Hi, this is Julie, aka Sister Markham. We got a lot of feedback after many of you read the last update. It sounds like demand for Kleenex went up quite a bit. Why all the tears?
Ella loved our last update!
There are no tears here.
Maybe it will help if I get more involved with writing the captions for this update instead of Elder Markham, the bleeding heart, carrying the load himself. We’re having fun. The people we take pictures of are having fun. Let me take you on our trip to Sierra Leone. You will have fun!
The Sierra Leone beaches are beautiful!
Driving through the countryside
produced vistas of lush tropical landscape.
Perhaps it’s appropriate to confess that I was quite nervous about going to Sierra Leone. I had visions of traveling to a war torn country and not being able to get out. I’d been advised to take my own sheets, towels and flea powder, which I had packed. I had packages of cookies in my suitcase, too. I didn’t know what I was going to find.
The Church Travel Manager tried to console me. She said, “Traveling in West Africa is more spiritual than physical. You pray a lot but don’t go very far.” Then to Elder Markham she said, “And don’t worry. If you can’t leave Sierra Leone, they will give you a nice Priesthood calling there.”
The grandkids in Texas sent this picture
to 'help' Dewey and Papa be safe in Africa!
We had multiple airline reservations. There are NOT daily flights between Accra and Freetown. We left Ghana on a Nigerian airline, Bellview. It’s reliable and we knew it would get us there. We had return tickets on Ghana Air nine days later and Bellview 12 days later. Ghana Air had not been flying to Sierra Leone since one of its planes crash landed on the Sierra Leone runway a few months ago. But they had plans to start flights again. If Ghana Airlines failed to depart, Bellview would bring us home.
We planned to travel on a Thursday with President Gay, the Mission President, and Sister Gay. They were conducting Leadership meetings and two District Conferences. President Gay arrived at the airport without Sister Gay. Was it a bad omen that she had been bitten by a potentially rabid dog that morning? The Area Medical Advisor, three years into a four year mission (see the September Ensign), wouldn’t let her travel. He knew there was rabies vaccine in Ghana and she needed to stay home to receive the daily shots.
We taught a training session in Freetown the evening we arrived. We had electricity in the building where none was expected. We had lights, but there were no fans. On a good day in Freetown, the electric grid has power for two hours, usually in the evening. Without a generator and the money to buy fuel for it, there is no backup electricity. Often this means water must be carried in buckets for home use since electric pumps don't function. Twenty men attended the training. The next day we held a training session in Wellington, about ten miles away but almost two hours through heavy traffic. Twelve men attended that training on a Friday afternoon. President Gay and his counselor, President Thomas, conducted interviews. President Thomas and his wife are currently the only LDS missionaries from North America in Sierra Leone.
Sister Thomas taught nursing at the U. of U. and President Thomas managed fleet sales for a large auto dealership before their mission. They are really blessing the lives of the saints in Sierra Leone with the many skills they developed through life. By the way, President Thomas is a good tri-athlete. As the North American face of the Church in Sierra Leone, he needs tri-athlete levels of strength and perseverance!
Sister Thomas calls all the sisters by name
and the mutual love is inspiring to see.
While Elder Markham set up the room where we would train the men, I remained outside and took pictures of the plants in the small courtyard. I found many beautiful flowers in Sierra Leone.
To enjoy the flowers Sister Markham found this month,
click on the button below.
At the end of the driveway, past the open gate, I saw a few neighborhood children peeking in. Knowing how much African children love to have their picture taken, I walked down the driveway towards the children. They shrieked and ran away, clearly terrified. Well, I felt awful. I hadn’t meant to scare them.
I stood at the end of the driveway and held up my camera and tried to coax them back across the road.
They stayed put, holding hands and crying. I heard a woman’s voice behind the curtain speak gently to them. Slowly, these children came across the road and whimpered while they stood in front of me. You might find this hard to believe, but white people are quite scary for some black children to look at. I took their picture and then showed them the photo in the little LCD screen on my camera. Slowly the tears began to dry away and smiles sneaked in. One by one, children of many ages crept from their hiding places and stood in a line so I could take their pictures. They caught on quite quickly that seeing their picture was worth putting up with looking at me.
Taking a break from having her hair braided
Showing off baby sister
Before long there was serious posing going on!
One of our favorites--the blond, blue eyed
baby doll tied on the back.
Several adults posed, too. A grandmother even posed, and after she saw her picture she laughed out loud. Her home is in the background. Her dog didn’t want to pose. After I finished, I walked up the walled driveway and back to the little courtyard. Two brave children crept in and smiled at me, hoping I’d take their picture, too. In the background, you can see the SUV we rented for our travels in Sierra Leone.
Sister Markham's considerable charm
didn't work with the shy puppy.
Two last children in front of our rented SUV
Several combined leadership sessions for the Freetown and Wellington Districts were scheduled for Saturday in meeting rooms at the National Soccer Stadium in Freetown. On the drive to the stadium, President Gay asked me to fill in for his wife. He told me there was a one hour session for the Auxiliary Presidents where he wanted me to listen to their concerns. The second session was two hours for all the auxiliary presidencies. I’d be speaking for an hour. I asked him what he wanted me to talk about. “This is Primary 101,” he said. “You can do this.” That was his only direction to me. We arrived early so President Gay could do interviews. The facility was large and had been beautiful years before. As with much of the country, nothing was maintained during the war. Adjacent to the soccer stadium was an olympic-like swimming and diving complex that was fenced off with rows of razor wire. No one has touched it in years, a sad, but real commentary on the effects of war.
Looking across the small valley adjacent to this sports complex, I could see large, once beautiful homes surrounded by make-shift accomdations. During the war the rebels forced displacement of roughly half of the country's population. Many fled to Freetown, creating simple shelters to live in. These roofs are called ‘zink’ roofs. Tin is not a word they use, although Elder Markham thinks they’re the same. It rains a lot, so cardboard is not an option. We saw countless homes with plastic on the roof held down by rocks to protect from the rain. We saw these conditions all over Sierra Leone.
As the women began to arrive for their meetings, I asked if I could take some pictures. Posing for pictures is a cultural delight. Never have I asked someone for their picture and they resisted in the slightest. No one says, “Oh, I look terrible,” or, “Let me fix my hair,” nor do they try to cover their face and run off. All adults stand regally and pose. I have to encourage them to smile, though.
To see more of the sisters click on the button below.
After every single picture, everyone around closes in to look at the view from my camera’s LCD screen. Once I start taking pictures, everyone wants their picture taken. I weigh how badly I want a picture before I get out my camera. That day, I wanted everyone’s picture!
The first session I conducted was a learning experience for me. The District Auxiliary Presidents and I sat around a large table, and after a prayer, I asked them what their concerns were. At first, the needs were simple. The Primary children are singing the same songs over and over again because no one knows new songs. They have the CDs that are in the lesson manuals, but they don’t have CD players. There were other difficulties, such as not enough classrooms, questions about ordering supplies, and we brain stormed to solve some problems. As they became comfortable with me, difficult problems were brought to my attention.
A District YW President quietly told me some of the young women were chosing to sell themselves in order to get enough money for food. I asked her if Fast Offering funds could be used, and she said there were never enough funds. A District Primary President said that the poorer Primary children in Wellington attended mission schools sponsored by various churches. Some children are required to attend that church’s meetings on Sunday, which kept them from Primary. I asked what happened if the Primary children came to our meetings instead. “On Mondays they are flogged,” was her response. Other women nodded in agreement. I asked her what she meant by flogging. “Caned,” she said. “They are caned.” A Relief Society President asked if they could receive two sewing machines to help with a self-reliance program. They could teach sewing and use the machines to make clothing. Most clothing is home-made or from relief agencies. They refer to those as "dead man's markets," never considering that live people would actually give away perfectly wearable clothing.
Young Women's President
Relief Society President
I asked about the war. Their answers were quiet, but hopeful. The war had affected everyone. It had destroyed their economy. They want to believe when UN peacekeepers leave, the war will not begin again.
That meeting ended, and the two hour session for all presidencies began. The first speakers talked about family scripture study, family home evening and family prayer. With a full hour ahead of me to speak, I chose to talk about creating a home where the Holy Ghost can teach our families. (Sound familiar to anyone?) I broadened that to include creating classrooms where the Holy Ghost can touch hearts. As I asked for suggestions on what brought the Spirit, one woman responded with, “Music.” I decided on the spot to teach them one of my favorite Primary Songs, “Listen to the Still Small Voice.” As I sang it for them, I heard one lone voice in the back singing with me. The group sang it together several times, and then I brought up that sister, and we helped the group sing as a round with two parts. A round is a form of music these women were completely unfamiliar with, but they enjoyed it. I asked a third sister to come help, and we sang in three parts. It was beautiful!
After that session I had an opportunity to speak with President Gay about the concerns raised during the President’s meeting. He took them seriously and later discussed these concerns with the District Presidents.
Then we listened to President Gay address the Freetown adults for their Saturday afternoon session of District Conference.
After that session, we traveled to Wellington again for their Saturday evening session of District Conference. The day had been very warm, the ventilation from the open windows was not sufficient, and I was grateful I did not have on nylons. I struggled to get comfortable and wondered how President Gay could possibly be holding up so well. By the end of the weekend I heard him speak four times. He is an inspired leader. In one meeting, Elder Markham was asked to bear his testimony. He stated that he believed President Gay has been uniquely prepared by the Lord to be in West Africa at this time.
Sunday morning we arrived at the Soccer Stadium for the Freetown District Conference. The Thomas’ were thrilled to see a new member of less than one month who had arrived over an hour early for the conference. The Thomas' went to a very crowded area in Freetown to teach this man and his wife. His wife also joined the church, but they have a brand new baby, so she was at home. This new member is a doctor who practices in Freetown, but once a month, at his own expense, he travels to difficult areas in Sierra Leone to help the poor. President Gay was happy to meet him.
We walked through a bar to get to the ballroom where the conference was held. Never missing a chance, the Elders had set up tracts and Books of Mormon on a table to catch any non-members who might attend with friends.
Elder Kailie from Zimbabwe
There are no young North American
missionaries currently serving
in Sierra Leone.
Elder Ihenkoro from Nigeria
Many Nigerian names sound Japanese.
Sister Thomas made peanut butter sandwiches for us to eat in the SUV while we traveled to Wellington after the Freetown Conference.
The Wellington conference was held in a small community center very near the rented church building where we had been on Friday and Saturday. The meeting was excellent. There was a well-rehearsed choir in coordinating outfits. A young man preparing to serve a mission told about his older brother’s mission and then said, “My goal is to convert the world.” President Gay told the congregation, “The greatest honor I ever had was to give up my employment and come and serve you.”
(For perspective, click this link.)
After the meeting a man was taking pictures. I had never seen this before, and hoping I wouldn’t cause a stir, I took some pictures behind him. I hoped in vain. I caused a big stir. He had some Primary children pose and they sat quietly for him. When they saw me ready to take a picture, they seemed to explode with delight.
Please notice the little girl with the hopeful smile in the yellow dress, right in the center. The children ran from their chairs and wanted to touch my arms, which is something I don’t understand but I’ve gotten used to. I reached out and poked them in return and some of them jumped back in fear! I took advantage of this moment and grabbed a hand and pretended I was dragging the child away. He screamed as his friends laughed and laughed. I let go of him and took a girl’s hand and began to pull her behind me. She also acted terrified, but her friends thought this was great fun. This game continued for about ten minutes, with children following me, waiting with anticipation to see who I would grab next. The girl in the yellow dress shrunk back whenever I looked at her. She didn’t get close enough for me to touch, but she was never further away than ten feet.
I put my camera away after taking the picture of the Primary children. I was tired and not up to being swamped. It was at that point the choir asked me if I’d take their picture, and when I agreed, they all immediately grouped together and posed. I quickly put my camera away. We knew we’d have to wait for President Gay to finish his interviews, so we sat on a cement bench along the outer wall of the community center. This little girl came over to look at me. She never spoke. I had never seen hair done like hers. (It’s wire.) I wanted her picture badly enough that I was willing to take fifty other pictures if necessary, which turned out to be the case. Other children began to come over. Elder Enangboro, another Nigerian, posed with a future missionary. The scars on his face are an old cultural tradition in Nigeria, given to him by his grandmother at birth. This tradition is slowly dying out.
A few children from the neighborhood came in the gates and wanted to pose with their friends who had been in the meeting.
A young businessman posed for his picture (below). This little girl (left) was terrified. Her friends (the language the children spoke was not English) encouraged her to pose. My experience has been that if I take their picture and show them, the child relaxes. This little girl ran off after her picture, never to return.
To avoid commotion in the courtyard where members were still chatting, Elder Markham and I walked outside the gates and other children lined up for a picture. It was orderly for about two minutes, and then there was mass posing.
Notice the field in the background. This is their soccer field. There were probably 100 children playing on the field that day. Notice the same little girl in the yellow dress in the center.
At this point, Elder Markham felt I was getting swamped. In an attempt to calm down the kids, he took my camera away.
To see the sea of children around Sister Markham,
click on the button below.
Well, the kids just stood there. I stood there. I looked at the little girl in the yellow dress and smiled as evil smile as I could muster. I must have done a good job because they all stepped back. I started running after the little girl, and she ran fast! I chased her for about 10 seconds and started after another child. I’m not really sure about the rules of this game, but I chased and the kids ran. When I stopped to catch my breath, they regrouped, and then I ran and they scattered. We did this for about 20 minutes. Sometimes they chanted a dance that I never understood, but I tried. Brother Markham was interacting with the older boys. He managed to get a movie, but it was hard because the boys all wanted to be in the movie.
To see the movie of Ogre Dance Tag
click the play button below.
(about 300kb, it may take a few minutes to load)
Orge Dance Tag
After this, the memory stick was full. And fortunately, President Gay finished with his interviews, and we went back to our hotel. I’ll tell you about that later. It’s worth it; stick around.
Monday morning President Gay flew back to Ghana on Bellview Airlines. The Thomas’s and the Markhams and Y.B., a member of the Church acting in the role of our hired guard (sans gun, but knowledgable of local language and culture, in case we had trouble enroute) traveled to Bo, 165 miles west of Freetown.
After we picked up Y.B. in Wellington, we pulled off the road and filled up the SUV with diesel fuel. I took this picture of the road and wondered what the trip would be like!
The scenery was beautiful: lush tropical forests, quaint traditional villages, and an occasional roadside market.
There was UN presence all along the way. We felt safe.
The road, on the other hand, was not so good: bathtub sized potholes, animals and people, and Poda Podas. Some of the monster pot holes are from nature, others are remnants of the war. Holes were purposely dug in roads by both sides to slow opposing forces. They get filled with dirt, but most have not been properly repaired yet. Elder Markham drove part of the way. His experience on mountain roads in Utah prepared him to drive in Sierra Leone. The trip took over 6 hours. He is now a P.H.D. (Pot Hole Dodger)
Elder Markham driving in Sierra Leone.
The means of public transportation in Sierra Leone is mini-vans, just like Ghana. In Ghana they are called Tro Tros. In Sierra Leone, they are called Poda Podas. The drivers in Sierra Leone are just as aggressive, the vehicles are generally older, and "full load" takes on a whole new meaning. We saw quite a few along the way.
These Poda Podas are going up to 70 mph on curving mountain roads that require sudden stops and quick turns to avoid potholes. The riders on top are paying customers!
Upon arriving in Bo, we drove straight to the rented building the Church uses. There Elder Markham taught seventeen men from the Bo District who were happy to pose for a picture. Y.B. is on the back row in the tie. Elder Thomas is in the doorway.
Elder Markham and the class
That night we stayed at the Countryside Inn. Previously, senior missionaries who traveled to Bo stayed at Madam Wokie’s. In spite of the name, it is a "hotel" near the church building we met in. They have a restaurant, but missionaries needed to order at lunch time if they wanted dinner. That’s what the flea powder I had packed was for (not dinner--the beds!!) On his first visit there, President Gay insisted that the District President, President Turay, find a better place for visitors to stay. Thank you President Gay! President Turay found the Countryside Inn about a mile out of Bo on Kenema Road.
Emmanuel, Elder Markham, Pius
Pius and Princess are the proprietors.
Emmanuel took good care of us.
This was our bed.
There were no bugs.
There were also no sheets,
but I had those, so there was no problem.
There was running water (not hot, but water was sufficient) and Emmanuel cooked us three hot meals a day, which meant my cookie supply stayed intact. We ate our meals on a veranda that looked out over the countryside.
Elder Markham and I spent a very pleasant Tuesday morning on the veranda while the Thomas’s taught a temple preparation class. There was a lot to see. I had a book. I put my feet up. I didn’t feel very much like a missionary. The Thomas’s returned at lunchtime with Y.B., President Turay and his 12 year old nephew. We ate fried rice with beans (in the blue pot) before heading out to Kenema, an hour east of Bo. There we would teach our last financial training class and the Thomas’s would teach a temple preparation class.
The road to Kenema was quite beautiful. Elder Markham drove and I got to sit in the front seat and take pictures.
Elder Markham taught four men from the branch in Kenema. After our class, I took a picture of this baby, named Emma. These women were part of those in the Thomas’s class. The Bo District is preparing to attend the temple in Accra. It will be a three day bus ride. They will spend the nights in stake centers in Monrovia, Liberia, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in West Africa. When I saw the faith of these Saints, I had hope that it will happen.
Sisters at Temple Preparation Class
Elders at Work
Bo and Kenema are well known for their diamond mines. After our class, I met a diamond merchant named Linda. Her partner is named Alpha. Linda offered to sell me uncut diamonds. I told her I was a missionary. I was pretty sure it wasn’t legal, and President Turay later confirmed I was right. President Turay was in the diamond mining business, but his equipment was stolen during the war. He would like to get new equipment and start again.
Linda is a third generation
Her ancestors came from Lebanon.
Elder Markham and President Turay
After the classes, the Thomas’s and President Turay looked at a potential apartment for missionaries in Kenema and I took a few more pictures.
Two Elders from Nigeria
serving in Kenema
with a prospective missionary
Kenema street scene
from new missionary apartment
On the way back to Bo, President Turay told us about the war. When the rebels reached Kenema, he fled with his family into the jungle. Other churches’ leaders left the country, but he had a family and couldn’t leave. They lived in the jungle for three weeks. One ward missionary was beheaded. President Turay knew one member of the Church who joined the rebels. After the war, the UN bought the rebels’ guns from them. He said most used the money to buy motorcycles. Y.B. told us the rebels used terror to force the villagers to work for them. A rebel put a burning tire around the neck of his father and burned him to death. Y.B. worked to forgive that man, whom he knew, before he could serve a mission.
There were lots of motorcycles
in Kenema and Bo.
I accidently caught some in street scenes.
We arrived back in Freetown on Wednesday night. The hotel we had been staying at in Freetown is called the Kimbima. It is on a point that was a rebel stronghold during the war, but now there is a hotel on the point. It overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. I thought the hotel was at least fifty years old at first, but the waiters convinced me the point had been bare rock until after the war.
The deck by the veranda restaurant
One night in the hotel the woman at the desk addressed us as ‘Elder’ and ‘Sister.’ It turned out she was a member of the Church, Sister Conteh. She is a returned missionary and serves as a counselor in the Freetown District Relief Society.
Sister Conteh at the Kimbima
On Thursday we had no plans and no transportation. The flight to Ghana was not until Friday. So, we enjoyed our first day of ‘vacation’ since we came on this mission. Elder Markham worked on the previous website update. I took a book and went down to the open air restaurant, fifty feet from the Atlantic, and sat under a covered portico all day long. I watched shrimp trawlers and fishermen paddling by. It was a wonderful, beautiful day. I also placed three Books of Mormon without even trying. The people of West Africa are hungry for religion.
A perfect day at the Kimbima Hotel
Mouseover to see a perfect day at the Kimbima Hotel!
That night some UN friends of the Thomas’s treated us to dinner at a restaurant called Mamba Point. They are members of the Church. Nancy is Canadian and works in the legal department that prosecutes war criminals. Malcom is from the U.K. and works in security, making sure the prosecutors are kept safe.
Dinner at Mamba Point
Thank you, Nancy and Malcom!
I know, tough mission, right? But someone’s got to do it!
Are you ready to go home? Yes, we were ready to go home. The question was, “Is Ghana Airlines ready to fly to Ghana?” The airport is across the bay at the tip of a peninsula. The roads are so bad it takes hours to drive there. We took a hovercraft from the airport to Freetown when we arrived. We were taking a helicopter back.
Airport travel options:
...or old helicopter.
We arrived at the helicopter port at 6:30 am. While the helicopter manager, Muhammed, knew there was a Ghana Air departure at 10 am, he insisted the helicopter pilot wouldn’t take off until 9 am. Ben saw a meltdown coming. Those are his words for me when I panic. Maybe everyone saw a meltdown coming. Muhammed, the heliport manager, promised me, on his word, that the airline would not take off without me.
The Heliport Manager, Muhammed
While we waited, we watched a little boy bring his blind grandfather and his wooden xylophone. (West African xylophones are wooden slats tied together with twine. Various sized pottery jars are suspended below the slats.) We listened to the grandfather play for quite awhile. The little boy knew just what to do. He whispered to his grandfather after I put a dollar in the white cap, and the grandfather immediately stopped playing, expressed thanks, and tucked the bill in his shirt.
The blind xylophone player
with grandson behind
West African Xylophone
Click the play button below
to hear a West African xylophone.
(about 500kb, it may take a few minutes to load)
Xylophone Man a la Ray Charles
The helicopter departed exactly on time. The Ghana Airlines flight took off at 2, but it took off, and we were on it! While we waited for its departure, we chatted with an Arab businessman named Sam. He was astonished to learn we were in West Africa at our own expense. On his own, he arranged for us to be bumped up to First Class. This meant we got to wait in the First Class lounge. There I found an answer to my prayers.
All is well that ends well!
Our trip to Sierra Leone did not generate the normal amount of candidates for the signs and shops of the month contest. It seems they have had more things to worry about than naming shops and creating signs. However, we did find a few good signs.
This bus must belong to a member.
The judges like the message!
A worthy runner-up
Flush your money here!
Winner by Acclamation
Pictures of Children at the Temple
The Ekpo family from Nigeria
at the Accra Temple to be sealed
Youth from Abomosu District
at the temple to do
baptisms for the dead
We love to see children at the temple to be sealed to their parents.
Below are three very special children.
Sister Armstrong, Elder Skelton, and Sister Markham
were each sealed to their deceased parents on September 29, 2004,
in the Accra Ghana Temple.
President H. Ross Workman of the Area Presidency
performed the ordinances for these faithful missionaries.