Friday, December 19, 2008

After ten years away, Thomas Mark Turay has finally returned permanently to the chiefdom…and what a return it has been! His history here is a story in itself (one of three surviving children of eleven who lost his parents at an early age, raised by various relatives, sole family member sent to the local mission-run school, first from his village to get an education, known here as the “father of development” for the many innovative community-based programs he initiated and piloted for the whole country (this was the initial site of many on-going successful health and agricultural programs), ended up in Canada during the war on scholarship, most recently teaching at Coady and St. F.X.U.). The people at the village of Mayagba, site of the cdpeace headquarters, lined the highway with drummers, dancers, performers on stilts, children, elders, and the entire chiefdom cavalcade of motorbike riders to welcome their son home. Speeches, more singing and dancing, delegations from all over, rice for all, and all repeated today at Mapaki, headquarter village for the chiefdom and tomorrow at Gbonkolenken. The Limba dancers and drummers from the inaccessible far reaches of the chiefdom walked and danced the many miles to Mapaki today and the roads were packed with our women drummers providing the beat for the men drummers who drummed for the best and most powerful dancers in the chiefdom. It was an awe-inspiring event.

Meanwhile, this was a chance for me to greet teacher friends from all over the chiefdom who came to welcome TMT home and to share a tasty treat with any takers. Three days ago, the first of this year’s dried concho (bean) harvest was brought in. Proudly bringing my plate of fresh, just-right bean sprouts around to friends and visitors today, as usual the people who bravely accepted my offer were few and far between. This might have something to do with the fact that last week I told people I would be making them “oncho” (rather than “concho”) soup. Turns out I was offering them “river blindness” not bean soup. One of the reasons, I tell people, that I stay unmarried here…I have my reputation as the world’s worst cook to maintain.

On to Gbonkolenken, the second chiefdom where we work and home of Mary Hawa Turay, cofounder of cdpeace. Here the stories of TMT’s past also flowed. Mr. Koroma advised the tightly packed community meeting to heed any advice given by TMT and then related the story of how, after some reluctance, he followed TMT’s advice fifteen years ago and put aside some of his treasured land to plant trees. This year his three daughters came to him to ask for assistance to attend college, and thanks to the three drums of oil he harvested from the trees this year, he was able to pay their fees, otherwise an impossibility.

Next day. Reading news today from Canada has sparked me to do a little research on Niger, a neighbouring country that competes with Sierra Leone as being at the bottom of the Human Development Index. And on Canada’s role in this country. Not something to be proud of. From the little I read last night and this morning, it seems that the government is in conflict with the Tuareg, a nomadic people whose ancestral land is also the site of a rich uranium deposit, mined mainly by a French company. Canada, meanwhile, is involved in open-pit gold mining south of this region and sells arms to the government of Niger, arms which seem to be primarily used in conflict with Tuareg rebel movements. With increasing pressure on the world’s scarce resources (in Niger, the scarce resource is water), my worry is that Canada will increasingly be exacerbating conflicts rather finding ways for all of us on this fragile planet to preserve and equitably share the world’s limited resources. I really hope that I am proved wrong and hope that this twinning work we are doing contributes in some way to a positive role for Canada in this world (especially in Africa, which holds so many of the scarce resources wanted and historically taken by the “lands of too much”).

That’s a long-term goal. In the meantime, I find ways to share my small space with both biting ants who don’t listen to reason (an unexpected surprise while bathing in the dark last night) and with small children who delight with warm hugs and laughter. Every now and then I peek, though the internet, into the world I left behind and wonder if I’d ever be able to fully return. Having friends like Thomas and Mary, who also straddle two worlds, returning to this fragile land of hope makes life in the long-term here much more likely. Time will tell.
For an update on Sierra Leone's development progress, click here.
Photo - Thomas, with women dancers , holding soil of the chiefdom.