Sunday, December 30, 2007

December 30, 2007

This morning I stepped out at 5:30am and realized I've been missing out on a perfectly peaceful time of the day when the stars are still bright but the first glow of morning illuminates the dew on plants, meandering goat, occasional girl headed for the firepit rubbing sleep from her eyes, and the mournful call of the imam to prayer is crystal clear. Crystal clear, that is, until I meandered down the road towards the “office” enjoying the peace of the moment, and slowly was disturbingly puzzled by a high pitched repetitive electronic squeal growing in intensity. It turns out that last night's computer work drained the solar batteries so much that in the night, the small drain of the inverter put the system in overload, triggering a warning. I have no idea of how long this went on, but will be needing an interpreter for the lengthy explanation and apology to the elderly women and grandchildren who sleep right next to the building.

Last night I managed to set up a wireless system and took the laptop across the road to show the Mapaki slideshow to the gang sitting out on the chief's steps. As I'd promised they'd meet my mom and my mom wasn't home, we made a quick Skype video call to my sister and my Mapaki friends took a virtual visit to Annapolis Royal and met with my niece and nephew.

Slipping back and forth between my “old” pre-technology days here and the new wired world has been almost as much of an adjustment as my initial arrival and yesterday I was glad to take a little time away from the computer to go to our demo school gardens in Mapaki and Maso. In Mapaki I arrived just as the last of the beds were made by the back-breaking efforts of friends labouring with large hoes cutting through roots and sods. As I'd lent out my hoe, unfortunately I was forced to sit out in the shade of the mango tree, watching birds glide overhead, feeling the warmth of the sun dappling on my shoulders, sipping lemon water provided by my small children friends. Too bad! Afterwards I rode the bike to Maso and was reminded of how much I love taking to the quiet road, music and sounds of birds and crickets in my ears, humbled by the daunting magnificence of the beauty of the surrounding area. In Maso, they were harvesting the radishes and we talked about marketing plans. As the Maso folks seem overwhelmed with challenges of finding transportation, setting prices, and dealing with buyers for these new vegetables, we thought we might combine efforts with Mapaki and together work on transportation and marketing. Last week I saw a sign that said, “Education is Food.” Given the efforts in farming the community here takes to raise funds for school needs, I think the sign could also read “Food is Education.” After harvesting and building beds, we used the computer to create an interest/order form to take to potential customers in Makeni to determine the kinds and amount of vegetables to be grown.

Yesterday we also used the computer to search for information on several issues. Lemons are ripe and I seem to be the only one consuming them (still have a huge pile that flavour the water I drink and food I eat). I've been told not to eat lemons as they will drain my blood and prevent sleep. Curious about this, we did a search on health risks of lemon and found, to the contrary, many references to sleep-inducing properties of lemon. This led to an interesting discussion on accuracy of information in many contexts (who's to say the internet information is more accurate than local knowledge?). It might be time to pull out my critical and media literacy tools and start looking at questions of interest in knowledge creation.

I'm devoting today to passing on my knowledge of the computer and network to friends here who will take over as I move to Makonkorie in the next few weeks. I'll also be helping to set up the “official” cdpeace office in Mayagba (although the Mapaki office was the first one established, it is an extension project). I realize I also need to take some time away from programming work in education, health, agriculture and concentrate on strengthening cdpeace itself as an institution and organization if we are to be able to continue doing and supporting this work.

Three hours later…It seems that slipping back and forth between old pre-technology days and the new wired world is as much of an adjustment to the community at large as it is for me. I have just left one of the most interesting and thought-provoking meetings I’ve ever attended. This morning the chief told me he was calling a meeting to ask people to start making bricks for the new library. In his introduction he emphasized the significance of the library and arrival of the internet, how ours is the only chiefdom with the internet, some of its practical and symbolic uses, and that while now, I’m the only one now who knows how to use it, Mapaki people are in the process of learning as well. After this introduction a local teacher shared a dream that he had of electricity coming to Sierra Leone. In his dream, people were installing power poles and wires which, just before arriving in Mapaki, veered off to Kafoima, the sacred mountain next to the village. Various people, including the imam, interpreted the dream as very positive, but one that repeated a strong warning recently sent to the village by others (related to the recent tragic deaths we’ve had). The general consensus was that the dream was sent by ancestors who were warning the community not to forgot them or its traditions. The elders reminded the community that of late, past traditions were being neglected and it was time to revive these. A decision was made to return to the sacred forest immediately and sacrifice a red goat and the rest of the meeting discussed practical matters of finding a goat and the general need of the community to take better care of the goats now here (not let them wander in the village at will). A visiting descendant of Mapaki explained that people from Mapaki now living in Freetown are hearing about the good things happening in Mapaki and will be happy to contribute and return.

So…now, with the battery slowly recharging, I’m torn between spending the next two hours writing a press release about the arrival of the internet in Mapaki, completing agricultural gtz applications, starting a new one for cdpeace staffing, going to the garden, doing laundry, or following up on this morning’s meeting before heading to Mayagba to meet Mary and set up the cdpeace office. I suspect that when I step out of the door here, all of these options will disappear as I’ve neglected to greet anyone this morning and old friends have just arrived back in town.