Greetings from ‘Sweet Bo’, Sierra Leone. It is 97F today (Sat.Mar.05.11) The temperature seems to be rising each day. Thanks to faithful prayer partners and mother nature, there are clouds and a weather report of possible showers tomorrow and Monday! That’ll settle some dust. Meanwhile we need to keep our ears clean, cleansed with hydrogen peroxide, clean scrapes and disinfect anything else that’s been handled by many hands. Update after many friends agreeing in prayer I asked for a cloud the size of a fist to rain on this land. This morning (Mar.-7-11) it poured for at least one hour!

Since the last Dispatch we’ve had requests for more information about the reality of living here, updates on the ‘Round About Project’, more photos of the land and people. Margaret continues to work with Dr. Wusu Sannoh, Bo Mayor, reviewing all the construction and reconstruction work for each Round About. Some existing old construction is being replaced, old signs removed or replaced, newly constructed traffic dividers for some Round-Abouts are being built on the spot (see pics). Indigenous plants for planting will take place later when this dry dusty season is over. There are others offering assistance now that they see what’s going on in downtown Bo!

Hanging baskets would be absolutely marvellous indeed, made from recycled rubber. Rubber water-buckets, sandals and other items are already why not hanging baskets!?? . Remember, Bo is the second largest city in Sierra Leone with an estimated population of about 200,000. It has the largest hospital, large number of university students, many NGOs, many small businesses, many churches and a large youth population. There are plans to develop a Bo Hospice and Bereavement Volunteer Program to assist help meet the needs of the patients and families here in Bo. Any ideas you may have will be appreciated.

A recent outbreak of Lassa fever claimed 2 lives in Bo. 2 are in isolation. It’s been an intense, sad few days. Relatives were “not allowed to see or touch the bodies” due to the nature of the contagious disease. This creates a more complex grieving process because the normal wake and funeral process does not happen. M & M have been ‘on stand-by’ to assist when called. Recently we were disturbed by a very smart rat in our dwelling place. It woke us daily for weeks at 4 or 5 AM running around in the attic, then in the kitchen! That was ‘the last straw’. Rat doo-doo is one way Lassa fever is spread and infects people. We tried ‘rat traps’ for days. The food would be gone without the trap being sprung. A new poison is what actually worked! Thank God for mercy that it did not die in the attic, but in the garage so we could find and dispose of the body properly. Yuck!

Mosquitoes are still busy spreading malaria. Bed nets work well when used. One of our ‘adopted’ sons, Alfred Gbonda works for ‘Nets for Life’ via St. Paul’s Anglican Church distributing mosquito nets to hundreds of homes where children sleep. At a recent meeting of NGOs working in the Health Services a question was asked about a follow-up survey regarding actual use of the nets. Apparently when this type of heat wave is happening, not many “use the nets at night due to the heat”! I hope someone develops a cure for the impact of these blood sucking pests. Malaria when undetected kills. ‘Deet’ is hard to find here and we don’t like using it due to the reaction in the hot sun. We are experimenting with other remedies but we need to stay on prescribed meds.

There is an indigenous tea that “helps cure malaria” say the locals. Prevention is really the best medicine. If anyone in Canada has new research info please forward it ASAP. Burning tall grass helps keep the mosquito population down a bit more.

There’s a large Crusade happening in downtown Bo (March 2-6) with musicians from many churches and communities contributing. We have been sponsoring a Youth Group led by Noah Brima, song writer and composer, and also teaches in the elementary church school. He is looking forward to their local debut tonight at the Crusade! They are expecting hundreds of participants to be there tonight and tomorrow.

The past two mornings we responded to the cries of hungry children. They ‘fetched’ stream water for our vegetable plants, learned about plants, helped remove ‘elephant grass’ and then enjoyed a healthy nutritious home cooked breakfast from M & M. We’re all happier after a few hours of being together. The youngest (about 14 months) appears to be developing ‘rickets’ disease, is very sensitive, adapting to foreigners and likes to visit us (a new grandson in the making). This friendship relationship has developed over the past 5 months to the point whereby the older children (who don’t go to school because they have to work and take care of younger siblings) are learning English, spelling and arithmetic while working with M & M. Blessings happen every day when we are open and compassionate enough to respond to suffering situations. There are many opportunities to offer hope for a better today and tomorrow. Children are swift to respond to compassion and respect.

Njala University hosted a women’s Forum for a visiting American group of women promoted by Hilary Clinton to enter into dialogue with Sierra Leone women. There were business women involved in universities, Twitter, Google, cell phone diversification and financing agencies. They were welcomed by Traditional Chiefdom women, business women and three Women’s Traditional Society reps. It was quite inspiring to hear the songs and presentations from the women of Sierra Leone which included the health needs, medical clinics, transportation (some women cannot go to the clinic or hospital due to lack of transportation, roads and finances so the mortality rate is still high), employment and gender issues. There are more women in Parliament now and more running in the upcoming elections and hopefully that will bring these issues into sharper focus of local governments. This is the International Year for Women after all is said and done! Sierra Leone still has the highest death rates for Maternal mothers and children according to world sources. Check it out.

The Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts organization is continuing to grow. They are preparing to assist with the landscaping and planting in the Round-Abouts. There is even discussion of maintaining one of them once they are complete!

M & M have a productive garden in the compound including, papaya, mangoes, ocra, yams, garden eggs, egg plants, peppers, limes, sugar cane, potato vines and watermelon! There are also some indigenous medicinal plants which will be discussed in the next dispatch! Germinating and transplants include grapefruit, lime, hibiscus, daisies, ‘everlasting’ Greenleaf bush, small flowering bushes and few ‘unknown’ plants.

Our home has become a meeting place for many professionals including the Mayor, other doctors, NGO reps, volunteers and friends from our neighbourhoods. The only pets continue to be the lizards who keep the ant population down, little evening albino lizards who keep indoor insects under control. Some local people keep trying to bring chickens and are now considering a goat to help with the fast growing vegetation. We don’t answer the gate unless the person is persistent. We know the need is great and respond as best we can. Mark is still busy marking exams, grading and recording the results. It’s taken a few weeks now. Hopefully we’ll be able to leave for a few days to explore the country and wildlife yonder.

Those interested in volunteer work can check the website for CUSO-VSO in Ottawa. There are information sessions in B.C. from time to time and applications can be made anytime for many different countries. We began by researching then applying for consideration. CUSO and VSO responded to a request from Njala University and here we are. Once the paperwork was all complete it took only a month or so to finalize all arrangements. The Sierra Leone National Director, Yohannes Tesfamicheal, has been a great support and has become a dear friend.

If only there was an aquatic center or even a river to cool down and swim around safely! Perhaps this dream will come true sooner rather than later.

Shalom from Salone!

Mark Hyslop