Thursday, October 2, 2008

Burying. On Tuesday Mamuna was carried the short distance from the village to the sacred forest and buried under the green dappled shade of cotton trees and vines with the sorrow of the burying song rising through the trees. I’m coming to know this place and song too well.

Birth. Yesterday Salma Hayak, spokesperson for UNICEF, came to Makeni to launch a maternal tetanus vaccination program. Afterwards, people in our village of Bumban were highly entertained by the filming, for ABC, of a scenario to draw attention to the constraints faced by pregnant women. This world being as small as it is, turns out that one of the UNICEF visitors to Bumban lives two blocks from my brother in Montreal and will be visiting Mapaki. What odds! After returning from Bumban I stopped by our clinic and noticed, for the first time, a unique means the traditional birth attendants have of keeping birth records. A wooden box divided into several compartments with pictures and words for normal birth, stillbirth, maternal death, and hospital referral has holes in the lid through which to drop a stone for each event. I was happy to see that the greatest number of stones were in the normal birth compartment.

Today, the end of Ramadan, is Pray Day, a celebration as important to the Muslims here as Christmas is to the Christians. Still sorting out the religions of my friends, I sat on the front porch while Benjamin and Usifu teased each other about who should be treating whom on this holiday. This is a day to share food with friends and the right time, I decided, to try solar cooking the pigeon peas I bought in the Makeni market. With the women’s store open each day, it was no problem to scout out the extra ingredients I needed. The most popular items, salt and rice, are sold by the cup from sacks by the door and Aminata made a deal to trade me salt for the "salt cup" I had with me. Onions were available but groundnuts and peppers took a few visits to neighbours with one of the children of the house finally fetching me plenty of pepper from Ropolo (the cluster of houses behind our section). Many friends stopped by to check out the cooker (a foil-lined box covered with plastic and set in the sun) and its lack of obvious fuel. Rather unfortunately, today started and ended with rain so the cooking time was somewhat shorter than optimal, but all who I had promised to share with were very kind in their praise (“very sweet”) as they crunched away at the slightly undercooked peas mixed with jacato (garden eggs), groundnuts, tomato, salt and pepper. It will be no problem to maintain my standing as the village’s worst cook (the only one responsible for arsenic poisoning while cooking cassava leaf).

Just as it started, the day is ending in rain. I am sitting in the dark in the library typing away, still slightly damp from the torrential rain that found us on the motorbike returning from Mayagba, where I’d been invited by the youth to watch them play football (soccer). As I didn’t have access to a motorbike during the last rainy season, I am experiencing the joys, thrills, and hazards of rainy season mud roads firsthand for the first time, a very different experience from the dry season. As in the dry season, the skies are phenomenal especially at dusk as the colours and hues dance and dim on the horizon. I feel perfectly safe on the bike though there is always a slight heart skip as we slip into and through puddles and ruts and gutters, not quite sure what will emerge at the other end.

And on heart skips, last night I sat out on the porch with the young girls with their babies and the elderly women, discussing similarities and differences in mothering and marriages in Canada and Sierra Leone. With few options available to girls not in school, early pregnancy here is a reality, we have several new babies in our household, and every conversation seems to give me new insights into girls’ and women’s lives and issues. And of course, while our contexts are widely different, our concerns, hopes and dreams, and interpretations of experiences are not that different.

Next morning news flash. My neighbour Mary Turay told me this morning that the problem with the undercooked peas was that those I cooked were the wrong choice; they are always hard and require a specific process involving mortar and pestle to become edible. My complaining stomach makes sense now and there is hope of redeeming my status as a very bad cook.

Over the next few days I’ll be meeting with all the schools involved in our twinning program and will be spending a week in Gbonkolenken, cdpeace’s other area of work. When I’m back in Mapaki afterwards, I’ll be able to send letters to schools and arrange Skype conversations between classes. If you don’t hear from me until then, it’s because I’m out of internet reach.

Photo - New rice and cassava farm on the boli lands