Sierra Leone 2014–Part One

I went on my fifth mission trip this summer. It was my first (and surely not last) trip to Africa. As usual, I fell in love with the people of Sierra Leone (or Salone in Krio), more specifically, the ones in Kathirie village just outside the city of Makeni near the center of the country. I always struggle with putting my experiences on missions trips into words. The vastness of the difference between what I am used to and what I experience on trips like this always renders me inept to describe what I saw. To use an Jr. English vocabulary word, it is an ineffable experience.

I’ll start with the most vivid images I can remember. The humanity that surrounded me each time we visited Kathirie—that I will never forget. Nine children standing around me, each one grasping one of my hands with his or her hand under the hot sun outside the village. Three children sitting on my lap at the Day Camp we facilitated, until only one two year old boy is left, sleeping on my chest. The ornery little boy whose big, bright, clear eyes crinkled with his huge smile, running from group to group of people, making mischief as he went. The 14-year-old girl unable to stay awake during the school lesson, and sighing in boredom as she waits for the teacher to dismiss them all. That is a familiar look I’ve seen, but I’m sure her reasons for being sleepy and “bored” are quite different from any of the freshman girls I teach. Who knows how far she may have walked to get to school this morning. The strident singing of the young women who led the march into church, dressed in their colorful dresses and head wrappings, moving to the rhythm of the song. And the beauty of the young girls at the school dedication, with their hair freshly coiffed, their deep brown complexions glowing atop the new white shirt of their school dress uniform.
These are just a few images that I will treasure forever.

When asked what we did on our trip, the best word that I can come up with is “represent.” Our church raised enough money during our Christmas offering in 2012 to build a church and a school for the village. Our team’s main purpose in going on this second of three trips was to celebrate with the village and represent our church at both dedications, which was a great honor to be a part of. I am so thankful for the many people from my church who sacrificially and lovingly gave money for the good of this village. I hope that I did a good job representing Grace Point’s love toward  the people of Kathirie village. The villagers had been working hard, in conjunction with the contractors, to finish the school and church before we arrived, and we could see how proud they were to show the buildings to us.

One morning, carrying through on our plan to continue our support of Kathirie, we sat around a table with the Village Development Committee and a representative of World Hope International as the VDC came up with a list of needs they have. Our team represented our Church’s commitment to this village.

And now that I am back, I ask myself, what did I really DO for those people? I mean, I saw the great structures that my money helped pay for. I hugged kids and prayed with people and listened to their needs and handed out some medicine. But did I make any difference in going? Why go on trips like this? It comes back to that word—represent. I now represent Kathirie village in Sierra Leone and the people who work in Sierra Leone for World Hope International. I can share my experiences with other people and let others know about this organization who is doing great work in a country that is trying to climb out of a deep poverty-ridden, post-Civil War hole. I represent the people of Sierra Leone. I represent the work of World Hope International. I’d like to write a few more posts about what they need and how you could help.

To start, check out World Hope International. I’ve sponsored a child in Nepal for years, and I’ve always wondered what else I could help with. Now that I have seen WHI in action, I’m amazed at the work this organization is doing! Maybe you can find a place to share your wealth with others!

 

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On Speeding and Waving–Old Habits Die Hard?

It is amazing to me that when I go home, to a place I’ve not lived for 12 years, how quickly I return to my old ways.

For example, within seconds of turning onto a familiar dirt, sand or rock road, I find myself going 65 mph. Don’t tell mom, but this was sometimes considered slow in high school, depending, of course, on the time of day, the newness of the surfacing of the road, the recent weather conditions, and the number of minutes by which I was running late.  This is certainly an old habit I wish would just die permanently. It is extraordinarily unsafe to drive at such speeds on such roads. I didn’t realize that until my last few years of high school, when I heard about a few horrible one-car accidents, had my own little run-ins with the sand piles at the edge of the roads, and saw a roll over demonstration at school. Oh well, at least I wear my seat belt now (because I didn’t before!).

One thing that I don’t seem to get back into as easily, however, is waving at people from my vehicle as I meet them on the road. For me to snap back into this old habit on drives home, it takes a few waves from others, which generally don’t start until I’m about five miles east of Clay and then continue with varying degrees of frequency as I move into more urban (if you can call it that) or rural areas. Waving is particularly important in the stretch of land south of Miltonvale to north of Bennington as I drive through Wells (talk about a metropolis!) on the old “Wells road” (I’m sure that road has been given an official name, but I really don’t care–it’s the Wells road). It is my favorite stretch of highway paved road. It winds and curves through rolling hills of pasture land, that is relatively treeless and absolutely gorgeous in the spring and summer. (Driving down that road brought me to tears during my freshman year of college when I was returning after being away from home for the longest period of time yet.) The population is very sparse through that area, and when you travel that road, you really do feel a need to wave at the fellow travelers headed your way.

It seems that once we who live in these small, out of the way places tend to get lonely when on the road all alone, meeting someone on the road means meeting a companion of sorts. At least a way to feel part of a community (even if it’s just a community of travelers).

So, on my trips home–as I am listening to country stations on the radio again–a few people will wave at me, I’ll begin to regret not having waved at them as well, and then I will stick my right hand at the top of the steering wheel, waiting with anticipation to meet the next person.

I’m a little sad that this old habit of mine has died so easily.

Traveling Choices

When you travel, how do you decide which sights to see? Which dreams to “cross off the list”? I’m going to visit my bro, sis, and nephew in Philly, and I could visit several places I’ve wanted to see. But, the budget and the time can’t allow for all three. So, do I go to Gettysburg National Park? Or drive up to Maine, hitting three new states along the way (One of my dreams is to visit all 50 states)? Or, do I go up to Niagara Falls, which is the same distance away as Portland, ME?

Decisions, Decisions!

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier

Numerous friends and a few students have recommended this book to me over the years. I finally found a few days to sit down and be lured in by duMaurier’s mysterious tone, macabre mood, and suspenseful plot. The first three-fourths of the book made me frustrated with the narrator, whose name is never divulged, as she fails to assert herself in her new role as the wife of Maximillian de Winter–an older, rich, landed, recently widowed man (who holds much mystery himself)–and her new role as mistress of Manderley. She lets Mrs. Danvers, the mysterious, severe head housekeeper, run everything just the way the former mistress, Rebecca, ran the house.

The narrator cannot escape Rebecca, and the reader can’t help her to escape Rebecca, which is perhaps why duMaurier didn’t give the narrator a name. A name would have given her the power to overcome Rebecca’s almost ghostly hold on her, Manderley, Mrs. Danvers, and Maxim.

Despite the continuing monotony of the narrator failing at everything she does (which makes for somewhat boring reading), I found myself continuing to turn the pages because it was all a mystery and I had to figure out what was going to happen!

Finally, in the last fourth of the novel, the plot really gets to rolling, and we learn the whole story. duMaurier’s writing lends itself to quick reading and I was impressed with the psychological depth to the main character as her first-person narrations helped us understand her hesitancy and lack of confidence as a new wife. The narrator often talked herself out of action by considering what “would” happen and how people “would” view her and “would” talk about her. Some of these scenes would go on for more than a page, and I wanted to scream at the narrator to take action! Then, as she learns more of the story behind Rebecca’s death, she immediately grows up, comes into her own, and stops worrying about the future. She is able to help Maxim deal with the rest of the conflict that occurs.

The book’s descriptions of the county of Cornwall in England (where duMaurier lived) made me add another spot to my list of places to visit next time I go there. And, I enjoyed reading about how the very rich lived their lives in the 20th century as opposed to the 19th century (which so many of my Austen and Bronte books have shown). This novel is a must-read for anyone who appreciates mystery, gloom, suspense, and good writing! I know just the students to recommend it to!

 

 

 

Honor Flight

Honor: (n.) high respect, as that shown for special merit; esteem.

Honor: (v.) to confer distinction on

May 21st met me at 3 am on a bus to Kansas City with several of my students, my two bosses, a few other volunteers, and about 12 veterans from our area of the state. Our mission was to get these veterans to Washington, D.C. so they could visit the memorials which portray a slice of the honor that is their due.

I could not be more proud to be an American after this trip. These men sacrificed many things in the war, whether it was leaving their new wife at home, traveling down a mountain with a broken pelvis on the back of a donkey, or seeing the majority of their squad or platoon die in combat. I am so thankful that they found it their duty to serve their country, for their sense of duty has contributed to each of the freedoms I currently enjoy. I look at my own generation and sometimes wonder if that sense of duty is still intact. What will our country be like in the future if it is not?

As we departed the plane in Baltimore, a tunnel of people, including a group of sailors in their dress whites, cheered for each veteran as he entered the terminal. More tears for this girl! Not only did I cry, but also I wanted to get out of the way and let these veterans have their spotlight. People were telling me thank you, too, but I didn’t feel that I was doing anything I wasn’t already obligated to do.

The day in DC started at the WWII Memorial, and our group took a photo in front of the Kansas column of the memorial and had a small ceremony where the veterans saluted a flag we bring along on every trip. We then visited the Korean War Memorial (half of our veterans fought in Korea), Lincoln Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial. Throughout the trip, strangers came up to shake the gnarled 80 or 90 somethings’ hands, but these men didn’t think they needed a handshake. They wondered what they had done that was so great; still, the heartfelt, earnest “Thank You, Sir” said it all. After the memorials on the National Mall, we made a brief stop at the Air Force Memorial, and I was able to help Elton (an Air Force Veteran) track down a sheet of paper acknowledging him as a charter member of that memorial’s construction. Then, we drove by the Iwo Jima memorial. The day ended at a nice county buffet restaurant, and once we got to the hotel, the veterans put themselves to bed before the students (their guardians on this trip) could even wish them a good night! Well, that is, MOST of the veterans. There were a few we found we had to keep an eye out for. Old age doesn’t always mean tiredness!

The next day, we went to Arlington National Cemetary to watch the Changing of the Guard. The veterans were ushered down into a special section to watch the ceremony. I thought it fitting that, from this location, the entire crowd could see the group of veterans in their matching t-shirts and red and blue hats. After the ceremony, as we stood waiting for the bus, one man walked through our group, barely holding back the sobs, to thank each veteran for his service. This intense, heartfelt display of gratitude from a complete stranger, of course, made me cry again.

Why is Honor Flight worth it? I don’t know that I can even name all the reasons, but here are some of the big ones:

1. This is a cathartic experience for some veterans. Perhaps they have never spoken about their experiences in war before. One of my friends said that on a previous trip, a man told him about seeing villagers in Korea die at the hands of his own unit and himself. He mentioned that he has lived with that all his life. It is likely he hasn’t spoken of it to anyone else, but in that place, in that time, with a sponsor he would likely not have contact with again, he was able to release some of that pain and sadness.

2. The experience shows the veterans just how much they are appreciated. I’ve spoken of the thank yous from strangers and applause at the airport. Our group also does a thing called “Mail Call.” At the supper on the first night, we delivered an envelope of letters to each veteran from school children. Elton received one from a high school girl he knows well, and he was thrilled to hear her gratitude. The group of veterans we took along from Wamego received letters from their families, which I also think is a cathartic thing. Isn’t it easier sometimes to express your appreciation and love in a letter? Especially to your gruff grandfather who has never spoken of the war? Or to your father, who you love dearly but have never been brave enough to talk more about the war because it makes him sad?

3. The experience can be intergenerational. I did a project on intergenerational service-learning in one of my Master’s classes, and I cannot think of a better way to put those principles I learned to use than with Honor Flight. I have always loved elderly people since I worked at an assisted living facility in high school. I love students and helping them discover new places. I love Washington, D.C. This is just right up my alley! Count on hearing more about it in the future. Our group (and several groups from Kansas) uses high school students as the veterans’ guardians. This is the best possible set-up. Kids learn honor, respect, history, compassion, and dedication, while the veterans are loved on, encouraged, assisted, and treated like kings for a day. I’ve not met many elderly people who don’t enjoy the life and spirit of high school students; I also haven’t met many elderly people as lively and energetic as some of these veterans. I actually had to help one of our students keep track of his 92 year old veteran, and we became fast friends!

4. It is urgent. Many WWII veterans will never see their National Memorial because they are dying every day. I wanted to take my former landlord from Coldwater on this trip, and I had called him a few times, left messages, but never heard back. I asked a friend about him to see if he had perhaps passed away and found that the week after I had made my last call, his obituary was in the paper. This man served in WWII, received the Purple Heart, and I heard several of his stories when I brought him in to talk to my Juniors about the war. He was very special, and I am sad I couldn’t honor him with this flight.

My grandfather is another example of the urgency of this project. He now has Parkinson’s disease to the degree that this trip would be impossible. If the veteran cannot get off and on a bus about eight times over the course of two days, he would not be able to attend. I wish I could turn back the time and take my grandpa from four years ago on this trip. He would have enjoyed it greatly.

 

I urge you to check out the Honor Flight program at http://honorflight.org/ if you are interested in helping someone attend, putting together a flight, or want to help out in any way. Honor Flights around the country are in need of funding, guardians, trip coordinators, and doctors and nurses.

New To Me

I can’t tell you about the new (to me) car I recently bought until I tell you about the masterpieces of automobilia (ha) I have owned in the past.

The summer before my freshman year of high school was full of anxiety about how I would get home from practice each day. I didn’t have a car, but I really needed one since it was always a pain for mom or dad to drive seven miles back into town to pick me up (plus, I think I wanted to keep up with my classmates, who also got cars that year). One week that summer, I saw an ad in our local paper. My neighbors were selling their car–a lime green, four door Chevy Malibu Classic that I always thought looked really old whenever we zoomed past their house. And, in ’99, I guess it was sort of old. A 1976, it had just turned 23. The neighbors were selling it for $675, and dad, being the neighbor he is (he never tries to talk down a neighbor, just gives them whatever amount they ask for things) bought that beast of a car for me. It was in very good shape–the radio worked, the air conditioner weakly blew sort-of-cold air, and it flew over the three miles of rough pavement we drove every day like a boat on the water.

That car lasted me all four years of high school, with only a few minor run-ins with phantom cows in the dusk, fences, ditches, and one guy’s jeep after school one day. That was totally his fault because my blinker was working (I was moving the lever up and down as usual!), but he chose to zoom past me on the left as I made a left turn.

I have a few fond memories of friends in The Beast aka The Booger aka The Banana aka Marvin the Martian. Oh, and did I mention the three letters on my license plate were RAR? That’s right. Raaaaarrr! What a beast. The Malibu declined significantly in those four years, including this wonderful squealing sound that was enhanced in the summertime as well as a tendency for the engine to blow smoke out from under the hood upon my arrival to school in the mornings. There might have been an oil leak or something. I certainly wasn’t driving too fast to make it to school on time! :) Oh, and it died at every stop sign on the way to town and I would have to pop it into neutral and roar it to life again. Good times.

But, alas, The Beast wasn’t going to make it to college with me, so I began searching for a new car and soon became obsessed with Monte Carlos. Dad and I found a silver, 1997 Monte Carlo in Frankfort with only 67,000 miles on it. We checked it out while at the Regional track meet that year, and then we bought it towards the end of May. I put all my graduation money down on it.
That car got me through ten years, three moves, and another 147,000 miles. What a blessing to not have a car payment as I started my new teaching career! I put up with the Monte (it wasn’t special enough to get a name) for another four years after I decided I’d like to buy a new car. I decided to pay as much cash as I possibly could for it. It took awhile to find the right deal, yet I had little anxiety over driving a car with 214,000 miles on it because my brother is my mechanic and I took really good care of the Monte.

A few weeks ago, I bought a 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee with only 30,000 miles on it (what a steal!), and using the power of cash (thanks, Dave Ramsey!), talked the guy down $1600 on the price. I’m so pleased to have found such a good deal! And the best part is that I don’t have to walk to the passenger side to unlock the vehicle (I didn’t know what I was missing without keyless entry!), it doesn’t die at every stop sign, no smoke rolls out from under the hood, and I never hit my head as I get into the vehicle. Plus, there’s a sunroof. And it’s red! I’m so thankful for my Jeep! :)

 

 

 

Este es una regala . . .

“This is a gift. . . ” That’s what I got to say to the house mothers at the orphanage on our last night there as I handed them some money from our group. Yet, as I handed them that gift, I was sure I felt more blessed than they did. One week working at the children’s home in Mexico gave me more joy and peace than I’ve felt in a long while. Kids who do not get quite enough individual attention will cling to you, and I was so happy to be able to provide them with some love, if only for a week! They are very well cared for at this orphanage, which has two floors of apartment style rooms, is safe from the often dangerous streets of Reynosa, and gives them opportunities for education and enrichment they wouldn’t have dreamed of if they were still out on the street or in the unfortunate family situations they came from.

This trip was unlike other trips I’ve been on because we stayed in the same place all week with the people we were serving, which provided many more opportunities for relationships to develop. I wished I could have packed up a set of 4-year old twins (if it were legal to adopt them) and brought them back to Kansas as well as a few teenage girls who have high hopes for their education. Never before have I connected so much with the people in a different country. Another reason why I loved this experience was that I got to use my Spanish. It’s amazing how much of it comes back to you when you haven’t used it in a while! I could communicate fairly well with the workers, but even better with the kids who knew quite a bit of English. Being the nerdy English major that I am, I suppose I got more joy out of this than most would. (I kept asking the kids grammatical questions: what is the difference between por and para? When do I need to use ser vs. estar?–stuff I had forgotten since my last Spanish class eight years ago!) I hope I can learn it better for the next time I travel down to Reynosa!!

Obviously, I want to go back. Perhaps this summer? Definitely next Spring. Maybe this Christmas? I would gladly give up part of my Christmas vacation to go see these wonderful kids and the workers at the orphanage again.Our church goes there every spring break, and we also have the opportunity to sponsor the children on a monthly basis. I can’t wait to find out who needs to be sponsored so that I can once again say, “Este es una regala para ti porque yo te ama.”