Saturday, December 29, 2007

Live from Mapaki! December 29, 2007

Communications. Usually the town crier comes around at 5:30am with a verbal message to pass on to the people of Mapaki. Two days ago I woke up at 5:30am to the sound of feet hurrying past the house blowing two short whistle calls (a message of some kind to the people of Mapaki). I also woke thinking about the fact that for the past four months I’ve had virtually no news about the world outside of my village, and thinking of all the people I haven't been able to contact about various projects we're working on. Without a doubt, difficulties with communications is the main stumbling block I've faced here.

But what a world of difference the past 24 hours have made! In the past 24 hours I have seen and spoken with most of my family members in four communities/ three countries across an ocean and introduced them to friends in Mapaki (everyone wants to see and meet my mom). My brother and nephew took my Mapaki friends on a web-cam tour of their snow-filled backyard and street in Halifax. I’ve made email arrangements with a friend in Canada to meet in Mapaki or Kabala this week (phone coverage here is virtually nonexistent). I forwarded email messages from a friend in Mapaki to his brother far away and helped another friend to set up his American brother with Skype. The chief has been able to see the exact location of the main villages in the chiefdom and to navigate to Freetown and my house in Canada through Google Earth. Also to have an hour long conversation with Thomas in Canada. After the farmers in Maso gave me the radishes they grew from NS seeds, telling me they had no idea what to do with them, I was able to pull up and share on-line radish and radish leaf recipes. I’ve been able to finally post photos on my blog and I’ve been listening to radio world news non-stop. All of this is thanks to the solar powered satellite internet (both donations to cdpeace/PSI) that arrived and was installed yesterday.

While this may not seem like such a big deal for people in Canada who have public access internet, radio, newspapers, TV, magazines, books, schools, a working postal service, etc., for here it is. Mapaki is the only village in Sierra Leone with internet, and the installers tell me it’s likely to be one of the fastest systems. We are transitioning from a community with a 90% illiteracy rate to a community that is connected to the world and there has been a steady stream of Very Important People from Makeni and the District Council stopping by to witness and wonder about this.

I am working out the bugs in the system (getting two laptops on-line, conserving our limited power, scheduling access and training, etc.) and am pleased that the need to recharge the batteries allows me to make a couple of forays to the garden to sit, water, wonder, and recharge my own batteries. I have a long list of “to dos” now that we’re connected and will need to be sure that I don’t become welded to the machine (have already decided to sleep in the “office” to be able to work in the wee hours if I wake). Tomorrow morning I’ve arranged to meet the Maso people at their community garden to help with the radish harvest (and encourage them to try this new vegetable) and hope this will give the batteries a chance to recharge a little. I hope we'll be able to take the radishes, along with downloaded recipes, to Makeni to give to potential customers there. Then, ideally, if Makeni people had access to a computer, we could communicate harvest and purchase needs to tailor the garden harvest directly to the needs of the buyers. Something to work on....