I dare say my luggage was on the unusual side for a visitor to the 5th poorest country in the world. There was a little space reserved for clothing, protein bars, sunscreen, and a second pair of flip flops, but those 2 large bags were mostly filled with supplies for our Jesus Spa. Checking my bags onto the United Air flight from Charlotte to Washington, D.C. and then onto South African Airways from D.C. to Dakar, Senegal was not a problem. But when I checked my bags onto Senegal Airlines for the last leg of the journey I was informed that my luggage weight was way over the limit. There's no way for me to know if I had really violated the airline's weight limit that severely or whether this was merely an opportunity for some corrupt official to take advantage of a rich American, but I gladly paid the $60 charge to get my bags safely to their destination where God had plans for all that nail polish and foot cream.
Tonya, Kate and I broke out the goods on the living room floor on Sunday afternoon, sorting, organizing, and planning. Our excitement grew as together we imagined the reactions of the women who were to be the recipients of our blessing. Kate had been inviting women for the past week, as she encountered them in the market, in the rice fields, or along the road. There is no equivalent word for spa in their language since the concept doesn't exist, so she told women that we would be bringing a salon to them. They know about hair salons, though there are none except in the capital city of Bissau, but at least they had a point of reference for beginning to understand what this was about. As she extended personal invitations she told them that some women were coming from America to bring them a gift of love from Jesus. Everyone was intrigued and said they would come, which Kate confessed had surprised her. So now here we were, ready to set up shop.
Because of the need for lots of water, and especially warm water, Kate had decided that we would not be able to take our spa on the road as originally planned. Rather than walk into the villages with our supplies, we would prepare a room on the property where we would have access to a well, a stove, and a large space with chairs, a cot, and a table where supplies could be left set up all week. The women would come to us. Everyone in Mansoa and in the many tiny villages in the vicinity know about this place. It is commonly called Weedy's (Wade's), or casa de bronco (house of the white man) in Creole. It is doubtful that there has ever been such an event in this part of the world, so even though none of us has any experience with giving massages, pedicures or facials, it really didn't matter because they would have nothing to compare it to. My internet research at home had turned up enough information to guide us through the list of supplies to purchase and the steps to perform, and the clients need never know that we were learning on them, not that they would have cared.
In addition to preparing colorful gift bags and clarifying how each item was to be used and who was going to perform which services, we needed to transform the salon room from blah to beautiful. Along with nail clippers, pumice stones, facial mask, and lots of washcloths and towels, I had also purchased a beautiful assortment of silk flowers for making a wreath to adorn the wall. African women do not decorate their homes. How could interior decorating possibly find a place in the life of a person whose entire existence is consumed with survival? We wanted our salon to be a place where they would feel pampered and enveloped in an atmosphere of beauty and extravagant love for a few short hours in their hard lives. So Kate and I took a walk on the property with a machete and cut bunches of elephant grass to form the base of the wreath by wrapping it with thin wire, then tucked the flowers into the tightly bound grass ring until a gorgeous wreath was ready to hang. (My machete skills will need a little sharpening if I'm ever to go into business making these wreaths!)
Hoping to find some wildflowers to use as part of our decor, we took a walk through the bulagna (rhymes with lasagna, and means rice fields) behind their 15+ acres of fenced property. This vast grid of beds where the staple of the West African diet is grown is like nothing I've ever seen. What appears to be a huge level field is actually more like a waffle stamped into sprawling acres of earth. The raised ridges are hard packed narrow paths barely wide enough for a single person on foot to make their way across, with each recessed rectangular planting bed measuring perhaps anywhere from 20 feet to 30 feet in length and/or width. During the growing season these beds collect and hold the water that falls in abundance from the skies, providing a harvest of rice for the women to cut and process for their families' food supply, or perhaps to sell. As we made our way across the bulagna, I just marveled at God's creation. Enormous flocks of weaver birds dropped down into the beds to feast off the grains of rice that had fallen into the dirt among the stubble remaining from a recent harvest, so many of them that when they rose back up into the air they could be heard like a blowing wind from at least 500 feet away. An occasional larger bird of bright blue with long, long tail feathers could be seen coming to rest in a tree along the outer edge of the bulagna, and the sun was setting in front of us like a gigantic glowing ball suspended in the sky just above the horizon.
It almost took my breath away.