Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nakama Kawaleh. Nakama Kawaleh If I repeat it often enough I think I’ll remember. I have already been told that I owe one cow as a fine for calling the new Obai (Chief) who used to be known as H---y, by her old name. My sister is now custodian of the land of Paki Masabong, upholder of tradition, and ambassador from this small part of the world to all beyond borders far and wide throughout the world. Despite involving everyone from all far reaches of the chiefdom and many from neighbouring chiefdoms, I had no idea this was planned. My brother Gerald (known here as Joe), my sister Kawaleh and I arrived at Mapaki after a very eventful airport pick-up, around midday yesterday. It was obvious from some distance down the road that something was up. Traditional dancers I have never seen before, women and men from the Limba, the Temne tribes, students, chiefs from all over and everyone from many villages around had taken to the road, which was packed for as far as the eye could see. After being welcomed with hugs and song in the middle of the throng, Kawaleh was whisked away and disappeared from our sight, to reappear shortly after, swinging in a ceremonial hammock borne by four of the young men of the village, fanned by another and shaded from the sun by a canopy of muslin Around me all was still a pandemonium of welcome, song, hugs, dancing as I struggled to near the hammock which, by this point, was veering from the road up a hill before stopping under one of the older trees between the mosque and clinic. This is where the women chiefs, all dressed in white and still dancing, robed Kawaleh in a white lace dress, cap and head wrap, and from there, danced her into the village, where the real crowning took place. From there we wound our way to the community centre where representatives from all sectors of governance and others (traditional chiefs, elected politicians, women, teachers, students, family, etc.) talked and thanked and praised and sang and danced and planned throughout the afternoon. By the time evening rolled around we were quite ready to roll into our mosquito nets and hit the sack. Tonight Kawaleh is resting up for the initiation she expects to undergo tomorrow in the sacred forest and Joe is entertaining all with a soulful repertoire of Leadbelly, Daniel Lanois, and Jobim Gilberto numbers.

So, back to the airport, which was a pandemonious experience of another kind. Despite departing Mapaki at 5:30am to make a 6:45pm flight arrival, unfortunately we experienced not one, but all three possible reasons to miss a flight…major vehicle breakdown, the concurrent arrival of neighbouring dignitaries which threw all schedules into disarray, and the later ferry being too full to accommodate the repaired vehicle. Kawaleh and Joe’s arrival turned out to be sandwiched just between the arrivals of Libya’s Mohamar Gadafi and the junta leaders of the recent military coup in Guinea. Freetown was filled with trucks full of soldiers and police whirling around corners and dark-tinted jeeps speeding through intersections. We decided that it would be best to split up to ensure that at least one person got to the airport on time and, after taking a walk-on ferry ride and a dollar shared taxi trip to the airport, I arrived in plenty of time to greet my siblings. Unfortunately for Joe and Kawaleh, I’ve become so used to relaxed and civil village life that my shocked reaction to what I felt to be an incident of police and driver collusion in negotiating transport back to Freetown, resulted in us also missing the ferry back and we ended up spending much of the night sitting on the ferry terminal dock, which is where we rang in the new year. Kind of nice, actually, as we had a chance to unwind and visit with each other before heading upcountry.

Since then, it’s been in a whirlwind of activity, visits, investigations in health, discussions, organizing, photographing, etc. and I really have not had time to write for the blog. Sorry, Ward and others who have anxiously been waiting for word! I hope to post photos this afternoon.