Alice's Diary: Tama And Binhome

July 15, 2017

19th April.

We woke up with the cockerels and had just started drinking tea when giggling kids started to arrive for school. We hurried out of their classroom and munching mangoes and cashew fruit (which are dripping of the trees at the moment) and went to visit Tama’s market garden. It was established whilst the well was being installed, but unfortunately there were issues with the pump so the newly planted seedlings had no water source nearby. Despite this the women are doing their best to keep the crops growing by bringing water from a well further away – a strong demonstration of the enthusiasm for the project. I hope that once the water starts flowing their diligence will pay off and their market garden with thrive.

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With a projector and generator on its way, I’d decided to make a photo and video slideshow about the hygiene issues that Saba is concerned with, involving as many people in the village as possible. Together with Saba, we began the process of discussing the problems and taking photographs and films enacting various scenarios including cleaning vegetables, washing hands before cooking and eating and using the latrines correctly.

This became the activity of the day as we walked down beautiful long leafy paths from one area to the next. It really is hot here – sometimes above 38 degrees in the shade… so a stop for an early lunch cooked by Saba, including freshly picked moringa leaves (surely the next super food – check them out), was very welcome.

A cold glass of water would have gone down nicely, but no electricity = no fridges. Although hot, our clean bottled water is considered an impossible luxury here. Crazy fact: all the bottled water we had in Guinea Bissau were imported from Portugal!

We’d just finished eating when the kids who go to school in the morning streamed out and excitedly listened to Saba as she organised a game revolving around handwashing.

As well as wide-smiling and enthusiastic, there seems to be little of the chaos that I’ve seen in some European classrooms. They very much enjoyed the idea of being on ‘the big screen’ later that evening. Another scorching walk took us through cashew trees, the fruit sustaining us until we reached a collection of six houses, officially still part of Tama. We joined some men lazing under a tree who initially seemed very disinterested in engaging with us, but Saba worked her magic and soon they participated in a conversation surrounding food hygiene. Many freely admitted they rarely washed their hands before eating, but seemed quite convinced as Saba demonstrated how using our hands for daily chores and the abundance of animal (and often human faeces) makes it a preferable practice!

We then came to the largest part of Tama, made up of 36 houses. As we waited for people to slowly gather (mostly women and children) Saba explained the difficulties of working here – with many openly declaring that they have no interest in changing their daily habits (for example using the bush instead of latrines and drinking stagnant water). The work of changing the mind-set of a community who are used to living a certain way, according to their traditions, is perhaps the hardest task that WellFound face and was an issue that we came across time and time again.

The photos and the videos taken that day were prepared, but as the evening drew in we were unable to get the projector working. A disappointment for all, but a crowd of around 40 accepted a makeshift presentation on the small computer screen in good spirits. We promised to try again tomorrow, hoping that they would come again, many walking a good distance for the event.

20th April

Up with the dawn chorus – watching the pigs, goats and chickens rambling excitedly before a day of lazy walking and lounging in the heat. We also enjoyed the freshness of the morning (‘only’ 22 degrees or so) with a gentle walk through the village. It was already a hive of activity, and we were happy to come across a man washing a bucket of clothes – a very rare sight to be seen! We applauded him with smiles and laughter, though Saba explained that the lack of male contribution to the household is a real problem. It’s true that I have only seen women at the well, carrying enormous buckets of water on their heads for miles, looking after many children, cooking, and working in the market gardens (the latter of which they seem to enjoy enormously).

Anderson set off with Fernando to Binhome to fix another well whilst Saba gathered a group of women who were keen to oblige to my request for a bit of music and dancing action. Using a water bucket and stick as a drum they started beating out rhythms and singing village stories. As the school children gathered around on their break, a clapping circle was formed as the women took turns to dance in the centre – a brilliant sight. By the end the kids were all joining in and returned to class in even better than usual spirits.

Fernando and Anderson returned, having sorted the well, and having been on mission to sort out the generator for the projection. As the evening fell, the puzzle of getting the projector to work became more and more difficult, one things solved after the other only to realise a particular and crucial cable was missing. A typical boring issue with projections even in the most high-tech conference halls, so with nothing anywhere near resembling an electrics superstore and very limited financial resources, technology here is even less reliable.

It was difficult to let the group know that once again that there would be no show. An event of any kind for them is a real treat, but the opportunity to see themselves and their village on the big screen had been especially exciting. Once again, I was very touched by their generous understanding of the situation. They gratefully enjoyed the homemade mango juice and cake bought from the town (a rare opportunity to eat anything shop-bought) and Saba took advantage of having a crowd of 50 gathered to give a dynamic talk about preventing Cholera. She really does get people to listen!

21st April

We got in to the car first thing to get back to Binhome early. As others had their jobs to do, I took the opportunity to explore the woods just outside of the village, finding an enormous fromager tree I climbed to sit in the armchair like branches to catch up with some writing – (I later found out that this is a choice spot for the deadly black mamba snake, so I wouldn’t recommend following suit if you find yourself in a similar situation…!)

We drove back to Bissau, and as soon as possible bought some cold water. Back at the WellFound office we were lucky enough to meet the founder, Howard Measham. At 87 he is still has great energy, and sitting in on a meeting with the whole team it is clear he does not miss a trick. Accompanying him was Paul Mander, who has worked for Wellfound as an accountant from the UK for some years. It was his first trip to Guinea Bissau and he told us at dinner that despite having gone no further than a mile from the hotel and office in the last the few days, the visit had already been a real eye-opener. So I was pleased that he would be joining us for the trip to the Bijagos islands the next day – it would be interesting to see what he thought!

Further instalments to follow…

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