This evening I took a long walk out of town and bumped into one of the intrepid local hunters. Every week or so one or more hunters will pass through the town with nets and machetes. The animal they hunt is the mythical ferocious “cutting grass”. From the vague descriptions I’ve been given, I imagine a giant nocturnal guinea pig that causes havoc in the fields. Tonight I had many of the young men convinced that the one I caught using the Canadian method of dropping bits of bread in its path slipped out of my hands and escaped. I’ll be curious to see how many turn up to the Tuesday evening “cutting grass hunting classes” I’ll be offering.
Seemingly simple conversations often lead down unexpected paths. This morning, for instance, while discussing motorbikes, I learnt that Kouamie took a woman in labour to the hospital on the motorbike last night and that she lost blood continually on the journey. Last year, in a similar situation in which a woman in extreme distress in a far-off village who was delivering twins was taken to the hospital, Kouamie ended up providing her and the twins with the blood they needed to stay alive (he’s done this several times). She, incidentally, is now living in our household and her son, Hassan, is the child I wrote about last week (the one who spends all his time caring for his twin siblings). When I asked today about his age, I was surprised to hear that he is seven. I had assumed that he was quite a bit younger. I asked why he isn’t in school and was told that because he and his sister have no shoes or school uniform, they can’t attend. (We’re buying the cloth tomorrow.) The chief pointed out several other children living in the household in somewhat similar situations. In many villages there is no one able to read or write and in those cases, the chief tries to find at least one child to bring to Mapaki, send to school, and give food and lodging to so that every village in the chiefdom will have at least one person able to read. There are many of these children here and each day I seem to find or meet more of them. As educating girls, especially, is a priority, many of them are girls. And of course, as there is no financial support for the children, this puts considerable strain on the household. It is quite an eye-opening experience to live in a community where very few adults can read or write. As I help draft funding applications for agricultural or school support in the smaller villages where maybe only one person can read, the power of literacy and impact of illiteracy becomes very apparent, and explains how communities can be overlooked in development plans and initiatives.