Living in the Community – Claydiggers

The clay here in Fintonia was bright golden and great stacks of bricks had been extracted.  In another location under some trees we found more excavation going on.  A whole family were eagerly digging away in a pit over 10m square and already several metres deep.  They seemed pleased to see us and willing to show what they were up to, pose for photos which we then showed them through the viewfinder to hoots of laughter.  The base of the pit was completely churned up and they were putting the clay into buckets of plastic bags and hauling it up to a dry area in the sun to form the bricks.  They had several ways of forming the bricks with different results.  Some of the bricks looked misshapen and were hand crafted, others they put weights on or formed them from a simple wooden or metal mould.  The clay in the bags appeared to be being taken off to be used to make pottery.  It was all surprisingly industrial for this small rural village.  But here and elsewhere the clay was transforming the landscape.  The traditional “mud huts” or rondavels that were so typical  in Zimbabwe in the 1990s were being replaced by square, quite substantial buildings with galvanised roofing and proper doors and window frames.

This family were interested in what we were doing so we laid out the satellite image on the ground on a dry spot up the slope from their pit.  Covered in a grey slime, they heaved themselves up out of the clay, wiped their wellington boots on the ground and stood around us as we explained the project.  I’m not sure they got the whole story of the property rights issues, but they were fascinated by the satellite imagery.  I know from past experience that people often can interpret satellite imagery easily; once you have orientated them a little they are away.  We showed them the village centre and the roads heading out in  different areas and soon they were pointing out where we were currently standing and where they lived, as well as the school and the community forest.  It was all very encouraging.

Living in the Community – Bricks

We gave it to Karim.  He was much more methodical and he made sure he prepared the instrument carefully first, then walked slowly around the edge of the field, pausing for a moment at each corner to ensure it was recorded.  The shape was nearly perfect first time.  We did the same for Alusine, whose skills were somewhere in between.  Demba was a bit frustrated at this, and insisted on another go.  His efforts improved and we praised his enthusiasm but we still needed to temper his rushing about.

We turned our attention to the survey sheet and taught them how to fill it in.  Then we decided to head to another place to do more GPS training.  The plot of land we had concentrated on first was a clearance where a house was wanted.  Dembo farmed some land in a valley bottom on the far side of the village.  We took a circuitous route to this plot so we could explore some of the other features of the village.  One area I was interested in was a bright orange spot on the image.  It was relatively small and set deep inside a thickly wooded river valley.  We followed a small path which opened up to reveal a stack of bricks drying in the sun.  In recent years I have noticed a trend in Africa that I never observed on such a scale in the 1990s.  Using bricks to build houses and store rooms had become common practice.  Once the preserve of the richer or higher status people in these rural areas now many people were favouring this construction over the old wooden wattle and daub style houses.  Clay soil in many African countries is at a premium; the best locations to dig out clay is in the waterlogged river valleys.  Of course it is only worth doing this in the dry season – the clay can be accessed from pits and they can be left out in the open air to harden.  In some countries I have see villagers using charcoal to bake the bricks but here in Sierra Leone the predominant method seemed to be relying on the sheer intensity of the sun to harden them off.