During my two trips to Sierra Leone I have been given many gifts by the Africans, none of which I feel like I deserve and every gift is a struggle to accept. I’ve been given an African shirt by a man that is now a friend for life, I have received 1 chicken, 1 rooster (that was really annoying the next 2 mornings but turned out to be delicious), bananas, coconuts, tons of yams, a necklace, pictures of a women’s son that had died (who I then grieved with) and many other things. This is a post though about one man and his gifts specifically.
His name is Emanuel, and if you aren’t aware of him by now, he is the director of Let Them LOL’s new Hope’s Rising Children’s Home. He is the pastor of a small mud walled church in a village named Mofindo, he is married and has sons, he farms, and also travels from village to village pastoring to people with no church of their own to attend. Once arriving on the trip this year we found that he has been very ill for some time, he had lost weight to the point where it was hard to recognize him. In short his body was a shell of what it once was but he continued on, helping with construction of the new home, meeting with me to learn what his new duties would be, traveling in the car for hours while hardly mentioning at all how severely he was suffering. It wasn’t until our volunteer doctors were able to reach him in March that he has finally been able to win his fight with dysentery.
Midway through my trip in January as Emanuel and I were spending a day together working he says, “I am working on a gift for you”. I often will repeat what has just been said to me while giving a response to make sure I heard the person correctly without it sounding like I didn’t understand them, so I said, “You’re working on a gift for me, are you making it yourself? You don’t have to do that Emanuel.” His response to me stopped me in my tracks and his hard to type out now “No, my wife is making it, but we are trying to get enough money to buy what she needs.”…
Post over, ‘nuff said, right?
The frankness and openness of the Africans sometimes confuses people and is hard to explain at times. He didn’t say it to make me feel bad or to get more credit for giving me a gift, it was nothing like that. It is not uncommon at all to give away the very best of what you have, something you NEED, or that you had worked very hard to get, not in Sierra Leone. It was more of an apology, it was him saying ‘sorry I haven’t given you anything yet, but I promise I am working really hard on it’. So what can I say? There is a monument of silence where we are just looking at each other and I smile and say “Emanuel, I can’t wait to see it, thank you so much”, and his smile beamed.
I almost wish that was the end but his giving spirit goes on. Two days later is Friday, Emanuel and the two house moms for the children’s home show up that morning wearing all traditional African clothing, and it is awesome. My trip mate Bryan points to Emanuel’s shoes, they are flip flops handmade from car tires. This is something I had been looking for since the trip began, and had just finished telling Bryan about. A book I had been reading before our trip was set in a time before the war in Sierra Leone, was written by an African-American, and mentioned sandals just like these throughout the book as the official footwear of Sierra Leone. After the war, things like this were pushed out of the market by cheaper and easier dollar store type flip flops and are now in the “traditional” category instead of the norm.
I said, “Emanuel is there a place nearby where we can get those? Do they sell them in Morriba Town? Did you make them yourself? How much do they cost? They look comfortable, are they comfortable?” I had gotten myself a little excited and it was about to cost me. Emanuel smiles and shows them off a little, telling and showing how proud he is that I noticed and appreciate something about his traditional clothing. Then it happens, he kicks them off and tosses them to me, leaving himself barefoot in the red dirt and tells me they are now mine.
Aww man, come on! When will the heartbreakingly amazing giving end?! I stand there in awe, say “no” but it is clear that taking them is the only option he is giving me. I kick off my shoes and give them to him but they are too big and after an hour of trying to wear them he gives them back. I wish I could have those puppies glued permanently to my feet, let me tell you. I wore them the rest of the trip and almost every village I visit admires them and smiles seeing me wear them. I have also continued to wear them at home. If it is above 30 degrees they are usually on my feet. Every step I take is literally in my friend Emanuel’s shoes and it is a great constant reminder of what it truly means to be giving.
The gifts did come. That Sunday after church we ate a meal prepared by his wife as one big family in front of Emanuel’s house. Bryan and I were presented with amazing handmade African shirts made from hand woven fabric with needlework decorating the front. A few days later he added to it with wraps (for carrying children) for our wives. Truly, special gifts from the heart, and a piece of Africa that I will have for the rest of my life.
This is the man that lives in, directs, and protects our children’s home. A strong man, who when needed, protected the not-yet-open home with words and actions that would make any protective mother proud. A man that when it was time to lead the orphans to their new home, announced that the children may not have parents of their own but that he was their father now, with the same pride any new father feels. A man of integrity, and honor, who has built his life on hard work. A man I am proud to call my friend.
Thanks for reading
Andy from Let Them LOL