Robert Scott Heavner (Sierra Leone 1969-71)

Monday, November 21
5:06 pm

I WALKED INTO THE VILLAGE beneath an intense West African sun. As I walked along the bush path, the sun trickled through a canopy of oil palm and banana leaves. Soft squawking of distant birds and spider monkeys balanced the mystical silence. Soon an opening revealed a vastness of rice fields stretching beyond a great river to the Guinean mountains forty miles away. My heart was heavy as I walked and read a letter from my friend,,Ira, telling me that he was too ill to continue and was about to return home. It was just the fifth month of my assignment and already three of my six closest friends from training had terminated. I felt alone and abandoned.

I continued on to the road and into the village. I sat down on the banks of the Great Scarcies River and felt like Siddhartha as I pondered my life and who would feel like family now.

Just then, Shebora Kamara, a shy young student greeted me in his customary formal English. I was about to realize the obvious – that there was so much to be part of if only I’d look around. I had a choice to belong to Shebora’s community, his quest to learn, his extended family, his friends. I suddenly began to let go of thoughts of my life belonging elsewhere. Acceptance became my mission. I relaxed and allowed the serenity of the bush path to take hold. For the two years that followed, I found it hard to leave my village, even for weekends away.

It is nineteen years later now. As I glance at the devil mask and fertility doll which adorn my mantel, I think of the veranda and rice field they once watched over. On a shelf nearby lies a letter from Sierra Leone. It’s written in that familiar form idiom. Shebora tells me that recently he became Headmaster of the very school he attended as my student. He expresses gratitude to me for helping him at the beginning of his educational career. He tells me how the school, despite crippling economic adversity has expanded and improved.

I always knew how much West African had given me. Until this moment I never felt clear on what I had given back. The great river, the rice fields and Shebora’s words will forever remain imprinted upon my soul.

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