Saturday, November 1, 2008

I had a friendly reminder from my mom today to post to the blog. Apologies for the long delay! It's rainy season here which means we are a little solar-power-poor and have devoted our limited electricity to school twinning correspondence and light for the library. Looks like the sun's out today so here goes.

I’ve been having lots of conversations about land ownership and usage lately. Tonight in the dwindling light of dusk, Mabinty, Sallay, Sambo, Mary and I sat out next to the smoldering fire (Sallay was smoking fish for preservation) with small girls quietly at our sides or on our laps talking about how families plan and keep track of the various fallow tracks of land they farm. This is how it works. Each planting season the extended family decides which land to clear or brush as it’s called here (with cutlass and fire). After removing the trees for firewood, the roots and lower part of the trunk is left standing and the undergrowth is removed with fire. A mixture of seeds (rice and sorghum and corn and greens) is broadcast sown (thrown by hand) and left to germinate and root. Weeding takes place at least twice a season, crops are harvested by hand when ready and the land is then left for years to regenerate its fertility. Now, harvest season, each evening in the growing dusk mothers carrying large baskets or pots on their heads, followed by children each also carrying extensive loads of wood or harvest or pans pass by our back porch hurrying before the rain or dark, only briefly stopping to greet all with a quick, “Hello, thank you!” (“Seke, momo!”) before heading home.

Today, Halloween, I thought of you all in Canada especially as I discovered a year and a half after first arriving, that’s it’s possible to buy things like canned beans and milk powder and toilet paper in a small shop in Makeni. I came home with a smallish can of milk powder which cost just about the same as a year’s tuition at the junior high school and a package of four chocolate cookies (three actually, as the first went to the small children waiting for me outside the shop). And best of all, a Kabala cabbage and three carrots from my new friend, Sila. Tonight, while cooking and sharing cabbage soup in the smoky fire glow after the rain I’ve been telling everyone about trick or treating and dressing up and pumpkins. As always when I tell my wild tales from home, I’m sure they think I’m out to lunch or a big liar. Stopped at Mapaki’s women’s store that my friend Aminata keeps open each evening and shared three candies and a bottle of “apple cedar” with her. Lately when I need a break from work in the library, I’ll stop at the porch of the store where there’s always a gathering of women shelling groundnuts while sharing stories and jokes, and passing small children from lap to lap. Someone always slips me a handful of groundnuts to take home and today I'll be patching (kind of roasting) nuts to grind.

A feature article by Geoffrey Agombar called “Solidarity, not Charity: Children in most livable town connect with children in least livable country” appeared in the Annapolis County Spectator last week describing connections between students at Champlain Elementary and Mapaki Primary School (Annapolis Royal was designated the world’s ‘Most Livable Small Community’ in 2004). Referring to Lynn Winter, principal of Champlain Elementary School, Agombar says, “The strength of this program is that her students make a connection and understand that ‘It is not about pity or charity. It’s not about those poor kids over there. The students see that even though they don’t have all the things we have, they live surrounded by love and family and a deep sense of solidarity with their community’”. It discusses social riches in Mapaki and ends with the comment, “Contrary to initial impressions, it would appear that pairing one of the world’s most comfortable communities with one of its least is only natural. You could say it is all about sharing wealth: Some of theirs in exchange of some of ours.” And from Antigonish, students who were asked to share their thoughts on Sierra Leone responded, “We think Sierra Leone is very sunny sometimes and very rainy other times. We think people are friendly, welcoming, and celebrate life. We respect your efforts for peace and that your future looks bright. You are a good example for the rest of the world. Other countries should value peace, understanding, and unity the way that you do. We do not appreciate school as much as you do and you have taught us a lesson: we should value and enjoy our opportunity to learn here in Canada the way that you do.” The school twinning program is humming along nicely and spinning in directions that can’t be imagined. This week, for instance, we heard from one twin class in the Yukon whose students and teachers were just heading off for a two-week caribou hunt. This sparked some very interesting discussions in the library last night as, wide-eyed in the sweltering humid star-speckled heat, students who could not imagine a life different from that lived here heard of things like the midnight sun and a land of no trees, and ice and snow for the first time. Today I pulled out the Arctic section of the book Children Just Like Us, a book about igloo construction, and a book about deer, moose, and caribou which should be of interest to the students here, some of whom also engage in hunting (without guns) of deer and many of whom participate in block home construction (mud block, in this case). We also watched a short youtube clip on igloo construction which sparked a plan to make our own video on mud block construction. We’re also going to make a video about crafts the children here engage in, like weaving baskets and fish traps from bamboo, to teach their peers at Champlain School.

On deer, this week I headed out on another solo motorbike bookmobile trek, a longer trip this time, warily beeping the horn round foliage-blinded curves and fish-tailing down river-rutted roads, to the tiny Limba village of Makambray where again, the kids had access to books for the first time ever and again we started off with reading Lynn Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree, an imagined rainforest tale of the interaction between a tree cutter and the multitude of living things depending on the tree. Again wide-eyed, especially as the boa constrictor slithered down the tree and the jaguar whispered to the man, the children gasped and exclaimed and discussed the story, wondering why the “beef” as animals are called in Krio were not malicious in this forest and what happened to the man after the story ended and how they could go about recording a story of their forest themselves. I’m looking forward to returning next week and seeing what comes of this venture. My sister Hetty promises to help with writing workshops and publishing of the children's stories when she comes to visit in January.

And finally just as the rainy season is coming to a close my new garden has germinated and is sprouting squash and beans and radishes and chard. I’m told there is no way the grasshoppers will find it this year (it’s planted in the middle of the village in the chief’s compound). We’ll see. Today is the last day of harvesting our big boli land rice field and all are busy cooking for the people from three villages who are coming to help. Yesterday was also harvest time for the women's sesame crop and there was a big group gathered to grind and combine sesame with beans and rice and oil and several other local crops to create a protein-rich baby food called Benemix which should go a long way to addressing the child malnutrion problem here. Today I'm drafting a wish list of culturally-relevant children's books which my sister will be bringing for the schools and the libraries that cdpeace is helping to create at Makonkorie and Mayagba, thanks to the very generous donations of a group of authors and illustrators in Canada. Thanks so much, new friends, if you are reading this blog!
Photo - Classes under the banana tree at Makota