here.
Later that day we taught Sahr Lahai and his son Daniel. When we went to teach Hannah Braima, she was not home, but her son Ibrahim Moses was there as was her niece Hawa. Elder Wallentine had been trying to teach Hawa for some time now, but she had always put us off. Last week when we went to see Hannah, as soon as we came into their “yard”, Elder Roche saw Hawa picking leaves off of stems for cooking and he knelt down and helped her to pick the rest of the leaves. I don’t know if that is what made a difference or not, but on Friday, Hawa wanted to be taught, so we sat down and taught both her and her cousin Ibrahim Moses.
We found out last night that Hawa even came to church. It is hard to express what a significant miracle this is. Hawa is a kingdom builder. She is a strong-willed woman and a natural leader. Her desire to be taught and then come to church was a big step forward. If she continues and is eventually baptized, she will be a great strength to the people in Tongo and the gospel will bless her life immeasurably.
Since LaDawn was at home with Melissa and Cason, she was able to prepare the handouts that we would need on Sunday for training in the Simbeck Branch. Melissa and Cason needed copies for the literacy training so LaDawn was able to send the copies we needed with them to have them made. That was a big help as we did not have a lot of time to prepare otherwise.
Upon my return to Kenema, Melissa and Cason gathered everything together for training the branch council in Dauda Town to be gospel literacy facilitators and all four of us left. The training was to start at 5:00 pm, but it was more like 5:20 before we got started. It was 8:00 pm by the time we finished.
The training was good, but we thought it was a bit too long. Since it is still work in progress, every opportunity like this is an opportunity to figure out how to make it better. Some of the new training videos have been introduced into the session and that makes it longer, even though some of the videos are very helpful. It is always a fine line to find the right balance between efficiency and effectiveness. We certainly all felt the spirit and were edified as this impressive of group of leaders embraced the gospel literacy program for the members of their branch. Fortunately, LaDawn had prepared a delicious dinner of Chicken Cacciatore ahead of time so when we got home we were able to eat – and we were all happy about that!
Saturday was a banner day and one that we have been looking forward to for some time. It was the day of the first baptisms in Tongo.
We left at 8:00 am and met the Moomey’s at the zone leader’s apartment. Melissa and Cason went with us and Elder Roche and Elder Lunga rode with the Moomeys. We drove to the location of the baptism. It is a beautiful home on “Aqua” (the lake resulting from diamond mining excavation). As we have mentioned before the home belongs to Messie Senesie’s boss at the diamond mine there, Gert van Der Westhuizen. We are very grateful for his kindness and hospitality for the use of his land. We could not have asked for a more peaceful and serene location.
The baptism was beautiful. Elder Lunga first baptized Rebekah Grace Koroma, then John Lowell Charles and then Bockerie Konowa. Elder Roche and I were the witnesses. Brother Solomon Jen Kongoley, as the Home Group leader conducted the service. It was a day we will never forget as the spirit was strong and testified to us of the joy of heaven as these three amazing people made a covenant to follow God for the rest of their lives.
After the baptism, we emptied the pool, wiped it down, let it dry for a few minutes in the shade and then returned it to the chapel. Elder and Sister Moomey went with the zone leaders and Brother Kongoley over to the hospital in Tongo to determine if they had the facilities to care for missionaries should we eventually move a pair there and should they ever need medical care. Br. Kongoley works in the lab and the Moomey’s were happy to discover that they had the capability to test for both Malaria and Typhoid which are the two most important tests. This is just one more important step to building a branch in Tongo Field.
We had a 5 pm appointment with Eku Scotland, but he called and said they were working on a report for the project that ‘Engineers without Borders’ is providing them and wondered if we could delay our meeting until next week. He said he has been reading the October conference issue of the Liahona that we brought him and he thought it was very nice. He was eager to talk about it. Prior to the appointment, we had gone out to get bread for us and fuel for the generator. One of the pains associated with generator power, is the constant need to keep it fed. The Total station where we have an account runs out of fuel often (or so it seems to us). On Saturday, the supply truck was there filling the tanks so we had to wait until he finished. At first, we just sat there in the truck, but before long we were surrounded by several blind people and their handlers begging for money. It is one of the hardest things we deal with here. If we help them, they will overwhelm us whenever they see our vehicle. If we don’t we feel bad because we know they have a difficult life. In this case, we felt like we needed to leave before a larger crowd gathered. We drove around for about 20 minutes and when we returned we were able to get the fuel and return home without incident.
That evening we all sat down and watched a movie on Netflix titled “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”. It is based on a true story of a young man named William Kamkwamba in Malawi who saved his entire village by creating a windmill that ran a pump so they could water their crops during a famine. The similarities between Malawi and Sierra Leone are striking. We really enjoyed watching it. Furthermore, we were very pleased that the internet stayed up during the entire movie! A rare thing for a Saturday evening.
On Sunday we attended the Dauda Town Branch. It was the Relief Society’s birthday, so there were three women who spoke. Hawa Kamara, Isata Aruna and Susan Macovoray. President Cobinah was there and made some closing comments about women NOT being the weaker vessel, but rather the stronger vessel. He counseled those in the congregation who were married to love their wives and to treat them with love and respect. It was a wonderful meeting from beginning to end.
During the second hour we held the gospel literacy Sunday school class. We had 9 circles with 8-10 people in each circle. The facilitators did a nice job. Unfortunately, we were unable to stay for the assessment council where those individuals in need of gospel literacy instruction were identified, as well as those who might be teachers and helpers.
We had been asked to participate (lead?) training of the Simbeck Branch auxiliaries which we initially we thought would begin at 1 pm. As it turned out, it started at noon so it was good we were there at 11:55 am. LaDawn trained the Primary, Relief Society and Young Women and I trained both the Young Women and Young Men leaders on shadow leadership and then went more indepth with the young men on their specific duties. Normally we would have had the district auxiliary leaders there to do the training, but the branch presidency prepared a letter to the district presidency requesting the training and we were just cc:d on it, so we were unclear on our role all the way up to the time that it started. The good news (ironically) is that the Elders Quorum Presidency was out of town and that made it possible for us to work with the auxiliary presidencies to train them without too much waiting time. We have promised to return to train the Elders Quorum leaders as soon as they are back and the branch is ready. Spending time with these leaders is so worthwhile. As we have said before our experience is once a leader understands what they are to do, they are willing to do it. Without training nothing much happens, since there is minimal understanding on what they are to do or how to do it. We are grateful for the handbooks of instruction which provide such clear guidance.
After finishing up at Simbeck we came home and ate some lunch and then met up with Sister Blama Kai and Sister Munyengeterwa to try to visit a man whose daughter is very interested in the church but he is opposed to her being taught. Our intent was not to try and persuade, as we believe that as the father he is responsible for the well-being of his family. We wanted to reassure him that we would not teach his daughter without his blessing. We also wanted to share just a small amount of information about the church such as “For Strength of Youth” as a way to help him understand how this wonderful daughter he has raised is being attracted to doctrines and programs that will bless her life and their entire family. Unfortunately, neither of them were home so the sisters said they will reschedule.
In closing, we want to return the theme of this post regarding “Africa Hot” and how the trees survive by sending their roots deep into the ground. Isn’t this really just a metaphor for our own lives? There are times in our lives that things get really tough, that our afflictions seem to be more than we can bear. If we have developed deep gospel roots based on temple covenants, an understanding of true doctrines, diligent service and fervent prayer no matter how “hot” it gets for us, we will be able to reach Living Water. We are grateful to be here in Sierra Leone at this time and this particular place.
We feel the tug of our own roots as they reach deeper into gospel soil. We are particularly grateful for a living prophet, we feel his sense of urgency and working hard to convey that to these amazing African saints. When President Nelson left Rome, he said, “’This is a hinge point in the history of the church. Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace, of which this is a part,’ he said, later adding, ‘The church is going to have an unprecedented future, unparalleled; we’re just building up to what’s ahead now.’” There is much work here to do here. We want to make sure that these saints will not be left behind as the work accelerates. We are grateful to be here, hand-in-hand with each other and with the leaders and members to establish and build a deep-rooted stake of Zion.