Monday, November 13, 2006

Adventures in Kabala

We are presently in Kabala, a town about six hours north of Freetown, close to the border of Guinea. Our task here is to distribute primers to various schools, which were developed by Loreen and Katie (last year’s interns). We haven’t been here for long, but we are really enjoying our time here. The first thing everyone in Freetown said to us about Kabala was that it was “cool”. And although yes, it is marginally cooler than Freetown, we certainly didn’t need to bring our sweaters along!

We went on a “tour of villages” with a man named Joseph Sesay, the regional director of one of the organizations we’re working with. He was excited to give us the opportunity to take pictures of Kabala, and had lots of suggestions along the way for fun pictures! We had a really good time touring around with him. One of the highlights of the trip was the first village, Ishmaia, that we arrived in. We parked the car in the middle of the village, got out, and suddenly there were many many people, mostly women and children, running towards us yelling ‘white man/or white woman’ (Our personal favourite being ‘whites’ as it is short, succinct, and covers both of us!). They are extraordinarily friendly.

We also stopped at a radio station which broadcasted to the area of Kabala and surrounding villages. We were escorted right into the middle of the room where they broadcast, while they were on air! Mr. Sesay phoned in a call to the radio station shortly afterwards in which he ‘welcomed us to Sierra Leone’ which went on air : ) We also stopped at homes of people we’ve met since we’ve come, watched the building of a school for awhile, and hiked into the woods to pick tangerines (delicious!). Kabala, surrounded by mountains, is truly a place of beauty full of friendly and welcoming people.

Today we went out to a couple villages, each of us was on the back of a motorcycle behind a driver and had a stack of books on the luggage rack behind us. We would be swerving across the road trying to avoid various obstacles such as rocks, rain ruts and large puddles. After arriving in the town, we’d get off the motorcycles and get ready to distribute the books. We would have a mini-meeting with the teacher and headmaster of the class and try to work out the details. After that, we’d hand out the books and then try to find a way to group together the happy and rowdy children together to take some pictures. All the kids were happy to see us and to get some school materials. It was a bit shocking for us to walk into a room and see the only aid the teachers had was a small chalkboard at the front of the classroom. They are in need of so much here.

After getting on the motorcycle, we’d start to ride away and the kids would run after us waving goodbye.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Conversation between Wayne and a young girl selling oranges.

Girl: You want to buy oranges?
Wayne: No, I don’t need any oranges, thank you. Maybe some other time.
G: Then buy them for your kids!
W: What? No, don’t be silly. I don’t have any kids, I’m way too young to have kids.
G: Well…Buy oranges for your parents!
W: No, I can’t buy oranges for my parents. They’re in Canada and I won’t see them for a long time. By the time I get the oranges to them they will be rotten and nobody will want to eat them.

(pause as girl tries to think of what to say next)

G: Well then, Buy the oranges and then sell them again!

You’ve got to hand it to the kids here—they’re clever.

Our Adventures!

If West Africa is teaching us anything, it is patience and flexibility. This is not a bad thing, just something we rarely have a chance to learn in North America’s fast-paced culture. This was especially true of our last week and a half here

Last Sunday, we traveled to the “second city” of Sierra Leone, Bo, by bus. We were supposed to be at the bus station at 6:00 am (which we were) to buy our tickets (which we did). Then, after paying our luggage surcharge, we got onto the bus and waited for an hour for the bus to leave. After driving for 15 minutes, the bus stopped again for another hour (due to a possible leaky tire). We didn’t know that stopped busses are targets for vendors of all varieties. Some people try to sell conventional items such as bread, water or cookies, whereas others have more “unique” items and selling methods.

One man boarded the bus with nothing but a satchel bag and a megaphone—why he had a megaphone we do not know since the bus only had about a dozen rows of seats! He would then yell into the megaphone as he made his sales pitch. He was selling trivia questions. He had three typed pages of random trivia ranging from facts about Michael Jordan to World War I (which apparently began in 1930—who knew?). The fact that almost everyone on the bus bought these questions, again, demonstrated to us the lack of literacy materials available in the country.

We eventually made it to Bo after about eight hours and many stops along the way. We had a productive few days in the city. The reason we went to Bo was to visit a place called the Bunumbu Press, and we managed to get more than 120 more books that all were written in indigenous languages, which was awesome and definitely worth the visit!

We were interested in going to Bo because we had heard that the city has electricity almost all the time. After living in Freetown we were a little skeptical that this was true. In Freetown, electricity is so sporadic that it is almost non-existent. The government controls the electricity and it is called “NP” or National Power, but most people receive little or no NP. At the house where we’re living NP has been on for a couple hours in total since August! As a result, everyone who can afford it relies on personal generators. At the rare chance NP comes on everyone rushes to turn off their generators and take advantage of it! On Friday, at a friend’s house, the NP lights flickered on and off throughout dinner, a nice dinner accent we thought :) Can you imagine if that were the case in Canada? A few years ago there was no power for about a day and it was almost considered a crisis. In Bo it was nice to have power more often than in Freetown, but again, it was very sporadic power. We would be without power quite often, including when we had to get up at 4:30 am on Thursday to catch the bus back to Freetown. That was a bit of fun adventure getting packed and to the bus station in the dark!

We were told that we needed to be at the bus station at 5:30 am to catch the bus because if you went later you likely wouldn’t get a seat. We were there, but the government bus wasn’t there. That was alright though because there were two other busses there that were run by private companies. A few men from each bus were running around trying o convince people to board their bus and not the other guy’s. Our (and everyone else’s) goal was to pick the bus that would fill up the quickest so we would leave first! So after a little thought, we made our choice and boarded the bus.

And we waited.

Finally after two hours, the seats filled up and we thought we were finally going to go.

We were wrong.

We should’ve known by now that in Sierra Leone the bus is not full when the seats are full! It was at this time we discovered the reason for the mysterious, small wooden benches on top of the bus—for places to sit in the aisle between every seat! An hour later, the bus filled up and we were happily on our way to Freetown. At one point during the ride we went to the back of the bus to check on our large backpack, only to discover that someone had put it to use as a wall for a makeshift chicken coop! We thought this was great : )

So many times this past week we were left pondering the differences between North America and Africa and how people in North America would react to some of these situations.

We were going to go to Kabala on Saturday, but things didn’t work out, so we’re here in Freetown until tomorrow morning when we hope to travel there. We are both very excited about having the chance to go live in a village for a couple of weeks and to have a totally different experience again.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Few Highlights

Sometimes it is difficult for us to post frequently because the nature of our work is such that we would probably bore you to death if we gave too many details! Thus, here are some highlights of the last few weeks.

☼ On Monday we went with Cecily to join Mr. Sankoh and his neighbourhood community in their feast to celebrate the end of Ramadan. As there are a large percentage of Muslims in Sierra Leone, Monday was a national holiday since it marks the end of Ramadan. After a lively poda-poda ride through the busy and bustling streets, we entered his crowded livingroom which was filled with his family plus all the neighbour kids! The kids smiled and yelled delightedly as we took pictures of them and they ‘oohed and aahed’ when they got to see their own picture on the LCD screen of the digital camera. After our Sierra Leonian meal, we lounged around with them to watch a Nigerian film.

☼ Although most taxis perpetually run on ‘empty’, last week we ran out of gas for the first time while in a taxi. After being pushed a few times by willing men on the street, we coasted safely to a gas station that was downhill of where we began—only stopping traffic in a few intersections along the way.

☼ We’ve moved! After spending our first three weeks at the Marian Hotel Catholic Pastoral Center, our work in the Downtown (a.k.a. P-Z) area has finished up. We are now working towards what is known as the city’s ‘West End.’ Conveniently, we met with a missionary couple who live in the west end who offered us one of their empty rooms in their home. Now, for less than we were paying before, we have a room complete with meals! It came at the perfect time for us in our job. We thank God for providing as always.

☼ In Sierra Leone there are two ways you can do currency exchange. The first method involves going to a foreign exchange bureau, the second involves trading with “black market traders.” One of the men we’ve exchanged money with downtown in the black -market is a die-hard fan of anything and everything Canadian. He will often say to us “I give you best rate since you’re Canadian. I will do better than everyone else—better than the banks too.” Last week we gave him a Canadian flag pin, when we returned several days later he came running up to us from down the street proudly displaying the flag on his hat. It was cute : )

☼ On the streets, everything from doorbells to scissors is for sale. We are constantly amazed by what people offer to sell us. This week, however, a man offered to sell Wayne an “African name” for a mere 5,000 Leones! (about two dollars) . Apparently “Wayne” is not a good name for anyone who is living in Africa (even if only for a short time). We almost did it just because it was the most original line we had heard yet. We wish we could tell you what kind of a name 5,000 Leones would buy, but we don’t know. In the name market, apparently, you have to pay before you hear the options so you don’t take a name without paying. After telling us how much he liked Joella’s name, Wayne tried to sell the man Joella’s name, but apparently he was not in the business of buying names—only selling them.

☼ We now have about 180 books in our literacy database collected from the various NGO’s we’ve visited in the last couple weeks. We’ve felt really blessed over the last week by the people we’ve been working with and it has helped us stay focused and happy with our work.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Tastes…

We’ve already told you about the sights and sounds of Sierra Leone, so since we have been here almost three weeks, we now feel a bit more qualified to post about the food here…

A few weeks ago we made the mistake of asking for a meal that included chicken from a menu at a restaurant. First of all, we’ve learned that one can never be sure whether half the menu options can actually be ordered, and secondly, the waiter laughed at our request and responded “We don’t have chicken in Africa”. We later found this to be true, but only for Sierra Leone. We were confused, however, because chickens themselves are everywhere! Along with the stray dogs, random goats, and wild pigs, chickens followed by their chicks are running around the streets! Just yesterday someone was carrying around a live chicken and tried to sell it to us off the street as it was squawking loudly! We politely declined. We found that the reason every menu includes chicken, but no restaurants have any, is because of the Bird Flu. We have heard rumours, however, that chicken should be coming back into the country very soon….

Some of you have been asking what exactly we eat, which is a very good question. Just like any country similar to Sierra Leone, you learn to take things day-by-day. You cannot plan your meals in advance; your bread lasts a few days if you’re lucky; you plan several trips to the market a week, etc. We have discovered many fruits which taste delicious here, much better than Canada! We love eating fresh pineapple, which is in abundance off the streets, and it is deliciously sweet. Bananas, as well, have a sweeter taste than those we are used to. We’ve discovered a new fruit called ‘guava’ which is also tasty.

A few days ago we tried a very popular Sierra Leonean meal—cassava leaves and rice. As many foods in Sierra Leone, it was extremely spicy! Neither of us could take more than a bite before having to drink a litre of water! We try to avoid eating too much fish, but it is offered anywhere off the streets, usually completely whole. Our favourite fish is barracuda which can be found at the beach restaurants and is rumoured to be caught and cooked straight from the ocean after you order it!

There is hope for the traveler who grows tired of fish and rice. Western food is still quite readily available at restaurants in Sierra Leone. Hamburgers, pizza, spaghetti, and so many more foods are easily found—if you’re willing to pay the extra cost.

Yum. Fish. This is what greeted us the night we arrived in Sierra Leone.

It seems as though there is no place in Freetown where people do not urinate. Every ditch, wall and corner is fair game. Our friend Justin (along with us) was surprised to find a spot that proves there are a few (rare) places this is not the case.

We took the weekend to go to River Number Two beach here in Freetown. It was a great retreat and was nice and relaxing to get away from the business of the city to the tranquility of the beach, the waves, and the palm trees.

We’ve spent the last week and a half working at the Ministry of Education and the Adult Education House in Freetown cataloguing books and literacy resources. After a bit of a slow start, we’ve started to make some good headway into our job.

In the background is the city’s famous 400 year old cotton tree. The picture doesn’t do justice to how large it really is. To give you an idea of its size, we were a block away from the enormous tree but it still didn’t fit in the picture.

We have told you about the roads and traffic here; this picture describes it pretty well. Believe it or not, this is not a one-way road (despite what the picture may imply).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Food for thought . . .

On Tuesday night, we went to an “internationals” Bible study for the first time. It was refreshing to fellowship with other believers who are in Sierra Leone to do developmental work. We discussed Hebrews 2 and what it meant for Christ to suffer to bring us into His glory. The conversation shifted and we started to reflect on whether or not we suffer to bring non-Christians into Christ’s glory. If so, how do we suffer? Is it a physical suffering? If not, how else do we suffer?

When we were at church this past Sunday, the preacher made a comment that hit home in the context of this discussion. Perhaps it was because neither of us had ever thought of faith and evangelism in this way. This is the gist of what he said:

“I thank God that I am not in America, or in the UK, or in Germany, or anywhere else in the West. There, you cannot pray in school; you cannot preach the gospel freely like you can here.”

This totally flipped around our thinking (and got us a few looks as we were the only whites in the church!) For so long, we’ve prayed for the persecuted church in Africa, China, etc, not thinking that the church in North America is persecuted too—despite our religious freedom. We know we are persecuted for our faith in different ways, but it was strange to hear someone say it in that way. Here we go around, thinking we are so lucky to be in North America, only to hear someone who is thankful they are not there.

So again, we are left wondering, how do we suffer for Christ?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Here you can see one of the streets of Freetown. The roads are almost always busy with traffic. Note the lack of sidewalks/gutters/curbs/etc. It makes not only for chaotic driving, but dangerous walking! There is, however, a nice mountainous backdrop that makes for lovely scenery as one travels through the city.

Walking the streets can be overwhelming because it seems as though there is something for sale everywhere. You can see here how many vendors there can be in such a small area. The streets of Freetown are alive in a way much different than Canadian streets.

Despite the city’s beauty, there is still widespread poverty. It breaks our hearts when we are driving through the city and see housing like this. It is the type of image that you think you’ll only ever see on a World Vision ad or something. Having it right in front of you changes your perspective in a hurry.

The children here are adorable. When they see white people they smile and wave (even the young ones!).

Friday, September 29, 2006

UN Special Court

We traveled to Lumley Beach for the first time on Thursday since we had an early afternoon off work. We were hoping to find solace from the busy streets of the city at the beach. The beach was beautiful and relaxing, though after we swam we were told that you shouldn’t swim because of the amount of garbage that is washed into the water during rainy season…whoops! While at the beach we were still approached often by people selling necklaces, glasses, etc. A group of small boys even came and sat around us for about half an hour and chatted with us. As usual, their many compliments were a hope to get money.

After eating barracuda (fresh fish-delicious!) for the first time, we met a couple Irishman sitting at the restaurant who work at the UN Special Court in Freetown. We talked with them for some time and as we were about to leave they extended to us an invitation to visit them and their boss (a Canadian!) at work some day. We took them up on that offer today (Friday).

The background to the Special Court is a complex one. It is tied to the civil war that ravaged the country between approximately 1991-2001. Many awful crimes against humanity were committed, but neither of us knew much about it before this trip. The war devastated the country and caused irreparable damage. It separated families by both distance and death; it destroyed the country’s economy and spirit. The war is one of the reasons we are here today—to help rebuild a broken education system.

Essentially, the Special Court is a War tribunal for the leaders of three groups that were involved in the civil war. Each of the three groups is ‘represented’ by three of the top members of the group. Therefore, there are 9 detainees, not prisoners since they have not been found guilty yet. These detainees are both imprisoned and brought to trial here. As you can imagine, the place looks more like a maximum security prison than a courthouse. We patrolled the grounds with our new Canadian friend Ray, the chief of the detainee guards there, and he pointed out where each building was, what happened in the building, etc. Unfortunately, and for obvious reasons, pictures were not allowed. He was going to give us a tour of one of the barracks, but it had yet to be disinfected after a recent outbreak of chicken pox. Although interesting, it was surreal to be surrounded by a UN patrol force from Mongolia, each man armed with an AK-47.

It was good to see what goes on in this building, since we passed by it almost every day because the Ministry of Education is just across the road.

On the Poda-Poda

So now we have had a few days to start to enjoy some more of the city and meet some more people that will be important to our project. We have not yet had a chance to start our material collection, but it is exciting for us to make contacts that we know will be vital to our work in the coming weeks and months. Rather than make a list of who’s who in Education in Sierra Leone that will almost certainly bore you to tears, we’ll try to be succinct and talk about some of the more interesting things we’ve noticed lately.

Just as people are enthusiastic in their worship in church, we have met a lot of enthusiasm to cooperate with us in our project. We’ve met with people from the Ministry of Education, Milton Margai College, Christian Extension Services, Adult Education organizations, and Bible Translators to name a few. At each place we’ve been welcomed very warmly and have been pledged help and assistance as much as each organization can do. It is eye-opening for the two of us to see the government branches, NGO’s and groups that actually do the leg work, so to speak, that goes into the development of a country.

Traveling can still be somewhat of an obstacle for us. We are trying to understand the taxi system here since it is much different than Canada. Rather than paying a fare based on how far you wish to travel, Sierra Leone drivers are paid a flat rate of 800 leones (about 30 cents) per passenger. The driver, however, chooses whether or not he is interested in driving you. Once you flag down one of the hundreds of drivers on the street you announce your destination and he tells you to get in, or he drives away. You may try to offer him more money to drive you somewhere, or look for another driver who may be willing to negotiate the mad maze of streets in Freetown. If you are looking for a cheaper mode of travel, you can look for a poda-poda—a mini-bus that operates on a route, much like a city bus in North America, however, there is a twist, and we’re not sure it’s worth the cost savings! haha

Imagine an old Japanese mini-van, the kind that looks like a Volkswagon Westfalia van. Now, take out all the seats and replace them with 5 or 6 steel benches. Then, put 5-6 people on each bench. That is a poda-poda. There is nothing in North America like it, except perhaps a clown-car. At Redeemer, I’ve been in many crammed vehicles to go places, but none of those car rides can compare to this. To add to it, the roads were so bad that the van could only drive between 5-15 km/h at any given time. As the van bounces along the road, all its occupants do the same

On our third poda-poda ride, the vehicle was so full we didn’t quite know how we also were supposed to join the many passengers inside. In order to fit, Joella had to sit on my lap in the front seat, between the boy who took payments from the passengers and the driver. By the time we settled in we realized the other poda-poda passengers were laughing hysterically at us. We drove down the treacherous roads again for an half an hour and each and every person (and there were many) that saw us when we passed, pointed, laughed, or smiled at us, obviously quite amused. Not that we don’t get stared at all the time anyways, but for some unknown reason this was extremely funny to everyone. Perhaps because two rich (they don’t know about our debt) white people were crammed inside a vehicle like everyone else? We don’t know!