Somehow, we’ve ended up at our last day in Sierra Leone. We fly at 7 tonight.
The past two days have been filled with hard work at Ginger Hall. On Wednesday, Dorcas was able to give her Days for Girls presentation to a group of students and teachers there, while I hung out to take photos. The girls were very happy to receive their kits and enjoyed the physical self-defense part of the presentation. Dorcas had two teachers to translate into Krio for her to make sure the girls really understood everything.
Apart from that, we’ve been all hands on deck working on windows. The core crew of locals included Pa Koroma, the head custodian (who Dorcas nicknamed “Thinking Man”, and whose name we frequently sung to the tune of “My Sharona”), Prince (or “Tall Guy”), the son of a teacher, Junior, another volunteer, our drivers Victor and Kabi, and Reverend Henry.
The guys from the glass shop showed up at the school to cut panes on Wednesday morning. Initially they didn’t want to use my dad’s and Hannah’s measurements of all the panes, and instead held up sheets of Plexiglass to the metal frames and marked their sizes by hand. Their cutting method was to heat a windshield wiper blade over a small charcoal pit and then melt slowly through the Plexiglass. Luckily Harry and my dad were able to convince them to measure and mark the sheets with a pen and cut them with a saw, which took a very long time but was much more precise than the melting method. All the panes are 43 1/2 cm wide and 27 1/2, 28 1/2, or 29 cm tall, numbers that are now permanently burned into my brain.
In addition to cutting the panes, we had to massage and roll the glazing putty to get it soft enough to work with, and chip any remaining bits of glass and old putty from the frames. Then find a pane for a particular spot, slip (or jam) it in, press lines of glazing putty around it, and clean up the edges with a putty knife to make them straight. There are 704 panes total so there was no shortage of work. I bounced around doing different tasks. My least successful effort was at sawing the Plexiglass, which I attempted only once and created a half-inch crack immediately, and my best was at peeling the paper skin from the finished panes, which I could usually do in a single clean pull. Harry is a wizard at all things manual, and was the team MVP at sawing and glazing, who we’d be lost without.
They were long, hot days of work. We were mobbed by kids, who got very excited whenever I pulled out my camera, and at times would surround me, touch and pull on my arms, and repeat my name again and again (though many of them thought it was “Leo.”) They all wanted their picture taken, saying “Snap me! Snap me!” If they got to be too much for me, Pa Koroma would come and make them scatter by brandishing his stick. They were also eager to help us, and by the end they were peeling the panes and helping us pick up trash.
We had a touching closing ceremony before we left the school yesterday, with many thanks from Leonard and gifts from the head teachers. The kids lined up in front of the school’s balcony and sang and applauded for us. We could barely get to the cars, they were so wild and eager to surround us. The gratitude of the students and teachers was wonderful to see, and I feel good about the amount we were able to get done, though it’s nowhere near finished. Reverend Henry is taking on the responsibility of finishing the project, and has all the materials he needs.
Then back to the old 5-10 for a final dinner. Leonard stopped by with his wife Daisy and gave us more generous gifts, beautiful, colorful Sierra Leonean shirts and bags, before we said our tearful goodbyes. We had a communion service led by Don after dinner (my first communion), dipping bread into Vimto and trying to hear over the raucous noise of the Pentecostal church next door. We’ve just finished our last breakfast and are almost packed up and ready to head out, for an easy day of shopping and lunch in Freetown before we head to the ferry. Expect an update from Brussels as we kill time during our layover and I try to process all that’s happened on this trip. It’s sad to be leaving this amazing country, after all the fun we’ve had and friends we’ve made. What an adventure. Thanks for reading, and bye for now!