Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dispatch from Sierra Leone - First Impressions

That last post was written in hast while I was sharing online time with the other two members of our party. Here in Sierra Leone internet time is about $2 American or 5,000 Leones. This may be my last post until Thursday. We're in Freetown, the capital, but we're off to Waterloo tomorrow. Waterloo is where the school for girls is, the one Grace Church has been helping to build. I don't know if we will have internet access there.

Today I read one of the columnists in the newspaper who wrote that Sierra Leone is officially the poorest country in the world. I can believe it. It is amazingly beautiful. The natural beauty is the backdrop for the grinding poverty of the displaced persons from the war. As we drove along the beach road today, the coastal mountains suddenly rose up in the near distance, shrouded partially in mist. It was primordial beauty, breathtaking. At the same time, the destruction that still scars the city is alongside the building of new housing that will sell for half a million dollars per house.

About the girls and the school in Waterloo, I have been told that no one has unrealistic expectations for their education. When they graduate they will be able barely to read and write. There is a heavy emphasis on vocational education and training. The girls come from families with a history of illiteracy. It is a huge step for these families to send their girls to school at all. What I read between the lines is this: These girls are the first step in changing the culture of their families. If they graduate from school, they will be more likely to send their own daughters to school, and these daughters will do even better than their mothers.

We at Grace Church, and the others in the community who have been contributing to the building of classrooms, are taking part in a long term dream, the dream of a better future and a better life for girls of post-war Sierra Leone.

I can hardly wait to meet the girls. Tomorrow we will see them for the first time, at a Thanksgiving service, giving thanks, in part, for our part in their lives. The following day, Monday morning, we three from Grace Church will dedicate the second classroom which we helped to build. I can hardly stand the wait - this is an emotionally full experience for me.

I am going to do something I would not normally do on this blog, but if you are inspired to be on the ground floor of the beginning of a generations-long cultural revolution in the education of girls, and you want to contribute to the fund for building another classroom, or, if it is more needed, a well for more clean water for the school, then please make your check payable to Grace Episcopal Church for Waterloo School and send it to Grace Episcopal Church, 1 Union Park, Norwalk, CT 06850, attention Kathy Dies. That's Attn: Kathy Dies and that part is very important in getting the funds credited to the school fund.

However, if this is an inappropriate request, please add Waterloo School for Girls to your prayer list.

I will write again as soon as I can. I have taken no pictures so far. Every opportunity has seemed too exploitative - like I should give money to the persons I would like to photograph or something, and that is not encouraged. So, so far, no pics. But I will try to do better in Waterloo.

Until next time, I am faithfully yours,

Dispatch from Sierra Leone - Arrival

Lois has intermittent access to email from Sierra Leone and asked me to post the following. I will post entries from Lois as we receive them.
--Grace Church Webmaster

We have arrived in Sierra Leone. We had 14 hours flight and 7 minutes in a helicopter - the first for all of us. Freetown is an eyeopener. The beaches, the ocean, the mountains are beautiful. All along the road along the beach are people who were displaced by the civil war. They have no where to go, no where to live. So they have built squatters' huts and little shacks from which to sell various things. Today we passed the amputees, young men who had various body parts cut off during the war. They were organizing for a soccer game.

At the same time, there were young men in long, low fishing canoes with nets, and people on the shore pulling the nets in with their catch for the day. These days those young people are in danger because the commercial fishing trawlers are cutting them off, and even cutting their nets. Such beauty next so much other stuff I can't even write about yet, but more later in the week.

Peace, Lois Keen

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mission Trip to Sierra Leone

I have my visa to enter Sierra Leone - wow! REALLY getting scared now.

Little things like, everyone drinks bottled water, so that means, don't you think, that eating fresh veg and fruits is not a good idea, since they may have been washed in the regular water.

And trip insurance - since my part in this trip is being paid by a grant, I should be able to get insurance to cover the church in case something happens that I can't go and the church has to pay back the grant. But can you find such a thing? NO! Not unless you also pay for a lot of other coverage I neither need nor want, which jacks the price up. I know I'm unreasonable - I think $200+ for this insurance, which will have to come out of my own money, is way out of line. But in the end I'm going to have to do it because I am a hyper-responsible person.

And breakfast - it is supposedly included, but it is a free continental breakfast, which means no protein, only unhealthy, sugary carbohydrates, which I cannot eat first thing in the day, and juice, which I don't drink, and I still can't tolerate milk or tomatoes since the chemo. So I worry how I will start my day. I might just have to accept that I have only tea in the morning and will eat rice and maybe some fish and come home lots slimmer (always look for the silver lining!).

Truthfully, I have no business traveling anywhere outside the United States, Canada and Great Britain. I've become like the older women who traveled with Newlin and me to Israel and Egypt in 1984. They wanted to make that pilgrimage but they wanted to have nothing to do with anything indigenous. They wanted expensive United States style cuisine and Newlin and I, having very little money, were eating humous and falafels. All they did was complain (according to my perception).

Now that I'm older, and have the usual health issues of a woman of over 63, I worry for my comfort and my health. I'm chock full of immunizations for exotic diseases, and burdened with pills against malaria and traveler's diarrhea. I want to meet the girls of the school in Waterloo. I also want to stay home where I know the food and the water and the terrain and the climate won't do me in.

But I will go, and I will try as hard as I can not to make my fellow travelers miserable. There is nothing at all on my calendar for this week, so that's good. I have time to do my "practice packing" ( ! ). Next week, Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, Ash Wednesday two services plus a couple of visits to shut-ins, Thursday in the office giving last minute instructions to my secretary, and Thursday night at 10:30 p.m., I'll be rambling off into the wild blue yonder, headed east for Africa.

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Meanwhile, I heard from one of my friends from my one term at Westcott House in Michaelmas 1996. She found this blog and isn't that just a miracle! Way cool. Cheers, all.

Monday, February 2, 2009

On a Mission from God

24 days and counting. We leave for Sierra Leone on the 26th of this month. I've had my shots - HepA, Polio booster, typhoid and yellow fever. That was an adventure - stuck in four different places! Still need to fill scripts for an anti-malarial and for cipro (antibiotic in case of traveler's diarrhea "with fever and/or blood" - that's enough to scare one to stay home!). All my documents are in order. Awaiting the visa to enter the country.

I'll admit to being a little afraid. I'm at risk for lymphedema after the breast cancer surgery just two years ago. Need to take care of my arm - keep it covered, treat any bug bites right away, don't get sunburn - on the equator! Is the water safe? I don't know. What if everything we're served to eat has tomatoes in it? I haven't been able to eat tomatoey things since the chemo.

At the same time, when I think of meeting the girls of the school we're helping to build, I can't wait to get there. We had each wanted to interact with the girls by teaching them things or learning from them. I've decided I'm going to have them teach me as many songs as they know, so I can bring them back with me to Grace Church. We're making a scrapbook to take with us so they'll have part of Grace Church's people with them.

I'm sure it will all be well. And I also don't know any such thing, that all will be well. But off I'll be flying on February 26, leaving the congregation to take care of one another until the four of us return.

May God in his mercy give us grace.