It might have been the cold that contributed to a recent fire in remote Katanta this week, which destroyed a three room mud and wattle house and left a family of fifteen homeless and belongingless. Two of the children, Josephine and Zainab, are students in our junior secondary school and arrived back in Mapaki the next day with all their worldly belongings on their backs (the clothes they were wearing). I had traveled to Katanta by motorbike (it’s inaccessible by car) that day and was asked by Zainab to carry her baby back to Mapaki for her. With baby Kemombor warmly nestled asleep in my lap on the back of the bike and carefully passing through an awe-inspiring mountainous vine-entwined enchanted forest, Stan Rogers lines “There’s God in the trees and I’m weak in the knees” perfectly described the way I felt.
On fires, I’ve neglected to report on my New Year’s Eve, another magical time spent on the top of the highest hill in Mapaki, lit by a bright bonfire that reflected on the faces of those gathered there with drums and song. For the first part of the evening, the fire belonged to the women, who danced and sang around its perimeter while the men drummed. This continued until one intrepid soul (not from around here) challenged this division and joined the women in dance, calling his comrades to join him. One by one the men shyly joined the women’s circle until all were dancing together, leaving the few drummers to provide the beat. I think it was this bold move that inspired someone else, later in the night, to bravely suggest changing the direction of the dance, resulting in some shock and debate. Direction was switched… this seems to be a time of change. I ended the night (or started the morning) returning to the village arm-in-arm with the elderly women who were celebrating making it through another year joyously singing, “Happy New Year, I didn’t die!” in Krio.
Yesterday was spent dividing my time and focus among three major events. First of all, the chief was addressing a generations-old rift as he had invited descendents of his ancestors who had been banished from the chiefdom during the rule of a particularly bad paramount chief. People came from far and near, were traditionally welcomed during a ceremony that extended for many hours and were invited to return home during this era of change and new beginnings. I was asked to address the gathering and record this historic event with photos and video. Secondly, several doctors, dispensers, medical officers, radio interviewers, and all the health workers in the chiefdom (6) were gathered in the community centre with the cdpeace staff to divide and distribute the medical supplies that arrived from