Thursday, December 20, 2007

Twelth Post December 19, 2007

Oh, Mapaki on this Saturday night! The moon is waxing (or is it waning, I can never keep these straight), the dancers and drummers have left and I’m about to curl up in bed and rest from a very full day. The morning was an early one, despite the previous night spent pretty much entirely awake as groups of both men and women’s secret societies wandered the paths with song, chants, and drums for thirteen straight hours (partly meant to forestall a predicted death…the last series were very eerily and accurately recently predicted.)
After several early morning hours of creating powerpoints by torchlight, moving solar batteries, laptops, charts, and other teacher materials into the community centre, we completed a successful teacher workshop and sent participants home fed and happy. Immediately (well, immediately after negotiating footballs for schools, bikes for teachers, funding application dates for farmers, etc.) we rushed to Mayagba for a big welcoming ceremony for all the visiting Canadians (two more, Chuck and his daughter, arrived after three days of travel, just as Mary started the keynote). As always, we were overwhelmed with the welcome, which consisted of men’s and women’s groups (dancers and drummers) using unique percussion instruments, a big meal, a large bafa (outdoor structure built specifically for the occasion), people from many villages, and the local politicians. Particularly overwhelming was the highlight of the event, the surprise presentation of a beautiful newly constructed office/guest house in the village for cdpeace, and the tale of how this gift came about. The building itself is a charming house built of traditional materials and methods, complete with wooden shutters, woven rattan ceiling, cement ventilation louvers, etc. It was built by the younger sister of the chair of the cdpeace construction committee, slowly week by week, from profits made after receiving a micro-credit loan to purchase pieces of fabric to sell in the village. I called dibs on a lovely little room at the back of the house facing the banana and mango trees and now have the choice of having my own room in any of four houses in three communities. The house will serve as the cdpeace base until construction is complete. It represents, I think, the incredible hope cdpeace brings to this area and commitment to working together across boundaries to make this dream a reality. Knowing how many people live without houses or live in houses still damaged from war makes this gift particularly precious and valued.
Back home in Mapaki we were met with women and men drummers, singing, and dancing which continued on until well past the wee hours and I had a few nostalgic pangs for my own drumming group, Samba Nova, as I watched the joy embodied in the faces and feet of the drummers. This public celebration, I was told, was the one chance for women to sing men’s secret songs and vice versa and it was wonderful to see the interactions between the two groups. The women drummers and dancers were mostly in the age range of fifty years, though were surrounded by young and old from the village.

Monday December 18, 2007
Last night the visitors and I had a long and fruitful discussion about our plans, hopes and dreams for long term collaboration in research, education, solidarity, and development. It has been a tremendous gift for me to be able to spend this extended time with others who have a similar outlook, experience, and dreams. Today, serendipitously, last night’s commitment to integrating a focus on resource control/exploitation with peace was reinforced through communication with several others. Tracy Glyn in Canada sent me several articles describing the shooting death here last week of two villagers taking part in a protest again a diamond mining company’s environmental destruction and reneging on relocation promises (the company has strong Canadian connections). I discussed these at length with the NGO workers who gave me a lift to the internet this morning, and they corroborated the critique of the company. I also had a very interesting conversation with a friend who described his conversations with occupying rebel forces during the war. When my friend asked the rebel leader why he claimed to be fighting on behalf of the people while killing and dismembering these same people, the rebel leader responded “That’s the only way the rest of the world will know we’re serious.” (Chills still run up my spine as I think of the implications of this statement). I’ve also been told in several conversations lately that young people have no models of peaceful protest of change, and that a common perception is that change can only come through violence.
The backdrop to all of this is the latest UN pronouncement that Sierra Leone has dropped its status as the second least livable country in the world and is now considered the poorest or least livable. Bombali, which is where we are, is designated the poorest district in Sierra Leone. As I think about the incredible richness of social and cultural life as well as the abundant natural resources of the country, I can’t decide whether to cry over the injustice or rejoice in the potential for positive change. I do, know, though, that is a lot that can and needs to be done in education in both Canada and Sierra Leone on these issues and am so very glad to be part of a team with a long-term commitment to this educational work.
This afternoon I’m taking the bean seeds I received from Gail in Amherst and planting them in our demo garden (Gail, your garden photos are in high demand and are making the rounds of the village). Last night as the sun set over Kafoima, the sacred mountain next to my garden, two friends and I carefully watered and uncovered the tender seedlings that have just sprouted. I’ve been told that there is a strong market in town for vegetables like the ones we’ve planted and that the economy of a chiefdom north of here was revolutionized after introduction of similar seeds and techniques. I’ll be curious to see what comes of our little experiment. Today I also bought local hand-made soda soap, and with the tie-die fabric from Mayagba, will make up small gift packages that can be purchased and/or will be exported to a store in Halifax. With Mary and a clothing manufacturer in Halifax who wants to organize women’s fair trade, we hope to be working intensively with the women in creating employment here. As I said, there’s much to be done!

Tuesday December 19, 2007
Tomorrow is the Muslim celebration of Eid and school has now officially ended. This is a slight problem for our garden as we planned to finish making the beds tomorrow. Abdul and Kouame, the school agricultural specialists, have arranged to have community members come help instead. This will be great as so far I’ve been getting by without tools but with the diligent help of the small boys who wash in the river and always come join me when they see me passing by with the watering can and who have taken over watering. Together we’ve also been harrowing or breaking down the large clumps of ground with our hands, a time-consuming but thoroughly enjoyable task. As I smell the pungent and sweet odor and feel the texture of incredibly rich loamy clay while thinking of my friends struggling through snow and ice in Canada, I know exactly why I love working with the soil so much. Many of the transplants are now up and I look forward to eating greens soon. This, the general lack of vegetables in the diet, has been my only discomfort so far and should soon be alleviated. I’m also looking forward to seeing if we can emulate the experience of Kabala, the northern town that, from an initial supply of a few seed packages from a VSO volunteer, grew to be the sole supplier of Freetown’s vegetables and changed the diet of its inhabitants to greatly increase consumption of vegetables.

Today we all packed up in a van and took a trip to cdpeace’s extension communities in the chiefdom of Gbonkolenken, where I’ll be staying in January. Along the way as we passed abandoned burnt out villages and the skeletons of many houses, Mary filled us in on the experiences of both areas during the war and a bit more on the history of the conflict, how it started with grievances against the government and soon became an opportunity for people with guns to generally seek revenge or gain. As I reflect on stories I’ve been told about atrocities, I’ve been thinking a lot about the last book I read in Canada, on how good people can do evil, which is based on experiments with “normal” youth being put in an experimental prison environment and how quickly most assumed and exceeded the roles given to them. The book also looks at a number of historical periods of atrocities (including Abu Graib) and identifies systemic factors that lead to or nurture individual acts of “evil”. This book is well worth reading for people trying to make sense of violence.