On Tuesday evening we took a twin mattress back over to the sisters apartment next door. As soon as we walked out the door we were immediately aware of thousands of flying insects swarming around us as they were attracted by the light on our phone that we were using as a flashlight. It was extremely annoying. When we came back into our compound, we asked our guard what was happening. He reported that these were termites and this happens every year after the first rain. It was interesting last week after writing about “Africa Hot” that on Tuesday and Wednesday evening it rained, and it rained hard for between 30-60 minutes. That was the very first rain we have had in over 4 months, so it really helped to reduce the dust and clean the air. The rain was enough to even reestablish some of our favorite potholes as duck ponds for a few days. We were glad we sent the drone up last week to get a few pictures of the dust and the dryness, because the rain certainly changed that in a hurry.
On Wednesday morning when we opened the door there were a lot of dead termites outside our door. We took a picture of the small village that came together to die in the corner of our porch. We had wings EVERYWHERE. The back door, which is a steel door without much of a seal, had hundreds of wings that had blown in through the cracks. I have seen termites swarm before, but to be honest, nothing quite like this. We were relieved when they did not reappear on Wednesday evening, but then the guard knocked on the door and when I opened it a significant number of new bugs flew in. These looked a lot like the small termites from the night before, but they were quite a bit bigger. Between ½ and ¾ of an inch long with 2” wings. The wings came off very easy and before long our apartment was a bug graveyard.
We stepped on as many as we could but had to be careful so that we killed them without smashing them. They came through the cracks in the front door this time, attracted by the front porch light. The same thing repeated itself on Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night. Gratefully they did not return on Sunday evening. We went to Makeni on Saturday morning so the bugs that came in Saturday night were cleaned up by our guard, Charles, who came in each day and switched the solar inverter on and off for the refrigerator. It was Sunday after church that he found the dead bugs from Saturday night. It was obvious they had been there though because there was an unmistakable smell of “dead sweet smell” in the apartment when we arrived home.
I asked a number of people what kind of bugs these larger ones were and the response always came back the same. “We have a name for them in Mende, it is Henteh.” When I asked what they are called in Krio, they call them “Mermites”. We have done some research on them and it is pretty clear that both the small and the large bugs are termites. From an article titled “Cultural significance of termites in sub-Saharan Africa” by Arnold von Huis, we found the following: “The number of termite species in the world is more than 2500; Africa with more than 1000 species has the richest intercontinental diversity. The family Termitidae contains builders of great mounds, e.g. up to 5 meters high and 12 meters across and more than 1.800 species have been described, many from Africa. A queen belonging to the family of Termitidae can grow up to 6 cm (2.3 inches) of length and produce 10 million eggs per year. The colonies are composed of casts: a queen, a king, soldiers and workers. The future queens and kings have wings and they depart from the colony at the start of the rains after the dry season. They mate and shed their wings to start new colonies.” For those termites who were distracted by the lights outside our apartment, they will not be reproducing this year. Once in our compound, there is very little dirt for them to burrow into and without dirt to start their own colony, they cannot survive. Thus, the bug graveyard described earlier.
The only remaining important part of this story is the popularity of these future kings and queens that arrived last week as it pertains to dinner. From the same article mentioned above, Mr. von Huis states, “Eating insects is as old as mankind. Globally, 2 billion people consume insects, a practice known as entomophagy. It is more common in Africa than anywhere else in the world.” As it turns out, these larger termites are quite delicious (or so we are told). They tend to be sweet and once fried to perfection, quite a delicacy. And for people here in Africa, the fact they are high in protein is an added bonus. Saturday morning, Lucinda, one of our guards, was collecting the ones in our compound and placing them in a bowl after removing their wings. She later reported that she took them home, fried them up and ate them. It is not often dinner comes to the people in Sierra Leone on wings of light. But for three days, we saw it, talked about it, studied it and experienced it firsthand (except for the eating part).
On Monday morning I took the truck over to Gomez’s auto shop. This is the place where I went when an Okada ran into me and damaged the right front bumper. It is also the shop that President Cobinah our District President uses. The right rear seal had started to leak again and knowing I had to go to Tongo on Friday and then we would travel Makeni on the weekend, I knew I had to get it fixed. The dealership had replaced the seal in December and it had been replaced twice before by another shop, so this was round four. I arrived around 9 am and was able to leave with the job completed by noon. Three hours of waiting. Fortunately for me it gave me time to finish last week’s post. And that was about 3 hours less than the other shop took to complete the task. Cost was 470,000 Le or about $55. That was the good news. The bad news is that by Thursday the seal was leaking again. Our guard Charles David knows Gomez quite well. I called Gomez and Charles spoke to him on the phone and told him I would be coming back on Thursday morning to get it repaired. After dropping the truck off, Charles followed up and went over spoke to them about how to fix it correctly. Charles drove a Lorry for time, so he is very knowledgeable about mechanical issues on vehicles. Apparently they had only replaced only 1 of the necessary 2 seals. They replaced the second one (it cost me another $6) and I paid them about $10 for the labor, although I could have probably not paid anything. Warranties are hard to enforce when the people you are dealing with have no financial means to support a promise of quality work, so essentially there is no guarantee of workmanship on most things. I have heard that if something breaks within 3 days of repair, they are obligated to fix it for free, but if they have no money and parts are required and you want it fixed, funding comes from the person with the means.
On Monday evening we were invited to attend the Burma Branch family home evening for young single adults. We were asked to speak on dating and eternal marriage. We were actually quite impressed with the topic and looked forward to the evening. When we arrived, we realized a couple of things. First, this was not just Burma branch. They had invited all of the YSA from Kenema, and about 45 had showed up.
The other thing we realized was that we were not the only ones on the program. There were 3 returned missionaries, the branch family history consultant, a member of the branch presidency, the district counselor over YSA and us. When it was our turn we asked how much time we had and we were told 5 minutes. Yikes! Not much we could do in 5 minutes. It turned out we ended up taking about 25 minutes. The organizers could see the YSA were engaged and interested. Everything else had been a “tell” and we had engaged the group to get their perspectives and questions. I spoke about the dating culture here and eternal marriage and answered a few questions about the temple. LaDawn dove right in and talked about the law of chastity and the criticality of being honest and clean when you go to the temple. It was good, but we wished we had had more time to answer their questions.
On Tuesday morning we met with Elder Hadlock, Elder Winters and Mariama Gendemeh. Mariama is the family history consultant in the IDA branch. She has scheduled a branch family history activity for this coming Saturday and wanted some help to brainstorm what a program might look like. As we have mentioned before, so many of the activities here are patterned after sacrament meeting. The idea of having fun at a branch activity is still work in progress. Right now it looks like we will do a brief introduction, show a video (I have downloaded it and slowed it down 25% so it is more understandable), give everyone a pedigree chart for them to fill out as much as they know (at least their parents and themselves), write a memory about one of them and then give them an opportunity to sign up if they want help to enter it into FamilySearch. We will then play a game of BINGO using family history terms. We will arrange a small prize for the winner(s).
After the planning meeting, two young single adults came by and we all helped them with their own family history. Mustapha Amadu was baptized 6 months ago and Augustine who has struggled with his activity in the church were both energized by the idea of doing work for their ancestors. With Mustapha, the Elders were able to help him prepare one set of grandparents for the temple. With Augustine, we started with a “My Family” booklet and helped him fill in the names he knew and he agreed to go speak with his grandmothers on both sides who were still alive. Hopefully more to come on that story!
Also on Tuesday, I took Junior Bendu and we drove to Bo to pick up the solar panels, batteries and fans to do a solar install at Dauda Town. I dropped him off at the Dauda Town apartment on our return and his crew met him there and they began the process.
By the time I got back to the apartment, Doug McMullin and his wife and his crew from the USA had arrived at the hotel. Doug and I were never mission companions, but we worked closely together while I was in Stuttgart and he was in Ludwigsburg (a city where I had previously served). His brother Tom was a counselor in the College Station Stake Presidency when I served in the same capacity in the Klein Stake and we worked together on regional youth and young single adult activities. Tom and Sheri stayed with us while the rest of the group (mostly interns) stayed at the Albertson hotel down the street.
It was a joy to have them with us for two nights and gave us an opportunity to relive a few mission experiences, catch up on what we each knew about other missionaries with whom we served as well as talk about some of the people we both knew that joined the church. Each year as part of the internship program at the clinic where he is a principle, they come to Africa and do a program called “Helping Babies Breathe”. This program is for midwives and nurses who deliver babies that need help breathing. They had been to other countries in Africa, but never Sierra Leone. Through our contact on Facebook and with the help of Sister Moomey (our mission nurse), he was able to teach in Bo at a midwifery school and here in Kenema at the church building next door. In total they taught over 50 nurses, midwives and future midwives.
We are so grateful for men and women like Tom & Sheri and his entire group who willingly come here at their own expense to make life better for the people we have come to love. It was a special treat to go to dinner with them on Wednesday. Our plan was to go to Food Masters, but they were closed, so we went to Unique Grill. They invited us to use the room upstairs which was very nice and very private. The food was good, although sporadic in its arrival, and the company was better!
One more thing we need to mention about last Tuesday. Jackson Elwood Conley was born to our daughter Kira Conley and her husband Brian. We are so grateful to have him join our growing family as grandchild #18 and grandson #6. We are grateful that the birth went well and that both mom and Jackson are healthy and strong.
On Wednesday we attended zone conference here in Kenema with President & Sister Clawson and and Elder & Sister Moomey and all of the missionaries in the zone. It was a delightful morning.
I was grateful for the opportunity to lead a discussion on “how to be a more effective teacher”. We read 5 sets of scriptures (9 in total) and then discussed what we could learn from each of them. The missionaries were stellar in their comments and insights and I was grateful for the Holy Ghost which bore witness of the truths we were learning. It was a marvelous experience to be a small part of it. It was also fun to stand in front of the room and be one of the missionaries with a birthday over the last 6 weeks. Just a great day all the way around.
As mentioned above, on Thursday I took the truck back to Gomez because the seal that he had replaced was leaking. This time I decided to leave the truck there and I ran (well, walked actually) some errands. I went over to SierraTel and paid for a refresh of our unlimited data for the another month ($65) and then over to Orange to buy data for LaDawn’s phone. 4.5GB for about $10. Not bad but the constant need to go to their offices to purchase this data is a pain. The mission does have SIM cards with postpaid plans, but when we first came the postpaid data was 6 times more expensive than a prepaid plan and though it has now changed, we are not willing to change our phone numbers. Sigh.
After “running” the errands I found myself close enough to home to just walk there instead of going back to the garage. An hour later they called saying it was ready, so the only thing to do was take my first Okada ride. I am sure I could get used to it if I had to, but I definitely prefer the truck!
Friday we were back in Tongo with a full day of teaching. I have really come to love these people. They are sincere, spiritual, humble and friendly. It is a joy to be with them each week. Friday was another big day of teaching as we taught 21 people, which was a record.
We usually try to leave Tongo by no later than 3:00 pm, but with so many people to teach it was after 3:30 pm before we left.
We had a 5:00 pm YSA training meeting at the District Center, but by the time I got home, picked up LaDawn and backtracked to the district center it was about 5:20 pm. The good news is the meeting was just getting started as they were singing the opening hymn. Elder and Sister McGary who are area YSA specialists from Ghana were there to train the branch presidencies, the district YSA representatives, the branch YSA representatives and the couples from the branches who are called to support the YSA.
The training was good, although I worry that the expectations of the area leaders are perhaps a bit higher than the branches and district here can deliver. But one thing is for sure, if the expectations are low, the performance will follow. Hopefully the high expectations will results in more attention being paid to this important group of members here in Kenema. At the end of the meeting, and in my mind the best part, was a fun activity of passing a balloon down a line over the head of each individual. The symbolism was how each of us need to touch the lives of those young single adults who are currently not participating in church. It was a fun activity and a great example to the YSA about how to come together and have some good wholesome and clean fun!
Saturday morning we left home at 7:15 am and traveled to Makeni. The blue lines on the map to the left shows the route we took from Kenema to Makeni. We traveled those roads because they are by far the best and paved the entire way. It took us 4 hours to get there. The meeting to train the branch council as facilitators was scheduled for 1 pm so we were grateful we had a bit of time to unwind and refresh.
When we first came into Makeni we drove to the TOTAL station and filled up with diesel so that we could travel back to Kenema on Sunday without needing to buy more fuel. Since we were not familiar with the town Sister Clawson came to where we were and lead us back to the vacant couples apartment where they were staying for the weekend.
A few minutes before 1 pm we arrived at the Rogbaneh branch and setup chairs and tables to do the facilitator training. The shop across the street was blaring music from huge speakers and while he turned it down when the branch president asked him to, it was still too loud for my preference, so I made my own attempt. He uses the music to attract customers, so I figured if I paid him 50,000 Le ($6) to turn it off altogether, it was a fair trade. He agreed.
From start to finish it took us about 3 1/2 hours, but the training was thorough and it felt like the branch council, the district leaders in attendance and the 8 missionaries who were there really understood what we were trying to accomplish.
At the end of the facilitators training Melissa then spent another 75 minutes training the teachers. It was a really long day for everyone. Makeni is further north, but that means closer to the Sahara Desert. The topography is very different from Kenema. A lot more commercial agriculture and lots of flat land. We say this because it was quite warm in the building all afternoon (okay maybe bordering on hot). LaDawn and I finally left at 5:45 pm and drove to the hotel where we were staying, the Wusum (pronounced Wasum) Hotel.
That evening around 7:00 pm the Clawson’s, the Pack’s and Melissa joined us and we all had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had a delicious hamburger and supposedly a strawberry milkshake, but to be honest, it was more like frothy strawberry milk.
Still good, especially after a long day of driving and training. The accommodations in the hotel were okay, not great, but okay. At least we had air conditioning all night that eventually drove us to pull up the bedcover to keep from getting cold towards morning. A rare thing for us!
The next morning we arrived at the branch early and enjoyed meeting the members as they came in. Fortunately the shop across the street was closed for Sunday. The sacrament meeting was just excellent. A talk on priesthood power, a talk on the law of chastity and then the branch president spent a few minutes talking about the importance of literacy and explained what we would be doing the second hour.
When sacrament meeting ended, chaos ensued. There were over 100 people in attendance and trying to get them to form 12 circles in three different rooms was no easy task, but eventually it happened and the facilitators put their training to work from the previous day. It was pretty amazing as they taught the Come Follow Me Gospel Literacy lesson to their circle of learners.
The whole intent behind Come Follow Me is to help the learners give voice to their own spiritual experiences and link it into a gospel principle being taught. While the results in every circle were not perfect, there was a great spirit there and everyone went away edified and a bit more committed to reading, studying and learning the gospel in their own homes. The benefit of the exercise is that by doing the lesson and having each learner read, write and draw, it becomes obvious who might be blessed by the literacy program. We identified 14 individuals who could benefit from a beginners class and another 16 who could benefit from an intermediate class. Now the real work begins as the branch leaders invite learners to attend gospel literacy classes after church and the teachers begin to put their training into practice. They definitely had an enthusiastic and committed start to the process!
After completing the assessment, we packed up, headed back to the hotel where they had prepared a couple of pizza’s for us to eat on the road and then traveled over to the couple’s apartment where we picked up Melissa and her luggage and began the 4 hour ride back home. In Bo we stopped at the Moomey’s and delivered some envelopes we had for them and arrived back in Kenema about 6:00 pm. It was a very productive and rewarding weekend. We appreciated the opportunity to visit Makeni and we love being involved in training the members to implement gospel literacy classes in their wards and branches.
It has occurred to us that the fate of the termites who were distracted by the lights in our compound has a parallel in our own lives. Because they were attracted by the light, they failed to shed their wings and start their own colonies where there was soil to do so. While going towards the light is always a good idea for us as mortals, it can be deadly for insects. There are plenty of distractions that keep up from fulfilling our own purpose here in this life, or even attaining our goals. We have to stay focused on what we are sent here to do, otherwise we will find ourselves spiritually dead and unable to succeed in our mission. For us, we are grateful to know why we are here in Kenema. We are grateful for these wonderful saints and friends we have come to know and love. It is pure joy walking hand-in-hand with them as we help build the Kingdom of God in Sierra Leone.