Saturday, December 27, 2008

On Christmas morning, after a long motorbike trek, after fording seven rivers and scaling the mountain, we finally made it to the village of Nerekoro, accessible only by climbing one of three steep and narrow mountain trails, home of Abdul’s second wife and family. We had left the motorbike at the last road-accessible village long before we came to the almost waist-deep final river to ford, which, nestled at the foot of the mountain, fed a patchwork of soft variegated green beds of groundnuts, an idyllic place for a little house, I thought. After the summit of the final climb, we stepped into what seemed a magical oasis. Nerekoro. A village which itself is nestled among several other smaller mountaintop villages. All day people from the surrounding villages climbed down their mountain trails to come and welcome the strangers. And what a welcome it was! Between The-Tallest-Man-In-The-Village (who also played the largest drum), the chief, Mammy Queen, and drummers and singers of all ages, we were well cared for and entertained. All day and all night. The highlight for me was the evening illuminated by lightening bouncing off all the surrounding peaks spent listening to the itinerant blind man who wanders from village to village with his homemade musical instrument (like a large thumb piano) providing haunting music to all who will listen. I wandered off to sleep as the third drumming group was just returning and listened to the music (which stopped only once when the heavens opened and rain poured) while drifting in and out of sleep. I was very sorry to have my camera batteries die especially after I climbed the last peak with Abdul to see and hear the sounds of the village from afar and look forward to seeing what Kouame has captured. We left next day with a rooster (named Bad Breeze after a new friend) safely tucked under my arm, accompanied by many from the village as far as the first steep incline. Just before we left, someone showed me the handful of gold that he had panned from the river the preceding week. Seems that this is a gold producing area and the villagers who pan the gold take it to be sold at the closest town. As I’ve heard from a visiting American miner that people get a pittance of what gold is actually worth, I’m investigating possibilities of a “fair trade” arrangement with Canadian jewelers. While the village has been teaching its children since 1959, it still lacks a school building and profit from gold sales would go a long way to purchasing the needed zinc roofing and cement. I’m also very curious about the social benefits provided (or not) by the Canadian gold mining company located one mountain away, but still in the same chiefdom section. Lots of talk in the village about the gold, iron and bauxite being mined there and rumours of the mining moving closer, probably not a great development for the community.

Mabinty returned to college just hours before we returned (the teachers had been given two days off for Christmas). Seems the scholarship students are struggling. Turns out that the fees quoted by the college did not include the cost of “pamphlets” provided by instructors and most of the students can’t buy what they consider required materials. This is somewhat contentious as the college does not approve of instructors selling pamphlets, a long-standing criticized practice which supplements instructors’ salaries and which seems endemic at all learning institutions. I believe there is a meeting at the college to resolve this issue today. Seems the students are caught between tradition and the current climate of the country trying to control what is seen as corruption. I’m hoping the students’ needs and college policy wins out. Mabinty tells me how the students gather late in the evenings with rice and a borrowed pot behind the residence to cook a communal meal for themselves and how few left the campus to return home for Christmas as they lacked transport fees. We are all hoping that the promised salaries for community (volunteer) teachers will actually materialize in January to prevent similar strain next term. Not that this will be a complete solution. On Christmas Eve, one of the salaried teachers who lives in another village but teaches here told me he would not be going home as his salary had not yet been paid and he was too embarrassed to appear before his family with no food or new clothes for his children. Ah, Sierra Leone!

Meanwhile, last night Mapaki hosted another “jam” or dance. I think this has been seven straight nights of all night music for me…I resorted to ear plugs and slept very soundly through it all. So soundly that I missed the trauma of the night. For the second time since I’ve been here, there has been an incident of violence by a man against a woman, and in both cases the perpetrators were people who come from other parts of the country. Each time this happens, it reinforces for me the value and importance of local traditions of peace-keeping, which seem to prevent any violence among or by youth who were raised here. Last night’s incident was sparked by jealousy and has ended with a young man being taken to custody in the neighbouring town after it seems the whole village interceded and decided what should be done. All are shaking their heads today and wondering why he didn’t simply choose another woman if this one didn’t want him.

In four days my sister and brother will be here to visit and learn and do workshops for a few weeks. All the chiefdom leaders have gathered in Mapaki today to plan for this, while I sit back and see how things unfold. Can’t wait for them to get here!
Photo - About to leave Nerekoro. More photos posted here.