Friday, January 25, 2008

Home Movies, Babies, and Metamorphosis

Bill Egnatoff had a dream several years ago and tonight Bill’s dream has come true. Chief Kebombor, seeing the impact that dislocation to the towns has had on Mapaki’s youth, also had a dream that one day Mapaki’s youth would find a reason to stay in the village. Well, after watching a gang of spellbound, on the edge of their seats youth watching the first of our local youth-made, produced, and edited dvds in the community centre, I think they’d both be satisfied. Abdul and Fatmata, helped by John and Mohammad, did a great job of rendering five hours of community World AIDS Day commemorations into a 28 minute production that brought youth, elderly women, and young children out of their beds and houses and into the glow of the generator-powered screen. In a community where few have access to mirrors or photographs of themselves, all were thrilled and mesmerized to be able to see themselves and their comrades on the screen.

While women usually give birth at home, because two women were in labour at the same time, the traditional birth attendant was able to make good use of the beds donated to the health clinic from Canada. I stopped by to see the first baby, just born, and was met with a celebratory groups of sisters, mothers, aunts, and friends, who were ensconced in the birthing room and outside stoop to await baby two. While grandmother two gently encouraged and held mother two in her lap as she gave birth, sisters, aunts, and children were close at hand to welcome the new baby. With the needed furniture now in place, I look forward to also helping find a birthing kit that the TBA can use for deliveries (and hope this will reduce the problems that exist now with herniated umbilical cords).

I think I need to call an end to my palm wine vinegar-making experiment. I’ve been reading an anthology of short stories and after reading Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” last night, was visited by a rather large insect that scuttled around the room rattling bags and making loud cracking noises when it fell from the wall or ceiling to the floor. I’m sure it was drawn here by the scent of the fermenting palm wine and I’d rather it not return with friends. As it is, the room is already occupied by me and two large spiders that live in the corner and keep the mosquitoes away (I hope).

Today (next day), I took a trip to Mabas where the father of my brother’s namesake has gone to harvest sugar cane for a few months. As with the visit to the gold mine, I was not expecting to gain access to the factory or the fields, and again was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed and given fine treatment. The whole trip was quite surreal. We left the rolling, tree-filled hills of this area and crossed into a massive expanse of wide-open to the horizon, flat, monoculture fields, which were both bare and planted and crisscrossed by irrigation ditches, reminding me of the Netherlands or Canadian prairies. The factory itself, transplanted from China and run by a Chinese company, operates without access to electricity and produces tons of sugar and alcohol, most of which is exported. The workers and security guard were pleased to give us a guided tour, which took us into all nooks and crannies. I’ve been told that the directors are very down-to-earth, traveling to the factory in the trucks with the workers, and getting no special treatment. The neighbouring village which supplies the workers and land also seems to receive no special treatment as there was no sign of new structures or amenities. Tonight I’m researching uses of cane by-product as there seemed to be quite a bit that was going to waste (I’m thinking goat feed).

Today I also had some great news about the library. First of all, the two families that were in dispute over ownership of the land have come together and decided to donate the land to the library. Secondly, the youth have produced most of the mud bricks needed and transported them to the site. The chief has drawn up great plans for the building and will start construction soon. Yesterday we connected the temporary library to power from the community centre generator and had all the light we needed for the evening! Heavenly! And just now I met with a visiting NGO who told me of another NGO that may have some money to put towards a resource centre. Our plan is to make the building a combination community library and teacher resource centre where we can conduct teacher workshops and house teacher and learning resources for the schools in the chiefdom, which currently have no resources at all (in Makambray, for instance, the children sit on a board on the dirt ground and the one chalkboard is moved from class to class). I am very much looking forward to working with teachers in the centre and having an evening where I don’t have to turn away children from the library because we’re full.