The hospital, market, church, beach, projects, and everything else…

Whew. It’s been an action-packed and overwhelming couple of days. We drive everywhere in two (or three) silver SUVs with our drivers: Victor, Augustine, and today Ibrahim. Freetown traffic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, motorcycles weaving between vans and endless taxis, pedestrians navigating a one foot-wide strip of pavement between a narrow road and a deep concrete ditch beside it, tiny alleys between a jumble of buildings in every style and state of disrepair. Today I watched a motorcycle break the side mirror off a parked car. But our drivers are as skilled as they could possibly be and we’ve navigated every situation without any incident other than occasional glares and gestures.

Yesterday we headed to Kissy Hospital after breakfast, where some of us will be working this week. We toured the grounds and met a lot of very friendly people: an administrator, an electrician, and the head doctor there. Also met Roger and Melanie, a couple of other UMC volunteers who are working there (and Melanie gave a sermon at church today.) Julie will be helping sort through medical supplies that have just arrived, and Harry and John will be helping repair two generators. The hospital is a collection of buildings with wards for childbirth, childhood medicine, AIDS, surgery, physical therapy, and many others, along with a blood lab, pharmacy, and separate eye hospital. We also had a chance to visit Dr. Gess, a remarkable man and an old friend of my grandparents. He’s 94 and on his 94th trip to Africa, and Dorcas, Joel, and Julie knew him when they were kids here. He’s an eye doctor, and gave Dorcas her first pair of glasses all those years ago.

We had lunch at the Crown Bakery, where the kebbeh and stew with jollof rice (or “rice chop”) sent the Sierra Leoneans among us into paroxysms of nostalgic gustatory delight. After that some of us went to a huge market to haggle with locals over handicrafts: carvings, drums, bracelets, and so on. Everybody wants you to visit their stall so it’s a lot to take in. Augustine helped us with the bargaining process. We made it back after a long ride through heavy traffic (including a cow being led along a city street.)

I’ve decided to join the education team in Yonibana (Marilyn, Joel, and Hannah, plus teammates we have yet to meet) rather than sticking with the medical team here in Freetown. I think it will put my (limited) strengths to better use. So the four of us convened to sort through supplies and discuss the workshops. We are focusing on leadership training for teachers, and my dad and Hannah both have a solid background for that.

Today we woke up to head early to Brown Methodist Church, which is right next to the hospital. We met a health journalist, Emily, who is staying in our hotel and working with Dr. Gess, and who decided to join us for the day. Before the service we were able to visit the pre-natal and post-natal wards, where some of the cutest babies in the world were sleeping. The service was full of joy and singing, with sermons and prayers from Melanie and Dr. Gess, plus a special thanks for those of us on this trip from the pastor. After the service we took a long drive out of the city to River Number 2 Beach, a beautiful tropical paradise where we ate oranges, lobster, crab, shrimp et cetera, and body-surfed some good waves. It was interesting to get out of the city and see some people going about their rural lives: pounding rocks into gravel, selling hardware, carrying water, going to a funeral in an endless procession on foot.

Back at the hotel we discovered a wedding going on in the back courtyard, an elaborate gathering with red and gold and white outfits. One of the hotel staff led Jeremy and me down there and we hung out for a while, watching the celebration (which involved a lot of dancing and some auto-tuned singing.) Eventually the two of us were dancing too, with a couple of local guys, and were stared and smiled at by an alarming number of guests – partially, I imagine, because we were the only white faces there. Sierra Leone is probably the most racially homogenous country I’ve ever seen.

Then met with the team to discuss tomorrow’s events: Dorcas is meeting with representatives of local groups to discuss the prospects for Days for Girls, with Hannah for support, and the rest of us are going to meet with Smart Senesie and other local partners to discuss the Ginger Hall project. It looks like we won’t have the space or money for a UDDT, so we’re hoping to replace the existing pit latrine with another that won’t contaminate groundwater and will be regularly pumped.

I’ve been taking tons of pictures with my real camera, which you’ll see when I come back from the trip. Until then you’ll have to be satisfied with the occasional iPhone shot. Unfortunately pictures are refusing to upload tonight so you’ll have to use your imagination. I’m hoping to post another update tomorrow before we head to Yonibana and possibly no internet for several days. Good night!

– Luke




We’re here! We had a beautiful flight over the snow-dusted mountains of Spain, the desert coast of Morocco, the endless Sahara, and finally a thick tropical haze that hid everything. The descent was surreal. At first the only thing we could see was the muted red sun glancing off occasional water, then hints of land: a dirt road, the vague contour of a coastline. The world materialized into narrow rivers winding through jungle, alternating with open brown water. Finally, details: a few colorful houses, long wooden boats, kids playing soccer in the dust. We touched down on a palm tree-lined runway near an ancient abandoned plane, and walked out into the dense, hot air.

Immigration and customs went smoothly and we met a local guide, Ibrahim, who told us Don, our trip’s organizer, was waiting for us outside. We made it out of the airport after luggage master Jeremy accounted for all 15 checked bags, numbered and marked with colorful ribbons. We were glad to meet Don, partly because he was the only way we knew where to go. We got into a van and went down a bumpy road to a long pier and a half-hour motorboat ride from Lungi Island to Freetown as the sun set. And the last leg, an hour’s car ride through the chaos and traffic of Freetown: constant horns, mopeds, streets dense with people selling food, standing at storefronts to watch movies playing on big screens, carrying anything and everything on their heads. And fascinating cultural details of an unfamiliar world, some of them painful to see: posters about AIDS and Ebola and sexual violence, patriotic murals, hand-painted ads for car parts. And at last to our destination, the Hotel 5-10, where we  dropped our bags after (in my case) 26 hours of traveling, and for most of us an even longer trip than that. We had a late spaghetti dinner thanks to the hotel staff, met our teammate John, briefly discussed the upcoming work at Kissy Hospital and Ginger Hall, and then fell into bed. This morning we met Don’s wife Marilyn at breakfast, and are about to head into town to do some shopping before a visit to the hospital. Pictures are very slow to upload so I’m only including one for now. Until next time!

– Luke

A brief stay in Brussels

Hello devoted readers,

The Bradford crew has united and made it safely across the Atlantic to Brussels, more than halfway on our long journey to Freetown. Some came from L.A., some from Seattle, and some from Boston, but we joined forces in Washington, D.C. for the long last two legs of our journey.

Most of us slept for the majority of the flight, including Dorcas who managed to fall asleep mid-bite with her hand still grasping a roll shortly after dinner was served. In Brussels, after briefly getting separated and lost and going through security again (probably due to a deficit of caffeine in our systems) all we have to do is wait five hours and maybe have some breakfast. My next update will be from Freetown! Until then, enjoy this shot of the snow as we flew into D.C.:


Counting down the days!


On Thursday, my family is off to Sierra Leone for a two-week adventure. Wish us luck!

Cast of characters: me (Luke) a yuppie from the suburbs working in music software; my father Joel, a motorcycle-riding B.S. M.S.T. and all-around badass who has had careers in pea-vining, engineering, childcare, and education; my aunt Dorcas, a former short-order cook, dump truck and steamroller operator, and current civil engineer; my aunt Julie, a lifelong nurse and current nurse practitioner working in primary care; my uncle Harry, a diesel mechanic and raisin farmer who can handle more spice in his food than any man alive; my cousin Jeremy, a laid-back gym bro who parties even harder than he lifts; and my cousin Hannah, who studied history, social studies, and education, and runs a church youth group. Joel, Dorcas, and Julie haven’t been in Sierra Leone since 1969, and the rest of us have never been there.

What are we doing there? Good question. We’re going to be working on a latrine system for a public school in Freetown which you can read more about here, distributing Days for Girls kits, and my dad and Julie will be giving health and education seminars. I’ll be documenting the trip and doing my best to make myself useful however I can. The trip is being organized through the United Methodist Church by Don and Marilyn Griffith, who have been organizing service projects in Sierra Leone for several years.

My grandparents were missionaries in Sierra Leone in the 1950s and 60s, and my dad and his siblings were raised there. My grandfather Lester had a career in tropical agroforestry, running experimental projects for sustainable farming: building fish ponds, raising chickens, pigs, and rabbits, trying out new varieties of rice, and planting a teak orchard. My grandmother Winnie worked as a doctor, operating a well-baby clinic and an obstetric clinic, and treating whatever illness and injury she could. So this trip is hugely meaningful to all of us. For Dorcas, Joel, and Julie, this is a chance to go home.

Along with the projects we’re working on, we’ll have an opportunity to visit Manjama, where my father was born and where my grandmother ran her clinic. Apart from that, we’ll be making a lot of friends, taking in the culture, the landscape, the food, and in general getting a chance to experience this beautiful country for the first time or for the first time in decades!

Internet permitting, I’ll be updating this blog as we go and posting some pictures from my phone, and after I get home I’ll post all the pictures I’ll be taking with my camera.

Bye for now! Expect an update on Thursday sometime during our 16 hours of flying.

– Luke