Saturday, September 27, 2008

Leaving. Turns out that my months of planning, early packing, repacking and weighing of bags was all for naught and I was left shuffling multiple extra copies of Where There Is No Doctor, three heavy laptops, two hard drives, a large bag of student letters, and a sack of chocolate cookies (in case of travel emergency) among four bags as I discovered at the departure checkout that all my bags were overweight. Miraculously this shell game satisfied the attendant and off I toddled with all of the above in my hand-luggage. So pleased was I, that I totally forgot my scheme of wrapping the bags in duct tape and I breezed into security with my mother’s large sewing scissors still in my hand-luggage. Buzzers rang, latex gloves were pulled out and my misdemeanor was duly recorded in a dog-eared “bad passenger” register. Oh dear! On the other hand, as parts of the interior of the plane were held together with duct tape, I was glad to still have mine with me.

Arriving. Even though I arrived in the dark and rain in the wee hours of the night, most of the village, still up (it was the end of Ramadan), met me with an incredulous "Obunda!?!" (“Fatty” or stout in Temne). All day today people have been marveling at my relative rotundness (one person mentioning that I look fluffy) and I seem to have had a new name change from Kadiatu to Obunda. Nevertheless, it’s great to be back. I had my first meal of the newly harvested rice with cassava, sweet potato and plantain porridge, one of my most favourite meals, and then potato leaf with rice and fowl for supper. Rice porridge with oranges, bananas, and cucumber for breakfast with neighbours popping by to bring me gifts of another fowl and cassava. At this rate I will probably get to keep my name. As I’ve arrived a bit later than I did last year and it seems that harvests are better this year, I believe that I have missed much of the starvation season (and also many of the deaths that have taken place since I’ve left, including an elderly man who had become a friend, followed shortly by his thirty-year old son, etc. This morning when I asked a young boy who greeted me where he lives, his answer was, “My father is dead”).

So, getting caught up with local news has been both bitter and sweet. On a positive note, all my favourite babies are still bouncing and toddling. It was great to hear that almost all of the volunteer community teachers have gone through a “verification” process which means they might eventually become eligible for salary. The library established last year has continued and there are now seven women waiting for us to start up a new computer class. Word of developments in Mapaki have spread far and wide and key people are interested in seeing how this model (community-driven) can be applied to other parts of the country (we are hoping for the president’s presence at our “official” library opening). Word about the work being done by the women’s group here has also spread and this model is being replicated in two other communities (Mayagba and extended communities of Makonkorie). In all three areas, women have established committees to raise funds locally to establish community shops with essential food items. The women are using the profit from the shops to buy seeds to start groundnut and cassava farms. All of this provides the community with needed items at a reasonable cost, increases food available to the community, and provides the women with income needed for self-sufficiency. Our “pilot” schools have all been moving forward with regeneration of space (rebuilding, making school furniture, providing for student water needs, etc.) and are about to embark on a year-long process of teacher-training and joint learning around common themes with Canadian schools. All of this has been possible because of strong community involvement, commitment and direction (and of course, the interest, good wishes and involvement of many of you). This coming year, as well as continuing with this, we plan to build a solid base for cdpeace to be able to continue in the future. We were very fortunate to receive a vehicle through an anonymous donation which has made it so much easier to liaise with communities beyond walking distance and to move groups of people around. The vehicle, incidentally, will be used tomorrow to take young Daouda and his parents to a school for children with hearing impairments in Makeni (thanks to those responsible for this!). Meanwhile, I’m continuing to travel by motorbike and rode the roads to Makeni today through the rain, clutching items for the “office” on my lap, on the way to the ministry of education, the local college, our neighbour community of Mayagba (home of cdpeace), and back to Mapaki. I had almost forgotten the splendor of the rainy season skies, the sparkle of the fireflies in the dusk, and the relief of warm rain soaking through clothes already soaked from the heat of dusty back roads. It’s so very good to be back. Good and slightly unnerving as I realize how so incredibly small the world has become since last year. Last night on the front porch, Kouame and Mabinty told me of meeting my new Queen’s University friends through a Skype conversation they had on Tuesday with a Global Education class in Kingston and I told them of people at a school in the Yukon they would soon meet. As we discussed the new friends we now had in common (I’d been in Kingston for the first time myself the week before) it was hard to remember that I was half a world away in a community so drastically different from my own…a world materially poor but socially rich beyond description that is teaching me so much…about sharing and equity, the need for an open mind, ear and heart, time to talk and listen and shift perspectives, reflect on what it truly important, and live by the motto written on a local barrie wall, “Me and you for laugh together”. There is so much more I want to write about…wandering down to my garden now water immersed and planted with rice with a few teenage girls who were going to bath in the river and the friendly teasing by the boys who got there ahead of us (wanting the girls to cover their eyes), the babies born since I left, the incredibly warm welcome I’ve been receiving from all, all the news from my elderly women friends, etc. It will be hard to limit my posts to a readable amount, but, as so commonly said here, I’ll try.

Photo by Kouame...hanging the sign on the new library (soon to be completed)