Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Me and you for laugh together"

Again tragedy strikes, this time in the form of environmental destruction. The Maso community collectively harvests the oil of a palm plantation to provide the community school teachers with a monthly incentive (in lieu of salary, each teacher gets a monthly ration of palm oil for his own use or to sell). This morning a teacher, still in shock, came to report that last night the entire palm plantation was destroyed by careless burning of brush in a neighbouring village, which will wipe out this year’s harvest and the teachers’ incentives. This practice of burning brush has become quite controversial, as it is both widely practiced and discouraged. In our school garden, for instance, our intent was to show how it’s possible to clear brush without burning. One night a kind and helpful soul decided to surprise us and the next morning the brushing was completed….leaving a burned out area to contend with. I dread seeing the impact of the Maso burn, which will be of a much larger scale and with a much more devastating impact.
Other news on the environmental front…just moments ago the chief showed me an invitation to a Very Important Meeting being called for all chiefs and community leaders of communities along the Rokel River (our river). Apparently the hydro-electric dam project up-river could cause flooding and affect communities along the river, including many in our chiefdom. This power project could end up being both a blessing and a curse. Certainly the country needs power (I think certain sections of Freetown and perhaps Bo are the only parts of the country with electricity), but history also has taught us many lessons about social and environmental devastation from poorly planned, conceived, or implemented dam projects. This project is also connected to our library project in a rather interesting way. Last month our community held a very serious meeting about the arrival of the internet and need for a library. During the course of the meeting, one of the teachers recounted a dream he had about electricity arriving in our chiefdom and this dream was widely discussed and interpreted by many of the community leaders and elders, leading to numerous decisions, directions, and a call for a greater collective emphasis on traditional practices to accompany arrival of this new technology. This need to sit back and reflect on lessons from history, tradition, and ancestors will, I hope, come into play as plans proceed with the dam and possible impact in our communities.
On another note…this morning I went to Makeni to retrieve what was a broken laptop and on the way home stopped to take the photo posted above. In case you can’t read the slogan on the wall of this barrie, it says, “Me and you for laugh together”, causing me to stop, laugh, and join the community members for a chat and cup of tea. Yep, a cup of tea, my first in Africa! Turns out the barrie is used as a local “hang out” and, as always, people hanging out were connected in some way to Mapaki and the chiefdom. Just before stopping at the barrie, we also stopped to pick up oranges from a road-side stall and there the people said that in Freetown they had heard about me and the work of cdpeace! Each time I step out of Mapaki, the world shrinks a little more. Tonight, in this small world, I’ll be eating oranges, drinking tea, and thinking about Leonard Cohen and rivers in Montreal, Mapaki, and Mexico and how ultimately each one of us is connected to each other and each other’s rivers in some small or large way.