Saturday, January 31, 2009

It takes a village to raise a child…and provide food for all and construct libraries and maintain peace. Cliché but so very true here. I’ve just come in from my usual Saturday morning routine (washing clothes, tending the garden, cleaning, greeting the neighbours) and am reflecting on the small scene played out in front of our cluster of houses here. Two suckling sisters in our household had an argument, and because they used abusive language in the presence of elders (not tolerated at all here) were sent to the “jail cell” on top of the hill to cool down before settling their differences. Off they went and all went back to their usual routine of pounding rice, settling conflicts on the porches, cooking, chatting, and in my case, heading to the library.

In response to a question from one of the writers of a Hesperian resource (Where Women Have No Doctor) about the lack of domestic violence here, I’ve been having lots of conversations with friends about this. This is what I’m told. The cultural climate as a whole here is geared towards peaceful resolution of conflict. Every village and many families designate one or more people to be the arbitrators of dispute and conflict and this process is extensively used. The Paramount Chief, for instance, spends much of his time resolving conflict and travels at least twice a year to all 70 villages to help resolve conflicts. Mabinty has been designated as the mediator in her family (recently helping a sister and sister-in-law settle a dispute) and I’ve been called on by friends to play this role myself.

While my experience in Canada is that domestic problems are often kept private or within the home, here where people live much of their lives outdoors and communally, disputes are generally more public and people expect that an older or wiser person will assist in helping them resolve conflict. Because the Paramount Chief is known to generally take the side of the woman in domestic disputes, men tend to tread carefully when in conflict with wives, preventing the domestic violence prevalent in so many other locales. Youth, meanwhile, know that if they are involved in any kind of physical violence, they will probably be called upon by their village headman to pay a fine, so tend to avoid this. Some people also claim that because everyone works so hard there simply isn’t time or energy for husbands and wives to argue or fight and that subsistence agriculture, relying on communal labour, can only succeed when a community works together harmoniously. Since the war there has been a strong focus on teaching people about human rights and many workshops on women’s rights and the new “gender” laws which seem to have had a strong impact. I’m told that in the past, domestic violence was a problem but is now virtually unheard of here (though we’re working on the occasional instance of corporal punishment of children). Since I’ve been here I’ve heard of only two incidents of domestic violence in the chiefdom and in both cases the perpetrators were from another area of the country (and ended up being sent out of the chiefdom).

I’m reading a collection of writings about immigration to Canada and have been thinking a lot about my mother recently, and her experience of immigrating to a strange country and slowly making that new and strange place her home. Of the time she stopped dreaming her dreams in Dutch and knew that she had finally really become a Canadian. This past week bits of my old life drifted by like flotsam and I didn’t feel the usual sharp pangs of homesickness or nostalgia that stumbling on past treasures used to bring. The pandero I was just learning to play with my Brazilian samba band friends jangled out of a box of used office supplies in the Mayagba storage space. Journal reading response entries by grade eight students Level, Kadeem, Jesse peeked out of the duotangs I dusted off to give to our health worker. Bossa nova tunes recalled from late night jam sessions with close friends are drifting out of the laptop left me by my visiting brother. And like the transformed dreams of my mother, my tempered response to these memories signal to me that I’ve probably made the shift to feeling that this, truly, is now my home.

Good thing, as I am learning more about my role and responsibility here as Nakama’s sister. Yesterday Pa Roke, first speaker of the chief and probably my closest counterpart, explained that if Nakama dies (God forbid!), I’ll be expected to take on her role until a new chief is elected (He also explained that she still needs to put in her year of initiation in the sacred bush). This morning I’ll be representing her at a meeting of the youth called to discuss the possibility of applying to UNIDO for a youth employment program all are excited about as it will enable youth displaced by the war to return home and give some youth an alternative to the back-breaking labour of the farm. As virtually all youth here were affected by the war in one way or another and the conditions leading to the war still somewhat endemic, this development is very welcome and hopeful. I suppose that, while it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a global village to redress historical injustices and wrongs. I’m so glad that you are all part of this global village and that we can connect and work together through this miracle of technology.
Photo – Kouame with 3 of 23 computer students in the new library