Friday, October 28, 2011

Never Lose Hope!

Move over, Nollywood, Mollywood has come to town! Featuring all my favourite locations (including my room) and actors (including the Paramount Chief), “Young Men Never Lose Hope” is a full-length feature conceived and filmed on location by the Mapaki Youth in Action Group. Produced sans budget with a Mac, video camera, and solar power, this action-packed cautionary tale about the wisdom of listening to your wife and parents and staying home in school rather than chasing the illusionary paying job is especially relevant to young people in today’s Sierra Leone. Word on the street is that youth are now flocking to the new mining areas seeking that elusive paying job. Unfortunately, most get nothing and those that do get short-term positions with a fast turn-around (so the mining companies can avoid paying benefits). And, unfortunately, it has also meant that most schools have lost their best teachers who are first in line for a higher-paying, if short-term, mining job. Problems all round. What an impact, though, working on this feature must have had on the young people here who are lured by the lights of Makeni and Freetown. Who says village life is dull? Congratulations, Mapaki youth!! At the same time, I’m delighted to hear that this will be a bumper rice harvest year due to an abundance of rain. It was especially gratifying to go to the new rice gardens today, bursting with rice that’s about to be harvested and stored in the large just-finished grain store, supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture. Last year the rice harvest fed the farmers and the surplus was sold to generate income. Nice feeling to know that many working together have had a tremendous positive impact (no talk of the hunger season this year so far). Thanks to all who helped provide the tractor which enabled the expansion of the rice gardens and gainful employment for the young people who have not headed for the mines. I spent last evening with some of those young people. Thanks in part to the scholarships and teacher support, there is also a bumper class of junior high graduates this year, all heading out for school interviews and beginning of term. Last night I listened to the advice of one seasoned student giving tips to his younger peer. Yes, you’ll need to take soap to launder your clothes, don’t buy six pens all at once or you’ll end up giving them away, make sure to bring rice, salt, maggi for the cook. There is some disappointment that we have no funds for new scholarships this year and I’m hoping to remedy this when I return. Soon. I can’t believe I’m already at the half way mark of this visit. Riding on the motorbike down the back road to the gardens; startling small darts of fish while splashing through streams; passing stands of sorghum, sticks and mile-high cassava; watching the road weave between washed-out bridges and new pitch; waving back to the small children who call out “Father!”, “Sister!”, “Carol!”, “Oporto!” depending on our location; satisfied in the knowledge that my pack is full of pumpkin, okra, rice, two eggs, and plantain freshly picked and destined for my mother-in-law’s kitchen; I’m already worrying about my impending departure and planning my return. Two homes and families and an ocean between. So much to traverse and treasure.