I went to Kailahun last weekend. It’s aaaaaall the way east, just a few miles from the Guinea border. And the road to get there is a bad road. It took an hour and a half to go seventeen miles. That’s what they told me anyway. I lost track of time and distance somewhere along the bumps and potholes. I’m tired just thinking about it.
We arrived in Kailahun late Saturday afternoon and made our way straight to the new church that would be dedicated the following day. After some dinner, provided by the church, we were shown to our guesthouse. We turned off the main road somewhere outside of town and just kept going and going and going into the bush. At one point my colleague in the back seat rolled down the window and said to the person giving directions from the truck bed, “Friend, are we supposed to keep going?” The man gave the nod and we kept going.
Finally we came to a very secluded place that is obviously not often patronized. Let's just say it needed some maintenance. No AC. No fans. No running water. And the water we did have, carried to each room in buckets, was a light rust color.
Everyone in the UMC here bends over backward to assure that I am comfortable. So there was a lot of concern that the guesthouse wasn't up to my standards. In fact, there was some talk of finding a place in town more suitable (read: expensive). It always makes me feel wildly high maintenance and delicate. I will say I was a little concerned about the lack of mosquito nets in the rooms. But I was told I can get some spray to kill off all the bugs in the room. And with that, I was happy to stay. Little did I know I had an Africa-sized mouse friend waiting to keep me company sometime around 1 am.
We went back to the church for more fellowship, went to buy the bug spray, and then finally landed back at the guesthouse. I learned that, along with no fan, there would be no open windows because “we don’t know how secure this place is”. (Security here is always a question of theft, not safety. I don’t ever feel unsafe here.) So instead of spend the late evening in my hot room, I went out to a common area with my iPad to do some reading.
It wasn’t five minutes before I looked up to notice that I was being watched. A young man was peaking in on me from the other side of an open doorframe. I saw he was a teenage boy who had been around earlier as we were settling in. I wasn’t sure what he was more interested in, the pomoi (white person) or the iPad. Neither ever make much of appearance all the way out there. So I waved him in. I remembered in my time in Kenya a few years ago that the iPad was a particularly useful tool in creating authentic and joyful connections. It breaks the ice quickly and easily. Mostly I think this is because every person likes the idea of seeing their own face reflected back on the screen. So in my bad Krio I asked him if he wanted to see a video of himself. He said yes. I said, “Why don’t you sing?” And he did, in his own tribal language.
As he was singing some of his friends came in to check out how their friend got this pomoi to talk to him. And then we had a little photo shoot with the three of them. “Give me a scared face.” “Now look mad.” “Now be silly.” Every time I showed them the results they would laugh and nudge each other and get wide-eyed.
You know, sometimes it gets tiring to be stared at everywhere you go. There is not an hour that goes by outside my house where I’m not gawked at. But then there are moments that the curiosity serves to open up such innocent, pure, delightful connection. And you realize, once again, just what a gift it is to be human in this wide, exquisite world. I’ll take the bad road every time if brings me to moments like these.