Tag Archives: fishing boat

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.

Banana Island

The ELCSL office re-opened today after a holiday break, and the staff are slowing returning to work for the first time in 2011. The new year greetings that came my way via phone calls after midnight on January 1 are now being extended in person.

The Banana Islands are in the distance. The colors of the Sierra Leone flag seen here reflect the blue of water, the green of the forests, and the white clouds of the sky. These two traveling companions are German and British.

Time off over the holidays gave me a chance to continue my explorations of Sierra Leone.  In the week after Christmas, in the company of a small group of friends, I exchanged the noise and crowds of Freetown for the peace and quiet of a tropical island.  (An altogether great exchange by the way.)

The waters between the peninsula and the islands were speckled with fisherman floating with their feet in the water, sitting in their small canoes. The captain of the boat we rode in pulled alongside this fisherman and bought our dinner from him.

The Banana Islands are a series of three small islands off the tip of the Western Area Peninsula. We drove the peninsula road for an 1 and 1/2 hours from Freetown to the seaside village of Kent, and then traveled across the Atlantic waters in a traditional wooden boat powered with an outboard motor.

The Banana Islands were the setting for slave trading in the 17th century and were later settled by repatriated slaves. Island residents today are Krio descendants of those long ago slaves. Remnants of the islands’ colonial past are still visible on the islands in the form of scattered naval cannons, upright iron lampposts, and large bell dated 1881 still used to call the faithful to worship.

Living in Sierra Leone often offers insight on the history of my own country. I stayed in the Ralph Henry Bungalow at the Banana Island Guest house and this sign was posted outside the door.

Riding in boats in Sierra Leone often involves wading in the water. This boat had a handy set of steps for climbing in and out. Typically, however, the captain or other workers on board carry passengers from the boat to shore.

In many ways, Banana Islands fits the ideal of an island paradise: swimming, fishing, snorkeling, forest walking, hammock-napping, bird watching and monkey spotting  are among the options there.
True to my experience throughout Sierra Leone, islanders were incredibly friendly and helpful. Whenever we met people along the way out, they pointed us in the right direction and offered insight on the island life.
We had a good two days of island time, and I am thinking that a trip back may be in order.

We did find and eat bananas on Banana Island, but were taught by one of the locals that the islands are named for their shape, not for the fruit growing there. (Note what struck one of my friends: bananas grow upwards.)

One of the men we met out walking told us that these very large leaves are known as "fishermen's umbrellas." We thought of this when we had a few drops of rain while out walking.

The Unexpected View from the Porch

According to the BBC reports I heard yesterday, Bishop Barnett and I are two of 7 million people impacted by that volcanic ash cloud from Iceland.  Bishop Barnett was scheduled to travel to Dallas via London last Friday for the NTNL Synod assembly, and I was scheduled to fly through Brussels to Texas  on Monday.   We have been grounded this week, waiting to hear whether or not we might leave Freetown in time to make the synod assembly.  We are both immensely glad to be here and not stranded on the way.  I can’t help but think there is something consistent with the Christian tradition in having been humbled by ashes through all of this.  As the psalmist says:  “when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers… what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them.”  (Psalm 8: 3 – 4)

Fishing boat on Lumley beach. This week I was wondering how long it took for missionaries to travel to Africa by ship in the days before air travel became so common.

As I write today (Wednesday) it looks like Bishop Barnett will be able to fly to Texas on Friday night.  The earliest I can fly out will benext Monday, so I won’t be able to participate in the NTNL synod assembly as long planned. I particularly regret not being able to meet many of the readers of my blog from NTNL.

As I wait for updated travel plans to be confirmed, and contemplate the complexities of a global world, I thought I would try to post a few photos related to simple modes of  transportation in Sierra Leone.  Alas, for the past few weeks I have been having multiple problems trying to upload photos to my blog.  After multiple attempts, (including photos I would have labeled “poda-poda with a goat on top,” and “early morning discovery in Momajo village”) I’m calling it a day!

A world far, far away

One of my goals this year has been to worship at  the 2 ELCSL congregations I was not able to visit in 2009.   Both congregations are difficult to reach, and dry season traveling is highly recommended.  To even communicate on a regular basis with these congregations is challenging, as cell phone coverage is limited and mail service is non-existent.

The church is served by lay evangelists who preach, teach and lead worship.

This past weekend I made it to the most isolated and least accessible of the Lutheran churches in Sierra Leone.  (This coming weekend we plan to travel to the 2nd most remote village.)  I traveled in the company of Bishop Barnett and Pr. Kobba, and everything we had heard about the road and the distance was true:   it was not an easy journey.

The village of Sanhan, Timidale is 42 miles from a major commercial town, and it took us about 3 hours to cover this distance by car.  In places, the road was deeply rutted and trenched.  Not many vehicles actually travel that route.   When villagers from Sanhan want to travel to towns or cities elsewhere in the country, they typically walk 10 – 15 miles  to access public transport.   More commonly, I was told, residents of the area walk to a village by the sea and take a boat to a larger town.  Similarly, commercial items are brought into the area by boat and then carried inland.

The Rogers family, including twin girls. Mr. Rogers has taught 10 years without pay. Note the poster of Barack Obama on the wall.

The residents of Timidale are either Mende or Sherbro in tribal origins, and either farmers or fishermen.   The communities in the region barter for goods and services, and operate with a limited cash economy.  Education is a significant issue for the people we met, and the community members were quite clear in their request to Bishop Barnett:  let the ELCSL assume responsibility for the one primary school serving hundreds of children in the surrounding villages.   At the current time, the school is barely functional and the few remaining teachers haven’t received salaries for 10 years.  (One of these teachers told me that his first wife left him because he didn’t have reliable income.)  The school issue is a complicated one in Sierra Leone, and there are no easy answers for paying teachers’ salaries and maintaining structures.   Historically, the Christian churches in Sierra Leone, ( the Catholics and the Methodists in particular), operated a well-established network of educational institutions.    People remember what the churches once were able to accomplish, and they turn to the church again today with hope.   I came away from Timidale with a new appreciation for the difficulties faced by Bishop Barnett and the ELCSL in managing scarce resources in the face of such needs and expectations.

The community knows that education opens doors to the future, but they are too poor to maintain a building and pay teachers.

One of the toys invented by kids in the village

A highlight of the weekend trip to Timidale was the opportunity for a morning walk from Sanhan village to a fishing village on the Atlantic shore.   We walked 2 – 3 miles through bush and swamplands.  My guide was Mr. Rogers, one of the school teachers.  He asked me why I wanted to walk that morning and why I wanted to visit the fishing village.  I was glad he asked.  I told him that I wanted to try to understand more about  life in Sierra Leone, to see the countryside,  and to see how people were living so I could share those stories with people in my country.  He seemed to appreciate that.  He had his own assignment to buy fish at our destination but in the end came away empty handed as the price was too high.

The hike from Sanhan to the seaside fishing village meant walking this pathway through the swamp and over numerous logs and wooden bridges.

A favorite Sierra Leonean moment happened while I was sitting in the village waiting for Mr. Rogers to negotiate for the fish.  All of a sudden a man came out of his house and started climbing a tree. I had earlier noticed something hanging in the tree and had wondered about it.  It took me a minute and then I figured it out:  the man had climbed the tree to answer a mobile phone.  He talked for a few minutes, then another man climbed the tree and he talked for awhile as well.  It seems the only way to get cell phone coverage in the village was to climb that tree.  Such is Africa:  a mix of traditional  and modern, often in surprising and creative ways.

This boat was being loaded with luggage and chickens for a journey to another town. The Atlantic ocean is in the background -- beyond the mangrove trees.

Snapshots of a Journey

On Sunday May 24 I journeyed with ELCSL Bishop Tom Barnett, a delegation from the ELCA Global Mission office, and other international partners to a meeting with Lutheran World Federation staff in Kenema.  I will write more about this trip and the meetings in coming posts.  In the meantime, here are some glimpses from the week.

On the Night Jesus was Betrayed

On the Night Jesus was Betrayed

The LWF meetings were held at a Catholic Pastoral Center in Kenema, a five hour drive southeast of Freetown.  This picture of the last supper was in the dining hall of the pastoral center.  It is one of the few contextualized depictions of a biblical story I have seen in my short time in Sierra Leone, and a beautiful piece of artwork.  Note especially the food on the table — the pineapple as well as the bowls of rice with groundnut stew.   Two of the disciples in this scene are particularly distinct:  the youthful John next to Jesus and Judas.

LWF staff member Saiku Leigh was in the minority as a supporter of the Barcelona team

LWF staff member Saiku Leigh was in the minority as a supporter of the Barcelona team

An important topic of conversation this past week  is reflected in the picture to the right.   If you don’t have any idea what this might be about, you were not among the millions throughout the world watching a a football game on TV from Rome last Wednesday night.

I have been learning all about football (soccer) in the past few months, in terms of popular international teams and the rivalries that captivate public attention all over Europe and Africa.  On Wednesday night, it was Manchester United versus Barcelona in the European League Champion’s Cup final.    The ELCSL guard/gardener in Freetown (George) is a Manchester United fan, and has convinced me that I should follow Man United too.  Most of the time George will listen to the games on the radio, but once in a while he will go down the road to a local bar with a TV, and pay the equivalent of 33 cents to see the action.

On Wednesday night I joined the multitudes in watching Barcelona beat Manchester United 2 – 0.   In Kenema, a crowd gathered on the outdoor patio of the pastoral center and watched the game on a small screen TV in the relative coolness of the evening hours.  As someone commented, it was sometimes hard to track the ball amidst the bugs crawling across the TV screen, but that somehow added to the flavor of the night.

One final glimpse of the week.  The journey back to Freetown meant taking the long way home for me, as I traveled  in the company of  6 visitors who had come to the meetings from the U.S., Senegal, Switzerland and Finland.  They needed to catch a plane out of Sierra Leone on Friday night, so we drove directly through the interior provinces of the country to the airport in Lungi.  The airport is across the bay from Freetown, and the last leg of my journey yesterday was by ferry.  The ferry crossing took about 30 minutes after a two hour wait.  Getting through Freetown traffic to my house took another hour, and once again I was very grateful to have a good driver navigating the narrow, crowded streets here.

The  geography of this region can be confusing. It was faster to get to Sierra Leone’s international airport  from Kenema without going through Freetown.  Freetown is on a peninsula, and to get to the airport by road from the capital city takes 3 – 5 hours by car, looping inland and around….   When I first arrived in Sierra Leone I took a helicopter from the airport to Freetown which is the fastest (7 minutes) and most expensive way to go; water taxis and a hovercraft also run — sometimes.

As I was waiting for the ferry, watching the activity at the shore was a good way to pass the time.


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!”