Inauguration Day: 2pm (BMT)
Sunday marked a milestone day in the still very young history of MercyHome Freetown: it was our official inauguration in Sierra Leone. Our driver, Ibrahim, was anxious for other reasons: our ceremony also coincided with World Cup final day, with France taking on Croatia (who had previously knocked out England…). Unfortunately I was still feeling rough that morning, so we took things easy and after breakfast we tried to take advantage of the beach for an hour or so before getting ready for the day ahead.
We arrived at the MercyHome compound around noon to find preparations for the inauguration in full swing. By our standards, however, things were slow-moving, and because of the constant threat of rain, [manager] Pastor Obi had arranged the use of a hall just up the road, so Ibrahim was also pressed into action to transport food and drinks to the venue by car. Valerie and I are both sticklers for punctuality, and with progress moving at a glacial pace, we were becoming nervous. The inauguration was due to start at 2pm, and we were nowhere near ready. Saffie Kanga noticed our frayed nerves and reassured us that we were on BMT (black man time), so everybody would be late anyway!
God will provide!
Meanwhile I was still nursing a dodgy stomach, which wasn’t helped by my anxiety about delivering a welcome speech to the VIPs, officials and local guests we had invited to the ceremony. Our resident nurse asked me several probing questions, and I waited for her diagnosis with bated breath. After several seconds of contemplation she said, “God will take care of you.” Ah, I’ll be fine, then, I thought.
Time was ticking on, and approaching 2pm I went to find Augustine, who by now was supposed to be at the venue, welcoming the guests and handing out name badges. I found him still inside the house, taking his bath. Nobody seemed to be in any particular hurry today! Valerie and I set off for the hall with Ibrahim, Pastor Obi and one of the guests who had arrived at the compound, one of the kids’ teachers and our appointed “chairman” for the inauguration ceremony.
A television star at last
By the time we arrived at Jackson Hall, some of the guests had already taken their seats and a couple of guys we’d never met were sorting out the sound system. Every event in Sierra Leone, however small, seems to require the use of a microphone and speakers the size of small houses. A journalist from national TV station Star TV also arrived to cover the ceremony, so we made use of the good weather to do a couple of interviews outside. First I spoke about the mission of MercyHome and explained what it is we do. Then the journalist interviewed a few of the kids, Augustine, Kanga and Haja, to get their perspective.
The ceremony eventually began right on time, two hours late. Pastor Obi had invited famous Sierra Leonean comedian Agnes Bockarie to warm up the crowd, and he gave a rousing performance and made all the kids laugh. Unfortunately, everything was in Krio, so Valerie and I didn’t understand a word! But the public were amused. After an introduction of the guests by the chairman, I delivered my welcome speech, which was followed by singing and dancing by the MercyHome kids together with their musical mentor Pastor Timothy. The children also performed a brief skit, which had been written and directed by Pastor Obi. To finish there was a short speech by a representative from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, who encouraged all of the kids of MercyHome to take their academic careers seriously, to work hard to achieve their goals and make their dreams come true.
The day was a great success. And to cap it all, much to Ibrahim’s—and Valerie’s—delight, France were crowned world champions after beating Croatia 4-2.
That evening we returned to the hotel with Augustine and his younger sister Saffie in tow; after their nightmare day at the vets, when the dogs had vomited all over them in the back of the car, followed by a minor traffic accident and a trip to the police station, we had promised to make it up to them by inviting them to stay the night at the hotel. That evening we had dinner together at the hotel restaurant,
and Saffie followed her first ever pizza by trying out all the static exercise machines along the beach. Augustine was not so impressed by his chocolate pudding (too sweet!), but the kids washed everything down with a mocktail—a Coconut Kiss—and to see them smile afterwards was a great finish to the day.
Part 6, coming soon…