Written by Precious Greaves
My trip to Africa was more than just hopping on a few planes and changing time zones. It was more than months of planning and prayer. It even surpassed the initial culture shock and extreme disorientation for a few days while my body and mind started to adjust. My trip to Africa was beyond me and my reactions, and I was blessed to be a witness and a small tool for God to use. I saw Him move in a foreign land, and within my heart. My trip to Africa was more poetic than words could summarize, more beautiful than a human being could describe, and an experience I will never forget.
The journey to Africa, let me just say, was less than delightful. This was my first time on a plane, and it took 3 flights. One was from the airport to Atlanta, Georgia, which only took an hour or so. The next was from Georgia to France, which took about 8 hours. I ended up watching a ton of movies I had never seen before, discovering the awkwardness that comes from not understanding a language everyone else is fluent in, and my body rejecting airplane 'food'. Finally, the plane from Paris to Africa was about 4 hours. I had truly become a plane expert by then! We landed in a humid, warm continent.
Now, when I say humid, I worry that you automatically assume I speak of the slightly uncomfortable weather change we Americans experience during the summer months. PLEASE do not be mistaken. I stepped off the plane into a continent that was 80+ degrees, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! It felt EXACTLY like I had stepped out of the shower after using extremely hot water, being unable to leave the bathroom. It was barely bearable. Besides the crazy climate change, the fact that almost everyone in the airport had skin that matched or only slightly differed from my skin color was just enough to leave me speechless. My neighborhood at home is a mix of mostly black people and Mexicans, but I don't really get to associate with them. I'm used to being the darkest shade in a room, so seeing people with shades even darker than mine was something I actually started thanking God for! Dark chocolate exists, people! Even the charcoal shade of people exist, it's not just me in the summer time! :)
Entering the airport and getting situated is all a blur in my mind now. But, I can recall the fact that our temperatures were repeatedly taken at each station, and health forms were filled out before my mother and I could transport our luggage to the boat that we used to get to the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. Even though my understanding of Creole, the language most frequently used, was kind of rusty, I could pick up the fact that a lot of the people working there were asking us for money. Little did I know, that using the word "poor" to describe it was accurate, but unacceptable. Poverty is a complex word, not to be tossed around like a Frisbee due to its varying levels and degrees.
Arriving in Freetown was thrilling! My Aunt picked up my mom and I in her car, provided by World Vision, the organization her husband works for. I saw many faces, and tons of palm and coconut trees in the darkness. The faces were quite detailed due to the fact that the sidewalk and the street seemed to be the same concept. People walked in between cars and the especially reckless taxi motorcycles, trying to sell food- from bread to packages of gum- to the people in the cars. My Aunt explained to me after my inquiry that most of the traffic lights were destroyed during the war. No one directed traffic and while I was there. I never witnessed an accident.
Day 1 was quite uneventful, despite the extreme shock I was experiencing. I slept in due to the time change. Since everyone else left, my mom and I stayed at my Aunt's house eating the African food I had enjoyed throughout my childhood.
My Aunt's house is BEAUTIFUL. The entire house was air conditioned. My mom and I even had an air conditioner in our room! The generator didn't turn on until night time though, so through out the day, the electricity wasn't always reliable.
I didn't get to experience the new world I was living in, but my senses still were overwhelmed. The whole place smelled like sweat and peppers. I went onto the porch several times a day just to stare at the beauty of Sierra Leone. Though the day wasn't eventful, our downstairs neighbor, Jebe, came over with her daughter, Nyatt, in the evening to meet my mom and I. She is paid to cook for us and I ended up spending a lot of time with the both of them. My mom and Jebe ended up praying and talking about God in Creole, and it was quite powerful. Who knew the gospel still contained its sweetness in other languages?
Day 2 was the first day I realized that being an American brought troubles of its own.
My mom's friend Catumu from a LOOONNGG time ago came over to visit with her two daughters, Emma and Ina. When they walked in, my instincts were to be super friendly and greet everyone with a hug. I instantly got a bunch of strange looks, which I now know were because of the Ebola outbreak. My mom always told me that Africans love to hug, but because of the disease, people don't hug as much anymore. I almost decided right then and there that I didn't want to speak to anyone ever again. But, then I noticed how bored the girls seemed while my mother and Catumu were laughing and joking. So, I asked God for help and I grabbed them, asking if they wanted to converse with me in my room- and they did! We talked about school and how they assumed that I automatically get a car for my 16th birthday, the fact that witchcraft is a major problem in Sierra Leone, and they especially had a few laughs when I said that I don't understand how rice can be a breakfast food. I ended up giving Ina, who was my age, one of my newest necklaces and Emma some new stickers. We learned a lot about each other, especially the fact that "rich" does not mean "rich" and poor does not mean " poor" everywhere.
Day 3 I did not feel well AT ALL! I stayed in bed almost all day.
Day 4 was the planned trip to the town called Bo, where my grandma lives. The 3 hour road trip to Bo consisted of crazy driving, beautiful sights and people, tons of police temperature checks, and a motivational talk show on the radio discussing a future without Ebola. It was all memorizing. I wore a wide, toothy smile most of the time.
Once we entered the town of Bo, my mind started to sober up. Poverty is a tricky word to just say bluntly, because, technically, compared to the U.S. as a whole, ALL of Africa is poor. The people that have just a bit less than I do here, like Ina's family, are not poor to most Africans. It depends on the area that you live in. My grandma's house and town is poor, but her faulty electricity and rundown little stone house is better than some of the mud huts we drove past.
After I meet and greet my grandma, uncle, and a bunch of kids that probably are related to me, I start to make my own observations and settle in.
There is no real road anywhere, just a lot of dusty paths that are always crowded with bone-thin dogs and tons of chickens. People wear mixed matched clothes ( Africana and cheap American clothes). They are not lazy, but it's not like they are living on a farm either. People work and then sit in whatever shade they can find. The kids are so adorable and innovative, and I got to play kick the trash a bit with them. Unfortunately, the language barrier is huge and unforgiving. I miss the A/C in my Aunt's house. I also hated the fact that food came prepared on our table, because I hated not knowing how to help with anything. I have never felt so lost and confused.
My mom gave gifts of soap, clothes, a lot of warm sweaters, shoes, and non perishables to my grandma and the rest of the family. I gave the oldest girl, Hannah, my last of the two new necklaces I brought with me.
Maybe God is trying to teach me how to not shut down when situations get uncomfortable.
Day 5 can be summarized with the statement that the kids are the best thing about this town. They enjoyed my camera phone and I enjoyed them showing me their pets. They have a monkey named Jack, that they tied to a tree. He was tied there, because, if let loose, he would chase after the chickens, wildly biting them. They have about 4 chickens that are all quite thin compared to the chickens I've seen in America. They are fed rice. One of them sits on top of a bowl filled with eggs under a chair. I sat down on the chair once and heard a LOUD squawk, as she (the chicken) walked out from under the chair with quite an attitude. It scared the daylights out of me! They also have a dog that is extremely thin, due to the fact that he eats only leftover rice. I may have distracted the kids from their day to day chores, but I know that we really bonded in those hours. I made an effort to speak as much creole as I could.
Day 6 was when I left my mom in Bo town to go back to Freetown and stay with my Aunt and Uncle. I made the decision based on the fact that the dust forced me to get an inhaler, the heat and the mice throughout the night made it especially hard to sleep, and I also had nothing to do throughout the day except journal. I felt so awkward because my grandma and I aren't really close at all. I felt torn on the drive back, but once I arrived in Freetown, I got some real sleep and I hung out with my Aunt's grandson, Ezra. I'm not sure what the correct choice was, but I did miss my mom.
It's day 12 now, and I need to apologize because apparently a whole week went by and I didn't record it at all. It's because nothing worthy to note has happened besides Ina coming over twice to watch my Aunt's cable, record me practicing my music for theater, and play scrabble. I got an Africana outfit, tailored for me so I could go to a wedding. However, nobody woke me up so I missed the wedding... and Church. By now I have decided that I need to just work on my audition for a vocal class and ignore the fact that I'm out of the loop. I don't want to stress about it.
On day 13 and 14, I stayed in my room and continuously worked on my music and did some school work. I ignored everything I didn't understand about my surroundings. I spent some time with God when I got overwhelmed with loneliness.
My Aunt ordered pizza, the first meal that included cheese that I'd had since I got to Africa!
Day 15 was when my kingdom of isolation started to crumble. The day began with my Aunt yelling and lecturing me about how I need to tell people to take me outside and to do things, and how it's rude and unusual of me to stay in my room all the time. I burst into tears, trying to explain how I just didn't want to be in the way. Some sort of understanding came to be. My Aunt told me to get dressed, and we headed to the Sierra Leonian Museum. I walked into a building filled with so many idols and tools used to create witchcraft that it made me feel uneasy. A guide told me which artifacts contained powers and what outfits were designed to mimic the appearance of each specific demon they danced for. According to the guide, the "white people " ended the widespread idolatry by bringing Bibles to Sierra Leone, and today only a few people are dedicated to witchcraft. Most Africans there today are either Christian or Muslim.
The second floor of the museum was my absolute favorite. The whole room was dedicated to Sierra Leone's history of Slavery. They had a whole island dedicated to the exportation of slaves by African kings who were thirsty for power and control, a.k.a., weapons from the British. My Aunt and the guide answered a lot of my questions and explained the fact that even though Sierra Leone is free from that kind of slavery, the mindset of the oppressed has not changed very much. I also got to see this park dedicated to the progression and growth of Sierra Leone! The history of the civil war and the road of forgiveness the people had to walk was displayed beautifully in sculptures and paintings. I have never been so humbled by such a profound history before. Child soldiers forced to rebel and cut the hands and feet of their mothers and rape their sisters, are shown kneeling and receiving forgiveness from their families. A lot of it was a testimony of God's grace.
The rest of my week was wonderful and it seemed to be worthwhile every time I ignored my instincts and put myself in people's way, so they knew I wanted to explore and be a part of everything.
I ended up not being able to record as much as I wanted to, because of being extremely busy all of the time!
I went to an evening church service, which was actually just a night of powerful prayer! Even though I couldn't always understand everyone, I still prayed and felt united with the body of Christ.
I became pretty good friends with Ezra, and we continuously enjoyed trying new foods together. My Aunt bought us hamburgers and donuts from a rare and expensive place further in the city.
Once my mom got back, she had quite a few stories to tell. I had been stressed out most of the day, due to one of my friends struggling with thoughts coming straight from Satan. I kept on praying and trying to speak truth to him, but he wasn't saved and just wanted to believe the lies he was being told, so the encouragement my mom brought with her was very much needed. My mom said that once I left, my grandma's pastor stopped by to ask if I could speak and give encouragement to the youth of his church, since he knew I was here. Then he further explained to my mom about how heavy his heart is with the youth that don't go to church. Many of the kids have joined gangs because they have lost a parent (or both) to Ebola and believed the only way to survive was to steal. At that point, my mom started explaining what ICI is, and how it's beneficial to kids who don't go to church.
At that moment in my mom's story, my heart broke. I knew it right there and then that an ICI was needed in Sierra Leone, and that God wanted me to help and be a part of it in some way. My mom, just as I suspected, told the pastor she would come back and talk to him and whoever he could trust to get this started, as the Lord leads and provides. After a few hours of struggling and crying and complaining to God, I accepted the calling and felt peace.
The rest of the trip was a blur of site seeing, and shopping with my Aunt and Mom. We bought young coconuts to drink the water as we shopped and shopped and shopped. My Aunt happens to be the best bargainer in the world! As she was told a price, she would simply say " no thanks", sitting down until the salesperson agreed to lower the price. We visited the glorious white, sandy beaches and enjoyed sculptures and music and all of the scenery. It seemed like even though everything I was looking at and experiencing was completely new, I felt like it was how life was intended to be. Everything seemed perfect in its beauty and uniqueness. Even as we packed our bags and said goodbye at the end of the third week, my mom and I knew that we would be back soon. It became home in such a short amount of time.
I went on this trip to Africa not knowing what to expect. All I had where my three prayer requests I had prepared for the trip. I asked my friends to pray for flexibility, so that I would be able to be okay and find peace with whatever happened and whatever God showed me. It shows me, and turns out, what God showed me was bigger than I could imagine. I saw people who had less than me wake up each morning at 6 am just to sing praises, thanking God for all they had. I asked people to pray for my concept of Identity due to the fact that I didn't have my usual Christian support group available at all times. I wanted to experience and understand my relationship with God when I was isolated from my friends and when I wasn't directly involved in ministry. I also wanted to be able to recognize the parts of my identity that had to do with my African roots. God ended up showing me how my selfishness can do so much to hinder me from doing His work, and how faith isn't just an idea, but an essential tool for Christ followers.
Lastly, I asked for prayer regarding my spiritual and physical contentment level, even though I wasn't really sure what that meant. God sent me to a country where people always serve each other. I finally learned that true peace and contentment comes from Christ, not from people or passions or belongings. Once you are at peace in Him, nothing can break you or bring you down.
Africa was an amazing and confusing experience. I'm always bombarded with questions about the trip that are hard to answer because it wasn't a planned mission trip, and yet it wasn't your normal trip to visit grandma. It was an explosion of culture and colors and God's amazing creation that I hadn't seen before. I doubt if I could ever explain all of the feelings and emotions I had, everything I saw and how it affected me. But I can say that God is present in Africa. God is doing amazing things and I cant wait to be a part of it the next time I go.