Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sixth Post - October 27

Wednesday October 23, 2007

In Canada, my friend Thomas told me that expressing gratitude is an important part of his culture. I really had no idea of what he meant until arriving in Mapaki and learning my first few words of Temne. It took me a little while to get used to hearing people indiscriminately call out “thank you, thank you!” to all and sundry. (Initial greetings are either “hello!” or “thank you!”). I’m expressing gratitude now like the rest and truly mean it when I call out “momo, momo!” to passersby from the back of the bike or to friends and neighbours sitting out on their front verandas.

Tonight my friend Ma Binty told me that her eight year old son has never been to school as she can’t afford to buy him a uniform or shoes. Turns out that there are many children in this situation, which I hope we will be able to resolve without too much problem. I continue to be amazed by what parents are willing to put up with in terms of educational needs (fees, uniforms, shoes, teacher salaries, money for water buckets, etc.) despite the fact that many have no cash income at all. I had a long conversation about education needs with the chairperson of the district council this week, who told me that in the whole district, only fifty students per year were able to continue their education past grade 12. That would mean that of all the children in this chiefdom, only one is likely to continue post-secondary formal education each year, which gives cause for somber reflection on the content and purpose of a university-prep curriculum.

Each day after school the children head out to harvest rice on the farms, usually stripped down to underwear and with younger siblings on their backs. Meeting gangs of children on the road who come running into my arms calling out “Kadiatu, Kadiatu!” is one of my daily joys. (Actually, seeing the pure joy in the play and interactions of the children provides me with continual delight.) I’ve decided that it’s time for me to join in the work of farming also and have been offered a piece of land at the school farm, which I hope to start brushing soon. The outside wall of the house is smeared top to bottom with crushed tomato and tomato seeds so we should soon have lots of seedlings germinating and ready for transplanting.

Yesterday I paid the local tax and discovered that I was the first in the village to do so. I’ll need to see about getting landed status soon.

Thursday October 25, 2007

Under the beauty and joy here lies an unsettling reality that lurks constantly and emerges too often. Death…and devastatingly too often, the death of a child. Minutes ago my young friend Moses came crying into my arms to tell me his sister had just died. A few hours ago, Dora Turay, a brilliant grade two girl from Mapaki who has been living with her aunt in a neighbouring village and who is the niece of my good friends Joseph and Daniel, died unexpectantly and suddenly at home. The family has just left to collect her body, which will be buried tomorrow. No one is able to tell me what caused her death beyond “a devil”.

Friday…under the light of yesterday’s full moon I joined the rest of the women of Mapaki to spend much of the night sitting in wait in front of the house of Dora’s family, who are also my neighbours, until her body arrived and Joseph asked me to come in to be with the family. Moses, who was inconsolable, had to be carried out and spent the next hour crying in my arms. Today we continued our vigil outside of the house while people from neighbouring villages came to join us. As babies were passed around and tears shed, the talk was of children. My friend Woti told me she has given birth to ten children, Mary, eight. Dora was buried within 24 hours of her death in a shaded nook in the sacred bush while family and friends sang of sadness and death and her classmates looked on. Her parents, who live in Kono, did not make it back in time for the burial. It has been a bitter-sad day of reflection and shared tears over Dora’s body, in the peace of the bush, and through hands sharing work. A second death met us, as we got word that one of the chiefdom elders also died during the night in a neighbouring village and the chief prepared to attend that burial.

The talk today was of the difference between Canada and Sierra Leone, why so many children here die, and how death is a bitter presence in everyone’s life and family.

During all of this I got word that the container has arrived, which required a quick trip to Makeni early this morning on the motorbike to deal with logistics. We’re now waiting for its arrival here tonight. My hands are slightly bruised from peeling mounds of cassava and the usual joy in my heart is tempered with sadness over unnecessary death and concern for my friends. I hope that tomorrow’s unloading of the container will bring benefits that outweigh the challenges that may accompany it (I notice that when conflict arises among children, it’s almost always about possession of the few material items around and I hope that the container doesn’t contribute to this in any way.)

***UPDATE*** container arrived and was unloaded in the wee hours last night. All good news!! More later.