Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The men of Mapaki are grumbling today about their loss of human rights after the women were out in full force all night…24 hours of non-stop singing, dancing, and drumming up and down every road and path in the village. As this was secret society business, the men and uninitiated girls had to stay in the houses overnight. This morning when the women of my household asked why I hadn’t joined them in the dancing I explained that I’d join in after I undergo initiation, sending all rolling into laughter and telling me my mother would never consent to this. They’re probably right.

Four new babies arrived yesterday, one of them to one of the girls in our household. I think this is the sixth baby to arrive in our household since I’ve come. Meanwhile the young toddlers are starting to pick up bits of language and Baby Kebombor, sitting at my feet this morning, looked up and said the first words I’ve heard him speak, “Momo, Kadiatu.”, or “Thank you, Carol.” He’s probably picked this up from young Abdul, who thanks me for everything, “Thank you, thank you for working, thank you for eating.”

Today the sixteen teachers we’re sending to college left for their first term. Mabinty, who is among the sixteen, left me in the capable hands young Fatu Fatu, who stays with Mabinty as a daughter since her own parents have died. As children here really raise themselves and do much of the household maintenance, Fatu Fatu is taking care of me more than needing caring for herself. She comes round to greet me each morning, collects my pans and brings me my food, cleans the library, fetches water, and generally looks out for anything I might need. It is almost tempting to get used to such treatment, which I’m told is simply the respect that elders (which I am here) receive to compensate for the long years they served others. Who am I to argue with such sound reasoning?

Today I also harvested the first meal from my miniscule backyard garden….a salad comprised completely of basil leaves. Interesting to see what grows well here and what doesn’t. Both years basil has done phenomenally well while parsley has barely poked though, lettuce is a complete write-off, carrots are questionable but beans are fine. Probably has a lot to do with the fact that this year I’ve shamefully neglected to water (water is precious and I’m reluctant to use our well drinking water for the garden).

Next day…death and tears and trouble. About two weeks ago I wrote about a young boy who went to hospital with a stomach problem no one understood. Last night he made his final journey home. Word of his death arrived before his body came home and the road was filled with mourners crying and friends and family in tears late into the night. Just before this, our resident very sweet “bad boy”…basically a good-hearted young man who doesn’t always make the best choices, had too much to drink, became rowdy, and was escorted to the village “jail” (a room on the hill) for the night, along with his buddy. Today Abdul was buried and the boys lay sheepishly low while occasionally chastised by a passing elder.

I’m rereading Ishmael Beah’s “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” and having a very difficult time with it. My first read was from a comfortable distance while in Canada. Here though, it’s all a little too close to home and actually imaginable. It’s reminding me of stories heard as a child of the holocaust and as a young woman about death squads in Central America. I suppose that the ultimate lesson from all of these is that all people are capable of positive change, a sentiment that I see and often hear expressed here.

Well, we’ve had winter solstice, yesterday was Hanukah, and tomorrow Christmas Eve. Here, while there is no discernable sign of celebration or holiday, there is a slight tingling of relaxation in the air. Children are not in school, the harvest is in, and people have a bit more time to relax. Seems to be a tradition to find something new to wear this time of year and many of the students have been trying to gather leones to purchase something at the second-hand clothing stalls at the junction. My friend Alpha has been making beautiful, large bamboo baskets which he tries to sell for about twenty cents each. In town, life proceeds as normal, and I have a meeting with the local college principal planned as well as a trip to see the progress of construction of a new school at Mathombo (one of the many villages destroyed during the war). Then it’s off to ride and hike to the mountaintop village to visit a friend whose second family lives there. Family and friends in Canada are sending tales of winter storms and power outages and mounds of snow to shovel and I smile and think of you all. I’m sending you all best and warm wishes and hope for peace as another year melds into the next. And of course, lots of love.