Monday, 14 June 2010

Changing Seasons

It suprises me how clear the changing seasons are here. The rainy season is coming, although more slowly than it seemed at the beginning of May. Mostly the days are still hot and sunny and although we get the occasional rainy day, mostly the rain is still coming at night which makes sleeping much more pleasant. Every evening the sky is incessantly lit with bursts of lightning, it is a bit like falling asleep with a strobe light outside the window, and very beautiful to watch as we sit outside our house in the evenings.

What really indicates the changing season however is the baskets carried on women's heads as they walk past our office on the way to the market. At home it is difficult to get a sense of the changing seasons from our food as although I go to the local farmers market sometimes my sense of what is in season is diluted by regularly being in the supermarkets where everything is available all year round.

It is exciting here enjoying a new delight and I feel sad as delicious things come to an end. We are almost at the end of the mango season; to me it seemed as if there were mangos galore, although I have been told that this year was not the most plentiful. They have been incredibly delicious and we have been eating them every day. There are now virtually none on the trees and I will miss this treat.

Our office is very conveniently on the main street in Kamakwie which means that people from surrounding villages pass on the way to the market, we are lucky to be able to meet the sellers and buy things such as avocados which never reach the maket. John our security guard (who is my Saloneon father - due to the fact he is my fathers namesake!) has a keen eye for trading women. We have been lucky enough to get pineapples, bananas and often bread fresh from the oven and still almost too hot to hold. The baker lives very near us and kamakiwe has the best bread I have had yet in Salone except for the home baked bread we ate in Sanya.

We have just seen the first of the oranges which will be the next thing to arrive after the mangos; they are green on the outside and orange inside and are delicious. The saloneon way to eat them is to peel the skin down to the pith, cut a small slice off the top and then suck all the juice and flesh out until there is an empty shell, there is a definite knack to this - I don't really have it yet.

Food feels much more real here than at home and it reminds me of being a small child on my parents farm where meat was obviously from an animal rather than something you buy in a plastic box from the supermarket. Sometimes we have been given gifts of chickens and cooking and eating these birds is a very different experience from eating chicken at home. There is so much preparation involved in killing and preparing the meat before you even start with the cooking. I often feel completely useless here as no self respecting women in Kamakwie would be unable to prepare a chicken and I have no idea what to do with a just killed chicken. The meat bears absolutely no resemblance to the enormous fleshy, pink chicken breasts that are for sale every at home, I suppose because the chickens here are truly 'free range', but it seems as if they come from a different animal. It makes me realise that even food I don't think of as being processed has been to a certain extent.

I am learning how to cook with some of the local ingredients, on Saturday when we were not working Isha and I went to the market and then spent the afternoon cooking rice, with fish and cassava leaves. At home I really enjoy cooking, there are so many ingredients I don't know here and have absolutely no idea how to prepare or cook them so it is nice to have someone to show me what to do with them.

I started writing this morning and I think the weather must have heard me saying that the rainy season was coming slowly as we had torrential rain for about 7 hours in the evening, it felt like autumn in England, sitting inside in the early evening with the sky dark, rain lashing down, drinking cups of tea, this morning it was cold enough at 6am when I got up to mean I couldn't face a cold bucket wash and I warmed some water on the gas for the first time, it felt like a real treat washing my hair with warm water.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Village Life

It has been a while since I have posted an update, having time out in the field, problems with internet access, limited electricity and a week of training last week has meant that it hasn’t been possible. The fieldwork for our survey went well, we gathered a huge amount of data from households, Community Leaders, Traditional Birth Attendants and health workers. I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some of the Community Health Volunteers (who work with Health Poverty Action to promote ‘welbodi bisness’ in their remote communities through facilitating weekly health club meetings. Covering topics relating to maternal and child health and raising awareness of issues such as human rights and sexual and gender based violence). It was a good team building opportunity all round, both for us working in Health Poverty Action and also developing links between the CHVs across the 5 Chiefdoms.

Our operational area is made up of some remote and difficult terrain and we have had some adventures along the way, breakdowns, flat tyres and some interesting river crossings involving many people knee deep in the water! During our 9 days of fieldwork, we covered large distances on some of the poorest roads in the country, the discomfort has been worth it though as the landscape is incredible we have passed through lush jungle, with mountains rising out of the early morning mist as the dew sparkles in the sunlight all around, gone through the rocky gold mining areas, through National Parkland and through the customs and immigration post at Sanya, which is almost on the Guinea border, the phone network and money used here are Guinean.

Everywhere people have been working on their farms as it is planting season with pepper, tobacco, cassava and cocoa all being nursed or planted out. Some of the remotest villages the researchers could only reach on foot and had to walk for miles, some villages sadly lack even basic sanitation facilities including clean water. The challenges that communities and health workers face in areas with poor road networks, no mobile phone coverage and long distances to the referral hospital mean that it is essential for organisations such as Health Poverty Action to work to support the government to improve health in these remote areas.

What village life in rural Sierra Leone lacks in luxuries it makes up for in abundance with what one of my colleagues describes as ‘solidarity’. He rightly said ‘isn’t Africa great’ as we arrived in a village at 6.30 and the nurse offered us a place to sleep, relit the fire and organised food to cook for us all without a second thought. I was constantly overwhelmed by the hospitality of people we met. Life here is more communal and seems in many ways friendlier than at home, everywhere we went we were given fruit, chickens or plates of food to share. It is the custom for a household to share from one plate and myself, Souleymane, Ibrahim and Moses who were supervising the fieldwork and carrying out the research with health workers have been one ‘household’ for the time we were away. Sharing all our meals in this way means that eating from individual plates begins to seem unfriendly. I am growing to love Sierra Leonean food, and rice which was never my favourite food is now my staple diet. In Sanya we had ‘pot roast’ which is a bit like satay chicken. We ate it with bread cooked by creating an oven by heaping hot coals onto a large pot. It was delicious and since then Ibrahim arranged for someone to teach me how to make it, so I will be able to recreate a taste of Salone for some of you later this year.

The last two weeks have been full with preparing proposals for funding, writing reports from our work in the field and carrying trainings. We have trained 30 women to be fistula advocates (more info on this here) and 10 women to become community hosts. Sexual and Gender Based Violence is a big problem and we currently have a one year project aimed at reducing SGBV and supporting victims. These community hosts will raise awareness in their communities of the issue of SGBV, its negative impact on victims and the community and the Gender Acts which came into effect in 2007.