Well, I’ve been home since Friday night but I haven’t written a new blog post yet. Honestly, I’ve been avoiding it because I still feel rather raw from my trip. And when I feel that way, writing becomes a little scary because filters are not in place and I might say everything I feel. That probably wouldn’t be a good thing.
I’m not saying that what I’m feeling is bad. It’s not. I know that if I felt numb and unaffected, that would be worse. And I don’t feel raw in that I’m crying or super emotional. I just feel like there are so many thoughts and feelings jumbled up inside of me and I can’t quite get them sorted out yet. It was a fabulous trip in that we accomplished so much. But it was also a hard trip for me on an emotional level and I haven’t figured all that out yet. And I’m the type that likes to have everything all figured out before I talk about it.
But I promised I’d write by today, so here goes.
Sierra Leone is a beautiful, devastating place. It is raw in itself. Maybe that’s why I feel raw. As you drive the rutted red-dirt roads in Freetown, you can picture what it could be. You see the palm trees and the ocean and you think, “If I squint and look at this through my lashes, this looks like a resort area.” But then you open your eyes wide and see the trash lined roads, the burned out buildings, the shanty-type buildings that cover the valley below and you just feel sad.
Then, you travel several hours into the country, passing village after village and you no longer feel like you arrived by airplane. It’s more like you took a time machine back a few hundred years. The houses are mud or occasionally cinderblock with thatch roofs. The roads are dirt. There is no electricity or indoor plumbing except at the few industrial sites. There are no refrigerators, stoves, air-conditioners, kitchen sinks, personal vehicles, lights, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers or any of the modern conveniences that we use every day without thought. It’s mind-blowing for westernized people like us.
But they know nothing else and they make it work. And if it were just a lack of modern conveniences that they suffered with, I wouldn’t be so heart-broken. But it’s more than that. It’s the basic things that are needed for health that they are lacking. That’s what really gets to me. When I follow them through a winding jungle path to their water source and it looks like this:
…that’s when I get upset. This isn’t right. I’m so thankful to be part of the solution. But I still get upset that I have to walk away from their village without fixing the problem immediately.
At one village as I was filling out an assessment form, I was explaining to the chief and his people how the water is what is making them sick. And I saw them vigorously nod in agreement. They knew. (This wasn’t always the case…sometimes they just had no idea.) There were a couple young men in this village that totally knew what was going on. They understood fully that their water was deadly and yet they had no choice but to drink it. The chief’s son, Albert, took us along a winding pathway to their water source. As we came out of the jungle the view opened up on large sand colored rocks overlooking a slow-moving stream. I walked to the edge of the rock and looked down at the women doing wash in the water that they also drink from. It had a bluish-green tint to it…the soap was evident in the water but I knew that was not the only contaminant. Albert asked through a sideways smile, “Would you like a drink?” I laughed even though it made me want to cry. He knew I would never drink from that water and yet I knew that he would be drinking from it later that day.
We were able to leave them with a filter that will clean that stream water one bucket at a time. I was thankful we could leave that because at least a few people will get clean water until we can get a well into that village. But I also knew it was not enough. Even knowing that they will very likely get a well within the year, my heart was broken as we pulled away. Sometimes you connect with people in a short period of time. I had connected with Albert and his friends. My tears came fast and furious because it hurt to leave my new friends knowing that their life was so hard and I couldn’t fix it.
That is such an uncomfortable feeling. To be surrounded by incredible need, day in and day out and not be able to fix it. Here, in the U.S., we fix things. If something is broken, we repair it. If someone needs something, we provide it. If we can’t repair something, we buy a new one. I realize there is poverty here, too. I realize that everyone has problems and issues that they deal with. I’m not making light of that. I’m just trying to help you imagine how different things are over there. It is a level of poverty and need that no one in America can fathom unless they have witnessed it. And being immersed in it for a couple weeks…it just makes a person feel raw. That’s where I’m at today. I’ll have more to share as I unravel all my thoughts. I’ll have fun stories and sad ones but for today…this is what I’ve got. Thanks for reading, friends. 🙂