Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weddings, Wikis, and War

Riding through the midnight, moonlit, tree-canopied, winding, back road from Bumban through night-time smells of warm dust and orange blossoms, disturbing rafts of large bats that flew alongside the bike and snuffling long-tailed “digging-ground” rodents that scurried out of the path of our light, after dancing under the moonlight with young and old from the village and sitting on the stoop listening to the intriguing life story of new friends (mother of the eight year old girl who silently attached herself to us on the drying rice floor until we found someone able to lead us by torchlight to her home) makes me wonder why anyone would choose to live in Canada (or Makeni or Freetown, actually) if given the opportunity of staying here. Before leaving Canada, Thomas had warned me about the magic of dancing all night under the full moon in Mapaki and I’m starting to understand.

More on the GPS. After we all regrouped and swapped stories of our data collection, we decided that it would be very useful to return to the communities and also collect stories and history to record, especially given the impact of the war and displacement in interrupting generational transfer of local knowledge. Mabinty told of how the villagers in her area encouraged anyone passing through the forest to pick up and leave a leaf as a gift to the dead who were buried there. Benjamin told of the communities he visited where no children had the opportunity to attend school (volunteer teachers could not be enticed to come and stay), some girls were consequently given in marriage at ages as young as nine or ten, and community elders pleaded for someone to visit to talk to the community about this issue. As time goes on, I also realize that the official narrative of war and peace-making here leaves out major contributions of ordinary people living in the villages. As we now have a GPS of our own and visiting Canadian teachers Tony and Luke will teach us how to transfer information to the computer, we’ll soon return to the roads and paths to collect waypoints and stories (though travel to Canada will unfortunately delay my participation). For those who’ve asked, our coordinates are 0179940 and 0972766.

I continue to also collect more examples or instances of incredible peace-making skills in practice at many levels in the village here (from among groups of two and thee-year olds negotiating food sharing around a communal plate to community and intricate inter-chiefdom meetings to address current pressing issues to peace initiatives by reintegrated former child conscripts). Yesterday’s foray to the chiefdom riverside “outing” attended by thousands from as far as Freetown reinforced my sense it’s the early socialization that children receive at the village level that really generates excellent peace-making skills (the stone and sticks used to smack heads were wielded by town folk and all the reports of school violence I hear come out of the towns and city). And forgiveness… I am constantly in awe of people’s ability here to forgive and move on after an injustice has been done. Possibly this also stems from the work that’s done daily on mediation and reconciliation. The world has much to learn from life in this village. Tonight the teachers in our computer class are all quietly in different corners reflecting on and writing about their experiences in school, to share with Canadian teachers via the wiki (a collectively constructed kind of web page). It will be quite interesting to read about the range of experiences represented here (from community to Freetown to government school).

And very interesting for me to attend my first wedding in the village. In two weeks time, my good friend in Canada and good friend in Sierra Leone are getting married….via the internet in our library! If I am still here, I’ll stand in as proxy for the bride, who will be present via Skype and a webcam. The marriage certificate will travel overseas and back by returning NGO volunteers. I’m not sure how the calabash will travel (Mabinty is helping me prepare it). As for me, I’m still turning down offers of marriage as it turns out my uncles live too far away to be involved in negotiations. Oh well! I suppose I’ll have to settle for a life of dancing under the stars and moon with friends new and old and the freedom to live in two of best places of the world. Interestingly, according to UNESCO, Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia is one of the most “livable” places in the world and I’d certainly rank Mapaki, Sierra Leone (listed is the “least livable” country in the world) next to Annapolis Royal as a desirable place to live (and yes I know, the one in four death rate for children and one in eight for mothers and literacy rate of under ten percent and months of hunger and inaccessibility to health care make life unlivable, but the social strengths and skills and general sense of contentment far surpass those of Annapolis Royal or any other place I’ve lived).

Photos: Scenes from in the village and crossing one of the many hazardous bridges.