Thursday, May 21, 2009

More About the Rain Season - crossing the Moa River

Dugout Canoe ferry across the River Moa between Nongowa and Dama Chiefdoms. Friend Patrick Garlough in front and man from Vaama just behind him. This was at the height of the rain season when such crossings could be treacherous as the water current was quite fierce. This was taken in 1969.  [Double click to enlarge]

The rainy season in Kenema could be fierce. It was said that an average rainy season from May to October could bring as much as 200 inches of rain on average.  There were some days where the rain would last all day but there were many days when morning and evening rains would be the rule. Storms could vary from being quite fierce with frightening thunder and lightening seeming just above your head. The winds could also be fierce and damaging. Other more developed storms would just bring incessant drizzle which at times could be heavy.  The latterite red clay roads would get soggy, rutted, and from time to time impassable and treacherous (see previous posting about our one lorry crash resulting from this).  Most of the roads between towns in those days were latterite (not paved) and transportation between towns would get increasingly dangerous due to the latterite getting progressively saturated with rain, getting increasingly rutted and slippery.  On these roads car accidents would become increasingly commonplace as drivers left most of their outcomes to God ("i lef pan god") and thus usually drove much too fast for the conditions.  During the rains the hills of upland rice would be growing, everything turned a rich green color. The dampness was tolerable but impressive. Sheets on your bed were always moist, clothing on lines rarely dried (this required ironing anyway to escape being inflicted with the skin welts from the Tumbu Fly).  You always went out with your umbrella in hand because it rained at least a part if not all of everyday.  It could be cool during some days.  Although the humidity and dampness was always present there were some days when we might actually feel "cold."  Our Sierra Leonean friends found mornings uncomfortably cool (perhaps more so in the cool air of the morning during dry season).   If you did not have your umbrella handy then either you stayed near home or you got wet. We had purchased a number of multicolored and large umbrellas for our travels and always had one with us. They were also useful when the sun was out - as midday sun could be quite hot. An umbrella would be just enough to get by.  On free afternoons or days when I was not teaching and despite the rain, I would travel the local bush roads with friends. Always with my cameras in my red, travel bag I became a common site traveling frequently to local area villages to visit with folks I had met, or to travel to villages where friends had family still living. These villages were small - with some having only a hand full of houses. None of these small villages had modern conveniences (no clean water, no electricity).  The villages were many times at least 3 miles from a main road (sometimes farther).  In these villages there were the usual farmers with their farms within walking distance from their village houses.  Most of these villages were Mende - there was one village which was locally called Limba Corner - which was a Limba (ethnic group) village.  This village was close to where we lived and was perhaps more limited than others. The Limba here were farmers and grew rice in nearby farms. However most of the men were also palm wine sellers (in Mende mapalma). Known for this, they would climb the appropriate palm trees, tap them for the fermenting palm wine, put the wine in their gourds (called Bulies), then haul these heavy gourds into town where they would peddle what hadn't already been drunk by themselves. Palm Wine had a yeasty taste to it and for me it took some time to get used to.  However on a hot day, when you had been working and developed a thirst it could be quite thirst quenching.  In our area the Limba ethnic group was known for their palm wine gathering.  During the rains the farmers had little to do but make sure that the rice was growing. Harvesting of rice took place at the end of the Dry Season and since by this time rice stores might be low - food might be hard to come by if one didn't plan well.  The upland rice grown in Mendeline was very good tasting - it had a brown color to it - and for me a meaty taste.  For the most part farmers grew enough for their family. It was the rare entrepreneur who might grow enough to bring to the market in Kenema to sell. Farmers in our area did not like to grow swamp rice as the swamps were damp and cold and the swamps were often filled with disease.  With the heavy rains the local rivers would swell and become all but impassable. Since bridges were few and river crossings were often far apart, ferry transport by dugout canoe was often a way a young farmer might make a little money. Most in our area did not know how to swim. The fast flowing river water could be quite high and the current strong and treacherous.  The dugout canoes could be tippy. The one man I knew who ran a ferry between Vaama (in Nongowa Chiefdom) and Dama Chiefdom charged a very small fee to cross. His canoe could hold about 4 people. A crossing might take 20 minutes as the canoe would sway from side to side as he directed it across the rapidly flowing River Moa.  He never said much. Passengers would be anyone who showed up where he kept the canoe. He propelled the canoe with a makeshift paddle (wooden handle with wide metal end).  The alternative to this ferry was to walk about 6 miles in either direction before reaching a motor road.  

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