Friday, March 12, 2010

Omens and Aunties

“It’s a bad omen for hunger next year,” I was told this morning at the Mapaki Primary School. I had stopped by to deliver some books and chatted briefly with Mr. Koroma, the head teacher. With the rains arriving a month too early, farmers (and everyone here is a farmer, including the teachers) are not able to clear, burn and prepare the land for this year’s planting, which could result in hunger next year. “And in Canada, how’s the climate; is it also changing?” he asked. Thinking of all the delighted messages I’m receiving about an early Canadian spring, I’m not sure that we feel the harmful effect of climate change as sharply in Canada. Hunger is a powerful learning tool. My hope, though, is that the expected tractor will be able to ameliorate some effects of unpredictable weather in this year of early rain.

“Oh, Fati, she has fallen from the bicycle and is seriously wounded! Oash, Fati!” The books delivered to this and many other primary schools are a wonderful collection of local stories developed through a joint Ghana and Canadian initiative (google Osu Children’s Library) and it is delightful to see community members and teachers become deeply engaged in these stories. The story of Fati and Honey Tree led to a long conversation about bees and pollination and farming in general among the teachers and community representative, and comparisons with Canadian bees and farming. All readers are pleased to see local culture reflected in these books as they tell me life and culture in Ghana must be very similar to their own. We all dream, also, of one day being able to tell stories from here in books as beautiful as these.

A new generation of toddlers growing up, another name change. When I left last year, there was a posse of about ten toddling tiny boys who hung out at the back porch, greeting and sending me off each day. This year the boys seem to have matured enough to have serious jobs around the household (I see them helping older siblings) and last year’s babies are now the chorus of toddlers. Twins Mamasu and Kebombor and small Marie whose moms have moved on to their home villages are now in the care of the women in the household. They are joined by many other children and grandchildren and to make things easy, I’m changing my name to the generic “Aunty” which can be used for any of the growing number of oporto women who turn up in their lives. “Aunty, aunty, aunty!” is the greeting I now hear when I turn the corner to the house (much easier than Oporto! or Kadiatu! or Isata! or Aminata!, names given to other visiting women).

This has been my week to visit schools and communities to deliver books and explain that this particular two-year project has come to an end. There is great scope for reflection and learning from all that has gone on. Once the last of the school visits and workshops have been completed, I look forward to having some time to simply spend with the children and teachers in our local primary school, observing, participating and learning more about daily life in a classroom in rural Sierra Leone. After that, I’ll be with family in Makeni. While I miss everyone at home in Canada, I’m already thinking it will be difficult to leave after such a short time here and such uncertainty in the future.