Gentlemen and Lady

For as slow as my days seem, I really have experienced a lot this last week.  Mostly that’s because it seems every little thing is an experience different than what I know in the US.  

I finally made it into my apartment, which has been a learning experience on it’s own.  How about I just tell you about that day…

It was Thursday.  I was met at the hotel by one of the conference drivers, Jonathan, who would be driving my truck filled with all my luggage from west Freetown up the hill to the School of Theology and then on to my new place.  The stop at the school was at the request of the Bishop who, in preparation for the coming inauguration of the new school, is putting together what I think must be something like a brochure.  All of the staff at the school were to take photos in professional gear for that.  I was supposed to be at the school by 10 am.  The driver got stuck in traffic on his way to the hotel so that made my arrival closer to 10:30.  I was really worried about being late.  And then I got there and found that the bishop was also not yet there.  Traffic.  The bishop arrived not long after but the conference photographer hadn’t arrived.  We found out we’d be waiting likely another hour for him.

So the bishop thought to use the time by having a meeting for the professors and administrators of the school.  We went into the conference room and sat down to talk about how things were going and what adaptations we were going to need to make going forward.  This being the first semester, there are inevitable things that you run into that need to be taken into account in the future.  The bishop sat down and started the meeting saying, “Ok Gentlemen.” And then he looked at me and said, “…and Lady.”  

I am generally either the only woman on campus or one of two after the Chancellor’s Administrative Assistant.  Being the only woman in the room in a school of only male students doesn’t actually paint an accurate picture of the role of women here.  There are female District Superintendents, female Senior pastors, female Conference Treasurers, the conference staff is at least half women.  But still in that room I was the one singular lady among gentlemen.  Gentlemen and Lady.  He said it probably five times.  I laugh every time I think of it.

After the meeting we all took photos.  Every one of them was in full academic cap and gown with hoods from their various universities and stripes to represent their PhD’s.  All of my academic wear is back in the US, so I photographed with only the clerical collar.  They kept asking me if that is what I was wearing.  I certainly stand out around here.

We made it to the apartment not long after and it was still full of men working to get it cleaned up.  The landlord told me it would be done but it was’t.  I was met by the Assistant to the Bishop, the Conference Secretary, and Olivia, the Conference Children’s Ministry specialist, to get the contract signed.  They all arrived in Olivia’s SUV.  It was not, unfortunately, printed and ready for signature as I expected it would be.  So after inspecting the apartment and the many workers, two of the three returned to the office.  I emailed them the contract that the landlord was supposed to print.  They printed it and sent it back with the driver and Olivia’s car.  

While they promised all would be completed soon, Olivia and I went to the grocery store to find that EVERYTHING is more expensive here.  That’s because essentially, with the exception of rice and produce, everything is imported.  Most grocery stores are owned by Lebanese and everything that gets imported is charged fees at customs.  I wanted to bake Christmas cookies for the carolers that I knew were coming that evening and we actually found everything we needed.  When I went to pay it was something like 675,000 Leones ($88).  Translation: A LOT for not that much stuff.  I fumbled to get all that cash out because leones come in denominations of 10,000 (68 separate bills).  I held everybody and everything up, but for this girl who’s used to swiping my debit card, it’s going to have to be kind of slow.

I came home to try to figure out how to wash dishes when the water isn’t safe to drink.  (The answer is vinegar.)  I have a gas stove (which is awesome) but also the oven is gas too.  How does one light a gas oven?  I did not know before Thursday.  Nobody had a lighter long enough and the landlord didn’t know how to light it either so next thing I knew, the cook from the restaurant around the corner was in my kitchen.

In the midst of all this I started unpacking my things some.  I cried a little at the reality that my sister Sara, who has come in from out of town to help me set up my home more than once before, wasn’t there with me.  I don’t figure unpacking three suitcases warrants a 20 hour plane ride across the world.  Thursday was the first day that the sadness really hit me.  

I did finish the cookies in time for the arrival of Prison Ministry leaders caroling to raise funds for the ministry.  There was some fuss about getting the gate open because I do not yet have 24 hour security and the person supposed to be watching wasn’t to be found.  But I figured it out.  And then they came and sang and danced in my living room.  It was the MOST joyful.  And I love that they blessed my living room with dancing the very day I moved in.  

The cookies, had I made them in the US, would have been shaped like Christmas trees and reindeer.  They would have been in colors of red and green with candy to decorate the tops of them.  But truth is, it was a small miracle just to get them made.  I’m sure they were too sweet for some (we really love our sugar in the US) but others took extra for their families.  Three plates were gone in about 3 minutes.  That made me happy.

And then I went to bed on Mickey Mouse sheets (the ones the landlord had on hand) for my first night in my new home.  

Friday I ran errands with a conference driver.

Saturday I ran errands with a young man who is possibly my future driver.

Sunday I woke up having hit the wall.  I did not think I had it in me to navigate the culture one more day.  Every single little thing in some way feels and looks not like home.  It felt like too much to do it one more day.  But I realized that my two choices were stay holed up in my house by myself or navigate the culture.  Neither option was good for me.  But there was no other choice.  So I got up and went to church, where I saw Rev. Alice (a new friend) and Edith (a member of the Prison Ministry) among many other people. And we chatted and we laughed and we worshiped together.  Four and a half full hours of worship.  But it was a little spark of what my future will be here.  Joyful gatherings with good people who are my friends.

I came hope and crashed, still letting the sadness hit me.  It is strange to be in a place where you have no history with any of the people.  I have literally no history with anyone on this whole continent.  Most of the time, the newness and the joy of doing this really override the fears and sadness that go along with being in my situation.  But still sometimes it gets to you.  

So I’m taking it slow and giving myself a lot of grace.  It takes time to build a life.  Now is the time to set a good foundation and plant some seeds for a later harvest.  These beautiful people have done so much to help me along the way.  Their welcome has been so warm and good.  And I am crazy grateful.

Katie Meek