Wandor Chiefdom, Kenema District
July 7, 2017
By Rupert Allan
Health Centre in Tunghie – Catchment Area Record. Wandor/Gorama Mende Chiefdom
As I look into the village chief’s eyes, I realise that he is near to that age described as ‘in your prime’. And so are many of the chiefs I have met in Sierra Leone. We are bonding in a common understanding. I am trying to show him how the smartphone app I have installed on his phone works for SatNav. My trainee mappers are asking him questions to clarify on the Open StreetMap exactly where the community is. There are many Baarmas, and resources went haywire during Ebola here. We have ridden on the back of motorbikes driven with incredible skill up these rutted and rocky tracks to get here. We are deep in the heart of Diamond Country. We are trying to establish a community-sensitive format by which to represent these communities who are so seldom in contact with the outside world.
It is always weird to be treated with gratitude here. I appreciate it. I suppose I am privileged enough to be doing something which my extremely critical outlook can justify, yet which is fascinating and ultimately mitigating some of the problematics of cultural imperialism here. But we are standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before, and it feels somehow dishonest to enjoy the welcome that we invariably receive because others delivered all that life-saving healthcare. It wasn’t me inside that unbearably sweaty HazMat suit during the dark days of Ebola. I wasn’t here. I was in some other sweaty place on the other side of the continent, I guess, and working hard on another precarious community, but this particular battle was never mine.
We are developing a mapping team which can reach far into the forest and mountains of this area, to establish the basic facts of how to reach people, and how they can express the challenges of Water, Sanitation, Disease and Healthcare which encounter them at every move. To update and improve the medical map.Randy is facing one of these very challenges today, here in this corner of the continent has been described to me as the ‘White Man’s Graveyard’. Malaria. We have left him sweating it out in the dark room at the back of the ‘guesthouse’. It came on amazingly quickly, in this district of Diamond Mines and rebel strongholds.
At some point on our ‘classroom’ on the concrete porch, we were explaining to our survey team one of the finer points about how to encourage the community to take ownership of the map. He suddenly turned to me and said ‘are you feeling cold?’ within ten minutes he was lying in bed, swooning, a shivering wreck. But he will be OK. Luckily, he has the tolerance and immune system of a well-nourished specimen from the Global North. And he has had it before.But in any case, I had to go it alone supporting our star mapping coordinator Alberta, vetting and coaching our new team of mappers. I am the ‘Big Boss’ of this, but felt the weight somewhat, as Alberta started to complain of a headache, and I looked around me at the blank faces, and stepped-in to continue the session. She recovered quickly, but I carefully monitored Randy with half a logistician’s eye on the nearest hospital four hours (yet only 54km) away, down these ‘impassible’ bush roads. Things are rudimentary even here in the best guest house in town. Taking a shower is done by standing in a bucket (aka in Krio: ‘rubber’) of water next to a toilet bowl – the only feature in the small washroom, except for the huge drum of water.
But now, under my mosquito net, writing this, we are happy. It was a good day. We have a bright, interested, and intrepid bunch of new mappers, thrilled about having a free offline “Sat-Nav” (OSMAND – Open StreetMap for Android) on their own smartphones. They are thrilled too, to be part of the plan to access better medical and civil assistance, and I must admit that riding down that crazy hill from the village, I was beaming with pride myself, to be part of such a scheme, once again, thanking those who so brilliantly came before us in this campaign to make things a little better.