July 30, 1991

Village Visit to Mayagba

Bob: I missed writing you on Sunday because I was holed up in a Little African village. My village visit took me to Mayagba, a typical (I guess) slice of central Sierra Leone. I learned a bunch -- I'll try to put as much as I can in as few words as possible. Families are extended and villages are communal. Its a community developers dream. they farm cooperatively. If you don't contribute to the community, you get punished. Their every-day lingo (when it's in English) includes "community" and "self-help" and stuff like that. Me and the guy I was with in this village (Jeff, a Texan who sold his share in a corporation to teach illiterate children how to work with wood and metal) wrote a development proposal for the village in hopes of securing aid from the U.S. Embassy. We know that the village should have wrote it -- our impact/writing was contrary to development philosophy -- but even their most educated were not prepared to sit down and draft a proposal to an American funder. Anyway, Jeff drew maps and I did the wording in hopes to fund a food storage facility for their community crops. The community would provide all the labor -- all they needed was money to buy materials. Our budget, however, was sketchy at best and we were unable to identify a project supervisor. I really hope they are able to get over their hurdles and complete the process.

I never got to see the inside of my host's house, but what I could see looked crowded, dark, and dirty. I say "host's house," but I guess there really wasn't any sense of ownership. Parts of families might have their beds in several different houses. Aunts are mothers and cousins are brothers. We walked right through the middle of people's cook spaces to get where we were going. It is all very contrary to the American notion of privacy and the nuclear family. My room, however, was a small private room just off the side of the porch, i.e. you didn't have to go in the house proper to get in my room. I had expected that I would eat with the family (whatever that is), but instead their custom was to bring food to the stranger's room and let them eat by themself. I had some really great meals. Pineapple, coconut, cassava, banana, eggs, rice, beans, and different rice toppings (plasauces) made from groundnuts, cassava leafs, and/or potato leafs. People do some really creative things with the foods. I did witness several people dipping into a big bowl of monkey meat, complete with skulls and all.

My room was an interesting sleeping environment. Something (or things) that defied my attempts to expose it (them) to light kept me awake at night. Squeaking sounds, quick movement up walls, and a half-eaten banana led me to suspect a combination of lizard/cockroach/rat. On the third night I got my mosquito net up, giving me some peace of mind. On the fourth (and final) night I left candles burning all night. It kept things relatively quiet, although the combination of sleep, rodents, burning candles, and straw mattresses gave me something new to worry about.

No doubt, it was a very educational experience. I witnessed the building of a bridge from sticks, bamboo, and natural rope. I attended church at a small mission church outside the village. I was asked to bless the offering. After church, we witnessed the burial of a 12-year-old girl in the neighboring village. A very sad, somber occasion. Usually its pretty much only infants that die (and a lot of them) but once they get over the hump, these people are very healthy.

Learned some Temne. English was NOT widely spoken in Mayagba, and the custom is to greet everyone you meet. Luckily, the greetings are few and weren't too difficult to learn, but when people digressed or went past the greeting, I was sunk. Many people liked to sit around and teach Temne words and phrases, though. I had my first bucket baths, and used my first pit latrine. They won't be my last.

Now, as I run out of room, the real news: site placement announcements revealed yesterday that I will be teaching at the Kamakwee Wesleyan Secondary School, in Kamakwie, Northern Sierra Leone. Excited. I'll remember to write more about it next week, but at least we know where home will be.

Received one letter from Libor at Smith House, but am still awaiting yours. Looking forward to them.

Love, Mark