Landing in Lungi International Airport spiked my heart rate and stress level. I was about to meet some peculiar Sierra Leoneans, official and unofficial airline security who would act as gatekeepers to our visit to Ngiehun. Billy had apprised me about the reception that I would receive at the airport, so when men yelled and cajoled me to extract the money that I had in my pockets, I should not have been surprised. I was.
Somehow, Moriah and I made our way past baggage carriers and airport security to see at least 50 people pushed against the gates that separated travelers from those they came to see. As our "helpful" attendant commanded us to stay in the confines of the terminal, I saw two welcome signs bearing our names. I turned the tables on our baggage manipulation specialist and began yelling at him, "That's my name! There they are! No, I am not waiting for the rain to quit. I am going! Now!" My stress dissipated with one quick hug from Sophie.
I cannot begin to convey the impressions that the people of Ngiehun made on us. As much as the airport personnel startled me with their aggressiveness, the villagers astonished me by their hospitality and love. Although Mohamed, Sophie, and Charles felt like family, one person who exemplified the openhearted hospitality of the village was Chief Lansina. Chief Lansina is quite a character who enjoyed small "gifts" as well as our presence in the village. Chief came with Mohamed as he escorted us through the village on our first day. Chief even gave me my Mende name of Jatu. Although he never spoke to us in English, he made us feel incredibly welcome. A typical meeting would last from 20 minutes to over an hour. He would continually call our Mende names, Mariama and Jatu, and say, "Besie" and then grunt. Through some tutoring from Charles, Moriah and I quickly learned to return the greeting, including the grunt. Chief's declaration of "Besie. Ka. Ka. Ka. Ka" said it all. Besie means thank you for your presence. Ka means much or big. By repeating the word "ka," Chief was saying, "Thank you very much for your presence." I cried as chief Lansina walked away from me for the last time as I realized that I might never see him again. He represented the open hearts that greeted us on a daily basis throughout the village.
Moriah and I came to Ngiehun to teach the tabernacle and meet our brothers and sisters in Christ. We learned from them to embrace and appreciate people as beautiful gifts from God. My prayer is to help Mohamed and Sophie continue to grow their vision of educating students and introducing people to Jesus. I pray that Chief meets Christ so that I may sit with him for hours in heaven and say, "Besie. Ka. Ka. Ka."
I never quite got over my fear of airport security, but the next time that I get to venture into Lundi airport, I will be overjoyed.
Sharon and Moriah Kimel