F-T-F: Building Blocks
By Daniel Padrnos, FTF Sierra Leone
“So what does a typical day in Sierra Leone look like?” It’s a question that’s often asked but difficult to answer; the only predictable thing about a day here is its unpredictability. Perhaps it was our frustration at our incapability of adequately answering this question which led me and Sergio to begin putting some clips together to show bits and pieces of a “typical day” here. The final product depicts the landscape and setting of where we work, but there are plenty of aspects of our daily lives that it doesn’t show: take for example the heat rash that’s been mysteriously advancing across my back, or the questionable drink concoctions born from Sergio’s creativity (the last being powdered milk with a tea bag and a spoon full of grape jelly). More profoundly however, we were incapable of showing the transformed lives of Sergio’s patients and their families and our own personal transformations as we learn to accept and embrace a culture that continues to surprise us and disprove our assumptions. These instantaneous and gradual transformations make up the essence of our purpose here and are products of living humbly alongside locals.
If our aim was to come to Africa simply to write prescriptions and give building advice then we could have come for a just few weeks and left satisfied. But that’s not FTF. Our main goals during the immersionship (apart from giving medical attention and engineering assistance) are pretty simple: we want to foster positive relationships and become cultural and linguistic experts in order to set a foundation for “Phase II”. This journey isn’t always comfy. I’m constantly stumbling over Krio sentences and phrases, public transport is smelly and jam-packed, and it’s not uncommon to hobble out of a local food joint in a hurry to the nearest bathroom. Locals think it’s weird that Americans have come to their country to live like this, and foreigners and expats here find it stranger still.
But the transformations which we aim to cultivate occur during these moments of humility when we experience Sierra Leone like Sierra Leoneans. These “moments of transformation” often go unnoticed, as when the woman sitting on the other side of the stuffy transport bus questions but appreciates that foreigners are willing to sit like her on broken benches while ear-splitting rap music rattles the entire vehicle. They also occur in conversation in the small restaurant buzzing with flies while we chat with the tired laborer in his own dialect and he realizes that we are actually interested in what he has to say. And of course, listening to the opinions and motivations of the tired laborer shapes and transforms our own perspectives. When we spend months and years serving and living with a community, these moments of transformation build up. We begin to realize patterns and make profound connections, and those around us begin to accept and trust us. Thus, these seemingly insignificant moments are the building blocks we cling to during the immersionship. They come unexpectedly and only as often as we place ourselves at the edge of our comfort zones. They are impossible to catch on camera. But these moments of transformation are both the sacrifice and the reward of loving the suffering poor through humility.
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