Sunday, February 8, 2009

The full moon peeks in the corner of this dark room where I sit with heavy heart thinking about cruel injustice. Some of our school twinning’s most poignant and pointed connections are being made right now between grade three students in Dawson and in Mapaki. This exchange will take place now without the participation of eleven year-old Yenor Thullah, daughter of Mapaki’s bell-ringer. Tonight while discussing on-line peace art galleries with Canadian teachers, the power in the solar batteries went out at the same time as the computer failed. At that moment shroud-wrapped Yenor, whose spirit had left her body just hours before, was carried past our window on the way to the burying ground. I was told tonight, while sitting on the back stoop of the health clinic where my friend Hannah lie, that Yenor’s parents had taken her to the hospital, but not being able to afford the fees brought her home where she died today of “swollen stomach”. This has been a long week of worrying about illnesses and deaths in the community (which could be dramatically reduced by removing user fees for health care) and today’s news headlines about potential foreign profit from huge new iron ore finds in the neighbouring district leave me shaking my head. Especially after being told this week of the mining devastation in another part of the country where the mines have 24 hour power and the surrounding villages, schools and health clinics have none (and the role of Canadian companies here*). Hannah, meanwhile, appears to have suffered a stroke yesterday, while she was making arrangements with sister Mabinty to access land for planting. To address the endemic hypertension that exists here (cause of stroke), I’ve started a “Stone Soup” cooking club with some of the women in my household, to try cooking local plants with reduced salt and palm oil. The first meal of potato leaves provided by Sallay, cooked with onions from Ropola, tomatoes from the women’s shop and pepper from me has just been served to the chief and the key cooks in the household. I’ve been told this could be the start of a nutrition revolution in this set-in-it-ways-of-cooking community. It was a delight for me to cook on my back porch and eat a meal of lightly-cooked, oil-less greens. I expect this will also be the start of a revolution for me.

There has been so much to write about this past week that I spin from one topic to another in the basket of half-started blog entries. Like the detailed report I got of a massive chicken and goat abduction in Makonkorie yesterday (most abducted creatures are now safely locked away and a huge mediation process is underway in the village). And the loss of a cell phone in Mapaki yesterday that was found also after a huge day-long community mediation and through the intervention of a local “miracle woman” who described exactly where it could be found (under the mattress of young suspect number one on the outskirts of the village). The conversation I had in the moonlight last night with some of the teenagers of the village who often visit and who described their dreams and hopes for the future in making a place for themselves in the village. The sweet exchanges between the older and younger students in several communities who have teamed up to glean meaning from the equally sweet letters and drawings received from Canadian students this week. The trek to the bush I took with the elder woman of our household, who went with me to gather materials to make a fishing net from palm frond fibers to send as a gift to one of our Canadian twin schools. The baskets being made for me by most serious student, Alpha, in exchange for six needed school notebooks. The teachers who came to our library Saturday to browse for the first time in their lives through books and other resources for teachers and left with the last of the donated pencils, paper, notebooks and other materials for their students. And the surprised looks on the faces of the children along our line as I zipped by this week on the motorbike ridden by the new cdpeace agricultural coordinator (same Oporto, different bike). It’s now the day after Yenor’s death, I hear that Hannah is showing some progress, and volunteer teacher Mohamed, who was suffering from untreated typhoid (he had no money for medicine but has been treated through a kind and generous Canadian donor who’s helped spark a health fund for volunteer teachers) has just headed back to his village, saying he feels much better (Mohamed is going to be teaching his students about the causes and prevention of typhoid as part of the teacher health program). And I think I’ll wander up the line and see how Hannah and Mabinty are faring. This start of a new week will, I hope, herald a more settled time as February, the month most people get sick and die, quickly slips by. Here’s looking to March!
* Ecumenical group KAIROS states that Africa is home to over 600 Canadian mining concessions worth more than $12 billion, often in conditions
reminiscent of early colonialism
Photo - Headman Brima Sesay on the last "cold" day of the Harmattan, when temperature dipped to 20 degrees