Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tradititonal Naming Ceremony

Here is an excerpt from my experience at a traditional naming ceremony:

At about 1:30pm my host came out of her room and said we should probably go to the ceremony first because we still have to buy a gift and she doesn’t want me to miss it. Of course, I’m thinking we should have been there forty-five minutes ago, but then I realize it is Africa time and we’re probably just about right. We stopped by the market and bought some cloth diapers (they do not have the disposable ones here, I tell her that is better, but the less waste concept doesn’t really seem to compute) and we proceed to the ceremony.

We had driven by the house on the way to the MP’s house, so I knew that the ceremony would be outdoors under a tarp that they had rigged up under some sticks. When we pulled up there were some cars parked on the road and the tent was pretty full, I was convinced we were late, but sure enough we got there and waited at least another fifteen minutes before they began getting things ready to start. The tent had seating on the sides with a large area in the middle where the ceremony was to take place, so there were about four or five rows of none other than plastic chairs, and some folding metal ones this time too, facing each other. This ceremony was to be largely Muslim in nature I could tell by the large number of men in head coverings sitting in front of me, I was right.

Eventually the mother, dressed all in white with a white scarf over her hair tie to cover her head, came out and sat in the chair in the middle of the space between the two groupings of chairs. The baby came out just after her swaddled in a white blanket that had to be hot. The two sat facing away from the house as the first Imam began to talk and pray. There would be a series of four Imams over the course of the ceremony, many of them spoke in Arabic, Krio, Temne, and English, so it was hard for me to follow all of what was being said, but I am pretty sure the gist of it is that they were praying for the baby and for the family. The second Imam to speak actually spoke while holding the baby in the center without the microphone (the others were just outside of the tent, as far as the microphone could reach from the porch where the PA that was going to deafen me was perched. After he spoke for awhile he lifted the baby up and spoke into her ear in soft tones, this was part of the tradition. On the ground, not far from the mother and the baby were some kola nuts in a bowl, nothing was done with them, but I am guessing that they have significance.

Before the name was announced the Imams put a dish in the middle of the open space and began to call for money. People would come up and drop in money first from the mother’s side and then from the father’s side. My host told me to get out a 5,000Le and put it in the bowl (she did as well) when they called the fathers side- as he was her friend, and how we got invited anyway. I believe that the money goes towards school and education fees for the little girl. After the money was given, people were invited to give their gifts to the family. My host had wanted me to give the diapers we brought, and so we both climbed out of the row again (the first time for the money, this time for the gift) and I gave it to the mother who thanked me, she later told my host she was glad that the white woman could come and see the ceremony. Finally after much joking and teasing and rousing the crowd (there must have been close to seventy five people there) the main Imam read the baby’s name, Zienab, everyone cheered and clapped.

It was at that time that they slaughtered the goat. I had seen the goat out of the corner of my eye (it was tied up over and behind my left shoulder a ways) during the ceremony and was afraid that it might be killed for the ceremony and sure enough I heard some bleating and then silence from the goat. I did not watch, but saw my host go over with my camera- she was once again the photographer, and then saw the bloody knife they had used to cut its throat. It was all I could to hold back tears (which luckily I did), I just really hoped that they were going to eat it and it was not just sacrificial, but still I got a bit sick to my stomach and considered becoming a vegetarian again. Then, I realized that this is what I am here for, to learn about tradition, and to understand how things are done and why, and I realize that this is an important tradition, I was pleased to see that they were cutting up the goat when we left (of course the blood stain was still in the dirt, but they had moved the goat to the large mat made of some sort of leaf) to cut it up for people to eat. I am quite sure I have eaten some goat while I’ve been here, there have definitely been some mystery meats, and there are so many goats wandering around, it is safe to say that slaughtering a goat is common, how else would they get meat here? I feel okay with the process by the time I leave, but I have never seen a goat slaughtered before and the bleats just about break your heart that is really what did me in. Just thinking about the bleats upsets me again- a knife to the throat, what a way to go. I know we are top of the food chain, etc. but I still don’t like killing something to survive. Obviously, this affected me more than I thought while I am writing about it. My rational side has completely made peace with the event; I just think my emotional side is having a hard time catching up.

Then, everyone got up and went to the food and ate together and drank sodas (as the group was largely Muslim- the wife is Muslim and the husband is Christian, despite being called Mohammed). Mohammed sneaked my host, her brother, and I cans for Carlsberg though, some of the others were a bit jealous. And of course, music was pumped at an absurd volume while people ate, drank, and socialized. Despite not really understanding all of it, it was an interesting ceremony. I think I like having a ceremony to announce the name of a baby, it is a good way to welcome the child into the world, although I cannot imagine not telling anyone the name of the baby for a week in the States, our families would kill us.

Several people have said that the traditional ceremonies are a good way to bring people together for peace. I believe that I have witnessed that today, especially as the Imam did a good job of including Christians in his discussions (from what I understood). It seemed that it was an occasion shared by all that talked about the future, the future f this child in particular, but the future of the country and of us all really. It was a joyous day for everyone and I think it brought people together to think about the future for this baby.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Amputee Camp

Well, I'm starting my community flashback with my trip to an amputee camp yesterday because it is still very fresh. Sierra Leone, unfortunately, has many amputees as the rebel soldiers were known for amputating arms and legs regularly throughout the country. Here is my blog entry, and a few pictures.

After lunch we decided to go to the amputee camp, as I that was one of the few places we had yet to visit in Makeni. The camp was back behind Wusum (one of two mountains in Makeni) and the compound caretaker had to ride with us to show us the way. When we arrived, the clearing where the houses were built was beautiful and the houses themselves were new and crisp and clean. They were neatly ordered and well kept. There must have been about fifty of them in rows of two or three deep. We drove until we found some people and asked for their headman. It is always the practice to see the leader first when entering a community. This way you have formal welcome and informal, as people will know if you have talked to the head man first and will welcome you more if they welcome you.

We were directed back to the entrance of the camp to the second house in the row. We pulled up and asked the people on the porch if the head man was home. After a bit of time he came out and much to my hostess’s surprise he was an old friend from before the war that she had lost track of and had no idea he had been amputated. You could tell she was quite moved and taken aback. He had lost his right leg above the knee and was using the type of crutches that link around your upper arm and have hand holds. He was very friendly and invited us into his home to tell us the story of the how the camp came to be. They were speaking in Krio, so I did not get all the specifics, but did get the general idea.

There was no official amputee organization to petition for the rights of the amputee in Sierra Leone. The headman saw that people were caring for the blind, the deaf, and the otherwise disabled, but no help came to the amputees. So, he formed an organization, which he registered with the government, and went on the radio to announce that he was registering amputees in the Makeni area, and many came to meet him and sign up (my guess is that this happened with similar organizations or maybe his still organization around the country, which is why there are amputee camps in a lot of the districts). He then met with the Norwegian government and talked to them about their involvement (as they were the group most affective in working with and for refugees). They agreed to build some houses if the groups could get some land. So, he worked very hard and found the land and convinced its owner to donate it. It is a bit far out from Makeni, which he didn’t like, but close enough that people could get into town if need be. At some point in time 20 houses were built and there was a promise of 20 more and then 30 more and recently the president came to see the houses, meet the group and the Norwegian woman who helped to sponsor the houses (after his description, I believe it is the same woman I met in in an amputee home that first day in Lungi). The headman is very proud of what he has accomplished (as well he should be), but fears that they still do not have a school or health facilities. I hope that in time those will come to the group.

He agrees to a snap, or the Sierra Leonean word for photograph, and also gives me permission to take any photographs anywhere in the village. We take some pictures of the houses, the magnificent view of Wusum and of the new well they are digging- by chance there are several amputees by the well and you can see them in the photograph. The village goes up the hill so we climbed the hill to get a good photo of the village with Wusum in the background.

I got out of the car to take the snap, and a little girl saw the camera, and like all little girls, she wanted a snap(the kids here go nuts over having their pictures taken and them looking at themselves through the viewfinder- it could occupy them for hours). How she was different than other little girls though, was that her left leg had been amputated and she was using a walker. She was so young that my guess was that she was just a baby when someone chopped off her leg. The thought of it makes me cringe and sick to my stomach at the same time. She was just a baby and someone cut off her leg. I was reminded of when a contact told me that the rebels used to ask people as they held a machete over their arms, whether they wanted a long sleeve or a short sleeve, and that would determine if they chopped off your arm at your wrist of your elbow. The atrocity of the amputation is shocking, especially when you see a whole camp of amputees. I took the picture of the little girl and some of the fully-limbed boys and girls nearby (in the camp, each amputee is entitled to one home where they can live with their family so there are many non-amputees in the amputee camp as well).

After their snaps (which I was glad to have because the horror of the act really sets in with such a sweet little girl) we headed back down the hill and took a photo with three men in wheelchairs who had lost all or most of both of their legs. They were the ones that had first told us where the headman lived, so they were happy to have their pictures taken. We also drove by a boy about ten with only one leg; he was likely a toddler when the rebels amputated him. I have heard so many war stories that I cannot even begin to imagine living through, but seeing these amputees really made me struggle to fight back tears, in fact writing about them brings tears to my eyes again. I can’t imagine how a human being could cut off a limb of another human being. I am so fortunate to be so sheltered that even though I have met the people, heard the stories, and even seen some photos, I cannot grasp the concept.

As we leave the camp (and drive on the road people used to run from the rebels) I think about the how the former rebels are living peacefully among the civilians here Makeni. I have probably met ex-combatants and have no idea. While I am sure the people of Makeni can know who was on what side of the conflict, they are able to get along with everyone for the good of the country. I am really is awe of this idea. I think even though I have heard it many times, leaving the camp is the first time that it sets in. Your current next door neighbor could have raped your daughter, or killed your son, or looted your home, and now you are expected to be fine. Many people have said they can forgive, but cannot forget. In honesty, I am wowed by the humble nature of all the people of Sierra Leone and their willingness to move on. I am confronted with anger about the conflict for the first time. I have done a good job of maintaining a researcher’s eye and learning about the conflict and the postconflict situation without much emotion, but seeing those amputees brings it home for me. I have felt angry when I have met the women that have told me stories of being raped, and I am outraged by the horrific details by which they recall their torture, but this was the first time I allowed myself to think about it and couldn’t help but wonder as we saw carpenters and drivers (largely the skills taught by the UN during the DDR program-Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration) if they were rebels, and if one of them had chopped of that little girl’s leg. I know that I have to take some advice from the Sierra Leone playbook and forgive but never forget. I can never forget the huge smile on that little girls face when I took her snap, despite having to use the walker that she has now or some other sort of crutch for the rest of her life. She wanted a snap; for a minute, she was a regular little girl.


Hi All,

I have made it back to Freetown now and have been trying to post some pictures on here, without much luck. So, I have gotten some on facebook, so those of you with an account can see them there, and will try again here. Now that I have daily internet access I will comb through my travelogue and give you some highlights that you have missed over the last few weeks. :)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Update from Second Community

Blog 03.06.09

I have made it to Makeni, my second community this afternoon. It is a good deal bigger than Lungi, but despite the electricity poles, I still do not have electricity during the day, or the internet, so once again these blogs will be few and far between until I get back to Freetown. My stay in Lungi was excellent and I now have over 20 factors that seem to influence postconflict community development in that chieftaincy. I think that is a good start, and I’m happy with what I’ve got so far. I have also managed to transcribe all the interviews (some of them I had no choice but to do them while I was there for translation sake- although many people speak and understand English, they are far more comfortable in their native tongue and I find are more willing to talk in depth when they can do it that way, rather than in English). My Krio is not getting better and do have to rely on my translators a lot, even though I can now at least get the gist of what people are telling me.

I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to two traditional ceremonies now, one a marriage ceremony, the other a naming ceremony. They were both interesting (and yes, I was in traditional African garb for both, and yes, I look a bit ridiculous by Western standards but got heaps of compliments here. It seems people are really happy that I am trying to fit in with the culture.) I also experienced my first slaughtering of a goat for traditional purposes – they did cut up the goat for meat and hand it out to the guests, so it did not go to waste. I am still processes how I feel about that- the rationale and anthropological side gets it, the emotional side is still a bit scared- we bought live chickens today for my meal, I don’t think I have to see them kill those though… I’ll let you know.

The children here love westerners and love to have their photos taken. They always want you to give them something, and although I did bring pens and pencils, some notepads, some candy, and some stickers, I have yet to decide how I feel about handing them out. While we were on Semester at Sea we did a lot of this, but now I feel as though the children are expecting westerners to give them things and I am not sure if that is a good thing or not. I have been reserving my handouts to the children I get to know and the families I interview as opposed to handing things out on the streets. The children seem amused enough with the photos, or “snaps” as they call them.

We are finally starting to get some rain, but not nearly as much as they normally get this time of year- thanks climate change! We had a rain, thunder, and lightening storm that took out our generator for awhile last night, so I slept with AC, that was just getting me ready for my new hotel where the AC is only on from 9pm-2am., needless to say, I am getting used to being a sweaty mess, I am definitely not winning any beauty contests while I am here. I do think I am starting to get used to the heat though, or maybe just getting used to being sweaty, either way I do not feel as gross about it as when I first got here. All and all, things are going well. I am getting a lot of good work done, and getting to know Sierra Leone and its people. They have such high hopes for development, but such a long way to go. It is impossible to know where to start, but many people have their ideas. I have had several folks try to convince me it is electricity, and at this point I am keen to that idea, but who knows what the people of Makeni will have to tell me. I will try to post some pictures soon. Hope all is well with you back home!