Tag Archives: hammock

Saying Good-bye

The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind of movement and activity with abundant blessings in the midst of it all.

Representatives from the ELCA and the NTNL arrived in Sierra Leone last week and have been engaged in conversations with the ELCSL since then.   We have covered a lot of ground in recent days, including a working/leisure visit to River #2   and a trip to Bo for churchwide consultations.   Rich conversations about church and mission have shaped our time together with the ELCSL.

Rev. Themba Mkhabela, ELCA West Africa Regional representative; Rev. Jane Mar, NTNL; Rev. Kate Warn, ELCSL Pastor in Residence 2009 - 1012; Rev. Jim Gonia, ELCA Global Mission; Rev. Marc Hander, NTNL. (Photo by Gerilyn Hander)

A gift from the ELCSL. This woven blanket (country cloth) is in the colors of the national flag. It reads: The ELCSL thanks God for the work of Pastor Kate Warn in Sierra Leone.

In the midst of it all, the ELCSL richly blessed me with a night of singing and dancing and traditional ceremonies to bid me farewell as I prepare to leave Sierra Leone on Feb. 27th.   Out of all the experiences I have had in Sierra Leone over the past three years, the farewell celebration offered by the ELCSL was the most surprising and amazing of all.    Special songs of blessing offered by the youth and women still echo in my heart.  The sound of drums  and the traditional gourd shaker being played still resonate as well.

As the night unfolded, I was quite moved to see Bishop Barnett lead a dancing procession of my Lutheran brothers and sisters — coming my way with gifts in hand  As the procession drew near I could also see two men carrying a stout branch across their shoulders, and wondered what exactly they were bringing.  Eventually, I spotted a beautifully woven hammock and began to suspect what was going to happen next.

The traditional mode of transportation for chiefs. I was carried in the hammock as Yei Boi Katie.

During this time of  ceremony, Bishop Barnett honored me with the name/title of “first born daughter.”  I was then invited to settle myself into the hammock.    Being carried in a hammock is an honor accorded to chiefs in Sierra Leone, and  I felt deeply moved to be acknowledged in this way.  I was carried in the hammock, in the midst of  drumming, dancing and singing; eventually I received  the  hammock as my own, among many other gifts.  The blessings of the evening were abundant and memorable — a true reflection of the grace and beauty of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone.

One of the gifts I received was this traditional country cloth outfit, complete with hat and shoes, made by Marion Boima.

My final good-bye to my ELCSL colleagues and Freetown friends is only a few days away as I write.   Today I gratefully sent one heavy suitcase filled with many of the gifts I received in Bo and books from my Africa collection back to the US with the NTNL visitors.  This weekend my challenge will be to empty my kitchen and my closets, and to fit my possessions into two additional suitcases for a flight to Buffalo New York.

As I write tonight, the electricity and the internet are on and off and then on.   That somehow seems fitting.  At this point,  I will plan to make one final posting for On Mission Sierra Leone when I am  stateside, once I’ve had a chance to unpack my suitcases (if not 3 years of African life).

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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.

Notes on context for an African Easter

This is a typical fish net style hammock, claimed here by Pastor Kobba during our visit to Sanhan village.

While sitting on my porch this morning, chatting with ELCSL colleagues, reference was made to my hammock hanging there, and this led to a discussion about the tradition of carrying paramount chiefs to special meetings in hammocks.  The hammock used for this purpose was specially made with a traditional woven fabric (country cloth), and it was designed to allow the chief to sit upright while being  carried by four  men.  This tradition seems, however, to have disappeared since the rebel war;  today chiefs and other “big men” arrive by car.

Earlier in Lent I had speculated with other colleagues and friends what means of transport Jesus would use to enter Freetown, if  the events of Palm Sunday were to take place here today.  (Donkeys are not known in Sierra Leone.)  The consensus idea for a Sierra Leonean equivalent to  a donkey was an “omalankee” cart typically used to haul heavy items throughout the city.   Omalenkees are humble and common, although not  normally used to transport people.  This morning, however, we decided that if Jesus were to seek a triumphant entry into Freetown in the traditions of Sierra Leone, he might enter the city in a hammock, carried and proclaimed as “chief.”

Omalankees can be hired to haul just about anything through the streets of Freetown.

On Maundy Thursday last week I celebrated with the Lutheran community of St. Paul in the eastern part of Freetown, and in my sermon we had further discussions about the role of chiefs.   St. Paul’s had not previously worshiped on Maundy Thursday, and members had never before participated in a foot washing service according to the traditions of the day.  So we talked about the scripture reading from John 13 describing Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.   Sierra Leonean society is organized, to a great extent, along strict hierarchical lines, and there are unwritten rules governing behavior and interaction between those of high status and ordinary men and women.   Chiefs, for example, would never carry water or engage in menial labor.  Chiefs would never stoop to do the work of a servant or wash the feet of others.  For Jesus — master and “chief”  to do such a thing is well understood as a great and unusual act of love and service.

For our Maundy Thursday worship, St. Paul’s evangelist –Tennyson Bindi —  and I proceeded then to wash the feet of all the members of the church.  All participated, from the youngest to the oldest.   When we finished, the water in the basin was quite muddy, as the feet we washed were dirty from all the steps taken in the heat and dust of the day.  It strikes me  that in the US, our practice of ancient Christian traditions is a bit sanitized.  Here, the washing of feet really was a practical service of grace ,and a reflection of our ongoing need for cleansing waters both physically and spiritually.  And in a culture that upholds the primacy of “big men,” Jesus’ actions are a startling challenge to the established order.    He says:   “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you….  By this they will know that you are my disciples , if you have love for one another.”

Members and friends of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Kissy (eastern Freetown). This photo was taken late in Febuary when we visited to see the work being done to prepare mud bricks for building new walls.

Against this  backdrop of holy week discussions and devotions,  and in a city crowded to overflowing with holiday pilgrims,  my own celebration of Easter began in the dark  at Lumley Beach on the Atlantic Ocean.  Dawn began breaking into the darkness about 6 am on Sunday morning and although the sun was  hidden behind Freetown’s dusty haze, a sunrise service at the beach was an ideal way to begin the day.  Those who gathered on the beach shared a breakfast of bread and fish.

"Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus." (John 21:4)

Later in the morning I participated in worship at St. Mark’s in Calaba Town, and in the evening I hosted a potluck picnic complete with campfire and marshmallows.   All day long, we celebrated the  Easter truth:   Christ is risen, and he is known to us in the breaking of the bread.

Easter Eucharist at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Bishop Barnett presiding. 14 candidates were baptized on Easter morning.