It’s been over a year since I sat down to really stop and list the things that I love most about Sierra Leone at any given moment. It's easy to get frustrated with all of the differences and challenges in this place—the stress of parking my truck every* single* time*, the fact that making a withdrawal at the bank often requires three lines and 90 minutes, the way the heat still makes me so tired that sometimes I just have to go home and lay down, how rarely progress seems attainable. On top of this, I tend to look for the thing that’s missing rather than the good that’s right in front of my face (Enneagram 4 in the house). But as I stop to think about it, I’m overwhelmed at how much life and joy and growth and beauty this place has brought into my life.
In order to avoid going on all day, I’ll limit my list once more to three.
What I Love about Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone has given me the gift of the ocean. Recently at a retreat while I was preparing to lead a Sunday morning worship service at Tokeh Beach with the sounds and sights of the ocean in front of us, I realized that in earnest. There’s not a whole lot to do in Sierra Leone on your time off except have friends over for dinner, go out to eat, or go to the beach.
My first Christmas in Sierra Leone came only a month after I arrived. I found a place to go on Christmas Day through the hospitality of the International Church and then that very day I got invited to the beach by strangers (or future friends, depending on how you think of it…being thrown into new places together makes you bond more quickly than you might otherwise). I was at the beach for three days while most of Freetown was shut down for the holiday. And I remember feeling so anxious. Shouldn’t we be doing something? Surely I’m not supposed to just be sitting here listening to the tide roll in? This feels…wasteful…unproductive…indulgent. That was the first lesson that the ocean was giving me: just be. Come to think of it, it’s most often the lessons that I resist that are the ones I need the most.
Since then, I’ve learned to recognize the breath of God in the sound of the waves. I’ve seen that there is an ebb and flow about life that is inevitable and cannot be controlled no matter how hard you try. I’ve learned that in every place there is a rhythm of life. And to truly experience the fullness of that life requires that I surrender to the rhythm.
Since then, I’ve been reminded of my own smallness in the vast depth that is God’s creation. When I start to think too much of myself or my tasks, the deep waters come, meet my toes, and whisper that eternity passes behind and before me. I am a part of it. But only a part. And that is grace.
Since then, I’ve learned how to let myself be overwhelmed with beauty. The first time I went into the ocean in Sierra Leone, it was at River No. 2 Beach. My friend and guide, Olivia, took me. She didn’t want to get into the water and neither did the driver. Just me. So I took off my sandals and made my way to the ocean. I walked out into the water until it hit my waist. Then I turned around to take in the mountains and trees and beach and sky that makes up the shoreline there. When I turned around, I literally gasped. Audibly gasped.
There are no words that can explain the overwhelm of that moment. I couldn’t even quite process that this kind of beauty actually exists. In the world. Right now. I read somewhere someone said that the purpose of life is to worship God and enjoy God forever. Enjoy. I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that this beauty, it’s for our enjoyment. How can you not love a creator that gave us such beauty just because he loves us? Blues and greens for days. Variety and grandeur and quiet and loud. All the birds and all the fish and all the trees and all the quiet moments as the ocean breeze blows across your skin. How can you not love this creator?
On Holy Saturday, I decided to take a walk on Lumley Beach. I walked about forty five minutes, passing fishermen as I went. I was listening to a podcast and getting annoyed because my shoes were flipping sand onto the backs of my calves. (Sand is the original glitter.) But then I was caught for just a moment by the sunlight flicking off of the far off blue green. And I stopped, turned to the ocean, took in the view, and breathed in a deep salty breath. Once more I spoke my thank you, feeling a deep swell of joy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I don’t like doing the dishes. At all. I didn’t like it when I had a dish washer. I don’t like doing it now by hand. I don’t like doing the dishes. I don’t like it.
Early on (and, let’s face it, still today) I tried to avoid it by putting them on the person who did the cooking and cleaning. But lately, I’ve taken on more of my own cook and cleaning. And that means that I’m doing a lot more dishes.
For me, doing the dishes has taken on the symbolic weight of the pace of life here in Salone. It’s just slower. Most of the laundry is done by hand; most of the chopping is done by hand; most of the cooking is done outside on coal stoves. And if you want the dishes done, you’re getting your hands wet.
The fact that I’m doing more dishes means that I’m slowing down too. I’m cooking more. I’m becoming more content with less. I’m settling down and settling in. Less hustle, fewer meals out, quieter life. And I love it.
So I wash and dry and put up clean dishes only to do it again later tonight or tomorrow. And with every clean pot, I can feel myself changing into the person I’ve long wanted to be.
If you follow my facebook page, you know how much I love the energetic worship and especially the dancing here. People can’t help but move when they hear a beat in this place. It feels so different than the subdued and orderly worship of home. When I first arrived I tried to dance along with them, but being up front made me self conscious. People could be looking at me. I kept reminding myself that everybody dances in worship here. So nobody is paying attention to me. In fact, it’s weirder if I don’t dance. But still I'd stop myself.
Well, almost a year and a half in, I’m feeling free to dance. I move things out of the way just to give myself a bigger dance floor. The other day in worship I put my hands out and danced a complete circle in front of God and everyone. And it felt great.
I think maybe because life is harder here, and people are expected to simply endure the hardships, worship truly becomes a necessary outlet. And so we dance. We dance to remind ourselves that we are still alive and that the Spirit is alive in us. We dance to remember that joy is ours to claim. We dance because we have to and because we can.