Sunday. Last night the chief returned from Katantha, where he had gone to find out why the girls from the village had not returned to Mapaki to start school. Just when he arrived in this inaccessible-by-car village, a viper (one of the deadliest snakes here) bit a man who then died within minutes and the purpose of his quest was lost. It’s now Sunday night, the girls have not returned and no one knows why. I hope to find out soon…for those who remember, these girls were the authors of the “African Woman’s Lament” and “Nature” poem and drawing I brought home in year one. With thoughts of the viper in mind, I carefully donned sneakers (or crepes as shoes are called here) and long pants this morning to go see the twenty acres of rice and sorghum that had been planted on the hills outside of the village this season. Heavy full seed heads drooped and Sullie the carpenter, walking ahead with a big snake stick, joked that you could feed a family of eight from one seed head. The rice will be ready to harvest in a week and Aunty Hawa says she’ll show me how. I’ll be holding onto the crepes for a while.
Today eight-year old Daouda started school for the first time in his life. Having lost most of his hearing during illness as a young child, Daouda has been kept home and has worked hard to make himself be understood in his family and community. After bringing Daouda to his school in Makeni this morning, his father and I sat on a bench under a mango tree in the school compound and Hassan told me a bit about his life and history. Hassan lives in Mapaki, where he does not own land (he comes from a village in a neighbouring chiefdom) but works with the man who turns trees into boards with a chain saw. In exchange for his labour, Hassan is provided with food to eat on the days that he works (on this day there was no food as he was coming to Makeni with me). The chief also helps him out at times, like when he needs to go greet his parents and bring them some small money. Hassan is one of the hardest working men in the village and there have been many days that I’ve watched Hassan sweating under the hot sun on community road work or library construction while his companions rested in the shade. Hassan is proud to have completed primary school and would have continued if there had been money to pay school fees. Daouda’s mom also completed primary school and is one of the seven women in Mapaki who is registered for our next computer class. She assists Mabinty in the library as a volunteer and is the person who cooked the porridge that I’m sure kept me alive when I had malaria. During our talk Hassan told me, “Education is better than silver and gold” and for his family and for Daouda, I believe this is true. He was proud to tell me that the hearing test Daouda did several months ago proved that he “has sense”. He also said that, while he has no money to pay fees, he’ll send fowls and pineapples from his parent’s village to the school whenever he can. Being able to attend this school, which struggles but is one of the best that I have seen in Sierra Leone, could mean that Daouda becomes the only one in his family making a salary and supporting the rest of his family (they have a very good vocational training program). It also sends a mighty strong message to the community about the learning potential of children with disabilities. Hassan and Fatmata asked me to extend a huge deep-hearted thank you to those who made this possible, which I strongly echo.
I think I’ve caught up with all my greetings and most immediate cdpeace work and tonight was able to spend a little time relaxing for the first time on the back porch with Mabinty and Sallay, the chief’s wife, contemplating the star-massed sky, sipping my first cup of palm-wine, making plans to join them with the ground-nut farm they plan to plant together, and hearing all the news of the women from while I was away. For instance, last week my neighbour Mary narrowly missed a night-time encounter with a large black snake between our two houses and Kouame almost stepped on it. Around the same time, a boy in neighbouring Medina was bitten three times and it took four days before the black stone (snake bite remedy) fell from his foot. They tell me that staying away from house edges and using a torch at night is good protection and it’s only during the rainy season that they come out so I’m not worried for myself. They also tell me to drop my grasshopper flour idea as the strong grasshopper scent will drive any potential takers away.
Monday. Tragedy affects all and sorrow, like most things here, is shared. Once again I’m in a state of shock on hearing of the death last night of my friend Mamuna, daughter of neighbour Namasay, survivor of last year’s tragic accident. As the news was cried through the village in the wee hours of the night, I sat up with my housemates, Ya Colonay, young Hawa and her baby, and the family of six who are living on our front room floor as we simply shared each other’s company and contemplated our fragile existence. This morning I joined the women of the village at Namasay and Mamuna’s house where we sat silently and sadly waited for Mamuna’s body to be carried by the elderly women to the mosque. Mamuna is gone and my mind is filled with the words, “My sister done left me,” cried endlessly by my young friend at the passing of the young girl in Mapaki last year.
Last night I read an on-line article about the fact that 99% of maternal deaths in the world take place in the global south (in Sweden one in 17,400 women die of pregnancy-related causes and in Sierra Leone, it’s one in 8). The article claimed that this is due to limited access to skilled attendants at birth and emergency obstetric care. It didn’t mention the impact of poverty, inequity in global economics and power, a world which invests $100 in military spending for each $1 allocated to meeting basic needs or the impact of war on women’s health. While people here generally don’t discuss causes of death, Mamuna’s was in some way connected to all of the above. As I try to make sense of all of this and what it means for how we should live our lives, I think that connecting caring and compassionate people who can learn from and with each other to make changes tiny or large is part of the answer. I hope to be able to continue to do so with you for a long time.