Sunday, September 20, 2009

Traveling mercies

(tenth and last of a series)

Shortly before leaving Makeni for Bo in the southern region of Sierra Leone, a few people, including 2 pastors and their wives, arrived at the staff house to see us off. They wished us traveling mercies. Our host prayed for us and then we took off in the same bus that brought us to Makeni. We loaded less supplies this time. But we now had my suitcase, which arrived while we were in Makeni.



The bus we contracted to take us from Freetown to Makeni and Bo


The first hour of the trip was smooth. Then we reached a junction where we were stopped by police at a checkpoint. I heard the police say that the road was very bad. We proceeded anyway.

For the next 3 hours, we traveled on rugged dirt road in the middle of vast fields. Occasionally, we passed by clusters of homes. But for the most part, there was just nature.







I saw few vehicles on this road traversing the middle of Sierra Leone. There were SUVs that would have no problem with this road condition. We were on an old mini-bus.

This is not a good place to experience a vehicle breakdown, I thought to myself. I remembered the pastors who sent us off. Those blessings for a safe trip, I receive them all, I prayed silently. The phrase traveling mercies gained new meaning for me.



What a way to Bo!


It started to rain around 4pm. I didn't know how far we were from our destination but it certainly felt like we had been driving forever with no end in sight. With the rains, the roads got muddier. Oh no...

Thankfully, we got to Bo in less than an hour after it started raining. Our bus made it safely! Thank You, Lord, for Your traveling mercies.

The staff house in Bo was not big enough to accommodate all of us. We were billeted in a new guesthouse instead. When I first entered my room, I felt so relieved to have a real bedroom with its own bathroom and a toilet that flushed. I don't know how long I sat on the bed just enjoying the comfort. I savoured the moment. Ahhhh...

Our project in Bo had its own challenges. We were already feeling the stress of the job and it was taking a toll on our bodies. But we gotta do what we gotta do, and we did it, with the help of God. We were able to finish well ahead of schedule. Our team left Bo a week earlier and went back to Freetown.

The road from Bo to Freetown was much better than the interior road we took from Makeni to Bo. There were more communities and structures along the way too. We stopped at a small market place somewhere. Children selling produce approached our windows.





When I started taking pictures, more children came. "Apatu, snap me! Snap me!" they said. I had heard that word before when I was in Makeni and walking on the street alone. Children called out, "Apatu!" I just smiled or waved at them. What could they be saying? I wondered. I didn't really care to know, just in case it was insulting.





But here in our mini-bus, I got curious and asked our local companions what apatu meant.

"It means 'white person'," he said. Me white? I found that amusing.

Back in Freetown, we spent the first day contacting our office in Canada and the US to get our tickets changed. We had nothing much to do but wait for our departure.

Finally, the day came. I was happy to be at the airport again, eager to go back to my family and to Canada. I thanked God our work in Sierra Leone was completed, I got my suitcase back, and I gained new Sierra Leonean friends.

Thank God for His traveling mercies.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A shack experience

(Ninth of a series)


The night we arrived in Makeni, it was quite dark at the staff house/office we would be staying at. The little battery-operated white lights above the dining table were weaker than a 5-watt bulb. It took my eyes a little while to adjust to the faint lights over a meal of bread and cheese for dinner while having a team meeting on the work ahead.

Afterward, our hosts prepared our rooms. My two colleagues shared one, and I had one adjacent to theirs. We were each provided with a mattress with a bed sheet that we had bought in Freetown. I dumped my things on the floor, laid in bed. This is comfortable foam. Never mind the plastic cover, I thought. It was stuffy with the windows shut, but I was wary of mosquitoes so I kept them that way. Besides I was afraid of what was outside those windows. My imagination started to work. I prayed and dozed off.

In the morning, I saw my room better. I can live with this. It may not be the best but, hey, you've got to be a trouper in this kind of work. I will be out the whole day anyway, I thought. I hung the clothes that I bought in Freetown on the clotheslines near the ceiling. I opened the windows to check out the outside--a path, lots of plants, a wide unkempt lot, a shed and a few houses about 100 metres away--to let some fresh air into my warm and humid room.

It did not have many mosquitoes. Instead there were tiny ants crawling on the floor and on my mattress. I saw two creepy crawlies on the window ledge too that looked like small cockroaches but not quite. I was told there was also what my colleague recognized as the bug that caused the Nairobi Eye. I closed my windows shut again.



My bedroom for the next 8 days.

After breakfast of bread, cheese, tea and occasional eggs everyday, we left the staff house and did our work up a hill. We came back no earlier than 7pm. After dinner of bread, cheese, tea and occasional canned food or plantains, I went to my room.

Now what? Too early to sleep and nothing to do. I was grateful to have a laptop. I journaled the events of the day and did my official reports till I became sleepy.

I brought a couple of books to read in addition to the Holy Bible. One was Paul Young's The Shack, a fictional book that I had been trying to read for a long time, and Grace Walk by Steve McVey.

As you might recall, I started reading from Isaiah 40 back in Freetown. The chapters after that repeatedly gave me assurances of God's protection, power, greatness, and compassion... Verses were jumping off the pages and coming alive.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Is. 41:10)


I found The Shack compelling and riveting. I don't want to give away the plot but encourage you to read it and judge for yourself. This book gave me fresh insights into God and pain and tragedies in life. I cried buckets. Good grief.

The book showed me how much more about God there is to know, how He is way greater than religion and the box we have put Him in. It stirred in me a desire for the intimacy He wants with me. Papa...

And so in my dark and humid sorry-looking room, I spent many sweet moments listening to and talking with the God of the universe. Sometimes I ranted and cried for the pain I had seen and tasted in my own life and dear ones' lives, and then cried some more realizing that He was and is in the midst of all of that bringing hope and redemption to the ugliness and messiness of life. Sometimes I was just awed by the great unconditional love He has for me, and that there was nothing I can do so that He will love me more. Overwhelming!

The Christian life is an impossible life, so the saying goes. There is no way I can live it but to let Christ live it out in and through me, which is what He wants to do in the first place.

In my previous entries, I wrote a series called Pampered. This time I wanted to experience the intimate pampering, so to speak, that I can have as a child of the Heavenly Father.

Here in this "shack" I experienced many moments with a loving yet sovereign God who gave His Son for me. I would not have been in a better place.

Papa...

(Next, Traveling mercies)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Papa

(Eighth of a series)

I had the opportunity to attend two churches in Makeni. The first one was an indigenous church established 10 years ago by four young men without help from missionaries. The pastor, who was involved in our project, invited me to attend there on my first Sunday in Makeni. My two American colleagues attended the church of our dialogue director.

I went to this church after my stint at the radio station. It had a very humble structure that the members themselves were gradually building. At least they owned the property located between a residential area and a field.

I arrived towards the end of Sunday School and was ushered to the front where there were two chairs on the left side facing the altar. I was asked to sit on one. The other chair was for the pastor for when he was not speaking.

I felt very undeserving of such special place. I don't deserve nor want this honour. I'd rather sit at the back. Feeling very humbled, I obliged. That was how they wanted it and I was learning to just go with the flow.

More people started coming for the main service, which was called divine service. There was a lot of singing and clapping and swaying and even dancing. It was so alive.

When they prayed, they prayed altogether. I assumed they prayed in Krio, Themne and Limba dialects. This is amazing, I thought. All I could understand was occasional English words adapted into Krio and "Papa" for God. We have the same Papa.

I was reminded of what the Bible says in Revelation 14: "...he had everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people." This is why we do what we do.

The pastor asked me to speak about myself and our project which he translated into their language. After that, he delivered the sermon in Krio. Because it had many English words, I was able to understand what he was preaching about, Binding the Strong Man.

At the end, they gave me a special welcome song and dance. What a warm welcome.




Me with a local congregation after the church service


The second church I attended, this time with my colleagues, was a larger church that met at a temporary structure while they were raising funds and constructing their permanent one nearby. When we arrived, at least five Sunday School classes for different age groups were being held in different sections of the church. Everyone was repeatedly reciting and memorizing a verse.




Walking to a Baptist church


The adult class was memorizing Matthew 5:12, which I also memorized just by hearing them say it over and over. I don't know how it's spelled but I can say it in Krio. I don't even know the English version. Repetition really works.



A bible portion in Krio. Guess which part? (photo from worldscriptures.org)


Like the first church I attended, this one was so alive. The singing was loud and animated, complete with a choir, keyboard and drums. Young and old sang and danced. You will not fall asleep here. I thought this humble church would put to shame many dead ones in the West.

"Papa! Papa God..." People called out during the congregational prayer.

Sweet.

(Next, A shack experience)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

On air

(seventh of a series)

On our first day at the radio station where we rented an unused studio for our project, I got to chat with the production manager, an old Themne man in his 60s. He was very eager to talk about Sierra Leone and to show me around town.

"You should come with me to town one day," he volunteered. Our staff house was in the outskirts so I had not seen the town center. Then he said something about me going on air. "Give an exhortation. Talk about a Bible passage and what you are doing here," he added. I thought he was joking.

"Sure," I replied smiling. I was riding along until I realized he was serious. He assured me that it was perfectly okay to talk about Jesus and the Bible in a government-operated radio station in their town which was 70% Muslim. There was religious tolerance in Makeni, as in most of Sierra Leone.

As much as I thought it was a wonderful opportunity, I realized I was unprepared and unqualified to expound on a Bible passage on such a short notice. I used to teach a College & Career Sunday School class for which I prepared for many, many hours within the week. I couldn't just wing it. It was a big responsibility.

But I had agreed to speak. Besides, when else will I be given the same opportunity? I have no idea what I'm going to say, God help me. I could talk about our project, and then what?

I remembered I had a pamphlet from work that talked about Jesus. It was a simple presentation of the gospel to which I could add my testimony. I could personalize it with my experiences and insights. I will share what I have and it's up to God to use it. That took the burden off my shoulders. I immediately worked on my piece. That was on Friday.

On Saturday, Mr. Production Manager told me my schedule was on Sunday morning. I didn't think it would be that soon. He introduced me to the Lady DJ that would host the show. I should be at the station at 9am.

Sunday came. While the rest of the recording team was taking a break from work and preparing for church, I was waiting for the young teen accompanying me to the station. He came five minutes before nine. There was no way I could hike up the hill in 5 minutes.

I arrived at the station a little late and sweating heavily as usual. Mr. Production Manager immediately ushered me to the booth and I was introduced by Lady DJ on air. Still catching my breath, I read through my material.


The announcer's booth is behind that door.


My talk was done in 15 minutes. The program was for 30. With time to use, I asked Lady DJ that if she had any questions. What am I thinking? What if she suddenly asks me some deep theological question?

Lady DJ leaned towards her mic and slightly turned her face to the right where I was seated facing her. She began to talk in her DJ accent and modulated voice.

"You said in your exhortation," she spoke slowly, "that you received Christ in your life when you were 15 years old... How long ago was that?"

LOL! I couldn't help laughing on air. I was caught off guard. Do you have any deep theological question?

"That was a loooong time ago," I chuckled, but gave her the number anyway. Oh, she's doing the math.

Oh well, I hope she remembers the other things I said.



See the big patch of sweat on my blouse.

(to be continued -- Papa)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

In Makeni

(sixth of a series)

We did our recording project at a local radio station located on top of a hill. Every morning, we hiked up around 10 minutes from our base on a rugged path. This made me really sweat and pant. My younger colleagues and the locals didn't seem to have the same difficulty. It took me a few days to adjust to the routine. Ugh, here we go again... I will walk and not faint... I can do this... This is good exercise, I kept reminding myself. I am burning calories and developing leg muscles... Not that I need any more (leg muscles). Sometimes I sang quietly to myself to take my mind off the trek.



We hiked up this road every morning with our
recording laptops.


We worked the whole day into the night as late as 9pm. Once we stayed up till 10. Going down the hill at night was tricky because the road was dark and often muddy after the day's rains. With only lanterns to guide our steps and with my poor eyesight, I had to be very cautious.

Although Makeni had no electricity, the radio station had its own generator that supplied its power 24 hours a day. The major thing that disrupted our work was the rain. It made a lot of noise on the tin roof so we had to wait for it to die down. We also experienced some technical glitches with our equipment that the techs managed to work around or resolve.



One of the techs recording


I was the administrator/journalist. My task was to document the whole process, do interviews, handle the money and other administrator stuff.


Me, on the laptop, surrounded by local
recording participants

I had ample opportunity to interact with the local people every day. I really enjoyed this part. I learned a lot about the Themne culture and community, and made more friends. What a friendly people! All they needed was for you to smile, say hello, ask questions, and they would start talking. They loved to talk with strangers. The were very quick to offer help too. "May I help you, please?" I thought that was very polite.




They liked being photographed too. This man, who was
walking by as my picture was being taken, indirectly
asked to be in the photo. "Please join me," I offered.


(Next, On air)

Destination: Makeni

(Fifth of a series)

Riding through Freetown's busy streets, I noticed how much trade was going on, a good sign that the country was picking up from the devastation of of a horrific rebel war (1991 - 2002). Many people were selling goods along the streets.


A Freetown residential street

On one street where we spent a long time in traffic, a steady stream of vendors, more men than women, peddled their wares and approached vehicles. It was interesting to see what people carried on their heads, shoulders and arms: car accessories, wall clocks, CD cases, toothpicks, lamps, tools, used books, bags, phone cards, nail cutters, foodstuff, cotton buds... Wal-Mart has left the building!

These people are very enterprising, I thought. At the same time I felt rather sad that able-bodied men and women were unable to find a more productive source of income. Factory work, for instance. Or construction. Or even cottage industries. How much can one earn from selling cotton buds all day? I really hope the best for Sierra Leone. May it continue to rise from the ashes.

We stopped by a gas station to load up more supplies for our trip to Makeni in the Northern Province. Bottled water. Lamps. We also picked up some mattresses that would be our beds. Goods were cheaper and more available in Freetown.



Loading mattresses into our mini-bus


The road to Makeni was good. We stopped at a few police checkpoints along the way, which are probably post-war security measures. After 4 hours, we reached Makeni around 9:20 pm. and went straight to the office that would be our house for the duration of our stay. It had 5 rooms that were mostly empty. I was assigned to one. The staff house, like the rest of the city, had no power. Water was fetched from a deep well.

Under dim battery operated mini-lights, our team had a short briefing with our Makeni coordinator on the work that we would start tackling the next day. After that, I set my alarm clock, laid on my mattress on the floor and hoped there would not be too many mosquitoes because my net was still in my missing suitcase.

Before dawn, I was awakened by the Islamic call to prayer from the PA system of a nearby mosque. I don't need an alarm clock here after all. Later, I took a bucket bath. I grew up taking bucket baths. It felt like I was in the Philippines. Because water was scarce, I used a bucket of water sparingly and efficiently. I was pleased to take a bath and do some laundry with just one bucket! Now I was ready to work.




Our staff house. Local people waiting to audition
for parts in our recording project


(Next, In Makeni)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Freetown shopping spree

My team had been in Freetown for two days but my luggage was still nowhere. The plane expected to bring it was diverted to another airport due to a thunderstorm.

Because we had no time to wait for it as our project was outside Freetown, I asked to be accompanied to buy some clothes and toiletries. Aminata, a local Sierra Leonean lady, graciously agreed to take me to the Freetown Central Market.

"Do you have a cellphone? Do you have money with you?" she asked me as we walked to the market. "They pick pockets here."

"No, nothing that can be stolen," I assured her. I had no cellphone. I had money but it was in a money belt under my clothes.

"Ok, don't talk. If you want anything just point. I will do all the talking," she said. I closely followed Aminata as she walked briskly. I noticed how straight her body was, like most women in the city, and if fact, Sierra Leone. I thought that maybe this posture was brought about by having to carry things on their heads from a young age. I noticed my slouching shoulders and straightened up.

The market was a very busy place. Vendors had their wares on the street sides or on the street itself.



Freetown market (photo from panoramia.com)

We stopped by a boy who sold bright-coloured blouses, and he immediately started pulling out tops from his basket on the ground.

"I prefer t-shirts," I told Aminata. "Cotton t-shirts... Like what that boy is wearing," I pointed to a teenager walking by. I wanted something comfortable.

"You want a boy's shirt," Aminata made sure she heard me right. I assumed t-shirts were unisex, so I said yes. She led me to a stall selling what looked like over-sized faded boy's T-shirts worn by teenagers. I picked out the smallest ones I could find that looked the most feminine. My fault. I said boy's shirt.

Next, Aminata brought me to a narrow alley where there were little stalls on both sides and more sellers in the middle. We went to a stall selling skirts and female tops. Ladies clothes! That's more like it, I thought.

"Ok, just choose what you want," Aminata said as she handed me cotton skirts and tops to try on. I fitted them over my own clothes in the fitting area that was covered by nothing but a couple of shirts.

"Remember you will be away for month," Aminata continued, handing me more clothes to try. She also got a few items from the adjacent stall. I had never bought as many items in one shopping trip. I was beginning to like it. Aminata, though younger, was acting like a doting mother.

When I said I had enough, she began haggling with the sellers. They talked in their language animatedly and sounded like they were arguing. It was very interesting to watch. Finally they calmed down and Aminata took out leones from her purse in thousand denominations. One US dollar is equivalent to more than 3,000 leones.

"What else do you need?" she asked.

I was embarrassed to say undergarments aloud, so I whispered, "I need some brassieres."

"So you need some BRA?" she asked loudly. "Do you want custom-made or the ones from bills?" I did not understand what she meant. From her explanation, I gathered that container goods were received in Freetown, perhaps as donations, I'm not sure, and some secondhand ones found their way to the market. She called them bills or bales. I can't remember now. Custom-made ones were new.

"Custom-made," I replied. Have we been buying secondhand? Is that why they look faded? I wondered. I couldn't care less now, but please, no secondhand undergarments.

She approached a lady who was selling brassieres arranged on a flat round basket in the middle of an alley. The bras came in various colours and embroidery. I thought they were a little flashy for underwear. Or were these also outerwear?

"She needs some bra," Aminata told the vendor and then she lightly touched my chest. Excuse me? I was caught by surprise and was unable to react. I have two real ones, in you case you have any doubts.

"Small," she added. Excuse me! How can you tell that with this thick denim top? If I didn't know any better, I'd think that was adding insult to embarrassment. I was half-amused and half-shocked and took everything in stride.

The vendor started fitting several bras one after another over my top. I stood there like a mannequin trying to ignore the people watching me. As the only non-black person in the busy alley that had so many male vendors, I was attracting attention.

Yes, that's OK with me. No, too small. Too big. Too pointy. Too...orange?!

This is hilarious,
I thought. I don't care. Nobody knows me around here. They will not remember my face.

We bought a few more items then I was done shopping. I didn't bother to ask who was covering the cost of the purchases--the airlines, the project or me. I was pleased with my new set of clothes.

(to be continued, Destination: Makeni)

My first morning in Freetown

I woke up a little chilly because of the A/C in my room. I freshened up with baby wipes and headed down to the hotel lobby. After exchanging greetings with the receptionist, I asked if water in the washroom came at a certain time.

The lady was very apologetic about the lack of water at the hotel. The city was having a problem, she said. I think a main water pipe was damaged in a road construction project somewhere in Freetown. Water would be brought up to my room in buckets.

"That's all right," I replied and stayed for a little chat. I'm not usually chatty, but this is Africa, and I know they are a very relational people. I made the extra effort to talk.

"You're my friend," the receptionist, told me graciously at the end of our small talk. I've made one friend!

The temperature outside my hotel room was hot and humid. My body was no longer used to that kind of heat as if there was a heavy blanket over the city. I felt suffocated. I quickly laid back in bed, enjoying the remaining cool of the A/C that just got turned off with the hotel's generator.

Can I stand this heat outside without fainting? Suddenly, four weeks seemed too long to be away from the comforts of home. No luggage. No water. And now no power.

"God, I really need a promise from you right now," I prayed in the dark with fervour and some hyperventilation. I pulled out my Bible and reading lamp and opened to the first thing that came to mind, Isaiah 40.

I wanted an immediate promise from God. Instead, the passage talked in length about God's greatness, how He measures the waters in the hollow of His hands, how He weighs the mountains in the scales, how He calls each star by name... If He can do and see all these things, surely He can see me in this dark and lonely room. Surely there are more stars than people.

I sensed God wanted me to focus on who He was, rather than on what He could do for me at that moment. Meditating on His greatness was enough to make my worries insignificant. I stopped looking for a direct promise. But at the end of the chapter, however, He gave it anyway.

...those who hope in the Lord will renew their They will soar with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.

I will walk and not faint! Lord, when I get out of this bed and leave this room, I will have to walk with Your strength...

This promise, and others that followed in the next days, would sustain me in the days and weeks to come. As you will probably read in my next entries, we really roughed it out.



View from the veranda of our hotel

Later that morning, our local contact came to the hotel. We talked about our plan of work then headed out to his office. It rained a lot that day. Although my rain jacket and umbrella were in my missing luggage, I was grateful for the rain. It literally cleared the air.


Next, a shopping adventure.

My luggage goes missing

It was around 10 pm. I sat in a small room at the Freetown-Lungi International Airport in Sierra Leone waiting to report my lost baggage. The airport worker was an old man who was manually filling up a long form. I watched him insert carbon paper in between sheets. Carbon paper! I had not seen this in a long time.

More passengers started streaming into the room. One Caucasian guy with a thick European accent was ranting. "How can this happen from London? This thing does not happen!! But of course in this place, anything can happen..." He was upset and agitated. I thought, Shush already. You are obviously a foreigner in this place. Do you want more trouble than a simple missing luggage? Another guy kept enumerating all the precious and name brand items in his missing suitcase. Hey mister, keep announcing your prized possessions and you might end up permanently losing them.

Poor airport worker. He went about his business slowly, unmindful of all the disturbance going on in the cubicle. Was he pretending not to hear or understand the nasty comments going on? I wondered. I sat quietly beside his desk and avoided making any comment or expression that could fan people's tempers. Just report the loss, people. Ranting and raving won't solve anything.



The Freetown International Airport during the day (photo from dispatchesfromsierraleone.blogspot.com)


After reporting my baggage loss, we squeezed into a waiting vehicle and drove 15-20 minutes on a long and dark stretch of road. There was no power in the area. The houses were few and far between until we got closer to the dock. Thankfully, we caught the last ferry ride to Freetown.



Freetown ferry from and to the international airport in Lungi . The Sierra Leone River separates Freetown from Lungi. (Photo from freetownsociety.org)

Exhausted, we arrived at our hotel past 1 am. It was not much of a hotel room but at least there was A/C. I tried to sleep and not worry about my missing bag. At this point it was just an inconvenience. I had packed essentials in my hand-carried one that could last me three days. Besides, there was nothing precious in that suitcase. No great clothes, remember? Mostly old ones and hand-me-downs. The only thing I would feel bad about losing were the malong skirts my father bought for me more than 25 years ago. Sentimental. Everything else was replaceable.

Next, waking up to reality. My first morning in Freetown...

Salone!

I finally realized my dream of stepping on African soil when my office sent me to Sierra Leone, or Salone, on a project last month. Sierra Leone is on the west coast of Africa north of Liberia and south of Guinea. What an exciting opportunity!

As office SOP, I visited a travel clinic and got some shots. Yellow fever. Typhoid. Tetanus. Meningitis. Hepa A & B. Oral vaccine for cholera. A weekly tablet for malaria. I never had so many vaccinations at one time. What about those who actually live there, are they protected? I wondered. With the required yellow fever shot, I applied for a visa.

Even before my visa came, I had been making several travel preparations: gathering the personal and work-related items to take on the trip; making lists to do, to pay, to bring, to buy, to leave, to repair, to follow up; making verbal and written instructions for the home and the office... Is this typical of mothers and wives when they travel, or am I just the obsessive one?

I think it took me more than two weeks to meticulously organize my three travel bags--one check-in, one hand carry, and a backpack. I wrote down everything that went into each bag so I'd know where to look when I needed anything.

"Mom, what are you packing?" Markus asked as I sorted through piles of items scattered on the floor.

"I'm not packing any great clothes," I replied.

"What great clothes?" he teased.

"I mean, not office clothes." I had done my research and was packing accordingly.

On the day of my departure, I took a shuttle bus to the airport after finding out that this was cheaper than taking a taxicab ($46 vs. $75). I was at the check-in line 5 hours before take-off.

"You're early," the British Airways agent at the counter told me.

"It's my ride," I replied. I intentionally chose an early shuttle schedule because I don't like worrying about missed flights. I would sleep at the airport if I had to.

I checked in my luggage along with a big group of South African athletes returning from a competition in BC who were also flying on BA, on the flight before mine. As I watched my luggage on the conveyor, I worried for a moment that my suitcase might be thrown in with theirs.

I spent most of the trip from Vancouver watching movies on my personal screen and enjoying airplane food. I don't know a lot of people who like airplane food. Me, I don't care. Just feed me. I saved the non-perishable snacks, sugar, salt and pepper for my stay in Sierra Leone. I wanted to drink those cute bottles of white or red wine too, but I thought I'd do it on the flight back.

Our plane landed in London before I finished Wolverine, which made me regret seeing 17 Again, Che and The Soloist before it. At the Heathrow Airport, I met my two American female companions, both around half my age, for the first time. After a short layover, I was on a smaller BMI plane that would took us 7 hours to Freetown-Lungi International Airport.



The sun was setting now. I mentally tracked our location. Flying over Spain...over the Mediterranean Sea...over Morocco...

I'm in Sierra Leone! This is Africa! I HAVE ARRIVED!

Unfortunately...

My luggage had not!!

(to be continued, My luggage goes missing)