The fresh fish Kate had purchased at the market in Mansoa was transformed by Rosa into a delicious lunch. The cheb u jen (rice with fish, of course) included cabbage, pumpkins, onions, tamarind, and a delectable combination of seasonings. As it was being served up in two large family bowls, we all refilled our water bottles for the umpteenth time that day. The dry season in West Africa is just that - dry. Supposedly it is also a little cooler than the wet season, but you couldn't prove that by me since the afternoon temperature had been at least 100 for several hours each afternoon, cooling down to around 70 at night. Between the heat and the lack of moisture in the air, we consumed a lot of water. With the well next to the house turning salty, Wade made daily trips by truck to a clean well in the village to collect water for us to drink. We three ladies, having just given Sara her special treatment at noon, the two men, having spent the morning mixing concrete in a wheelbarrow and pouring the first slab of foundation for the new guest house, and the three kids and their capable young teacher, having completed another day's lessons, gathered around the bowls in the shade of the back porch while Asher looked on, patiently waiting for a fish head or some leftover rice.
After a time of rest during the hottest part of the day, we welcomed five more ladies to the Jesus Spa. Four of them, believers, came together. The fifth lady, Iness, came with her six children in tow. Iness was the woman we had been hoping to visit in the first Monsanka village we entered the morning before, whose naked, dirty children had been delighted by Tonya's attentions. The sight of them walking into our midst was almost shocking, as every one of those children was clean and dressed in nice clothing, and Iness herself looked like royalty. What extreme effort it must have been for her to get all those children and herself clean and dressed to make the 2-3 mile walk in the heat of the day! And not only did this tired, hardworking, demon worshipping mother show up on time to receive the blessing we were preparing to give her, she gifted us with a bag of vegetables from her garden! That was a difficult gift to receive, but to not receive it would have been an offense that could potentially have damaged her growing relationship with Kate and Wade. Just a few months ago Iness had had a hard life putting food into the mouths of all those children without the benefit of nearly any of the luxuries we consider indispensable, but now she was carrying that burden as a widow. Her husband had been murdered in a dispute over a piece of meat.
With so many children roaming the property that afternoon, their curiosity leading them to peek in the windows from time to time to catch a glimpse of the unusual activities going on inside that brightly decorated salon room, it was finally decided that Tonya was needed more outside than inside. So Kate took her place on the floor to carry on with the scrubbing and rubbing of tired feet, and Heather took over the position of shoulder massager. The squeals and laughter that were heard coming from the pavilion several hundred feet away attracted my attention until I could no longer resist taking a quick break from the facial station with camera in hand to capture the excitement that Tonya was generating among the children. With the six visiting children together with seven of the eight that lived on the property, there was a sizeable group of sweaty little bodies sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor of the shady pavilion. Tonya had decided to teach them to play "duck duck goose". Not knowing the Creole names of those particular fowl, however, she needed some suitable substitutes quickly. Flapping her arms and pointing at the sky, someone finally interpreted her charade and provided her with the word calla, presumably meaning bird; and one of the American kids was able to teach her the word galinha. And so it was that a group of African bush kids and American missionary kids had a blast playing "bird bird chicken."
After the salon services were completed and the recipients were offering up hugs and expressions of gratitude with their orange, pink, green, and blue gift bags dangling from their grips, Kate decided to bless Iness and her children with a ride back to their village. Iness and the youngest of her children piled into the backseat of the truck while the overflow climbed into the backend for the bumpy ride to her village. Shortly after passing through the gate that marks the entrance to the center's property, we encountered a couple women heading home from the bulanga with the fruits of their day's labor on their heads. Then a few little boys scooted quickly out of the road to let the truck pass, and a tired-looking older man appeared around the bend and motioned for the truck to stop. Kate's local taxi service came to a halt while the man climbed over the side of the truck followed by the boys who saw an opportunity to catch a ride with the white lady. When the truck reached the paved road the man smacked the side window loudly a few times, communicating to Kate that he was ready to disembark, and the hitchhikers all piled out shouting their "obrigados" as we waved and sent them on their way with cheerful "ciaos". A short distance down the road, lined with people walking in both directions, we pulled off onto another dirt road for a short distance until it turned into a footpath and the grass roofs of Iness's village were just visible over the tops of the trees. A crowd of about thirty young people was gathered at that intersection of road and path. Was this the local hangout for older kids? Or perhaps they were on their way home from school and just happened to be passing through that spot when we arrived. Many of them rushed up to the truck to touch it, some reaching up for us to clasp hands and exchange greetings. "Bo-tarde! Bo-tarde!" The shy ones hung back a little, but never took their eyes off us during the time it took for Iness and her children to disembark and for Kate to make a 12-point turn in that tiny space to head the truck back out the way we came in.
Iness in her royal blue dress disappeared down the path into the elephant grass back to her difficult life. But this time she returned home with more knowledge of Jesus and more to think about. Hopefully one day she will place her trust in Him and find hope.