Singing and breaking glass

It’s hard to believe we’re leaving in four days. The trip so far has been a bit of a blur, every day packed with activity and always, always with something new to take in. We are pushing to see and do as much as we possibly can before we go.

We’re back at the familiar Hotel 5-10 in Freetown. Yesterday morning we had our last breakfast at Doha’s, joined by a few early-rising wedding guests who looked like they were feeling the consequences of a night well spent. Then we headed off to church (with a brief detour after I realized I still had the hotel room key in my pocket.) This was the same old church in Bo that Dorcas, Joel, Julie and the rest used to go to sometimes when they lived in Manjama.

The service was a special one, with a graduation ceremony for about a dozen women from the UMWO Skills Training Center nearby, who had completed a course either in tailoring or in fabric dyeing. It was full of excitement, a dozen songs and hymns, and passionate sermons (and, I’m told, was much longer than a typical church service in the US.) The German missionary family we met at the orphanage was also there, and both our family and theirs were given special mention and thanks. Dorcas, Joel, and Julie were given the honor of handing out  prizes for kids in the congregation for completion of some part of Sunday school.

Then a long travel day through the wilderness and villages from Bo back to Freetown. There’s a fuel shortage so we weren’t able to get gas in Bo, but stopped along the way to buy some which we poured into the tank through a funnel. At every stop there were women and kids trying to sell us pineapples, oranges, sweet rice powder, and yams. I woke up from a nap to find we were back in the traffic and action of Freetown: hillsides covered with colorful metal-roofed houses, shops by the side of the road selling wooden beds, foam, auto parts, stone pillars, etc., beauty “saloons,” taxis labeled West Ward and East Ward, vans with cryptic or religious painted slogans on their silver-tinted back windshields: “Oh Lovers,” “Enemy Shame,” “God Is Great,” “Nice Four.” Then back to the 5-10. As we arrived, we sang the song we’ve sung the most, the one that every Christian in Sierra Leone knows (and pardon my attempt at Krio spelling): “Tell um tankee tell um, tell Papa God tankee. Tell um tankee tell um, tell Papa God tankee. What he do for me, we gon’ tell um tankee. What he do for me, we gon’ tell um tankee. Tell um tankee tell um, tell Papa God tankee.”

We relaxed in the courtyard a bit before dinner and were rejoined by Emily, the health journalist and newest (possibly unwilling) member of our family who came with us to River Number Two beach. She told us about her time in Freetown interviewing Ebola survivors and we told her about our time in Yonibana, Bo, and Manjama. At dinner, Abu Bakarr (a local who has been with our team, working with John) brought his brother and wife and sang some beautiful songs for us.

This morning we headed back to Ginger Hall to begin our work there for the week. We were unsure what to expect after leaving some loose ends last week, but were happy to find that Reverend Henry Macavoray had done his homework and was prepared for us. He had put together a budget for the project to replace all the broken and missing windows at the school. This included finding a welder to add latches to the windows and repair the school’s gate and a damaged railing, and locating the only shop in Freetown and maybe the country that sells the Plexiglass windows we wanted. We gave the welder the money he needed for materials and met with the team, Reverend Henry, Jemima, the other head teachers, and Mr. Kamara, the school’s community organizer, to discuss the project. We weren’t sure we could fund the whole thing but decided to start anyway and discuss the financial details tonight.

So we spent the day smashing and removing the partially broken panes of glass in the windows of the second floor classrooms, as well as the ancient rock-like putty that held them in place. I was not as adept at chiseling with a hammer and screwdriver as some but I enjoyed shattering and pulling gigantic shards of glass from the frames, wearing heavy gloves. We were quite a curiosity to the kids who walked by on the path behind the school, who probably wondered why we were destroying the few windows they  had left. Everybody was involved: the whole team, Reverend Henry, the school’s custodian, even a few volunteers who showed up to work with us. The work picked up pace over the afternoon, a carnival of smashing, pulling, chiseling, prying, brushing, and sweeping to get these frames empty of glass and putty so they’d be ready for the new panes.

It was exhausting work and we went back to the hotel sweaty, covered in dirt and tiny bits of glass, bleeding from small cuts, and still not sure how much of the project we’d be able to fund and finish. We showered and played some cards, had another excellent 5-10 dinner with our familiar server Nancy, and then discussed our options. I was happy to learn from Don and Marilyn that the team’s resources for the trip are not yet depleted, and with their go-ahead we decided we had enough to fully fund materials for the windows if we can get a guarantee from Reverend Henry that the school will finish installing them if we run out of time.

Tomorrow we’re visiting a chimpanzee reserve and the US Embassy to meet the ambassador, so it should be an exciting morning. Then meeting Reverend Henry for lunch at the Crown Bakery and heading back to Ginger Hall to work in the afternoon. But right now it’s time for me to get to bed, where I’m sure I’ll be dreaming about pulling shards of glass from endless metal frames.

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