Tag Archives: bay

Down by the Water Side

Beached, at Tokeh.

I have greatly enjoyed living by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean throughout my time in Sierra Leone.   I’ve spent many an hour sitting on my porch watching the waters of the bay ebb and flow; tracking the birds there, and observing the fishermen at work.   All along the coast, and along the many inland waterways, fishing is a way of life, and fish of all kinds are a staple of the Sierra Leone diet.

Sunset at Hamilton Beach

Dugout canoes for river fishing. Photo by Jim Gonia.

Life along the  waterways is full of color and character.   Folk wisdom and expressions of faith abound.    As always, words and pictures offer only a glimpse, but here are some of my favorite photos from life by the water.

I saw this same sentiment on a boat in the bay by my house today.

Evangelism on the sea.

Net with boats at Tokeh.

Hauling in the fishing nets is a community effort.

Lumley Beach. The boat has just come in, and the nets stored for next trip. The boat will be hauled further up the shore using the wooden poles as rollers.

Sail boat in the waters beyond the Freetown port.

The view from the porch

The view from the porch is that of a grey and gloomy world  today.  We have been having heavy, persistent rain all day.   As I write this afternoon, the water in the bay is at low tide and I can see the pile of rocks in front of my house while the far shore is lost amidst the falling rain.  The  temperature feels almost cold today, and  I am wearing a prayer  shawl for warmth sent my way from a church in Texas some months ago.

It is fairly unusual at low tide for there to be no one out in the bay fishing or searching for cockles, but it seems to be the case that the rain and the lack of visibility have kept people away today.  One of the guards told me that a fisherman drowned in the bay on Saturday afternoon, a tragedy that drew crowds of people and generated considerable speculation.    The conversation in the neighborhood understood the drowning to be the result of witchcraft practices, with the speculation that the victim was himself a witch pulled into the underworld, under the water,  by kindred evil spirits.     Mysterious events, unexplained illnesses, and tragedies are commonly attributed to witchcraft here.  Saturday’s events served to remind me once again that there is much I don’t know and much I don’t understand about the worldview of those around me.

I have discovered that recognizing and remembering the differences in the African and American worldviews, especially concerning the spiritual realm,  is important for me in teaching and preaching.  I often feel that I miss the mark in both arenas since I  have such a limited  grasp of the problems, struggles and fears of the people I am addressing.

Members of the northwestern region Lutheran Youth Organization met at St. Mark's on Saturday. I appreciate that the word "retreat" in the picture is made with leaves.

On Saturday, when the fisherman drowned in front of my house,  I was attending a youth retreat at St. Mark’s in Calaba Town.  I was asked to talk with the youth about Lutheran distinctives, a topic I frequently address.  On Saturday, I  led a bible study exploring what Luther taught about “the way of glory” and the “way of the cross.”

In the course of our conversations, a question came up about what Jesus means that we should love our enemies and pray for them.  One of the youth noted that it is common in some churches to pray for enemies to be crushed, or to ask for fire to come down upon our enemies and to consume them.  I have a suspicion that my answers, and my references to Jesus’ commands to love, serve and forgive one another, were not particularly satisfying to the youth.  Granted, the way of the cross is a hard way, but in retrospect I think I also failed to understand where the youth were coming from in raising their questions and concerns.   To have enemies — from jealousy, or broken relationships — is a serious concern of daily life here, and it is understood that one’s enemies have the power — through witchcraft —  to invoke harm, sickness and death.  As a consequence, fear is a significant dynamic in everyday life.   I do believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful and essential answer to these issues, and I feel that I still have much to learn about how this good news can be proclaimed in a way that will be heard and understood in the context of Sierra Leone.  Further conversation with the youth and my pastoral colleagues is in order.

The View from the Porch

It has been a quiet and rainy couple of weeks in Freetown since I last wrote.  At times in this season, I can look out over the bay and see that it is raining across the way in Lumley.  On Sunday afternoon,  I watched as the sky grew dark over the bay and the wind started blowing. A couple of  minutes later I noticed a white line moving at great speed across the water of the bay.  I had never seen anything quite like this.   Behind the line the water was white and foamy with the impact of the falling rain.   Ahead of the line the water was steely blue-green, but in less than a minute the rain-driven line in the bay hit the shore and then torrents of rain hit my house too, with power and might.  We had rain the rest of the day and into the night.

Sunday morning, before the heavy rains of the afternoon, I attended worship at Faith in Lumley and was privileged to baptize 11 folks — from shy children to one joyful dancing adult.  Water (with God’s word) has power in more ways than one.

Newly baptized children of God at Faith Community, Lumley, with Bishop Barnett and Evangelist Wilfred Kamara.

Over the past couple of  weeks I’ve been working on two projects with my colleagues here.  We are in the midst of final preparations for a training workshop next week with the lay evangelists of the ELCSL.   23 evangelists  along with pastors-as-teachers will be in Njala for 6 days, and we hope to establish this as an annual training event.  I will be teaching Luther’s Small Catechism throughout the week.   In addition, I have been working to oversee the translation of the English order of worship into Krio, and the first draft is now complete. A  small group will be meeting with the translator this Saturday to review and finalize the translation.  We are anticipating a composition workshop in September to set the Krio words to music.

Bishop Barnett traveled last week with representatives of the ELCSL to Liberia for a workshop sponsored by LUCCWA:  Lutheran Communion of Central and  West Africa.    LUCCWA participants sometimes use “The African Creed” in worship, and Bishop Barnett  introduced the ELCSL staff  to this creed some months ago during our weekly devotionals. We used it today (an inclusive language version)  so I thought it would be worth sharing here. This “creed” is a summary of  Christian beliefs using imagery and language familiar to Africans.   It was originally written by western missionaries working with the Masai in east Africa, and is one example of the way the Christian story has been contextualized.  (For further reference, see Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan.)

The African Creed

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it.  God created people and wanted them to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know God in the light.  God promised in the Bible to save the world and all the nations and tribes.

Rainy season sunset over Lumley Beach

We believe that God kept a promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a human being in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and humankind, showing the meaning of religion is love.  Jesus was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died.  Jesus lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch Jesus, and on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus ascended to the skies. Jesus is the Lord.

God's beloved children of Sierra Leone

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ. All who have faith in Jesus must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again.  We are waiting for Jesus. Jesus Christ is alive.  Jesus Christ lives. This we believe. Amen.

The View from the Porch

This morning’s air was a cool 77 degrees at 7:30 am and a welcome way to start the day.  We’ve been having rain most nights for the past week, and there have been periodic hints like this morning’s temperature that the recent season of high heat and humidity will be breaking soon.

These men walked down the tree from the damaged roof and spent about half an hour pulling it down to the ground

Last Thursday night I was awakened about 1 am when I heard,  all at the same time,  the slamming of  my bedroom door caused by a strong gust of wind, a  great crack of thunder, and the sound of something crashing outside.  I worked my way out of bed through the drapes of my mosquito net and rushed to close the windows against the coming storm.  As the skies burst open with water  I stood at my window for a while trying to see what might have caused the crash outside, but I couldn’t see a thing except the rain.

In the morning George came by and pointed out the impact of the night’s storm:  one of the coconut trees in the compound blew over and fell on top of the neighbor’s house.  Luckily, the concrete wall of the compound stopped the tree from falling all the way into the house, and no one was injured.

The house damaged by the falling tree is a typical “pan bodi”  or zinc style structure.  I watched parts of the construction in progress last year, so the finished building was fairly new.   This type of house is very common in Freetown as they are simple to build and relatively cheap.  I’m told that some of these “pan bodi” houses are quite nice inside.  Once the tree was pulled off the roof next door, the owner was able to replace and repair the zinc by the end of the day. The ELCSL did assume some liability for the tree and provided some financial help.

One of the more colorful "panbodi"houses. This one is in a growing area in the hills above Freetown city.

Freetown is an amazing jumble of housing:  small zinc “shacks”, mud brick structures, and more expensive, concrete, 2 or 3 story  buildings co-exist in every neighborhood.  There are some distinct slum areas in the city, but for the most part, people of all socioeconomic levels are neighbors in a city where the pressure for land and housing is a growing problem.

Issues related to the cost and availability of land have impacted a number of the ELCSL congregations.  Faith Community in Lumley has been seeking land for some time to build a permanent church structure.  St. Paul’s in Kissy recently negotiated a long term lease for the land they are currently occupying, as they were not able to identify suitable land for purchase.

Kroo Bay slum is a maze of zinc houses. The area is prone to flooding in the rainy season.

The house that was damaged last week by the fallen coconut tree is typical too for Freetown housing in the way that it was built against the compound wall.  By building against an existing wall, the builders reduce the overall cost of construction.  Every year in the rainy season, however,  there are stories in the news of walls collapsing and destroying adjacent houses  and often injuring or killing residents. In the scramble for land and for housing, safety and security are often sacrificed.  Flood prone areas are already congested with housing in Freetown, and the mountains around the city are rapidly being deforested as residential development is rampant.

This foundation of stones at the edge of the bay has apparently been in process for some time. At high tide the water rises around the stone foundation.

Even the shores and wetlands of Cockle Bay by my house recently have become part of the real estate market.  For the past year I’ve been watching men “harvest” rocks and sand from the bay.  I don’t normally pay much attention to the shores of the bay beyond the fence in front of my house, as the area is garbage strewn and smelly.  Only last week did I discover what has been happening on the other side of the ELCSL compound fence.  An industrious and aspiring homeowner has been building up a foundation of rocks and soil against the tides in order to make the space suitable for living.   The same process is going on all around the bay.    Most of the area along the shore of Cockle Bay is undeveloped wetlands, and people are basically taking advantage of “free” land.   But my colleagues perceive the new foundation adjacent to the ELCSL fence to be illegal.  The fact that work there only happens on Sundays (as I learned recently) does suggest that someone is trying to avoid conflict — at least for now.   I expect I’ll have an update about this in coming weeks.

The View from the Porch: Sunday afternoon

This afternoon I am waiting for a phone call from Lungi airport telling me that Rev. Viking Dietrich has arrived from Ghana.  (He is one of the west Africa regional representatives for ELCA Global Mission.)     Once he has cleared immigration and customs at the airport, Viking will be directed to a water taxi/motorboat for the journey across the bay to Aberdeen, and I will meet him at the dock conveniently located under the bridge across the street from my house.  Tomorrow morning at 6:30 am we’ll leave for a few days of travel.  If the road is as good as I hear, by 9:30 am we’ll arrive at Taimia and meet up with Bishop Barnett and Rev. Jim Gonia (from the ELCA Global Mission office in Chicago).   Then we’ll  travel on for a series of visits to the provincial churches and to meet with church leaders.  At the end of the week, Lutherans  in Freetown will have a chance to meet together and talk about their church with Jim and Viking.

As I wait, the view from the porch this afternoon includes a grey heron perched on the rocks in the bay watching the tide recede.  This grey heron has been here for about a week and often stands there alone for hours after the egrets and other birds have migrated elsewhere.  Taking in the view from the porch and appreciating the breeze from the bay is a pretty good pastime for these days with no electricity.  I have very little idea about what is happening in the world beyond Freetown as a result, but I don’t really regret  that.

I will be out of Freetown until Wednesday and hope to be able to make a blog post on Thursday.

The view from the porch: bird watching

A scops owl.

This morning dawned cloudy and grey, and a steady, cooling rain has been falling for a few hours — an unusual daytime occurence this late in the rainy season.   At this point in the year, the heavy rains of August and September  have given way to mostly blue skies and humid days, with periodic bursts of thunder and lightning followed by tropical downpours in the night.   Even with the rain, though, today is welcome for the grey coolness and for a temporary respite  from the rising temperatures.

Fishing in Cockle Bay

With lessening of the rains in the past month, a variety of birds have returned to the area.   The herons and egrets are back, in and around Cockle Bay, joined at times by yellow billed kites and a few vultures.  I believe I’ve spotted an osprey once or twice.   There are a variety of songbirds in the compound now as well, cheering me with their musical calls.  The lantana I transplanted months ago in front of my house has grown into a sizeable bush and attracts some of the smaller birds every morning, as well as butterflies throughout the day.  For a few days recently an owl took up residence in a large plum tree behind the offices, and kept careful watch over our comings and goings.

Pied crows are the most common bird I see. This pair nests in a coconut tree by my house. These birds are locally known as "minista birds" (ie, minister birds for their white neck collars.)

In the midst of a noisy, crowded and chaotic city, I feel blessed to be surrounded by the gifts of  creation  in a large, spacious, and relatively quiet compound.   The ELCSL property where my house is located is a sanctuary of sorts — for birds and missionaries both.  Before and after working hours, you’ll find me on the porch, often these days with a borrowed copy of a field guide to the birds of West Africa in hand.  When I watch the birds from the porch, I think of Jesus’ words:  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens, they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much  more valuable you are then birds….”  (Luke 12:22-24)

The view from the porch of a friend who lives in the hills of western Freetown. I live on the bay side of the land bridge separating Cockle Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. Lumley Beach faces the Atlantic on the left. Aberdeen is marked by the small hill in the center.

The View from the Porch: a weather report

Last Sunday night I woke up to the sound of rain falling hard and steady on the tin roof of my house.    This was the first significant rainfall of the year and a harbinger of the rainy season to come.   I’m told that the weather this year in Freetown has been unseasonably cool, and I am grateful for that!    Breezes off the bay are especially welcome by those of us not accustomed to the tropics.  Since I arrived in February, daytime temperatures have been in the 90’s (F), with nighttime temperatures dropping into the 70’s.   Some nights have been downright cool,  and I have smiled at times to see the ELCSL compound guards bundled up in heavy coats and hats.

There are two major seasons in Sierra Leone:    the dry season extending from October to April, and the rainy season, April to September.  Cold “harmarttan” winds characterize December and January, adding something of another season to the year.

Fishermen in Cockle Bay -- the view from the porch. The bay is quite shallow and is at moderately high tide in this picture. The buildings in the background are at Lumley Beach and are farther than they look

Fishermen in Cockle Bay -- the view from the porch. The bay is quite shallow and is at moderately high tide in this picture. The buildings in the background are at Lumley Beach and are farther than they look

In the past few week, the unseasonably cool weather has given way to increasingly hot and humid days and nights.   In anticipation of the rainy season, the compound guard George has turned over the soil in front of my house for a Sierra Leonean garden of maize and ground nuts.  This was no small feat as the soil is dry and hard and extremely rocky.   George tells me he is eager now for the rains to come so he can plant his seeds, but I am cautioned that once the rains come, there will be days and days of non-stop precipitation. I planted my own small garden of tomatoes, peppers and herbs a number of weeks ago and water the plants daily.  The resident goat disappeared some days ago, so he is no longer a threat to growing things.

News reports in recent weeks have included coverage and commentary about a long anticipated hydroelectric project for the nation due to be completed this month.  The project comes with the promise of improved electrical supply.   The power supply in Freetown has improved greatly since the war, but power is still a great problem in the capital and throughout the country.   Electricity seems to be available about 50% of the time where I live, and this week has been particularly bad for trying to do computer work online.  (This is the third attempt I’ve made this week to post this blog.)   The hydroelectric project was supposed to be up and running in April, but as it happens improved electricity awaits the coming of rains so there is sufficient water to power the system.  In the meantime, the city and the nation continue to wait – often in the dark.

On a celebratory note, this past Monday was Independence Day, a public holiday commemorating Sierra Leone’s independence from Great Britain in 1961.  Happy 48th Birthday to “Salone!”

The View from the Porch #2


The ELCSL compound towards my house

The ELCSL compound through the trees, towards my house

Sittng on my porch in recent weeks… listening to the wind blow through the coconut trees … watching the lizards scamper up the narrow tree trunks… eyeing the ripening coconuts 30, 40, 50 feet off the ground, I have idly wondered how one climbs a coconut tree.  This past weekend I found out.

It really is an amazing sight!  The man who climbed the trees in front of my house was fast and fearless;  he went up and he came down — with a very, very sharp knife in one hand.

This is what I learned about harvesting coconuts.  Men skilled in the art of coconut tree climbing wander the streets with their equipment and offer their services in exchange for a share of the ripe coconuts.  Their equipment consists of that  machete-like knife plus a very strong loop made out of wire and supple wood wrapped together with cloth rags and heavy cord. 

When it came time to scale the heights, the climber wrapped the loop around his body and the tree, fastened the loop, leaned back, planted his bare feet against the trunk, and up he went.  

First steps up

First steps up

Going up (left) or sliding down (right), this man made it look easy!
He harvested 40 or so coconuts from two trees in my front yard, and deftly cut one open so I could drink the liquid inside and eat the meaty kernel.

The View from the Porch #1

I moved into my newly built house in the compound of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone  a little over two weeks ago, and have begun to slowly acquire all the things I need to make the house a home.   The ELCSL built the structure with an eye to establishing a permanent guest house for visitors and missionaries, so while the house is mine for now, it will serve a  longer term purpose as well.  The house is simple ,comfortable, and also modern, in the sense of having electricity and running water. It’s wired for satellite cable TV reception (I’m told this is coming so I can watch the news), and a lifeline to the world is also in place in the form of  an internet connection.  The electricity so far is variable, with frequent power cuts and the need for candles and lanterns at night.  Still, this is a good place to be and I am grateful!   The church offices, mine included, are right next door to the house, so I am extremely fortunate not to have to contend with Freetown traffic in order to get to work.   The rest of the staff are not so lucky; most arrived close to 11 am today having left home as early as 8 am.

In the mornings especially, the porch is a very fine place to sit, to read and reflect, to observe and listen to the life all around.  The porch overlooks a bay where the sights and sounds are ever changing.  The water in the bay is very shallow, and there are frequently fisherman  wading, canoing, or standing in the water.  There are two large piles of rocks about 20 yards off shore from the edge of the ELCSL property.  In the mornings I often see fisherman sitting there, staring into the water.  Herons are also frequent visitors. 

Neighborly visitors. 

The view of the waterlife depicted in this picture is not quite the view from the porch.  The full view from the porch is framed by a concrete/barbed wire/ iron fence.   The compound is enclosed and gated for security reasons, as is typical for most properties here.   Two gatekeepers/guards are on duty throughout the day and night to let people in and out of the compound.  One of  the guards, a young man named George, also checks on me every morning and asks “how was the night?”  My colleagues usually greet me with the same question as they come into work each day.  The first day I met George he was wearing a South Grand Prairie High School t-shirt.   Since I lived in Grand Prairie (near Dallas Texas) for 4 years and drove past the high school every day on the way to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, the world became amazingly small to see that t-shirt in Sierra Leone.

There is a tremendous amount of life and movement all around my house and in the compound.  There are 3 or 4 or more varieties of lizards skittering and scampering around.  For now there is a resident goat wandering about eating the bushes, tree leaves and weeds. Since I am dreaming of a small garden amidst the cocunut trees  in my “front yard,” I am wondering how to goat-proof my plantings.  Garden updates will be forthcoming.

One of my more colorful, creaturely neighbors.
I had thought the house would be a quiet place as it is set back from the main road quite a ways.  Early on I was startled to hear loud explosions coming from over the water:  fisherman using dynamite to bring fish to the surface.  The other night I was also awakened at 4 am by the voice of an energetic preacher and shouts of  praise in response. It turns out that one of the local independent churches was having an all night prayer service.  I’m never quite sure what I may see or hear next.