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Posts archive for: April, 2011
  • Easter at the beach

    Belated Happy Easter to all! Hope it was wonderful! I have been at the beach and decided not to take my computer and modem so that I wouldn't have to do work when I was supposed to be having some much needed R&R.

    My housemate Susan and I had a ride to the beach in an IFAD vehicle on the Thursday before Easter, which made the 5 hour trip much easier (it would be double that or more using local transport. We stayed at the same place I visited at Christmas time (Hamilton Beach, Samso's Resort) but this time had two rooms in one of the beach huts. We had peace and quiet Thursday and Friday, but the beach was busier on the weekend, with a giant local beach party on Saturday and again on Easter Monday, with loud music, dancing, beach soccer and such entertainment. One of my friends, another Canadian, from Toronto, joined us on Friday and stayed until Monday morning, and some other VSO volunteers joined us on Easter Monday, just for one night. There was much laughter, lots of beach games, good conversation and food and drink aplenty. Susan and the others headed into Freetown on Tuesday. I was supposed to have been picked up and taken back to Kenema for an important meeting, but for some reason the office manager cancelled the meeting, then gave all of the drivers the day off, so I had no way to get home. He told me I had to find my own way back, so I decided that I'd just stay at the beach for a few more days. His loss....I would have worked all week if he'd kept his commitment to get me back to Kenema. The reality is that it is very hard to find alternative transport, and despite my efforts I couldn't get from the beach into Freetown, let alone back to Kenema. Partly because Easter weekend was followed on Wednesday by Independence Day (and this year it was the 50th anniversary, so there were big celebrations) and most people took the whole week off. The owner of the resort drove me into Freetown on Thursday morning, to the IFAD office, as not even he could find me a charter taxi to do the job. He is a good host and obviously appreciates returning customers!

    It was odd to be at the beach at Easter, but even though there was no roast lamb, there was grilled barracuda, shrimp, bonita, crabs and lobster pretty much every day. Rice or chips (except when they ran out of potatoes, and then only rice, which they serve with a delicious onion sauce. I managed to convince the cook to give me his recipe - but he only did so when I shared my chili-lime-ginger-garlic salad dressing recipe with him. A friend had bought onions and cucumbers at the local market and she made the salad and I made the dressing - invading the kitchen like we owned it, much to the delight of the staff. I told the owner that next time I stay there I will bring the ingredients for a vegetable curry as a change of pace. He does not serve any vegetables at all and is reluctant to try anything new, but the British ex-pats would be happy to see some sort of curry on the menu, and the cook is eager to have some new things to prepare, so we'll just do it once and see how it goes over. If nothing else I'll have a good vegetable curry dish to eat! Maybe I'll also convince him to serve some fruit with the eggs and bread in the mornings....what a concept.

    I'm working today (Saturday) to try to catch up and get back up to speed before the weekly management team meeting. I am effectively doing two jobs now, so I must juggle in order to get everything done! I led the manager and one of the technical assistants through a simple project management process for an important project we are working on, and it was fun to see their excitement at something so simple and useful. We've put the project management timeline up on the manager's wall and he's tracking progress by crossing off the things that are completed, and deadlines/names have been assigned to all the components, so it's a good visual tool and he can see who is pulling their weight and who is not. We also prepared a new organizational chart for the office here (as it will be essentially independent of Freetown on May 2), and we've re-deployed some staff, need to hire others, and need to cut some dead wood. The staffing issues will be taken care of over the next few months as the organization evolves.

    On the swampy side of things there is good continued progress and the rains are holding off so far, so we may actually get more done that we thought we could given the delays we've experienced.

    That's all for now.....busy busy!

  • Building Bunds, Constructing Canals

    The real field work has begun for the farmers. Construction of the bunds and canals which will help them manage the water in their inland valley swamps, allowing them to increase rice production and to grow more than one crop per year.

    We send a crew to each community to demonstrate how to peg out the canals/bunds and their actual construction. We begin with the right hand peripheral bund/canal, and work with them to build 20m before we move on to the next location. We spend 4 hours (more or less) at each site, and by the end of the demonstration the villagers are able to continue on their own. The tools we have provided make the work easier, but it is still back breaking manual labour, and the men and women are working in hot humid conditions. I stream sweat standing in the shade, and walking is an effort, and I don't know how they can do this work, and admire them greatly for their strength and commitment to the project. By mid day everyone is exhausted, and lunch is prepared and served. Rice and sauce (with just a little meat or fish) is not much after the day's labour, but it is eaten with great gusto and disappears quickly. When asked why I don't eat much I tell the villagers that I have not worked to earn a larger portion. They think this very strange, but am happy that I do eat a small portion to acknowledge their hospitality. It actually breaks my heart to eat anything at all, as I definitely do not need the food as much as they do. We've completed this demonstration at 7 of 11 villages and will finish the remaining sites next week. The farmers will continue their construction until both the right hand and left hand peripheral bunds/canals are completed, and then we'll move onto the main canals/drains and water control structures. I'll post a few photos to give you some idea of what I've just described.

    I've worked 18 out of the last 19 days (some in the field, some in the office and some in Freetown at meetings) and am looking forward to a quiet weekend at home in Kenema.

    Easter is next weekend, and Susan and I are planning to go to Hamilton Beach for 5 nights.....cool swims, cold beer and grilled barracuda. Sounds like heaven, and it will make up for the holiday that went down the drain when the airlines cancelled our flight to Senegal.

    Happy Easter everyone!
    Remember that you read my blog but I rely on your emails for news from friends and family!

  • Reflections after 6 months in Sierra Leone

    I read an article online about a new trend in Calgary - minimalism - and it set me to thinking about my first six months here.

    Before I left Calgary I divested myself of many of my worldly goods, deciding that I would only keep those things that I was really attached to, and would sell or donate the rest. It was a liberating experience, and it was interesting to discover how much I had that I really didn't want or need to keep. By the time I was ready to leave, I'd pared down my belongings significantly, and everything I owned fit in the 8'x11' shed that I'd built on my mother's property. I couldn't part with my books, my music, my art and the things I've collected in my travels.
    Everything I brought to Sierra Leone fit in one duffel bag and one backpack, and I haven't really acquired any new things. I wear the same clothes week on week, and haven't bought anything new in the 6 months that I have been here. That must be a new record for me, and although I will freely admit that I am sick of my clothes (and they all hang on me as I've lost weight), it is perfectly acceptable here not to have a whole wardrobe full of clothes, or 20 pairs of shoes. My things are getting worn and shabby-looking, and I will need to buy some new things soon, as nothing fits anymore. Thank goodness for drawstrings on my pants, or I'd be in danger of losing them! The Sierra Leone Spa Diet has had its' benefits.

    In the house there is very little. The walls are bare, and there is little furniture. Everything is purely functional, and there is only just enough to get by. In the kitchen we have 3 pots and a frying pan, in which we do all our cooking. We have three glasses, two cups, four plates, limited cutlery and no gadgets. A properly equipped kitchen is just a distant dream. Sometimes I miss having beautiful things, but have found that I can make do without.
    I no longer have a huge collection of personal care products for my hair and my skin. Just the basics, to go with the cold water that is all we have (but at least it is running water). Sometimes, for a treat, I'll heat water on the stove and use it to wash my hair. It is close to divine and leaves me feeling wonderful. I'd do it more often, but it is time consuming and so I save it for days when I'm not in a big hurry to get up, get dressed and leave the house.

    Laundry has become a chore that I both love and dread in equal measure. There is something quite satisfying in hand washing one's clothes and I love the way they smell after hanging in the sun. But it is hard to get things really clean in cold water, and everything is crumpled as we haven't had power in over 2 months, so the iron is a useless appliance.

    Living without power is easier than I would have ever thought it would be, although it is frustrating in the evening when I'd like to read. My eyes are not good enough to read by candlelight or flashlight. We eat dinner by candlelight most nights, and when we have guests we actually light an extra candle or two. No power means having to haul everything that needs charging to the office, and not having a refrigerator. I have to be organized, and I have to shop every day and cook only what can be eaten at one sitting.

    Running water is a blessing. We've had a few days where it has been shut off, and it is awful when we run out and have to hire people to haul water from a nearby well to fill our containers. One becomes paranoid about water conservation, which is probably a good thing in some ways. It is hard to keep one clean, and to keep the house clean when there is little or no water.

    As for food, it is entirely possible to eat the same 5 vegetables every day, to only have meat occasionally, and to alternate between rice, lentils and bread as staples. Different flavours become a real treat. Weird food cravings have become normal. I sometimes wake up wanting a big fat barbequed AAA steak, baked potato and broccoli. And ice cold milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt (there is very little dairy product available here). It is variety in food that is lacking most. So far food is always available, although I'm told that once rainy season sets in both quantity and quality of the fresh food available becomes very limited.

    So, in 6 months I have learned to live with less. I miss variety (it really is the spice of life). I miss my books, my music, my art and my garden. But mostly I miss my family and my friends. I will come home with this new perspective and see where it takes me. Until then I will make do with what I have! And I'll be grateful for learning these lessons!

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