There’s a kid like this in every schoolyard, village and city in the world. The alpha boy. When you hear kids screaming, he’s involved. He doesn’t understand the word “no.” He punches other kids and makes them cry. He pees wherever he pleases and is proud of it. He plays so hard that he collapses to the ground asleep before he hits it. He’ll sleep on you if you let him and when he does, as annoying as he can be, you look at him and know for some reason, you love this kid. Such a strong spirit, a scrapper and survivor. Momo, can’t wait to see you grow up little buddy.
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One morning after breakfast some of us sat around the table discussing plans for the day. There was a glossy travel magazine left behind that a couple of the kids started flipping through. It didn’t occur to me that they had never seen camels, horses, pyramids, grand cities much less ridiculous perfume and luxury handbag ads. Amused and touched by their intense curiosity, Yvonna and I went through the magazine with them trying to describe everything they saw. The animal sounds were the best until somewhere in the middle of the magazine they came to a picture of a snow skier. There was a long pause as they stared at the picture and then an innocent voice quietly asked, “Is this God?”
Early this morning, I walked along the dusty road that winds from the upper village of John Obey down to the lower village on the beach. There were four of us but I walked ahead lost in my thoughts ignoring the group conversation as I was hot and just wanted to get back to the village. We had just visited the local school and were looking forward to a swim in the ocean. The morning was stifling as most mornings are since the breeze doesn’t pick up until later in the day. I kicked rocks and took in the sounds of the forest – crickets, strange bird calls and the sound of a machete hacking through the bush somewhere off in the distance. And then I heard something new.
There came a rumbling from down the dirt road. The dust was visible from over the trees and whatever it was it was large and moving fast. Suddenly a large truck rounded the corner filled with young men hanging onto the back. The image was eerily reminiscent of some of the war footage of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) I had seen and it stopped me cold in my tracks. Like most African vehicles, this one sported a customized paint job and the slogan, “The Devil You Know.” I was mesmerized by this truck and its title and instinctively, and perhaps stupidly, raised my camera to take a shot.
Just then, the men began screaming and the truck slammed on its brakes and came to an abrupt stop, kicking up red dust and gravel everywhere. Paralyzed by what was going through my mind, I stood on the side of the road fully aware that the rest of the group froze as well, probably cursing me and my camera. The men jumped off the truck and hurriedly made their way directly toward me. “Oh F#*&!” came out of my mouth as I awaited what I was expecting to be dismemberment. These loud men approached and I was shocked they were yelling “Suzie! Aw di bohdi? Aw yu sleep?” and extending their hands in welcome. I had no clue who these guys were but they knew me and were quite happy to see me. Funny how things turn out sometimes. They even asked for more snaps (photos).
Tribemembers took a frisbee to the school at John Obey. You would have thought it was Christmas morning!
More pics of the school visit are up on http://braunphoto.ipower.com/?page_id=983
There’s so much that has been accomplished since I left Tribewanted in October; two eco-domes have gone up; there’s clean water coming from the well; the first harvest has taken place from the mandala; the school received a donation of desks for the children; and many visitors have come and had their lives changed. The word is getting out and local school groups are coming to the village to learn about sustainable living, solar power, permaculture and earth-bag buildings.
The title of this post is the lyrics from “Gilligan’s Island,” the popular sitcom from the Sixties. The song just popped into my head as I was thinking about the next hut the crew is just beginning. This one will be mine & Cally’s, another firstfooter and good friend from London! I’ll be there to photograph the progress and with luck, be able to sleep in it before I leave! I never thought I’d own a thatched roofed bamboo hut on a lagoon a la “Gilligan’s Island,” but I will soon be sitting on the front porch and enjoying the view. Can’t wait to share it with you!
I am off to London next week for a quick reunion with other tribe members, and then back to Sierra Leone for a month. My plan is to continue documenting the village but want also to get out and explore the surrounding area and write a bit. I will be going to see my friends at Connaught Hospital in Freetown whom I met on my first trip in 2009. My son, Nick, will be joining me in February for what I know will be an eye opening and wonderful experience for him. So much to see and share! Looking forward to seeing everyone in the UK and Sierra Leone and will be sharing photos and stories soon.
Here’s the latest video courtesy of Tribewanted. We were sad to leave and James was looking for a cold beer.
Some very good times with some great people!
TRIBEWANTED! WI DAE YA!
Situated precisely in the sunniest spot on Tribewanted’s land is our wonderful new wooden solar tower constructed of timber cut from the surrounding forest. After weeks of no electricity except that from our generator dubbed “Necessary Evil,” we have silent, sunny, clean power! Laptops, cell phones and Ipods can be charged quietly in the solar hut- no noisy generator needed! At night we have rope lights in the tree above our dining table, so no more head lamps to see our food.
Mark Ax, of Sea Bright Solar based in New Jersey, has been our solar power specialist. Not only did Mark and his team design and build the tower, he worked tirelessly for a month showing infinite amounts of patience instructing locals in the fundamentals of wiring and solar energy. Covered from head to toe with an awful rash from exposure to creosote, a wood preservative, Mark still managed to work full days to ensure the tribe would have power before his departure.
Mark and I flew from Freetown to London together. The day we were to leave, I recall a very funny conversation between Mark and one of the local men who was trying to install a switch for the lights over the trees, the last task to complete before we left. It was obvious this man did not completely understand what a hot wire was. Mark, the ever-patient teacher watching over his shoulder, said out of genuine concern for this man’s future well-being, ” Do you want to die?” The man stopped what he was doing and quietly mumbled, “no.” Mark, not convinced that the consequences of making the wrong wire choice were completely understood, looked him in the eye and asked with a little more urgency, “Do you want your heart to stop?” Silence. “Well do you?” Mark asked. That seemed to get his attention and with a smile, he shook his head and said, “No, I don’t want to die.” Mark said, “Well then, if you don’t want to die, then don’t touch this one.” It seems his message got through and everyone is still alive and well at John Obey and enjoying electricity!
Well done, Mark and team. Congratulations!
Want to experience something really special? Close your eyes and imagine (after you read this, of course). It’s warm, the sun is shining and you’re standing in the middle of a freshly turned garden. The earth is alive underneath your feet. Reach down and pick up a handful. Smell the heaviness of decay in your hands. Look closely at all of the beautiful bits of color and texture you’re holding. Feel it’s warmth. Feel its energy. It’s truly a beautiful thing, isn’t it? In a few months, this newly turned earth will bear fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. So many gifts from the Earth!
It seems such an effort for us city folk to keep nature in our lives. Encased in concrete, brick and asphalt we’ve forgotten what nature smells like, tastes like, feels like. But at John Obey, it’s different. The land provides everything and the people are closely tied to it. Meals are seasonal and usually self-grown. You won’t find a grocery store nearby that sells imported fruits and vegetables. Nothing is packaged in a bag, plastic container or bound with green wire twists or rubber bands. There’s earth on the food and it looks, feels and tastes really good.
The gardens in Sierra Leone are fairly simple in design and most are home or community plots. But Tribewanted has something a bit more special that’s coming. Tucked back on a gentle slope just above the lagoon, we have a newly designed and executed mandala garden. Alejandro, Tribewanted’s resident permaculturist/architect, and his team carefully planned and constructed this new garden that is breathtaking even without the plants. Paths oriented north, south, east and west bisect the mandala. Beds are elevated to provide the perfect height for roots to thrive in both the rainy and dry seasons. It really is a thing of beauty and was no small feat for the team to complete.
Watching Ale and his team work was truly educational and entertaining. I’ve never met someone who seems to breathe in nature and glow, but Ale truly does, and his team was the same. Very much intoxicated with happiness and dirt. One afternoon, Alejandro offered to talk with the tribemembers about permaculture. We learned that the practice/lifestyle is the sustainable use of the land through design. Work is minimized through thoughtful design creating a system that integrates people harmoniously with the land. Care for the Earth, care for its people and give back the excess, or exidence (Sorry, couldn’t resist- TW members will get that). I’m excited to see the progress Ale and his team have made and to see the mandala come to life when I return in February. I’ll make sure to include a photo so you can see, too.
It’s Ale’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Ale! May you always be blessed by Mother Earth for all that you give her and her people.
The last of the original first footers, James, left John Obey today. Ben posted a picture of James’ farewell to Facebook that brought a smile to my face and then tears. Not tears of sadness but of deep love for a people and a country. Looking at all of those faces, remembering conversations, stories and experiences. It’s not easy to let yourself go. But there, wow. How people can get into your soul. How spending a few weeks with complete strangers can affect you. Cleanse you. Recharge you. Inspire you. Initially, I was skeptical about the whole tribe thing, but after nearly three weeks immersed in this community, I completely get it.
Love my tribe.
Most likely something you haven’t seen before are the earth bag buildings constructed by Cal-Earth, an organization based in the Mojave Desert in California. One of several organizations involved working with Tribewanted on the John Obey project, Cal-Earth is constructing a dozen small eco-dome structures for living space.
Much like a beehive, these adobe structures are made from synthetic bags packed with earth and spiraled much like you would make a coiled pot from clay. During my 2 ½ weeks there, I was able to see a great deal of progress on the first building. Day one was the excavation of the foundation, and of course, the lamb sacrifice. After the first bag was laid the building quickly began to take shape. My last week I was there, an entry way and steps began to appear and the floor joists had gone in. I’ll be excited to see the finished structure completely stuccoed when I return early next year.
As I was reading Cal-Earth’s website I found it interesting that these buildings are using materials easily found in a war zone- sand bags, barbed wire, earth – making them ideal for countries trying to rebuild post-conflict. The houses are inexpensive to build, don’t impact natural resources and can meet the demand of the growing housing crisis in developing nations. The domes can be simple in construction or can incorporate arches in doorways, windows and additional rooms.
Hooman Fazly is the resident earth bag specialist overseeing construction of the new homes. Always armed with a wicked tool belt, and his mudflap girl water bottle, he will be working six days a week for the next year to complete this project. I admire Hooman’s intelligence, fashion sense on the job and his sense of humor with his crew. He is quite the character as is evident in the pics. It’s Hooman’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Hooman! Hope you are able to celebrate Salone style.