Friday, December 12, 2008

Recycling, Sierra Leone-style. The metal tube hanging from the tree next to Zainab is the Moria school bell, fashioned from the exploded shell which destroyed part of the school during the war (still not repaired). The shell was dropped by rebel forces. We checked the inside to try to find out where the shell was made, but other than a model number, it had no identifying marks. Interestingly, after leaving the school (students here are writing about peace with their USA twins), I spent the morning with a former child combatant, taken into the rebel forces at age ten, moved on to become leader of the rebel forces in the neighbouring district and now a prime campaigner for peace and reconciliation. He has developed some very inspiring programs that bring together young people from all side of the conflict to work hand-in-hand on community income-generation, agriculture and peer education programs. I imagine how useful it would be to do the same with children in countries that suffer from and that perpetuate wars through arms trade, though suppose in some ways that’s what this school twinning project of ours is doing. The teachers at Moria meanwhile, chuckle over the incongruity of their small recycling effort. And small statistics like these keep coming at me (3% of global military expenditures is needed to meet the goal of eliminating world hunger, Canada exports weapons to over 70 countries including countries subject to arms embargoes, and the USA to 174, etc.)

This week I’ve been caught between two worlds as teachers in Mapaki and the rest of the chiefdom struggle to fulfill an impossible mandate given to them. Schools here struggle to manage without buildings, teacher salaries, chalkboards, chalk or books but have been told that, in a country without electricity or access to computers, all primary schools must submit student exam data through computer-generated database software, backed up with printed documents. And have one week to do so. Using four partially working laptops, a half functioning scanner and borrowing use of a printer in Makeni (that only works when the office generator has fuel), Kouame, several teachers and I have been burning the midnight oil, burning up the road between Mapaki and Makeni, and burning out our solar panels trying to complete this herculean task for five schools. Disks and printed pages were handed in under the deadline today despite many setbacks, but will probably need redoing as the software (or we) didn’t quite function as expected. Apparently the radio waves are filled with schools pleading for this program to be scuttled or postponed. During all of this, it’s been next to impossible to find fuel in the district as the fuel sellers are in dispute with the government over pricing. We had to beg for a liter of petrol to get the motorbike to Makeni, where we heard a rumour that one filling station was selling fuel for an hour or so. Long lineup and pandemonium. Actually, lack of access to fuel seems to be a common occurrence and many a time I’ve expected to be stranded on the road with a dry fuel tank. Today, after two flat motorbike tires on the road home, fortune and the kindness of strangers kicked in and we got home safe and sound. As we seem to average about two flat tires a month, I think I’ll start carrying a pump. Happy to report that I’m starting to learn a lot from experience about motorcycle maintenance and operation.

Two worlds… Two nights ago the women’s traditional society had an all night round-the-fire, dancing, drumming, singing session just outside our house. As I still can’t tell the difference between secret and public events, I stayed in my bed again. Last night, though, was different. The youth headed off to town to collect a generator and music set and the locally recorded music kept us kicking up dust and dancing under the moon and stars till the wee hours as the village celebrated the sixth anniversary of the chief’s crowning. All the teenage girls and boys from the house and neighbourhood turned up, many with their babies strapped to the back or toddling at their side as did the motorcycle riders from the junction (roaring their bikes into the middle of the dance ground). Despite some worry about prematurely wearing out the soles of my good plastic shoes and thinking that maybe I need to monitor the comings and goings of the teens (we have plenty of babies in the house already) I had a great time. The perfect semi-circular moon cast shimmering moon-shadows across all and I’m sure I saw a shooting star as I wandered home.

Whoa! Just minutes ago, all the women and uninitiated non-Limba men in Mapaki streaked faster than you can imagine into the closest dwelling. While I was already safely in my room, all of my housemates banged on the door and told me to hide anyway. I’ve heard what happens to those who intentionally peek when the secret societies emerge from the forest and will not be taking any chances.

Tonight I’m quite worried. Young Marie, who lives in the front of my house with her mom and brother, developed a number of large boils on her head, and no one seems to know why. This puts me in mind too much of Baby Madfa’s poor late baby and the Mapaki baby that, very sadly, died this afternoon. Marie is one of the gang of two-year olds that welcomes me home each day with a huge warm hug. Actually, I think I’ll sign off and go home now to see how she is. Tomorrow Thomas arrives and I expect that the next week will be a whirlwind of activity, so it might be a while before I’m back.

Update…they tell me at the house not to worry…Marie’s boils are the ordinary kind. Relieved, I headed down the road to sit with Fatmata, mother of the six month old baby that died today. Left the smoky fire behind her mother’s house to step into the biggest, brightest moon I’ve ever seen, tinged with orange from the dust riding in on the Harmattan winds. This night, though, misfortunes are happening in threes. In front of the chief’s house, many of the village were gathered to sit with a young boy I’m told is dieing (the lack of the equivalent of about $30 was stopping the family from sending the boy to the hospital). When I left, the chief was making arrangements with the doctor to see the boy on an IOU basis and arranging transport to the town hospital. I’m happy about Marie but am going to spend the rest of this last full moon of the year hoping for the young boy’s recovery.