Monday, April 30, 2007

"Me na Bobo Pain!"

"so we go tell god tenki dat everyone be ok afta a been get in wan small accident wit Honda." Now everyone in Kabala will be calling me "rough rider" a title I do not think is justified, but there is little I can do now to shake it off. "Me na Bobo Pain" is the title of a song here in Sierra Leone. Thats what they call me; someone who has many troubles and injuries. Last night I had a collision with another honda. I was passing a bike on the road just as it was getting dark and didn't see the oncoming motorcycle. I was going too fast and he did not have his light on. I am none the worse for wear aside from a small flight through the air and minor road rash. The bike also escaped much damage. But the other rider was not as fortunate. His bike is somewhat damaged and he had a serious cut to his nose and mouth. His passenger, a girl from a nearby village had a minor bruise to her leg only. So it was a busy night last night. I am very thankful for the people I have got to know here. Within seconds some of the guys who I work with happened to be there, and within minutes, Mozel Pratt the contractor I am working with, and about 10 guys from our site were there to bring the other guy and his rider to the pharmacy and hospital and take care of me, the motorbikes. It was very comforting. Likewise the CES staff were around in seconds to handle things at the hospital.
So now it is back to work. I checked at the hospital this morning and everyone is doing alright, apart from another guy who works for us who happened to get in a fight last night and got scissors in the head. He will be alright. No pictures today! Pray for healing for everyone, some patience for me riding, and progress for the school project.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Independence Day

Yesterday was Independence Day for Sierra Leone. April 27, 1961. So there was no work on the site. It was a good thing because it was a scorcher! Really lazy day, lots of sleeping, sweating, and a few cold Star Beers. This morning we climbed atop the hill above Kabala. Gorgeous Sunrise. Coffee and bread for breakfast at the top and then back down to work at the school. But apparently the independence day parties were pretty good cause nobody worked today except for five of us. Too much Poyo. We backfilled for one of the last slabs that need to be poured. There is a large drainage trench that is under construction between two of the classrooms. Although I have not seen it yet, apparently the amount of rain that the building needs to deal with is unbelievable! Much of the surrounding area slopes towards the long classroom block so we built the trench to direct the water around the building. Once the trench is completed and the slab complete the building will really begin to feel complete as one will be able to walk around the varandas freely from classroom to classroom. All that backfilling by hand! (read comments for a colorful description of the work by the poet Hans Doef).

Thursday, April 26, 2007

the work goes on... small small

Things continue to progress, not in leaps and bounds but each stage coming slowly, moving from one crew to another. The crews are headed by: huge Francis is building a single classroom. Saidu the Joker is building the administration building. quiet john is building the corner resource room, Sema the carpenter is building two classrooms and the drainage trench, and Olu from Freetown is building the drainage trench and the last two classrooms. All of them are great guys to work with, love to joke around, have fun, and work hard. Man can these guys work! crazy strong. I was wrong about us dutch boys teaching them anything about working. It is the heat and sun that kills! Hans and Gino are working on their tans (Hans has a pretty sweet farmers tan from his tank top).
The lintels are nearly completed and the ringbeams will soon start. Once the main drainage trench is complete we will finish concreting the verandas and the stairs, finally bringing all the buildings together and making much of the work easier.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Top of West Africa! - Mount Bintumani

This past weekend we were privileged to see a site few Sierra Leoneans have ever seen. We made a trip 76 kms to the base of the Loma Mountains to hike in to Aaron Kortenhoven's Buffalo research camp. Aaron grew up in Sierra Leone and knows Kuronko and Krio as good or better than natives to this area.
Overall it was a learning experience for all of us. I would say that now I truly know how to drive on Sierra Leone roads. On the way in to Senakoro – the base of the hike – we seriously bottomed out around ten times. Aaron Kortenhoven gave us a non-stop stream of advice on how to maneuver back down that same road on our own.
The hike began at noon on Friday, four hours of straight hiking from 1200-4500 ft. When we finally turned around at the base camp after a grueling climb the view was awe inspiring. After an evening of listening to monkeys and chimps chatter, storms pass by below and stars moving overhead we felt rested and ready to challenge the peak. I think all three of us were completely surprised by how high Bintumani actually is. The 2000 ft climb to the top was breathtaking. Enveloped in mist we made the final ascent. Although we could not see for miles we got glimpses of the stunning beauty of the forest canopy and rolling hills below. I was also privileged to speak with my mom on Aaron’s satellite phone. We got the unfortunate news of the Canucks loss in game 5 but it was so special to wake my mom up at 5 am to tell her “I am calling from the top of West Africa!”
Loma mountains did not disappoint us, Like Aaron warned us, “there are rocks there that will blow your mind.” And they did. Impossibly stacked and tilted! When a friend of Aarons suggested that some ancient civilization set these rocks in their positions, a kuronko friend of his, Yegbe, proclaimed “Ee no believe God!”

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Forgive us our sins...

Where does one draw the line between Child Labour and Community Development? In the last two days we have been redrawing that line in our own minds. The new Headmaster JT Koroma and myself made requests to the local schools for their aid in transporting mudblocks to the school site. This is a common occurence here, where teachers get students to bring firewood or stones to school, or help in the constructionof new facilities. So we appealed to 5 schools to help us in this endeavour, bringing blocks from a site around 500 metres from the new School location. Yesterday several hundred students from classes 3-6 at MCA Primary School helped to bring us over 3000 blocks. Some kids stacking them 5 high on their head! My neck could harldy handle the strain of 2. Strong kids! Then today students from Alharika Muslim Primary came to help us, not as many children but they did many trips. Tomorrow morning Ahmadiya Secondary school will assist us, followed "next tomorrow" by Loma Secondary School, our closest neighbour. We are hoping to pack all of the remaining 20,000 blocks to the school site where we will store the extra under tarpaulines until they are needed. What an impressive show of strength, but also of the community's support for this new school. The teachers and principals especially recognize the importance of helping out this new school that will also be a benefit to their own schools.

Monday, April 16, 2007

First Fruits

Although we have been seeing the fruits of our (and your) labour on the site, finally we can also see it in the garden in our backyard. Yesterday we ate our first tomatoes and radishes from the garden. We eat mangos, "pears" (avocado) and tomatoes everyday. It is now mango season and we never run short of a supply of them. The meal here is our african style bruschetta with all of the above ingredients, plus onions and garlic, all fresh from the local area. That plus some soup (and a nap) made it feel like a typical sunday afternoon at home.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Waiting for the rain

the last days have us seeing the most beautiful starry nights changed by lightning flashes and cloudy skies, followed by evening showers. Three Days of rain does not slow up the building. But it makes us realize that time is against us. Within a month the rainy season will begin here in Kabala. It is a little scary thinking what needs to be done by then, but I am confident we can make it happen. The walls are beginning to take shape, window and door openings forming as they pass sill height. It is a challenge for me to convince the crews that every window does not have to be centred on the wall. Two classrooms remain to be slabbed, but will be completed by tomorrow.
The biggest challenge here in Kabala is keeping the workers supplied with materials. The fact is Kabala has not seen a project as big as this go up as fast as this in the last ten to fifteen years. We are taxing the local economy for every bit of crush rock, ball stone, sand, mud blocks, and now with it being the driest time of the year... water as well. Most of my day is spent organizing to ship each of these five things to the site, providing any of the 10-15 transport trucks in town are in working order.
The three of us are doing our daily activities. Gino and Hans keeping busy at the site, and me sitting on my lazy ass. Not really, I am on my computer less and less and need to make time to get to the interweb connection here. but I am getting used to being in a very different role in organizing and making decisions concerning the building and the process. Gino and Hans are learning a lot about a very different type of construction and techniques than either of them are used to.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Put 'em to work!

Greetings to everyone from Hans and Gino who have arrived safely here in Kabala. The Easter weekend was fortunately slow on the job site so they had a chance to get to know Kabala. We motorbiked four miles east to Yataya to taste palm wine and celebrate easter monday. Today was the first day back to the site. The first latrine for the administrative building is being completed. The walls are up to window sill height on about half of the buildings. Gino and Hans have each joined in different crews, mixing mortar and laying mud blocks. Both have received Sierra Leonean names even before I have! Had Hans been born in Kabala, as a twin he would have been named Lansana, Hassan, or Farenke. So he has taken to the first name. Gino is also a big hit with the many kids on our street who call out "jinio," adding it to the "Ash, Dennis, Ash, Dennis, whitee man" monotony. It is the end of a long hot day. I think all of us are a little sunburnt and in need of a wash. I think by the end of the week Lansana and Jinio will be riding the bikes and finding their way around town on their own.
For those of you who couldn't comment before Hans has forced me to change my settings so that anyone can comment.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

till next time...

I am definately leaving with mixed emotions. So looking forward to being home, saddened by the news of the death of a good friend, neighbour and supporter of this project, Jon Bergvinson. My heart is heavy for Cathy.
The photograph was taken this morning. We climbed the hill above Kabala. We could see the school site clearly. I am thinking of that painful passage from Cry the Beloved Country where Kumalo goes to pray for his son and for Africa. So much beauty and so much pain. So much to rejoice about and so much to pray for. The bricks should be arriving at the site as I write this. The walls should be going up. Blessings all ours and 10 thousand beside. Farwell Kabala.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Fish and Bread

I have been saying too often in the last few days, "I need to do that before I go." I am wrapping up my time in Kabala and I am already missing so many things about it. How do we take this more "creational" pace of life and bring it to North America? I think about sitting around on the verandas in the evening without electric light, listening to the soft voices and the giggles of children. I think about the hospitality, the time to meet and greet, a cold Star, and the eager faces of the children.
We had a meeting of the SMC yesterday and spent the time on Mission, Vision and Values, on enrollment policy and a name. It will be called the CRC Primary School - Kabala. I won't take the time here to explain why this is important in this context except to say that it has a long history in Africa and in SL particularly.
The photos are of Asher, Kumba and the children who came along with us, swimming in the river on Saturday. We could easily have stayed a couple more days; the pan of fish we caught in the river, a simple reminder to me of everyday miracles and the other kind, like the school, growing up out of the soil.

Monday, April 2, 2007


Guest (Hans): Morning!
Asher: Morning!
Guest (Hans): Well, what've you got?
Asher: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam; but we've actually run out of both bacon and sausage so really all we've got is spam; spam, baked beans, plantanes and fulah bread; spam and pasta; spam, curry, rice, onion and spam; spam on bread; spam and ground nut soup; spam and casava leaf;
background voices chanting: Spam spam spam spam...
Asher: ...spam spam spam egg and spam; spam spam spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam spam...
background voices chanting: Spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!
Asher: ...or Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam. (alright we don't really get lobster here in Kabala)
other Guest (Gino): Have you got anything without spam?
Waitress: Well, there's spam egg sausage and spam, that's not got much spam in it.
(adapted from Monty Python)
Actually there is much wonderful food here, chicken, beef, many different rice dishes! But in all honesty I can make that spam taste really good! and its easier and safer than some of the meat in the Kabala market. I guess the stuff in the photo isn't even Real SPAM; its cheaper, lower quality, knockoff spam! But fear not, there is much to look forward to.
This past weekend I drove up in the red patrol (now out of the ditch and running fine) to Yarra, a village some 27 miles from Kabala to where the Sesay's have a farm. The vehicle was loaded down with more people than is legal, some hanging off the top and the spare tire on the back. Ia getting used to the roads, so the 21 miles to Badela was not so bad, but the 6 miles to Yarra from there is the worst road I have ever driven on in a vehicle (much harder than on the Honda), not to mention one laden with 10+ passengers and luggage. But it was entirely worth the trip. We were caught walking to the local gold mines in a torrential downpour which drenched us through and through. But it was difficult to imagine the life of the people mining there to sell gold at a fraction of its actual cost. It was not until we returned to Kabala that we discovered that Sierra Leone has never reported an ounce of gold exported from the country. All of it leaves through illegal and untaxed routes. Not a penny of the money earned is going to repair that horrible road which might help those same people travel to the market more regularly to sell their gold.
After seeing the mines we walked for 3 miles in the growing dark past Kumba's farm and on through the bush to the Seli River. It was an absolutely gorgeous spot. After a well earned sleep we awoke to see the fish jumping in the pool. After coffee and bread we spent the entire morning and into the afternoon fishing off the rocks, swimming in the water and enjoying many laughs, stories, games and food. It was hard to leave and come back to the real work here in Kabala on the school.

Man Power

Since beginning this project here in Sierra Leone, I have truly come to appreciate the brute strength and power of the workers on the site. It is incredible to think that all this work has been done with only minimal help from a small tipper truck. Otherwise all the materials have been transported by hand, shovel and wheelbarrow from point A to B on the site and from across town. I am the butt of many jokes as the only "white man" on the site. I am getting darker by the day though, and each injury, fall or bug bite makes me feel that much more at home here.
Almost all of the backfilling is completed and more local materials are arriving daily for pouring the slabs. By this afternoon we hope to have some walls begun and at least another classroom completed pouring. There is also an School Management committee occurring presently which hopes to come up with a mission, vision, and hopefully a name for the school. We are all looking forward to being able to call this school by its eventual name, instead of just "that new school in Yogomaia" or "that new CES/SIT school" or "the school next to Loma Secondary and Alharika Primary".