Monday, November 30, 2009

A typical day in Mapaki

With just 3 weeks left in my internship, I thought that I should finally post something about my typical day in Mapaki. I’ve been meaning to do this for some time, but at least I’m getting to it before the end of the internship! :-)

I normally get up early, around 6:30 am or so. Village life starts early, and most people here are up and about even before that. I wake to the sounds of roosters crowing, people talking, my neighbours cooking and sweeping their yard, and people coming back from mosque.

I usually eat breakfast around 7:30 am or so, and then go and say good morning to Chief, Sallay, the kids, and the other women in the kitchen, plus whoever else is around. Kouame and Mabinty often stop by the guesthouse in the morning to discuss plans for the day.

Some days I stay around Mapaki. I work on the computer (the photo is me in the office in the guesthouse), check my email, write reports, do some research work, etc. Sometimes I do chores like dishes or laundry (although I get in trouble from Mabinty for doing my own laundry instead of giving it to her to do), or sweeping out my room. I usually spend time every day sitting outside and watch people go by, or I read. Sometimes there are events going on here that I participate in – for example, there was a District Council meeting here on Wednesday afternoon that I sat in on.

Other days I visit the other schools and communities that I work with. Usually Kouame and I go by motorbike to these other places, villages like Maso, Makambray, Makonkorie, Mbarr Line, Mathombo, Bumban, Yele, Moria and Mayagba. I visit the students, meet with the teachers or deliver letters from schools in Canada and collect replies from schools here to send back. Visiting the schools is a lot of fun. The furthest schools are a little over an hour’s drive away, in Gbonkolenken chiefdom. The closest ones are outside of Mapaki, just a 10 or 15 minute drive.

Often in the evenings I do an interview for my thesis research. I generally do yoga every other day. Later, after eating dinner, I usually go to the library to read in the electric light. Sometimes I watch part of a movie on my computer, or stay in the guesthouse office to do some work that requires more quiet and concentration than the library provides. I go to bed early, usually by 9:30 pm or so. Without electricity, there isn’t much to keep me up late at night.

It’s a pretty quiet life, but very relaxing and peaceful. I can’t remember the last time I was getting 8+ hours of sleep a night consistently and I quite enjoy it. I might have to keep up my going to bed early habit when I get home!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Black Magic Justice

Yesterday I witnessed for the first time the use of black magic/witchcraft in Mapaki. There is a very strong belief throughout Sierra Leone in witchcraft, evil spirits, magic, etc. even among people that are well-educated. This has come up in my health research a few times – people believing illnesses are caused by witchcraft or seeking treatment through spiritual means as opposed to medical ones – but I have never seen it in actual practice. Yesterday, I saw the village witch/sorcerer (not sure what the right term would be here) was using it to catch a thief.

Apparently a woman’s phone had been stolen, and she had hired the witch to find the phone and the thief. The witch had a magic circle with various potions, a mirror, a rooster, and a set of sticks in the middle. She then used the sticks to locate the thief. Before this could begin though, the sticks had to be tested. Someone hides a small coin (100 Leones), and the witch uses the sticks to find it. She was successful in doing this, which indicated that she would be able to find the thief. She then used the sticks to locate the thief. I wish I could have taken a photo or video of this process, but I didn’t have the camera with me. Basically she holds the sticks and shakes them, and the sticks seem to lead her around various places. Of course she is followed by at least 50 children and a handful of adults to see what is going on. More adults wait by the circle for her to come back with the thief.

Eventually she identified the thief’s house and his name. It was a teenage boy, about 15 perhaps, but he wasn’t home. So then she used the sticks to find him (he was apparently off doing something in the bush). He was brought back to the circle. However, he denied that he had stolen the phone. A couple of possible witnesses were also brought forward but he still denied that he was the thief. In the end, because he refused to admit it, nothing more happened. I was told that normally if the person admits their crime, they return the property and the witch is paid a fee by whoever hired here. The offender is also fined. However, if the person denies it, the witch then usually produces the stolen property as proof that they are indeed guilty. In this case though, the witch refused to produce the phone unless she was paid 200,000 Leones (a huge sum of money here).

Anyways, it all seemed a bit confusing to me as I didn’t quite understand who paid what to who and why. It was very interesting to see in action though, and many other people in the village turned out to watch as well.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Nova Scotia Gambia Association (NSGA) and their work in Sierra Leone

When Chris and I were travelling, we had the good fortune of travelling with a friend of mine from Nova Scotia, Andrea MacDonald. Andrea is the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Gambia Association, which works both in The Gambia and here in Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, their project is called the Nova Scotia Sierra Leone Program (NSSLP). Andrea was here visiting some of NSSLP’s projects and invited us to travel with her. We went with her to Koidu, Kenema, Bo and then back to Freetown. This was a great way for us to see other parts of the country without going through the trials of using public transportation or paying a lot of money for a private vehicle. Some of the roads were pretty bad (as evidenced by the mud-soaked truck in the photo) and we were thankful to be in a 4x4 vehicle. So thanks Andrea!

Over the 5 days we spent travelling with NSGA, we had the opportunity to visit some of their projects, and I really wanted to say something about the work they are doing here. The NSGA’s work focuses on peer health education. Their motto is “learn and teach others”. The also do voluntary counselling and HIV testing in coordination with health services here. We were able to see some of their peer health education work in action. In Kenema we visited a boys school that had a peer health education program around HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health. It was so neat to hear the boys that are the peer leaders in this program talk openly and without embarrassment about how you can get HIV, how to prevent it, how to have safe sex, and other topics that are so important to sexual health. These boys share this information not only with their peers at school, but also with their families and communities (many of them come from villages outside of Kenema). Without open and frank discussions on these subjects, health issues like HIV (with prevalence rates currently around 2%) and teenage pregnancy (already a big problem here) are sure to become more serious problems in the country.

(As an aside, one of the boys from this group in Kenema told me at the end of the session that he wanted to marry a white woman :-) I don’t think he was proposing to me, because I was there with Chris, just expressing his general dream!)

The project that NSGA is involved in in Kono District (the eastern part of the country) was really interesting to learn about. They are doing the HIV testing and counselling and peer health education component for a larger project that is run by the German Technical Cooperation, GTZ (GTZ has a similar role to that of CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, in Canada). This project aims to help youth that were displaced by the civil war to urban areas like Freetown, or to the diamond-mining areas, resettle in their old villages. A 3-month pilot project just finished, and GTZ aims to soon launch a five-year project to do the same work, resettling 30,000 youth.

This is how the project works: GTZ “scouts” find young people in Freetown, or in the mining areas in Kono that want to go back home but don’t have the means to go themselves. The scouts then visit the home communities and mediate with the villagers to ensure that the return will be accepted and peaceful (some of these youth may have been perpetrators of or witnesses to atrocities committed during the war). GTZ provides returnees with basic support in terms of transportation and getting set up with farming and housing when they return to the village, and works with them to educate them and the rest of the community in the areas of hygiene, water and sanitation, reproductive health and HIV. This education work is where NSGA comes in. They also work with district health teams to HIV counselling and testing for returnees and villagers.

With Andrea, we visited one of the villages where resettlement has taken place as part of the pilot project, the village of Gbematambadu (photo of villagers to the left), about 15km outside of Koidu (on a TERRIBLE road). The villagers and returnees talked about their experiences thus far (they had been back for about 3 months I think). Everyone generally seemed to be happy with the new arrangement. The returnees were able to feed themselves from their farming (as opposed to living on Le 1,000-2,000/day doing alluvial mining in the diamond areas), and the villagers appreciated having more young people around to share in the work. While there were certainly ongoing challenges (housing and education for the new influx of children seemed to be two big ones), the project seemed for the most part to be successful.

The whole concept of the project is very interesting, as the general assumption in the west is that anyone working and receiving a salary is better off than someone depending on subsistence agriculture, and that moving to an urban centre is better than being in a rural area. However, this GTZ project seems to demonstrate that this is not the case. In fact, rural communities have a lot to offer. Although subsistence farming has its own challenges and is by no means easy, at least people have a certain measure of control over whether or not they can feed their families. Trying to live in a city and pay for lodging and food for your family on only pennies a day (Le 1,000 = about $0.28 CDN) is pretty tough.

In addition, returning to their home communities offers people a support network that they likely did not have in Freetown or Koidu. From my own experiences here, I’ve seen that extended family networks are very important, especially in rural communities. If you live close to your extended family, when you are sick, they will take care of you. When your harvest fails, they will share their food with you. You help each other with work in the fields and in the house. Children take care of parents, grandparents take care of grandchildren, siblings take care of siblings. Again, it’s certainly not a perfect or an easy life, but the family and community networks in rural communities act as an essential safety net for people here, in a country where social services provided by the government are limited or non-existent.

At the community meeting, people talked about what they had learned from the peer health education program. Topics included prevention of sexually transmitted infections, child spacing, and basic sanitation. Some spot checks in different project areas have already seen some changes in behaviour (for example, always covering food and water to prevent contamination, hanging laundry up instead of laying it on the ground to dry, etc.). In a year or two, other bigger changes (such as in the birth rate or rate of STIs) will hopefully be visible as well.

I have more to say about rural communities and about both agriculture and mining in the country, but those will be topics for other posts. For more information about NSGA’s work in Sierra Leone and The Gambia, or to donate to NSGA, please see their website,

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Freetown and area tourist review

On our travels, Chris and I spent 3 nights in Freetown and 3 nights at River No. 2, a gorgeous beach just outside the city. We were complete tourists during this time, so I wanted to write up a little review of our experiences for other potential visitors to Sierra Leone.

In Freetown we ate at 4 restaurants (breakfast was at the guesthouse every morning), Balmaya’s, Mamba Point, Chez Nous, and The Rooster. They were all good. The Rooster is right downtown and more of a lunch spot – lots of shwarmas, burgers, and that kind of thing. Very reasonably priced. Balmaya’s and Mamba Point are both more expat type of spots. The food is very good, but the prices are comparable to a decent restaurant at home (i.e. $50 - $60 for dinner for two). We even had burgers at Balmaya’s one night – yummy! Chez Nous is on the Lumley beach strip and it’s nice to be right near the ocean. The food was good – lots of fresh seafood and a yummy fried rice.

Getting around
Getting around Freetown can be somewhat challenging until you figure out how the system works. Taxis generally run on pre-determined routes and are Le 1,000 a person for a one-way ride. We did this a few times, but our main challenge is that we didn’t know the routes. We got in one taxi that actually was supposed to turn in the opposite direction we wanted to go. When we realised this, the driver made the other passengers get out and took us onwards. Motorbikes also offer taxi rides and can make for a faster journey as they zip through traffic. They’re not good if you have much to carry though.

If you have a few people, you can either negotiate a one-way rate with a taxi driver, or you can charter a taxi for yourself for Le 15,000/hour. We chartered a car to take us to Charlotte Falls and Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, and to River No. 2. My only advice on chartering a vehicle to take you out of town is to inspect the car first. The roads outside of Freetown can be 4x4 territory (i.e. bad!) and the more reliable the vehicle, the better. Also, make sure you know where you are going and have an idea how to get there. Although your driver may say he knows where you are going, there is still a high possibility that he doesn’t :-)

Downtown Freetown

On Saturday we spent the day wandering around Freetown’s frenetic downtown. You really get a much better feel for a city from walking around in it. First of all, for those that have any concerns about safety, I want to point out that it is perfectly safe to wander around (although watch out for traffic!). We definitely got a few stares as you don’t see many white people walking around, but over all we didn’t attract that much attention.

We stopped in Victoria Park, a small green space in the centre of town, to sit in the shade for a while. We discovered that hundreds of bats make their homes in the trees in the park. I have never seen so many bats in the daytime before. It was quite incredible.

We decided to make our way to Fourah Bay College to see the botanical gardens (mentioned in the Bradt Sierra Leone guidebook). The college is at the top of a very big hill and the views of the city from the top are incredible and worth the trip up in and of themselves (we took motorbikes up but walked down). Less so the botanical gardens. On arriving at the campus and I suppose looking lost, a man approached us and asked what we wanted. We mentioned the gardens and he offered to point us in the right direction. He took us to a treed area behind a building. It looked like it could once have been a garden, but it certainly did not appear to have been maintained in any way. Our guide then proceeded to show us around the college campus, something we weren’t really looking for but got anyways. We did see some small alligators (or crocodiles?) in a cage near the biology building, but that was about it. There didn't seem to be anything remaining of the botanical gardens that was worth seeing.

As I said, it’s worth the trip up for the views, but there’s not too much else to see there. Fourah Bay was actually the first university in sub-Saharan Africa (founded in the early 19th century) and used to have an excellent reputation. People used to come to Sierra Leone for university from all over the continent.

After our Fourah Bay adventure and some lunch, we visited Big Market to pick up a few souvenirs. This was quite an experience. The guidebook recommends going in with a firm idea of what you want and what you are willing to pay, and I would heartily second this advice. Upstairs in the market there are some very nice things – wood carvings, batik, country cloth, gara cloth and other printed fabrics. However, the problem is that there are about 40 stalls each selling almost the same items. Once people know you are spending money, each seller eagerly tries to get you to look at the merchandise in their stall. Chris had a bit of a hard time with the persistence of the sellers, but I think the trick is really just to be firm rather than too friendly, and to get an idea of what you want before you start to buy. For example, we knew we wanted a hippo carving. Once I said this, the sellers kept bringing me different hippo carvings until I found one I liked. Now that’s service! We managed to escape without spending too much money, but I may go back for one or two more things next time I'm in Freetown :-)

Freetown photos:

Charlotte Falls

Charlotte Falls is a beautiful alternative to the beaches and is just outside Freetown, about a 30 minute drive along the Mountain Road from Congo Cross depending on the traffic and the reliability of your vehicle. The falls are beautiful and the water flows fast enough to make swimming safe. The water was so refreshing, especially after the walk in to the falls in the heat. We only had about 1.5 hours there, but it was definitely worth the trip and if I was in Freetown I would definitely go again.

FYI: do not drive down the road to Charlotte without some good quality breaks. The taxi we hired to take us out there was probably one of the worst cars I’ve seen here. The road is fairly steep with lots of loose rock, and the brakes definitely weren’t working as they should. After a slightly scary moment of sliding down the road while the driver pumped the brakes, we decided to walk the rest of the way to the falls :-)

Charlotte Falls photos:

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary was a great experience, and they really do great work there (for more info, see There used to be quite a big population of chimpanzees in Sierra Leone (about 20,000 in the 1970s), but there are now only about 1,500 – 2,000 left in the whole country. They are threatened by two major factors: deforestation and hunting. Deforestation in the country due to mining and agricultural activities has been significant, and this destroys the habitat for chimps (and many other wildlife!). Chimps are also hunted for meat (a large chimp will fetch about Le 60,000 – 80,000 for the meat), and unfortunately to be sold as pets. When a hunter kills an adult chimp with a baby, the adult can be sold for meat, and the baby can be sold for about $100 - $200 US as a pet. Keeping chimps as pets in Sierra Leone is illegal, but it is apparently still a big problem. When the chimps are little, they are cute and manageable. However, as soon as they start to get bigger, people have problems (an adult chimp weighs an average 110 lbs and is 5 times as strong as a human), and the chimps are often either mistreated or killed.

Tacugama primarily rescues chimps that have been kept by people as pets. They started with only 8 chimps, but now have over 80 at the sanctuary. There are two bigger enclosures where the older adult chimps live, and two smaller areas for a group of adolescents, and for the youngest chimps. The idea is to eventually release them into the wild; however, without a safe and protected area in which to release them, which doesn’t exist right now in the country, releasing them would only further endanger them.

The coolest part was watching the young chimps swing around and play. We could have stayed there watching them for hours really. They’re amazing to watch, and so human-like! Apparently 98.6% of our DNA is the same as a chimp’s DNA.

Tacugama photos:

River No. 2 Beach

We spent 3 nights at River No. 2 Beach, about an hour’s drive down the coast from Freetown. River No. 2 is absolutely beautiful. I think it’s one of the top beaches in the world actually. White sand, warm blue water, and the best part – we only shared it with about 8 other people! Take a look at the photos to see what I mean:

The whole set up at No. 2 is run by the community and could really serve as a model for tourism in other communities in Sierra Leone. The community members take turns working at the guesthouse. They don’t get regular salaries, just a small incentive for their work. Whatever the guesthouse brings in is used to help improve the whole community. For example, the generator used for the guesthouse for electricity in the evenings is also available to community members for electricity. The guesthouse also provides income for local fishermen and guides with their excursions and restaurant.

The accommodations are basic but comfortable. The food is delicious, freshly caught seafood for supper every night (we tried the barracuda, the lobster, the crab and the shrimp, and all were SO good!). We ate right on the beach, looking out over the water. Breakfast is included with the room rate.

We did one of the little excursions they offer as well – a trip up the river by boat, and then a hike up one of the hills (the Guma Valley nature trail). It took about an hour and a half. We didn’t see any animals (a couple of other guests saw monkeys), but the boat ride was interesting, and the view from the top of the hill was amazing.

The weather wasn’t the greatest while we were there (it rained 3 out of 4 days if you can believe that!), but the ocean was still nice and warm so we got in lots of swimming. Less lying on the beach in the sun than we hoped for, but to be honest, the sun is so hot that the clouds were a nice relief at times! We also had beach bonfires two nights we were there. We didn't need the heat from the flames, but it was really nice to sit around the fire on the beach and chat.

River No. 2 is definitely one of the nicest beaches I’ve been on, and is highly recommended!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Back in Mapaki

I'm back in Mapaki - just arrived late this afternoon. I have much to write and lots of pictures to share from my travels, so look out for more blog posts coming soon!

Monday, November 9, 2009

On the road

I will be travelling for the next 10 days or so, to Koidu, Kenema, Bo and Freetown, and then to Lungi to see Chris off at the airport. I will try to post while I'm on the road, but I'm not bringing my computer with me so I'm not sure what will be possible. I'm sure I'll have lots to say when I get back to Mapaki though!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

School twinning

This week I received the first letters from schools in Canada that are twinned with schools here in Sierra Leone. I received three letters, all from grade 6 classes, and all from schools in Nova Scotia. The letters were from Mount Edward Elementary School, twinned with SLMB Primary School in Mabarr Line, Gbonkolenken Chiefdom; from Madeline Symonds Middle School, twinned with Makambray Community Primary School in Makambray, Paki Masabong Chiefdom; and from Shannon Park School, twinned with Mapaki Primary School in Mapaki, Paki Masabong Chiefdom. A few photos of the Sierra Leone classes are posted online in the school twinning album.

Doing the twinning visits was a lot of fun. I visited all the schools in Sierra Leone this week to share the letters. It was really interesting to share information with the schools here, and find out from them what they wanted to share with and ask their new Canadian friends. Generally, for ease of understanding with translation and in order to make sure the content is as relevant and interesting as possible, I don’t read the letters exactly word for word. Instead I share the main ideas in the letters, and any questions the Canadian students have asked their twinned school. The Canadian students at each school shared a lot of the same information in their letters: games and sports they enjoyed, subjects they studied at school, and how they spent their free time. They asked questions of the Sierra Leonean students about what the country was like, the seasons, the animals, and any famous people here.

The schools here in Sierra Leone were very interested in the letters and seemed happy that students in Canada were thinking of them. Some of the students asked me to ask the Canadian students to visit them here, eager to get to know their new friends better. Students here were curious about students in Canada as well. They asked about the weather in Canada, the food, if students liked to play the same games and sports as them, and if they had farms. Generally in the twinning visits I focus on sharing similarities between the students rather than differences. Also, the focus of the twinning is on friendship and sharing, and not on material support, although in many cases the Canadian schools do raise money to support our work with schools here.

I have already sent the reply letters back to Canada and am looking forward to another round of twinning visits. I think it’s a great for students in both countries to learn more about each other and about global issues in general through the twinning process. Peaceful Schools International is right now in the process of examining how we can expand the twinning program. There’s been a lot of interest in school twinning, both from schools in Canada and the US and from developing countries as well. The main challenge is the distribution and interpretation of letters in developing countries. In many cases, schools don’t have access to computers or to the internet to be able to receive letters that way, and the mail systems are often not reliable. The twinning program in Sierra Leone works because there is a volunteer here available to receive the letters that come by email and take them to the schools. Once we figure out this challenge, PSI hopes to be able to implement a more comprehensive twinning program for our member schools from all around the world.

If you want to find out more about PSI's twinning work, please see:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Our OK Adventure

Yesterday evening Nancy, Vaughn, Jane, Chris and I returned to Mapaki after our trip to Outamba-Kilimi National Park (known as OK for short). The trip was definitely interesting. Unfortunately, although we saw hippo and elephant tracks, and the place where the hippos go to eat grass, we did not see any actual hippos or elephants. The elephants are very rare and you’re unlikely to see one, but most people who visit see hippos, and seeing the hippos was really the main reason for making the trip. However, because it is still raining quite a bit, and this is right at the end of the rainy season, the river was very high. Apparently the hippos stay inland when the water is high like that. I was very disappointed as I really, really wanted to see the hippos, but what can you do. On the bright side, we did see lots of monkeys, which was pretty cool, and we saw some huge trees and other interesting vegetation, some neat birds, and lots of insects (of course!).

The facilities at OK are basic – as the guidebook we have says, “serious BYO territory”. We brought all our own food and water with us, and arranged for someone there to do the cooking for Le 2,000/meal. The cabins are equipped with bed nets and keep the rain out, but not much else (for example, we found little lizards in our bed when we arrived). The toilets are pit toilets (BYO toilet paper too :-). There is a water tank that provides water through a spout for a shower, but unfortunately it was broken. Three days without a shower wouldn’t have been too big a deal, but on the drive up we all got incredibly dusty from road dust coming in the windows. Without being able to really wash properly, we pretty much just stayed dirty until we got home again.

We arrived in the late afternoon of the first day and just hung out, attempted to clean up a bit from the dust, ate supper and went to bed early. The next morning we did the hippo canoe ride. I enjoyed being out on the river, even though we didn’t see the hippos. It was about a 20 or 25 minute paddle downstream to their usual spot. When we didn’t see them, we got out of the canoes and walked a hippo trail (there's a photo of hippo footprints in my photo album,, if you're curious). We were slightly worried we might run into a hippo on the trail (apparently they are most dangerous on land and can run up to 45km/hr in short bursts), but we didn’t. And I’m sure our guides would not have taken us on that path if they didn’t think it was safe. The paddle back to camp took about an hour and was quite hard work as we were going upstream.

In the afternoon, Chris, Jane and I went on the “elephant safari” jungle walk. Talk about bushwhacking! A lot of the trail was through incredibly high elephant grass and our guide hacked his way through with a machete. I made the mistake of wearing sandals instead of sneakers (I was worried about there being a lot of mud), so my feet got a bit scratched up. We did see some elephant tracks, and the view from the elephant platform was pretty nice, but no actual animal sightings. Our guide pointed out the border with Guinea, which we could see from the platform.

After those two adventures, we were pretty tired and went to bed early the second night. In the morning we got up and headed for home by 9 am. We didn’t arrive in Mapaki though until about 8 pm, so it made for a long day. Why did it take us 11 hours to get back you ask? Well, we ran out of fuel. Our driver (we went in the Chief's vehicle so were with his driver), MO had misjudged how much fuel it would take us to get there and back. He actually didn’t really know where we were going, which I didn’t realise until he stopped to ask for directions on the way there! Anyways, we had enough fuel to get back to Kamakwie (26 km from the park – took us almost 2 hours to drive, including the ferry crossing), but not to get all the way back to Makeni. We had seen fuel stations in Kamakwie on our way up so thought we could refuel there. Unfortunately, there was no diesel anywhere to be had in the city. We visited the Chief of that area (Sella Limba Chiefdom), and he made a few calls for us, but there was no diesel anywhere. We had to wait for some to be brought from Makeni for us. 5 hours later, we were on the road again, leaving Kamakwie around 4 pm and arriving in Mapaki around 8 pm. Needless to say, we were pretty tired. We all learned a valuable lesson though – always start a journey in this country with a full tank of gas!

I think I would likely go back to OK while I’m here if I have the opportunity as I’d still like to see a hippo in the wild. The main thing that would be a deterrent in going back is the journey. Unfortunately, the road to the park is extremely bad on some stretches. To give you an idea, the distance from Makeni to OK is about 110 km, and it took us about 5 hours to drive there, including only one short stop in Kamakwie for a cold drink on the way there. I have a few pictures in my photo album of the road – some samples of some of the huge potholes we drove through. The worst stretch is actually the first 30 km or so of the road, from Makeni to Pendembu. This is a main route into the north of the province, but like the majority of the country’s roads, it is unpaved. In the rainy season (now) the roads are especially bad. We drove through some potholes the size of the car. The potholes are a problem for a few reasons – not only do they slow you down quite a bit, but they are full of water, so you’re never sure how deep the water is, or what might be underneath. I have friend that flooded their engine driving through one of these pothole puddles because the “puddle” came up over the hood of their car!! Luckily we were in the Chief’s jeep, which is in pretty good shape. We had a minor scare when the car didn’t start right away the morning we left OK, but it started with a push start, and was ok after that.

It was quite the journey overall, and I’m very happy to be back home in Mapaki! I'm looking forward to sharing some twinning letters I've received from schools in Canada with schools here this week.