Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bumpy! Mighty! Mighty bumpy! Mighty fat and bumpy!...all said with awe and admiration (I think). Friends, why did no one warn me about the potential impact my return (going from double-digit weight to well beyond in the land of too much) would engender? Oh now my Mapaki friends who did not recognize me at first have accepted that it's really me in this new mighty bumpy body.

The twinkling lights of Freetown, spied from the plane for the first time this year herald a new era here, I think. I've always found it incredibly eerie to pull into a massive city lit only by thousands of dim kerosene lamps. In my two days here so far glimmers of other “new era” elements are also emerging and I think that this condensed trip, in particular, will cast an interesting light on new developments. Seen so far? Roads repaired (though not yet tarred) from the airport to the main highway and road signs all along the way. A smooth airport arrival (often the most hectic, stressful time here). New vast expanses of ethanol-producing sugar-cane land mostly for the European market (I had my eyes shut tight at this point in the journey). Fewer smoky sparking orange glows of burning brush-land and rain where it was not expected. A new nurse in Mapaki and reports that health care for pregnant women and children is destined to improve. New schools at three of our pilot school sites and at least one new thatched open-air community school on the back road into the chiefdom. Reports of more deaths of friends, young and old. New people here and old friends who have left.

I really had no idea how much I missed the country until I arrived. After being met by and visiting with Saidu's cousins and Helen and Umar, I drove with MO from Mapaki as far as Makeni through the dark, sweltering night. “Slept” (how can you sleep when your body is not yet adjusted to a 20 degree indoor temperature change?) at the Timbo household, where we had a leisurely breakfast with the extended family, cuddling the newest baby, Saidu, who was born the same day as baby Gabriel. And it's been non-stop since then. I'm just back from a trip to Yele (about two hours away) where I visited with my brother's health practitioner friend, Peter, and delivered much needed and welcomed birthing supplies to the community clinic. Stopped to visit with the teachers and children at three of the twin schools, read parts of Janet Wilson's “One Peace” to the children of SLMB (Mount Edward's twin) and had an interesting discussion on children's role in making peace (sparked by a chapter in the book) and on principles of agricultural fair trade (sparked by a question from the Mount Edward students on fair trade cocoa). Met with the community members of Mabarr Line to provide financial help with the rebuilding of their school (the school that was half brick and half mud and wattle last year). Made plans for next week's teacher workshop on links between teaching reading and peace and shared some of the new West African books with community members. Stopped at Mathombo (Parkview's twin) to see the teachers and make plans to return (school was closed so few children were there). Unpacked (I came with no personal items and scrambled to find my old toothbrush and other essential left here), did a quick medical triage with the bandages I did slip into my purse at the last minute after a nasty run-in with a too-sharp knife (overly excited about the avocado pear I found), set up some new electrical equipment (so I can write and post day or night as equipment is now shared between library and guest house) and have had some interesting, long conversations about agricultural plans and opportunities in the chiefdom, which sparked me to the following.

First, to let you know up front...the following is not a request for is, though, an opportunity that some may want to venture into and a response to a new era shift. I've known for some time about a scheme to increase the number of tractors in the country, which now has vast tracts of arable land, unused as most communities are limited to hand-labour for all aspects of food growing and production (forcing many families to also keep children home from school to help with this back-breaking labour). Without getting into the pros and cons here of this option, it seems that now untilled land could go into biofuel production to feed the consumption needs of the already-rich world, as it is in many other parts of the globe. Maybe one day, though, tillable land will first be used to feed local communities. And the opportunity to have this happen here now is at our fingertips. There are 212 Indian tractors available for “sale” (greatly reduced rate) by government and of the 4,000 plus applicants, this chiefdom (only one of three in the country) has been selected as a recipient. The tractor would belong to the chiefdom and be used by village farmers' associations to till unused land for local rice production. Operational costs would be covered through planting a large area (previously successfully planted with a Libyan loaner tractor) with rice to sell on the market (supported by an agency that has promised rice storage, milling and drying facilities in the area). Now I'm not a farmer, but I do have great faith in the capacity of this chiefdom to recognize and address local issues well themselves. The problem is cash flow. A bank account with $5,000 must be established on Friday for the chiefdom to keep its place in line. We are securing a loan, which will go into the account tomorrow. The chiefdom will then slowly pay back this loan with farm credits and income over time. Here's your opportunity. If anyone has an inclination to support this local food sovereignty initiative you would be very welcome to hop on board. We'd prefer to forgive the loan and have local income go directly into food production. This could happen if eight people contributed $500 each. As this falls outside of the PSI mandate, it could not go through or be receipted by PSI. If you are interested, please email me and I can provide logistical details. Please don't feel that this is a request, though...friends, family and blog readers have been very generous in supporting this work over the past few years and I really don't want to come to you with another request. See it, rather, as an opportunity to be involved in a great initiative.

Seems our internet connection is working so I'll see if this can post. Hope to write again soon! Best from Bumpy.