Next morning we had another early start. We had to pack the vehicles with all our kit, pay our bills to the warden – nice that the project would pay for accommodation in spite of being big assistance to their programs. No point in giving aid if you take advantage of those who you help by taking freebies. We had given quite a nice tip to our warden on the river the day before; it was a nice extra not an expected right.
We bounced off back to the main road and on up to Fintonia. A small stop to pick up Momoh who was renting a room there, and a quick stop at the office then we headed down to the paramount chief’s house once more, but this time we turned left into a deep dark river valley and up the other side. We travelled several miles, past a small hamlet where a couple of families were doing their chores round the house. Several of these hamlets had grown up over time. With shifting cultivation, it usually starts with farmers in some central location and heading out to the bush to clear and farm. Over time, the number of fertile plots decreases close in and people have to travel further to cultivate land; which means more back and forth by foot, or if you are lucky, on a bike or small tractor. There comes a point where this is too far to be economical or healthy, and families might relocate to a fresh area to start cultivation away from the congested or infertile lands near the village. My only concern about this is whether these new hamlet have enough access to permanent water, but I assume some borehole or stream was near enough to make it viable.
The next village proper was Sumata and as we drove in, I was taken at how elegant its main street looked. Not just the substantial houses we had seen elsewhere but both sides of the road were lined with mature mango trees dangling an excess of near ripe fruit. As we parked up at the top of a street, most of the villagers not in the fields or in town came to greet us and walked down to the chief’s house. He had a good size veranda that accommodated most people for the meeting, but the surrounding ground was still full of children and onlookers.
The meeting went as the others, and we broke up to take a walk around the STEWARD activities again. While some side meetings were going on, Gray’s USGS colleague, Matt had seen that the children were following him around, so he made them form a group and take a photo of them. It’s a scene from any travel blog or writings of the last twenty years. Some people are still not happy for you to take photos of them (the fishermen at Kabba Ferry were some), and some would like to have some money for you taking their photos, but the big advantage with digital cameras, particularly with the large displays on the back, is you can instantly show your subjects the results. And the reactions are wonderful – embarrassed teenage girls wishing they had spent more time on their hair, cheeky children laughing and giggling as soon as you show them their mugshot, older men and women just happy to see themselves on this new fangled technology. Matt got all the children to crouch down and quieten them, but once taken, they thronged around him to get a view from the tiny screen. Even the local imam took a peek. Of course once they had seen the trick once, they wanted it again and again and again and again…..