Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tenth Post - December 5, 2007

December 2, 2007

The first rooster crowed two hours ago, the imam is calling people to prayer, and the World AIDS Day “Condom Night” disco dance has ended after ten hours of nonstop music and dance. My partner for the night was, hands-down, the best dancer in all of Mapaki. While he struggled valiantly to keep competitors at bay, when the mothers of my best friends came to dance with me, seven-year old Hassan threw up his hands in defeat and waited for me to leave to walk me home. I got a fairly decent night’s sleep (I left with all the children and mothers when the door fee was applied) but have been wondering why these events go on for so long. I think it may be because many of the participants come from distant villages, and with no place to sleep, no lights, and no transportation, would find it difficult to make their way home any earlier than this.

World AIDS Day is a big day in Mapaki. The SPW volunteers, John and Mohamed, did a superb job of organizing all sectors of the community, including the students and teachers of six chiefdom schools, in a four-hour very engaging presentation of song, drama, dance, and talk on HIV-AIDS. My role was to do the football (soccer) kick-off and invite people to join me in getting tested for HIV (students visiting from Dalhousie medical school will be helping with this). Actually the prevalence of AIDS seems relatively low in the district, which is one of the reasons that the education and sensitization is so crucial (to maintain or lower this rate). As I watch people die from poverty-related illness, I’ve come to understand how poverty is essentially at the root of the AIDS crisis in Africa, where malnourished people are so much more susceptible to AIDS-related illnesses and economic hardship causes family dislocation and transient populations.

Later…have just returned from the church service, where I go to hear what Father Bruno, the local itinerant Italian priest who’s been here 15 years and speaks perfect Krio and pretty good Temne, has to say. His messages generally have a very good social element (my favourite quote, “this isn’t revolution, it’s justice!”). I enjoy the drumming and singing, am taking an interest in religious matters (very difficult not to, living here), and want to alleviate the worries of my friends who are concerned that I am neither Muslim nor Christian. Actually, the role of the church in Sierra Leone is quite interesting. I learned this week that 42% of the schools are Roman Catholic, despite the fact that Christianity is the minority religion. All community events begin with Muslim and Christian prayers, and everyone seems to participate in the others’ prayers. I wondered about why it is that so many of the Muslims know the Lord’s Prayer and Christian songs and think it may be because so many of them have gone to Catholic schools. I also learned that the church social action branch has produced a peace education curriculum for Sierra Leone and look forward to getting a copy and seeing how we can work together on implementation.

Today is the fifth anniversary of the crowning of the paramount chief and he’s spending it quietly resting and meeting with the health workers. Here there are two systems of governance that seem to work hand in hand. Members of parliament and district councilors are elected for a limited term and as the national government is decentralized, the council is taking on increased responsibility. Paramount chiefs, covering an equivalent geographic area, also contest elections for their seat, but once elected, their term is for life. This, of course, has mixed implications. When a not-so-good chief is elected, the community needs to develop ways to circumvent his/her power (which is increasingly limited, in any case). On the other hand, when a good chief is elected, s/he can focus on working purely for the benefit of the community without worrying about political maneuverings. Our chiefdom has a population of over19,000 living in about 50 villages that are organized into six sections, each headed by a section chief. Each village also has a headman. Issues that pertain to the whole chiefdom are discussed at chiefdom meetings with representatives from all the villages. As mentioned before, our chiefdom is economically one of the poorest but probably most beautiful and welcoming in the country.

Monday December 3, 2007

Yesterday the visiting wife of our member of parliament asked me how I spend my days. As this day winds down, I thought I’d try to reconstruct it as a sample of a “typical” day. (Actually none of my days are the same so, typical is really meaningless.)

5:00am Wake, put up the bednet, and work on the laptop in bed by the light of a wind-up torch.

6:30am Wash (Auntie Hawa has heated water for bathing, which I use with a half gourd for dipping…the winds are starting to blow in from Europe and I’m told the weather is “cold” now). Get water from the well (actually an elderly neighbour came over to take over pumping for me and Isatu filled my second bucket at the other well). Gather clothes to wash in the bucket on the back porch. Wash last night’s pot and look for food (no bread at Fatmata’s, but I have bananas). Curse my promise to stop eating rice that slept.

7:00am Consult with chief, who passes by, about day’s plans. Joseph stops by with a bundle of cassava from his garden (our informal arrangement is that he brings cassava and I roast them to share).

7:15am Sweep house and porch and start washing clothes.

7:30am Continue washing while talking with Alex, the tailor, who stops by to discuss a proposal for support the three tailors in Maso have put together. He tells me of the equipment they had and work they did before the war and how they dream of reviving even a small part of that history. How they are all volunteering their time but need a small loan to purchase fabric to sew clothes in time for Christmas. (The tradition here is that all the women and children get new clothes for Christmas.). Joseph comes by to reinforce Alex’s request and we have a long discussion about funding. Adama, the tie-dieing expert from Makambray, stops by to answer some questions I had about cost of producing garra (died cloth) for fair trade with Canada, we go to find some sample white cloth from the container for dieing, the chief joins the conversation and we move into the barrie to draft a budget. Michael stops by to tell me that he can’t go to a computer class I’ve arranged in Makeni. Adama, Joseph, and Alex work on the budget while I return to washing and greeting passing neighbours. The girls in the house stop to see if there will be any food at lunchtime.

8:30am Get call from Manfred, the German volunteer who is teaching the computer class, and explain Michael’s situation. Finish washing and try to call Linda, VSO volunteer from Makeni who plans to visit today (no phone coverage). Consult again with chief, who needs to leave town for a family issue. Chief explains to me the history of how his family came to be one of the ruling houses of the chiefdom (very interesting story born of colonial misrule time) and his connection to his ancestral home. Set up tables and chairs for visiting guests’ meal and stop to say “momo, momo!” to the women who are cooking.

9:00am Arrange bike borrowing. I keep three bikes in my room that get borrowed daily by many. Pack laptop and head to the new house to work on funding proposals. Stop to greet neighbours and kids going to school on the way. Work on ten agricultural funding proposals for GTZ. This is a massive job that really should be done on a spreadsheet as there are pages of calculations needed. Try to figure way to get this done in time for January deadline (involves arranging workshop or visits to 8 communities, long discussions in 2-3 languages, etc.)

9:30 Someone stops by to see if I have a lightbulb for the adult literacy class to use with the cable I bought to “borrow” power from the community centre when the generator is working. This will provide light to the class that meets in an outdoor barrie in the evenings, always runs out of kerosene and have no funding). Go see the barrie and find lightbulb.

10:30am Two VSO volunteers and a director from London arrive. After being welcomed by the village elders, we do a walking tour of Mapaki, starting at the health centre and ending at the schools. The visitors seem somewhat taken aback at the lack of equipment, beds, and medications at the health centre and the 72 grade one students packed into one small classroom (the children, on the other hand, are delighted with the photo-taking and cry out in amazement when the flash goes off).

12:00 We have a lovely lunch with the elders and the visitors depart. I head back to work on proposals. During the afternoon several more bike borrowers come by to make arrangements.

3:00 Am visited by Thomas’ nephew, Samuel, and head teacher of Makambray, Francis Conteh. Have very good, long talk with Francis about cultural differences regarding dependency/generosity and my time here so far. While I’ve been feeling guilty that I haven’t been spending enough time at the schools (am still waiting for word on our funding application), he tells me that my initiatives give the volunteer teachers the hope they need to continue coming to school each day. Discuss pros and cons of getting funding from religious institutions and decide to investigate Operation Classroom (Methodist program that builds schools). Continue working on proposals.

6pm Take break to eat and go for walk along the Maso road with ipod. Stop to chat with passersby, including three boys who offer to make a hoe for me and help me dig heaps in my garden. Return home, decide I need a haircut, and cut my hair.

7:00pm Stop by the health care workers’ house to thank them for helping with the visitors and have chat with my “son-in-law” (one of the elderly men whose marriage I’ve arranged …see post on humour). Return to computer work.

8:00pm Chief returns and stops by to talk. We discuss two new initiatives for funding and plans for moving forward with proposals. Remember that my phone has no power and go to community centre (the generator is on) to charge it. Head for home in the dark, gather dry washing, stop to talk with the students studying on the porch (we have a light there for studying). Girls from the house and next door stop by, I show them the photos from AIDS Day on the computer, and we share the rice I have.

9:30pm Listen to music on the ipod, tuck in the bednet, wind up lanterns, and drift off to sleep.

4:30am Wake to worry about the tailors’ need for cloth and generate a plan to support them. Listen to music (computer battery is dead) until the first bike borrower arrives at 6:30am. A new day starts.

Tuesday December 4, 2007

So that was yesterday. Today will be somewhat similar. The grandmother of my namesake stopped by to drop Kadiatu in my arms as she often does, and the baby stayed with me in my room which was in desperate need of cleaning (the bikes track in a lot of dirt and I rarely spend time in my room, although did this morning as the solar panels were not charged). Many pre-schoolers in town with their moms for a “Christian Children’s Fund” meeting have been stopping by to greet me and investigate the room and all my wonders (two buckets, a flashlight, a bike cart!). I’ve hauled a second car battery for the solar panels to the new house as we seem to be unusually low in power today. The electrician just came in to tell me he can’t help hook it up as his brother has just died and he needs to go home. Alex is sewing curtains for the new house, the solar panel has power now, and I’m back at work.

Stopped by the community centre later in the day to get some books and have been sharing biographies about Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Helen Keller with passersby. Only one person, teacher Robert, had heard of Nelson Mandela, which surprised me until I thought about the general lack of access to external information of any kind unless you have a radio and batteries. Robert, who has studied history, pleaded with me to get many books about Africa and we had a long talk about the legacy of poverty left by western intervention (slavery, continuing resource extraction, etc.) and how little this is acknowledged. Both the books and conversation reminded me again about my plans for work with students in Canada and I realize I should be preparing for this also. Already I’m worrying that my time here will be over too soon (though I have made a commitment to myself to keep returning/stay until the chief’s tenth anniversary of crowning in another five years’ time).