Sierra Leone – on story and song

Tayll Ahm Taynkee, Tayll Ahm.
Tayll Papa Gohd Taynkee.
What He Do Fah Me,
I Go Tayll Ahm Taynkee.

Only a few short weeks ago, I was sitting with my family in a dusty room with faded paint, which could not contain life and hope from radiating inside its walls. It was here, in this unique Sierra Leonean “polio camp,” that we had the incredible opportunity to journey through the stories of some remarkable men and women living with Polio. They shared with us common hardships that were difficult for my American mind to adequately comprehend, yet overflowing joy was never too distant from their countenance (which perhaps was also difficult for my American mind to adequately comprehend). While I struggled to understand every word through the translation flavored with a Krio accent, it was in the moment they began to sing that my heart understood the depth of their stories beyond words. Our leader Chris, whom I grew to quickly respect on the trip, powerfully said of my family,

Your story is felt in the undercurrent of your song.

That phrase resonates with my family’s story better than any other descriptors I have heard, and as I continue to unpack the rich truths this trip revealed, I begin to realize that same phrase encapsulates the moment when these men and women began to sing the words above. With the unique African beat and no-holds belting, they sang…and I heard their story. In English, the words above say…
Tell Him, “Thank You,” tell Him. Tell Papa God, “Thank You.”
What He do for me, I’ll go tell Him, “Thank You.”
And then they began to dance, unhindered by wheel-chairs and withered limbs. As the song built and was layered with even more passion, the leader interspersed lines between the actual lyrics of the song and said things like, “When there’s no food on the table, I go Tayll Ahm Taynkee, Tayll Ahm (Tell Him Thank You, Tell Him)…” Hearing those words, knowing they’ve lived through depths when offering thanks was truly a sacrifice, seeing physical difficulties play no role in whether or not they would worship…their story was felt in the undercurrent of their song.

Later in the trip, we found ourselves warmly welcomed into a village where Water4 was in the midst of drilling a well that would soon drastically change the lives of those villagers. As the men had the arduous task of digging, the women of my family had the opportunity to talk with the women of the village. As we sat snugly in a circle, perhaps slightly unsure of each other, we got to peak into their lives. We asked when they had a chance to rest, to which laughter ensued as the task of carrying 30 gallons of water on their heads multiple times a day from the filthy river a quarter of a mile away left minimal time to rest. (Water 4 and the villagers graciously let us ATTEMPT this overwhelming task – and let me tell you, it is impossible! I could barely make the journey with a 3/4 full bucket a 5 year old would typically carry – to say I have a new respect for this all-encompassing task would be a grave understatement.) We asked how many children passed away from diseases carried in the river water, which was all they had to drink – a somber silence was the sobering answer. After many more questions found their way into our little circle and emotions were expressed which did not need words, we asked how their lives would change after the well brought clean water for the first time in their lives. And they responded with the only appropriate expression for the moment: song and dance – a song and dance which erupted into unconstrained joy when we returned to the men digging the well and discovered that after three days of digging, water was struck (this moment will stick with me for the rest of my life) – but in their response, their story was felt in the undercurrent of their song.

We then traveled to another village, where water had already been found 40 feet into the soil and the pump would be installed that very day. I was particularly struck with the older men and women of this village. The children ran to us with open arms and unending energy, and some of the younger women began their infectious song and dance accompanied with radiant smiles and resounding laughter But it was the older men and women who welcomed us but stayed on the “porches” of their mud huts, and my mind with its love of narrative wondered what their stories had entailed up until that point of life. They had lived through a brutal civil war with its unspeakable tragedy, propelled by an insatiable demand for diamonds. Had any other circumstance or people or organizations come their way promising life and hope, only to leave them bare? Could we just be a disappointment who would exploit their lives for our own sake of good stories and photos, which would never really bring forth change in their village? Their welcome was uniquely peppered with both hope and skepticism. And so I watched and wondered and tried to sense their story. And after a couple of hours, the pump was finally installed deep into the earth and the kids gathered eagerly with bursting excitement. One of the missionaries of the area, John Campbell, began pumping the well and eventually there it was – clean water. I scanned the crowd and saw some of the men and women leave their porches and venture closer, and after water was undeniably pouring out of the well, John Campbell told the women that they could get their buckets and fill them at that very moment. My eyes locked on one of the women who had not only ventured from her porch, but whose skepticism faded into only remaining and overflowing hope in an instant. Her face told more than my words ever could, and as she began racing back to her hut to retrieve her water buckets, the entire village (former skeptics included) erupted into song and dance and tears flowed from all of our eyes… and their story was felt in the undercurrent of their song.

Each of these stories are being added to the tune of my own. They are being woven into my attempt to reconcile Western culture, where the basic needs of life have already been met and excess is abundant. They are helping truth ring loud in the overwhelming seasons of life, when doubt and fear lap at my toes. These stories are shaping my concept of what hope looks like in its most raw and unguarded form. They are sometimes painfully asking if I truly value what matters or if I find worth in the fleeting but alluring things begging for our attention. They are are stirring a challenge towards true worship and a willingness to offer a surrendered heart to the Lord….

And as I continue to be deepened and stretched with a willingness to wrestle with the things of life rarely wrapped in a perfect bow, I pray a story of hope and authenticity and gratitude and praise is felt in the undercurrent of my song…and I pray that even when there is no food on the table, I’ll go “Tayll Ahm Taynkee.”

One thought on “Sierra Leone – on story and song

  1. Hi Jenn, I prayed for you and your family as you made this amazing journey; thank you for sharing it with us and for transporting me to Sierra Leone from my comfortable, safe, easy water-available life. Along with you I love discovering the story of lives lived, paths walked, mountains moved.
    I am slowly becoming aware that it is not enough for me just to be moved by what I have read about this; flicking a “like” is too easy. I’m not sure yet what action to take, but I’m a bit tired of being a “sender”!
    I love that you take big leaps! Such an inspiration!
    Looking forward to seeing what is ahead for you, and will continue to pray for you.

always love hearing your thoughts...

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