These are just a small sampling of the responses, commentaries, journals, observations made by the travelers each year. From these excerpts, it is clear the trip has profound impacts on the lives of the travelers…
Tips Jackley, 2008 Traveler
Senior Speech delivered on December 11th, 2008 to The Blake School, Minneapolis
I’m going to tell you a story of a man I met in Sierra Leone this past summer,… who changed my life. Making our way to the Pujehun village, I didn’t know what to expect from the people. I put images in my mind of villagers’ with no expressions on their faces, and a loss of hope. I assumed that the children would just play with the dirt, and sit around with nothing to do because of the condition of the lives they were living. Well, I was wrong.
Villagers sang in praise to us when our convoys arrived. As we got out of the vehicle, little children clung on my arm, and didn’t want to let go. The smiles on their faces were so priceless, that I will never forget that image. We finally entered Pujehun village that would be my home for the next week. I looked for my luggage. I had no clue where it was until I saw it on a man’s head. This was a scrawny looking man, about 5’6, and he could carry luggage twice his weight on top of his head. As he walked toward me, he had the biggest smile I had ever seen on a human being. He explained to me his name was Momoh Foday, and I was going to stay with him for the next week.
When I would get home from a long day in the village, I would lie on my bed thinking that I had too busy of a day. But then I would look at Momoh’s daily ritual, and think that my day was no sweat. Momoh wakes up early every morning to prepare what will be taught that day in school. The whole day, he teaches the 2nd grade not getting a single food break. Momoh’s daily intake consists of one meal at suppertime, and he only has a bowl of rice and adds whatever else for spice. After teaching at the school from 8-2, Momoh trudges to his farm three miles away from the village. He works there until dark, and sometimes spends the night because of exhaustion. On the weekend, Momoh works at the farm from dawn until dusk, not making it back to the village. His lifestyle seems so tough and difficult, but yet, this man keeps smiling.
Every night, Momoh and I would sit out on the Ramada and just talk about both of our lives. He was very curious about the U.S., and he wanted to learn anything and everything about the nation I live in. When I told him about New York City, he just couldn’t believe that 8 million people live in one single area. In his village Pujehun, there are just 800 people in a very small area and they share only 4 dirty and bug infested latrines…
After seeing what condition this man lives in, and going through the civil war, I was amazed at how this man could be smiling and happy all the time. One of the nights, I asked him, “After all that you have been through, why do you seem so happy all the time?” He replies, “Tips, I don’t need power or wealth to be happy. I am alive. I have had only one goal since the war and that is to return to my home and teach in my village school. I have succeeded in this goal, and I am a happy man.”
We can learn from the media and news, but meeting someone from another culture…we can learn life lessons from them. I lived with Momoh for only a week, but his impact on my life continues to move me, and to challenge me to look at life differently. Before I went on this trip, my idea of success and happiness was a good paying job, a big house, a wife and kids. Momoh doesn’t have any of these things. He doesn’t get a salary for teaching. He lives in a hut with nine brothers, without electricity or running water. He eats only one meal a day, but yet…he is the happiest man in the world. I never knew that one little scrawny looking man would change my life forever…
Kathy Schulenberg, 2007 Traveler, excerpt
We encountered oodles of children reaching out to touch our hands and then rewarding us with magic smiles. We saw them marching in lines to school, in uniforms that color coordinated with their two-toned buildings. Some carried their school stools on their heads. These children learn by rote –they can verbalize arithmetic sums, and learn simple songs quickly – mimicking inflections wonderfully. They deserve books! Little boys have closely cropped or shaved heads and little girls sport corn-row braids. Play is the work of children everywhere. We saw children playing soccer with a small ball and a few others rolling a wheel with a stick – (pretending it was a car). Toddlers grasp a small token, a key, a goat’s horn — who knows what they were imagining? Often we would see younger ones in clean, sometimes ragged clothing wander about on the paths – the children are eventually escorted home by various neighbors – there is an unspoken sense of safety. It takes a village….
Waking Up in the Village
by Jan Neville, 2006 Traveler
It is 4:50 a.m. and I am lying in bed listening to the sounds of Pujehun village waking up, just as I listen to the sounds at night as I go to sleep. This has become one of my favorite times, lying and listening, trying to absorb the sense of deep community happening outside my walls. It feels so unhurried, so relaxed and natural.
At 4:45 I awakened to the sound of the beating of the drum from the mosque. Boom; boom-boom. Boom; boom-boom. Then the voice of the imam, calling the Muslims to prayer. It’s still dark outside.
I hear the whirring of thousands of insects out in the bush, like a backdrop of sound. A rooster crows, and an occasional goat bleats, stirring before daylight. The village wakes slowly, in Africa time. It does not leap to alertness, fueled by caffeine. It stirs gradually and stretches. Another rooster crowing in the distance followed by the cooing of morning doves in the bush.
At 5:00 I hear the soft chanting from the mosque, Muslims called together beginning their day in prayer. Then gradually more sounds of people stirring, footsteps on the path outside our house. Quiet voices speaking in Mende. Now, more crowing and goats bleating. Kid goats calling their mommies. I smell the smoke as fires are lit for breakfast and hear sounds of wood snapping as sticks are broken to feed the fire. More voices and footsteps. I drift back to sleep.
At 5:30 comes the clang of the church bell, calling Christians to prayer just a few yards away from the mosque. Both groups giving thanks to their God. Both living in harmony within the village family, working side-by-side, caring for one another. What a lesson the rest of the world could learn from this.
I doze. More voices speaking Mende. I don’t understand what they are saying, but I feel the language wash over me. Soft round sounds, like the shape of the earth, always in conversation, taking time for one another. Layers of sound, voices in the distance smoothed together and then individual voices nearer our house. I can understand none of it, but am enjoying the feeling it conveys.
It’s 6:00 and the sound I’ve been waiting for flows from the mosque, or is it from the church? The sound of voices singing in unison, a cappella. The tune is familiar, but of course I can’t understand the words. It’s light and lyrical, as the voices blend together lifting their prayer up and sending a lovely shiver down my spine. Every morning the same song, the same ritual.
Now it’s getting light outside; the sun is coming up. More voices and more animal sounds. Chickens and goats. Someone is sweeping the dirt area outside our house. I hear people walking by carrying water from the well. Now the sound of children’s voices and a baby crying. The smell of the fires and sounds of cooking.
It’s been a gift for me to wake each day this way, so contrary to my routine at home. In a sense it’s been my own form of prayer, holding the villagers in my heart as I listen and breathe.