Monday, 15 November 2010

The Field

For the last few weeks I’ve been visiting “the field”. Leaving the confines of the car honking, ear splitting, speaker booming towns and cities to visit communities. This, I'm told is by definition, “visiting the field”. Asking questions about “the field” before arrival is frowned upon. Questioning how we will arrive and depart from said remote communities is also reminiscent of the first rule of “Fight Club”. The command is simply co bra. Go and come. Don’t ask questions.
My colleague Gifti and I are visiting women’s co-operatives who have come together with the help of the Community Development Department to make their businesses and lives more viable. We travel by tro-tro generally – the main local public transport and the way in which goats and chickens, people and farm products move from one place to another on the crumbling bumpy roads. On the most remote trip recently the regular crunching of gears and loud music was punctuated with a loud clanking. The driver stopped and slid under the car with tools.
The passengers waited for about an hour and then – without discussion – all set off walking to the nearest town in the mid-day sun. There is no fuss. This is what happens. For the more remote communities if we’re lucky there are motorbikes. Or we just walk – like everyone else. Most of the groups make palm oil. Strong arms separate the bright orange-red kernels from the spiky, rough husk of the trees, grind the sun-dried kernels, squeeze and press the kernels and chaff and then boil them in huge roasting cauldrons above pits filled with charcoal and acrid smoking chaff.
The paths are waterlogged and slippery in the rains, the smell is overpowering, the sun above unrelenting and the profits minimal. If they work from 5am to nightfall and they are lucky, this is how they can perhaps afford to send some of their children to school and pay for their hospital bills. By the time they have walked miles into the bush to buy the palm fruit or kernels the whole process will take one to three weeks. It varies but spending £15 on the kernels could reap a profit of about £2.50 (excluding time and labour). It is difficult to understand their single-mindedness but for these women this is currently one of the only ways of making any profit at all. They have no or little access to land, no access to loans or investors and most of them have had no formal education. They are expected to farm, collect water, sell produce, cook, clean, look after the children and provide the money for their education.
It is these women I hope to help during my placement here.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Down in the Jungle...

...people, particularly the obruni, are aliens.

Our 20km trek through the rainforest of Ankasa in the Western Region felt like running two marathons. The heat and humidity makes every step a gargantuan effort. The cacophany of noise is at first raw, exciting and awe-inspiring, setting the senses on high alert. Gradually the relentless noise, and dense, living, breathing greenery that the human eye cannot penetrate, is disorientating. Ultimately the feeling of being totally out of your depth is a constant

Of course, in classic Mulholland-Adams fashion, we had not waited around for the guide who was late (we could have missed seeing the monkeys at dawn after all) and had set off into this foreign environment alone.

Armies of red and black ants form motorways of unstoppable movement across the track. Spiders form giant web traps across the path. Dozens of species of stunning butterfly float inquisitively alongside.
Giant dragonfly swoop backwards and forwards, seemingly without purpose unless hovering to collect water from brown puddles. Lizards scuttle away from your feet.
Monkeys call out to each other and stay just out of sight while smashing through tree branches. Crazed, taunting bird calls echo through the wilderness (See Useful Link to Mulholland Tube videos (right)). A 3ft green snake spots us and slithers across our path and out of sight into the undergrowth. I heroically jump in front of Lucy and scream SH - I - I - I - T as an unidentified beast (probably a huge panther) makes it's noisy getaway.

The seven hour journey is broken by a packed lunch at a village of one hut. With one adult and a child. Following Lucy's impression of an elephant eating bamboo, they lead gracefully to the only place of rest from this exhausting assault on the senses. The dense undergrowth makes way for a magnificent bamboo cathedral.
Space, silence and stillness. It feels like reaching an oasis in the desert, or some sort of Eden. It looks like the land of the giants. We can almost see the forest elephants that come here to eat for three months of the year.