8.09.2011

I LEFT MY HEART IN SIERRA LEONE - pt.1

It is entirely impossible for me to adequately describe here on this blog the experience that I had during my short but life-changing time that I recently spent in West Africa.
However, I owe it to myself and to my African "broddas and sistahs" and to you, my dear readers to give it a good try. 
A few months ago, my sister Brooke and I started talking about the possibility of visiting my parents who are on a mission in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa.
The idea of it was so daunting. The passports and visas mess...the shots and immunization headache, the leaving our families nightmare...not to mention the cost of the trip.

I wasn't even sure if it was possible to go.

Then about a month ago, Brooke sent me a text that said "Hila, we need to get serious about going, or all of this will be a distant memory." 

We booked our tickets the next day.  My little brother Josh decided he couldn't pass up the opportunity to hang out with his two sister, so he booked a third ticket.  
And after that, everything started to fall into place. Here I am opening my overnighted, expedited, hand-delivered Fed-Exed Visa...rushed straight from DC.
Not a moment too soon.  
 
Yes, I enjoyed watching Brooke winch and yelp while getting her Yellow Fever and Typhoid shots.
 Poor baby.     

The morning of our big departure I woke up at 5:00 am, after finally going to bed somewhere around 3:00 am. I left a million things undone,
but crossed my fingers that my family would survive without me.  
We met Josh at Brooke's house early morning, loaded the luggage, said a few goodbye's, kissed the babies and wiped away a few tears. 
This was Dean's reaction when I told him that I wanted to have more children...
               Just kidding.
 this was Dean's reaction when I mentioned that I forgot to leave him any money in the account.  
  
So with that we were off;


                                                leaving sleepy Salt Lake...New York bound.

 The first stop in Salt Lake at the Delta gate, we were basically told that our tickets were invalid and there was nothing they could do. After a frustrating 45 minutes...a magical button was pushed and we were raced to the front of the long line, 
through security and boarded the plane. blah, blah, blah....crowded, stinky, uncomfortable flight....finally landing at JFK.  

The big problem was that we had about two hours to haul all of our luggage and ourselves from JFK over to Newark to catch our international flight.
A seemingly impossible task. 


Josh wanted to curl up in a ball and cry...but Brooke and I picked him up off the filthy New York street...took charge, hailed a cab...and told the cabby in our best Jersey accent that we weren't going to pay a penny over flat fee and he better get us there in time.  
(just beyond this tree is a view of rainy Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty) So now I can say I've been to New York. I was in awe of the city and just thrilled to be in a cab driving on the outskirts of the Big Apple. Yeah, it doesn't take a lot to impress me. Just ask Dean.  
 The cabby must have been so scared of two little white girls from Utah...
that he got us to Newark with time to spare.  
One little plug for awesome Airfrance. Even though they are partners with Delta....night and day difference my friends, night and day. 
It also helped that we all made a small upgrade to business class!
Well worth my children's college fund. 
Kidding. It was Brooke's idea.
 The flight over from Newark to Paris and from Paris to Conakry,Guinea and from Conakry to Sierra Leone  was uneventful.
A little sleeping, writing, movie watching, people watching etc.   
At one point during the flight as I thought about my upcoming adventure...
I wondered if the flight over was going to be the highlight of my trip. That seriously crossed my mind.
Little did I know what was in store for me.
So with only about a dozen passengers on board, and a bit of turbulence...
we landed the big bird on the African soil known as the Lungi airport.
The differences between the Paris airport from which we had just left and the Lungi airport were drastic.
           Paris:
Lungi: 
Also, one of the first things that hit me, like a slap in the face was the heat and humidity.
 It was stifling, huh Brooke. 
 The three of us were ushered through baggage claims, customs, health services, border security, and finally set free. Feeling a little shell shocked we turned the corner and there..they..were!
My missionary parents! Healthier and happier than ever.
I went to give my Dad a hug and he stopped me cold, waving me off saying that we needed to hurry and get out of there. The craziness of Lungi airport was starting to close in all around us.
Once we were away from the shouting, frenzied masses who were pulling at our luggage and claiming to be our friends, we were finally able to say our proper hello's and load the luggage into the truck. 
Before long though, the little Ford truck was speeding down the road towards the wharf with the five of us white people inside. 
(us three greenies from the states...and two natives who look white but actually claim to bleed black.) 
 Right away I was overcome by the sights, sounds and smells of this new world.
All things that I still can't describe, but yet hope to never forget.
 We were quite a spectacle. Not so much Mom and Dad, but definitely me and Brooke and Josh. Everyone pointed and called out to me as we drove by "white woman! white woman!" 

These two little boys came right up as we walked down the wharf to tug a little at my heart strings. They hugged me, called me "Auntie" and then made a gesture with their fists to their mouths. My mom said that they wanted something to eat. 
I gave them each a piece of taffy and then they requested that I "snap them".
Which means to take their picture. Brooke and I asked them to show their muscles for the picture which looking back was a very touristy thing to do.  

Soon after that we met the boys.
 (affectionately dubbed "Utes"....meaning "Youth" in Krio)
They are a group a boys in the area who have endeared themselves to my Mom and Dad. My parents have taught and baptized some of the boys, and some of the others just like to go out and teach missionary lesson with my parents. Either way they are the absolute most darling, kind, funny, obedient and handsome boys you will ever hope to meet. 
Usually they dress up in white shirts and ties, carrying their scriptures and copies of the Liahona. On this day they made the hour long Ferry ride to Lungi to meet the three of us at the wharf. 
Each individual boy was amazing. I have laid awake at night trying to think of a way to bring them all home with me. Right away we were bonded with these boys. After a minute or two I felt like saying "oh there you are..." As if we had been friends before. As if we all belonged together in the same family.  
 The boys love my parents and have taken good care of them over the past year. 
After we boarded our Ferry, I looked over and saw a few of the other boys over on the crowded "working man's ferry." They could not afford the higher ticket price for our ferry. It broke my heart, but the little sweethearts just happily waved to us. I wanted to trade them places. 
After forty minutes or so on the ferry...Sierra Leone, 
specifically Freetown was coming into view.
Brooke talked me in to stepping out of the bough of the ship to take a picture. The boys looked nervously on as I pretended to be Kate Winslet on the Titanic.
 Everybody was so impressed.
 Once we docked and unloaded, just as I thought that my eyes had seen all there was to see for the day...  
until I took my first step out on the streets of Freetown into a alternate universe.
Something that I wish for every person within the sound of my voice.
 A bit reminiscent of the west side of Provo.

People were as enthralled and amazed at us as we were with them. They pointed and shouted and stared.
 The boys gathered round Elder Neves' truck, took a little teasing and dished out a little, then cheerfully said goodbye.
Josh remarked to us as the boys walked away up the streets towards home that he hated to just leave them. I felt the same. Brooke hinted around that she didn't even miss her kids now with the boys around. We had grown eternally attached to these boys within the first hour of meeting them.  It was remarkable to me.
We later settled in to sleep that night at the end of a very long couple of days. We started out the day before in Utah, crossed several time zones and ended up the next night a world away. Mom made her famous homemade chili and cornbread...comforts of home. While Dad and Josh set up the mosquito nets.

We were in Africa! it felt like a dream. That first night Josh, Brooke and I laid awake on our mattresses under our mosquito nets (a little jet-lagged I'm sure,) talking quietly about our adventure thus far.

Inevitably, my mind stopped spinning, my eyes grew weary and I fell asleep and dreamed American dreams while breathing African air. 
(to be continued...)

2 comments:

Nick and Amera said...

Hilary. Unbelieveable. You have such a great way with words! I was completely in awe reading this post. Those little handsome black boys....I would do anything to bring them home with me too. So humbling! Wow.... I love the part saying "this is Deans face when you told him you wantd more children." hahahhahah Man, you crack me up. I love you. I loved this post. I love your parents. I cant wait to read more. What a fabulous once in a lifetime experience!!! Im still just in awe. You write so well, it makes the readers feel like they can feel your passion of this trip. Love you.

Tracie B said...

HILARY! I have been waiting patiently for you to blog about your trip! I cant wait to hear the rest of your adventure. I am so happy you were able to go and the money spent is worth every penny even though you can think of a million things you could have spent it on. I can't wait to hear how Dean and the kids held up while you were gone!

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