Friday, February 20, 2009

Don’t you hate it when life imitates art? Last week I had a long conversation with the volunteer teachers at Mathombo (the school that was burnt during the war with children still in it) about the on-line peace art gallery project that Jeanette of Queen’s University is organizing and the ways that the Mathombo students could be involved. Children at Mathombo’s twin school, Parkview, have sent beautiful artwork set to music about what peace means to them and I was explaining to the teachers that different cultures sometimes interpret the word “peace” differently (remembering surprising responses in Northern Ireland) and that so far my experience has been that peace to children here means the absence of war. We talked about our respective concepts of peace and the teachers told me of their experiences. Peace to them, they said, meant not living in fear of your life, not needing to run and hide and live in the bush when rebels were near, not fearing the cobras that shared your sleeping space, not living under rain without shelter for days on end, not seeing your crops disappear while your babies cried from hunger and not living with the fear of cholera.

This last comment surprised me as it was the first mention I’ve heard of cholera at Mathombo. The teachers explained how a few years ago cholera killed many, how people died within hours of showing first symptoms and how helpless all felt in watching the suffering. Shivers ran down my back as they spoke as I recalled bits and pieces about cholera from novels read over the years. I’ve been thinking about this conversation and thinking about one of my favourite books, “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Especially after our health officer stopped by last night and told me he was concerned that my namesake (the baby born when I arrived last year) might be suffering from cholera and he was heading into Makeni to confer with the district medical officer, just in case. On going to check on baby Carol Kadiatu this morning, I discovered that her family has taken her out of Mapaki to a small village some distance away, a major concern as we have the only health centre around. I’ve just been told that her father has just gone to Malimp to bring her back and I’m anxiously waiting to hear how she is doing. Next day’s update…I found Kadiatu and a second baby in the house still violently ill (a third newborn was fine). Later in the day both babies recovered and are now doing well, thanks to the timely intervention of Lewis, the health officer.

The great goat escapade. All of Mapaki is talking of the foiled great goat heist last night. This is what happened. Round about midnight we heard a car pass through the village, an unusual circumstance. About 45 minutes later my neighbour received a call from an outlying village that a group of goat thieves had been intercepted and were headed our way. A hue and cry went up and the youth of Mapaki quickly erected a barrier. Not fast enough, though, goat thieves, vehicle and bleating goats burst through the barricade headed for the junction. More calls (the chief had been notified as well) and a second barricade went up at the junction, seven miles away. This barricade was made of heavy branches and the vehicle ensnared. Escaping overland in bare feet, the thieves ended up in Magburaka, where their lack of shoes and trousers gave them away. The goats have been returned, thieves are in lock-up and all are shaking their heads. As usual, the thieves came some distance for the heist as the vehicle was registered in Freetown. We’re not worried about our school goats as all the pens have been erected next to the houses of their caretakers in the most secure corners of the villages and the pens built with noisy zinc doors that will rattle and wake the dead in the event of an attempted break-in. Another sleepless night in Mapaki!

I read a small book this week about a project in Mozambique that transformed weapons from their destructive purposes into items of art that toured schools and communities around the world, including Canada. Last week my friend Tamara sent me an article about upcoming procurement plans of sci-fi style outfits and the latest in space-age weaponry for Canadian soldiers operating in “outposts”. Again I’m left shaking my head and wondering about the existence of evil (just finished a conversation about witches and devils) and the insanity of this world. Here we are reaping the fruits of a very successful disarmament campaign that has rid this country of virtually all weapons. I have never heard of a shooting-related incident anywhere in the country in all my time here, despite the legacy of eleven years of war. Meanwhile the language of disarmament has crept into the vernacular. “I’m coming to ‘dischair’ you,” I was told by Kannel last week as he came to borrow my chairs for a meeting. Imagine for a moment if the disarmament campaign of Sierra Leone were to be extended to all countries, starting with those, like my own, that produce the weapons. Imagine the incredible legacy this would leave to a world that spends 92% more on arms each year than it does on the entire budget of the United Nations. Perhaps an unattainable dream, but then all changes begin with the small dreams of many. Time to start dreaming and imagining a world that uses words and ingenuity and heart to solve conflicts and builds economies for people and the planet rather that production for destruction. Blacksmiths like those in each village here could go a long way in beating those swords into ploughshares and objects of art. Time to start with a children’s war toys to art project?…and maybe life will begin to imitate art in more positive ways. Photo - Students at Makonkorie school on their lunch break