Sunday, November 30, 2008

As many of its communities lie close to the fast-flowing Rokel River and many suffer from river blindness here, all week the radio waves have been humming with calls to the blind and visually impaired in Paki Masabong to gather at Mapaki yesterday for a visit by a mobile eye clinic. Which they did in droves. 114 people turned up, were assessed, received basic information and education on eye care, and any who needed it received treatment/medication. Eighteen were referred for operations. All of this was done at about the cost of a good cup of coffee per patient. The money that was sent by generous donors last year will be used to operate on six of the eighteen prospective patients. If we are successful in coming up with the remaining cost ($650 or 13 people contributing $50 each), operations could probably be done on everyone right here in the chiefdom, eliminating the need for a long journey to the country’s mission-operated eye hospital at Lunsar (surgeons would come here and the guest house converted to a makeshift hospital). If you are interested in helping with this, please get in touch with my sister, Hetty, who is coming in January and will be able to bring any contributions with her. Operations that we can raise money for will probably be done in February, thanks to the cdpeace health fund. Hetty can be reached through the Peaceful Schools International website. We’d love to have all who need it operated on. Maybe this can be a December “Gift of Sight” on behalf of a family member or friend? Thanks if you can help!

After a sudden and productive day journey to Freetown and back (my first this year), the chief and I and M.O. found ourselves on the Makeni highway last night headed home in a thirty year-old vehicle with headlights that finally gave up the ghost. Not so much fun. Living in a country with virtually no electricity means, though, that we were well-stocked with flashlights and the rest of the journey was dimly and shakily lit with my light held through the roof window and the chief and M.O. holding theirs out of the side windows. It was a slow trip home passing the occasional surprised sheep and Mapaki was a very welcome sight. In Freetown I was very happy to discover that it is possible to buy solar panels and pleased to meet with the director of the library board, who is interested in coming to see what we are up to up country. I also managed to find, through the library director, a “book trust” and came home with an armload of books for the class one teachers to borrow. Also managed to buy a can of peas, a can of carrots, and a can of beans and….a Mars bar which was quickly devoured as it turned to melted mush in the hot sun!

Today the big find in Makeni was…three canned chickens! Apparently there has been a big shipment of canned chickens from Italy and the cans are everywhere. Turns out that this is also the food that the Maso teachers were lamenting about and, happily, they finally did receive their consignment. Mabinty has already distributed her dozen chickens to the various women of the household and the Mapaki teachers are now the only ones left to lament. Hopefully theirs will arrive soon.

Tonight, a Saturday lit with an orange sliver of a low moon and stars that really do twinkle, I spent some time sitting in the growing dark with the women who were out cooking late over the five or six fires that were in various stages of burning and dieing down. Through the smoky fire-lit dark, I could see three young boys carefully roasting a few roots of cassava they found, a rare sight in a community where few men cook. Abdul, a small boy from Freetown, told me that he really does like to cook and offered to help me next time I venture in this area again. As the fires died down and women and boys headed off with kerosene lamps and bits of burning wood to various sleeping places in the compound, I headed off to share some Saturday-night palm wine with Mabinty. Have just left Mabinty and am now holed up in the guest house for the night, as the latrine for the house I share with a dozen or so others has been overtaken by millions of flesh-eating ants and I don’t want to risk becoming a late-night snack for a gang of ants. C'est la vie!

Photo by Kouame - Heading home from the eye clinic