Thursday, October 9, 2008

Outside lightening fills the sky while inside the class three students are packed like sardines on the library floor and JSS students line the benches around the wall trying to catch a few rays from our single bulb to study their class notes. Several adults have wandered in with babies (Fatmata, mother of Daouda is here with baby Kebombor, who she calls my husband), teachers are at our single table diligently writing up tomorrow’s lesson plans (Joseph, also called my husband, shakes his head as he asks me how he can teach when he’s been given not a single text book). Some of the older boys are teaching the older girls the alphabet, Mabinty is shooing out the mischievous class four children pretending to be in class three so they can sneak in a second evening in the library and Kouame and Usifu are listening to a taped Radio Noon show about the dialect of Nova Scotia’s North Preston (fascinating historical connections) while checking out a donated tape recorder. With a few bumps and stumbles (we are juggling two lights between three rooms and there is just not quite enough space here for all) the library is humming along as it should with the sound of reading all round (both adults and children lightly vocalize when reading) and I’m nestled in a corner with my laptop taking it all in. Meanwhile construction of the new library continues and we all look forward to moving next door to a larger space when it’s ready. My hope is that the new solar panel we have (thanks to Halifax Film staff!) will provide us with enough light to allow children, JSS students, teachers and adults all to read and work without the strain they now undergo.

Most mornings my routine is to head outdoors and leisurely greet my housemates and neighbours on the way to wash, then clean my room and dishes, find something to eat, wash yesterday’s clothes and get ready to head out to schools or the library after greeting the chief. Yesterday this routine was thrown off somewhat when I was called to an early morning community meeting…one of a series in which the community comes together to discuss issues facing them…such as the need to find grasshopper-free land for planting, to diversify food crops (big reliance on rice here), parents’ responsibility to children’s well-being and schooling (children do seem to raise themselves), the need to consider responsibilities as well as rights as the concept of “human rights” is introduced, how the running of the community centre is to be evaluated ( a youth committee was set up) and what to do about the many people living in inadequate leaky housing (the community decided to collectively prepare land to build some new houses). Pa Sankoh, the wisest elder in the village and my very good friend, then warmly welcomed me back on behalf of all and I had a chance to “officially” be accepted back into the community. We also discussed plans for the purchase of a community ambulance and how the telling of the stories of the community played into making this a possibility. This meeting, attended by an equal number of women and men, youth and adults and guided by a talented facilitator (the chief) is a perfect model of participatory democracy in action in an area with a tradition of oral rather than written communication (no sharing of information through text). Lots of food for thought, especially as I glimpse headlines of democratic exercise in countries far removed from here.

I’ve been meeting with students at many schools here to share with them letters from schools in Canada and elsewhere. This has been a fascinating process as we start with a brainstorm of their perceptions of their “twin” school’s community and I get a glimpse into their thinking about my former world. From grade two, “We think there is a river in Canada and a playground. We think there is a helicopter and cars, motorbikes, trains, boats and trucks. We think you have tarred roads and bikes. We think there are babies and lions, sheep, horses and cows in Canada. We think people work there and some people have polio. We think people have different colours of skin and some people are Black. We think there are farmers.” And from JSS, “We think that Canada is very big, there is much snow, many schools, many offices and much population. We think people in Canada are united and there are many school-going children. We think Canada is beautiful but that you don’t have good weather.” In Mayagba, where I was meeting class two students for the first time, they could not imagine a single thing about Canada, reflecting, probably, the fact that most of my time and hence community conversation about Canada has been in the older twin school communities.

I’m heading off to Katantha shortly to visit one of the girls who has not returned to school this year (the one who learned to operate the video camera and recorded many community events). I stopped in to see another of the girls this week, who seems to be married and is now in her “husband’s” village. This has all led to many conversations about retention of girls in school, early marriage, relationships between teachers and students, purpose of schooling, schooling for whom, etc. Again, plenty to mull over and try to understand while looking through a very unfamiliar lens. Turns out that also over the summer, several of the boys I know well got girls pregnant and as a consequence have to miss a year of schooling themselves. Ah, youth and the choices made!

Tomorrow I go to Gbonkolenken where there is no solar panel so will be out of touch for a while.