Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some people ask what a typical day is like. Let me describe this day so far. I woke at 7:00am (a little later than usual…I was up in the night trapping noisy cockroaches with my pot as they were disturbing my sleep). 7:05 Visit from a teacher at the village of Bumban, wanting me to come visit the school today. Wash, dress and eat oranges, bananas and groundnuts for breakfast.

7:15 Greet the women of the household, who are grinding groundnuts to cook a massive meal for the youth who are harvesting the rice on our farm today, and then greet the chief. Make plans to return with the video camera to record the making of groundnut paste to share with Canadian students.

7:20 Go to the library to deal with correspondence (type and send an email letter from a junior high student to one of our Canadian teacher visitors, letter from the Gbonkolenken Paramount Chief to Sherry, letter to Thomas and Mary about health planning issues, etc.). Make plans to visit the Bumban school later in the day.

8:00 Walk to school with my young friends to discuss the library schedule with the primary school students (we’re having problems with too many coming to the library in the evenings). Greet all the neighbours on the way. Talk with the teachers, congratulate class five for sticking to the schedule and encourage other children to only come on their designated day. Make plans to talk about the prefectorate system with the principal to see if we can find alternatives to having junior high students smacking young kids to keep them in line.

8:30 Stop to talk with my friend the youth leader who is leaving the village to work on a sugar plantation and who asked if I could help him get a job in the factory rather than field. Stop to talk with a community school head teacher who was looking for information about causes of poverty. Made arrangements to help him find information in the library.

8:45 Stop to see the women again. Bring the video camera and tape their food preparation to share with Canada. Return to the library, download to the computer, return to the women with the computer and show them the video (a first for many). Greet several visitors who have come for a workshop.

9:00 Help the headteacher find information about poverty in a book and internet. The first site we came across discusses IMF structural adjustment policies and terms of trade as being a key cause of poverty. Discuss various related issues with the headteacher and hand over his school’s copy of “Where There Is No Doctor”. Organize school twinning correspondence in preparation for a visit to Maso school and set up a work space for myself in one of the guest house rooms. Talk with workshop leaders about their plans for the day (discussing UN resolution 1325 re female genital cutting with community stakeholders). Have a very interesting discussion with them about this issue and how it fits in with other community issues.

10:00 Welcome more visitors. Edward from the Nova Scotia Gambia Sierra Leone project stops by to welcome me back and make arrangements to return with Andrea from Halifax and a delegation of Halifax doctors who will do the second round of HIV testing here. We discuss our respective gardens. A delegation from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stops by. They are seeking a progressive chief somewhere in the country with whom to work in piloting a test/demonstration rice growing project to show how West Africa is capable, using local knowledge and inputs and addressing social issues related to land tenure, etc., of doubling rice yields. Have a long incredibly insightful and interesting talk with Rene from the Philippines about all the issues and questions related to agriculture that I’ve been wondering about (impact of transition to plough cultivation on women’s social position, the real story of Nerica rice, possibilities and risks related to agricultural change, lessons from the Philippines’ experiences, FAO plans, work oxen, tillers and hoes, impact of war and women’s role in seed stock preservation, etc.). On the porch after they eat, discuss ways of tapping and preserving palm wine around the world and learn from Rene how it’s possible to bottle palm wine without having it turn to vinegar (something we all talk about but no one knows how to do).Visitors leave, I pack up the library and prepare to go to Bumban.

12:00 Eat my daily meal of rice and groundnut soup. Filter water for the trip. Wash a few clothes. Pass on my bicycle to Usifu who will also come to Bumban and wait while Benjamin and Kouame fix a flat tire on the motorbike. While waiting, play with the posse of under-two children who hang out on the back porch each day and joke around with the young women also hanging out. Hand over my left-over rice. Realize that at this point it’s too late to go to the Maso school and make mental readjustments and plans to go tomorrow. Motorbike to Bumban along a muddy back road observing the state of the broadcast-sown sorghum, almost ready for harvest, along the way. Laugh with my friend, elderly Fatu who jokingly threatens “I da soak you!” as we pass her washing at the stream. Admire the hills and sky and vine-clothed massive cotton trees along the way.

1:00 Arrive at the school, greet the teachers and head to the village where the chief awaits us. Participate in a community meeting to welcome me following a standard format. Muslim and Christian prayers, introductions (and introducing introducers), statement from key people (teacher, principal, chief, me), responses, thank yous, giving of gift (two fine fowl, three breadfruit, a large basket of oranges and gallon of palm wine for me to take home) and sharing of a meal (large tray of rice and groundnut soup that we all eat together). During the meal I discover that eating the bones of local fowl is fine but that it is not wise to eat bones of imported birds if you ever are offered one). Teachers (most volunteers) share a gallon of wine afterwards and we all sit and gab and gossip and talk teacher and chiefdom talk and I realize how completely comfortable I am in community meetings such as these now. The purpose of the visit was to let them know of cdpeace plans in education and explain why they are not one of the pilot schools (they wondered). I also explained how busy I’ve been and how this was my first community visit…that not even in Mapaki have I had time to visit with friends (many villages are complaining that I haven’t come to visit them yet).

4:00 Load up the bike with fowl and fruit…joke with passersby who call out, “Stop, the gallon of palm wine is greeting me!” and head back to Mapaki.

4:30 Wade through the under-twos who wait to meet me, pass over the food to the women in the kitchen, tell the chief about the trip and head to the library, where I am visited by a delegation from a women’s rights organization (here for the workshop). They had heard about our GPS project and had come to copy the data on girls’ school enrollment that we collected last year, commenting that they wished every chiefdom in the country had such information; how much easier their work would be. Which reminds me, the FAO person also asked if we could extend the GPS project to also record agricultural information (location of boli land, upland, swamp, etc.) to make it easier for them to plan work in the chiefdom (which makes me hope that they will choose ours as the site of the 10-year agricultural demonstration project).

It’s now 5:30, I’m alone typing up these notes now, and will head home shortly to eat more groundnuts and find my flashlight before returning to the library for the evening with the class four children. The day is unusual in the number of visitors we’ve had and the fact that it’s the first day that hasn’t been wholly devoted to schools work. Typical, though, in the fact that every minute is filled and fulfilling. And with each day, no matter how well or what I plan, I never know what the day will deliver.

Photo - On the way to the women's groundnut farm in Makonkorie