Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oh, Carolyn (H---y's Posting)

Since starting this blog, Carolyn has captivated a large reading audience with colourful and touching descriptions of her life in Sierra Leone. I anxiously look forward to each new posting and I am never disappointed. Some stories are funny and others are sad but all of them are poignant accounts of the realities of life in this poor but beautiful country.

Carolyn usually writes about the people she meets and the places she visits. Being a modest person, she does not write much about herself so she has given me permission to write a few lines about her.

Wherever Carolyn goes, she is surrounded by adoring children and greeted by adults who all seem to respect and love her. “Seke…mo-mo…tante krue…yo”…these greetings are exchanged with the people we encounter as we walk through the village. Everyone who passes by offers a handshake and these words of greeting. No one is too busy to walk by without stopping to say hello and everyone – young and old – has a warm smile and a handshake for Carolyn.

From across the ocean, it was difficult for us to imagine Carolyn’s life in Sierra Leone. Having lived her life with electricity and running water, how could she adapt so easily to such a different way of life? Now, after two weeks here, I understand. Life in Mapaki is full of warm interactions, laughter and sharing. The villagers of Mapaki, working in collaboration with Chief Kebombor who is nationally and internationally celebrated for his wisdom and conflict resolution skills, have created a model community.

One major accomplishment has been the establishment of a new community library and learning resource centre. With people who believe in sharing resources and working together for the good of the community, establishing a community library was a matter of enlisting willing youth volunteers to make the mud bricks and start building. Now, the library is about to open officially with a large area for reading tables, many bookshelves for the wonderful book collection Carolyn has assembled and several small rooms for study. A few NGO workers came for a visit today and their tour of the almost completed library left them speechless.

Last evening, we sat with four young girls who were anxious to complete a homework assignment. Prior to Carolyn’s arrival, there was no light in the evenings for the youth to study or complete homework. The library, powered by solar panels and complete with internet access, is a first for Sierra Leone. Children will be welcome every evening to read, study or learn to use computers. What a difference Carolyn is making in the lives of children with great potential but limited opportunities.

I received my first chicken today (we named him Joe). During a visit to the village of Maso, birthplace of Thomas Turay, we were given a bag of just-off-the-tree grapefruit and a chicken. Every day, Sallay, the Chief’s wife cooks for us. Usually, our meal is rice with some sauce on top. From cassava to ground nut stew, the food is flavourful and highly spiced. Cooking happens in a communal kitchen where pots simmer all day long. Early in the morning until late in the evening, children are lined up at the water pump with their buckets. Sierra Leoneans believe that children should work hard and that elders have earned the right to relax. Elders are treated with the utmost respect. Oh, it’s good to be among them!

Yesterday evening we talked with Usifu, one of the volunteer teachers here in Mapaki. Usifu and his fellow volunteer teachers were anticipating being paid as of January and had just learned that this was just a rumour. Even without a salary they show up at school faithfully each day and take their teaching assignments seriously. Such injustice is almost incomprehensible. This experience will certainly have an effect on my tolerance level for grumbling when I return home!

Being here with Carolyn and Gerald has been an inspiring experience. Gerald spent a lot of time learning as much as possible about the health care system. He left with many ideas percolating and I am sure will have some sound recommendations in the weeks ahead. Just being with Carolyn as she lives her life here as a member of the Mapaki community has helped me understand the reason why she feels so comfortable and welcome here. She is loved by all and is involved in all aspects of village life. Carolyn’s wonderful sense of humour serves her well as she jokes with her friends and deals with issues in a light-hearted but sensitive manner. I am very proud of Carolyn and have now seen for myself the impact she is making, in her quiet unassuming way, to the people she now regards as her family.

H---y (a.k.a. Nakama Kawaleh)