Sunday, October 5, 2008

My dreams are now an amalgam of Sierra Leonean and Canadian experiences and concerns. Last night in my dreams I came home from the Makeni market with Nova Scotian apples, slightly rotten and home to a couple of rather large scorpions. This, I think reflects my bedtime conflict with a large millipede (apparently painfully poisonous) that was headed for my room and the discussion I had with the fruit sellers at the junction about the price of plantain. In the morning I discovered that, just as I was cooking up these dreams, I slept through a major drama played out just outside my door, involving a young mother of two, the families of two households, and friends who found the girl stiff in a coma in the rain. For some time she was thought to be dead, but has recovered after losing the ability to speak. This has caused considerable consternation all round (her young baby spent the night crying from hunger) and I think will continue to dominate concerns for a while (she has recovered fully now). I will be very curious to find out how this is handled by our excellent local conflict resolution process.

And on babies, my back porch seems to have become the local hangout of the under two crowd. I counted twelve there at once yesterday, competing with each other in acrobatics, laughing hysterically at each others’ antics and providing me with high entertainment. These babies, I believe, will be among the first to benefit from a great program recently introduced here (or reintroduced after destruction by the war). A women’s committee has been given the means to grow and process the ingredients needed to make a high-protein baby food produced completely from locally grown products with a sesame seed base, called Benne Mix. Not only will this provide the often malnourished children with a good source of protein, it will also generate income as the women will be packaging and selling this to other communities.

This morning I met with teachers and parent representatives from six of our twin schools to plan our program for the year. In preparing for this, I pulled out a few resources including the following letter from Canadian grade two student Sara, who writes, “Dear friends, I know that we haven’t met, but now we can meet each other. That’s why we are going to be friends. Do you like something? I like apples. See, that’s why we are friends. We can share things. Sincerely, Sara”. This sharing…of knowledge, understanding, and the means to address common problems is what twinning is all about, exemplified well in the words of the book Whoever You Are by Mem Fox…the book that will be used to introduce twinning to students here and in Canada (thanks to Carolyn of Kingslake School for this suggestion!). “Every day, all over the world, children are laughing and crying, playing and learning, eating and sleeping. They may not look the same. They may not speak the same language. Their lives may be quite different. But inside, they are just like you” (from the back cover of Whoever You Are, a beautiful book by Mem Fox, illustrated by Leslie Staub, published by Harcourt, San Diego, USA, 1996; and HodderHeadline, Sydney, Australia, 1996).

“Just like you...” In a few moments, four musicians from Makeni, members of the You and I Society, will be presenting to the community the CD they helped make of Maso students performing a song produced for Logan’s documentary. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been overwhelmed by the commitment and work that has gone into creating this cross-border production. The children from Maso will come to Mapaki to perform and hear the production, the musicians have been here setting up all day and I’ve been privy to detailed descriptions of how the song was written, learned, performed and produced by a team of many against incredible constraints. I have a dream of bringing some of these children together…Logan, and the students of Maso, and Mahilia of North Preston, and the many others who have been sharing their creativity and hearts and art and talents. For now we are limited to electronic communication (have several Skype calls planned between communities here and there over the next couple of days) but perhaps one day the contact will be real.

Babies and twinning and dreams… The meeting that was held yesterday with parents of the junior secondary school introducing the cdpeace student scholarships generated some thought-provoking discussion. This community is extremely committed to the education of girls, yet only one girl from Mapaki itself is in the grade nine class. The first question asked by the wisest elder here was what would happen to the scholarship (6 of 9 are designated to girls) if the receiving girl became pregnant, a very real possibility given current statistics here. Sallay, the cdpeace animator, and I talked about this afterwards, Sallay pointing out that in extreme poverty, as most of the girls here experience, pregnancy is as much a survival strategy as an accident. We are planning on meeting with the girls for a long talk on Monday. I believe that having Sallay and Mabinty, two community women who have gone through school, among the first to have paid positions with cdpeace sends a strong message to the girls.

Well, we made it through another all night dance or jam as they are called involving considerable cross-community or culture contact (life in town is so different from the village and we had many town guests last night for the jam), with no reports of misfortune. I found myself locked out of our house during the last jam and found out later that our older housemate was concerned about visiting “goat thieves” and had locked both doors as in the past goats or chickens have gone missing on jam nights. As I am notorious for forgetting to bring my washing in from the bamboo poles in the evening, I was happy that our “granny” as Mabinty calls her (she says that every house needs a resident granny) had yet again done this for me. This morning the last of the jam guests have been searching for ways back to the town, I’ve just handed over my Sunday morning cassava and plantain porridge to the performers who patiently wait for a passing bike, and am brewing up a pot of coffee in the box solar cooker on the front porch to share with friends. The solar cooker, by the way, is a big hit, and many of the performers from town eagerly inspected it and made notes and plans to build their own, sharing information on where to access the required shiny material. My reputation as a bad cook doesn’t seem to stem the requests I’ve had for a meal or medicine brewed in the cooker (even a visitor from Lungi today commented on my reputation for cassava leaf poisoning) and I’ll be searching for more beans soon.

Photo - Maso students carry new blackboards made by the carpenter to school