Living in the Community – Demba tries the unit

I was given a few moments to talk about the project; I had to do a little work to clarify some of the simplifications Momoh had made on our behalf.  And we unrolled the maps and showed them the preliminary work we had done.  I had simply taken a satellite image and drawn many of the key buildings, roads and other features on top.  We presented a copy of this to the Paramount Chief and I posed rather awkwardly for a photograph for the website.  A few words of thanks from the Paramount Chief himself, where he told us that he trusted the good work of the project so far, and that any friend of Momoh’s was a friend of his.  We were so grateful for this – I must admit in all the years I have worked in Africa I have been uneasy over my imposition on the communities in which I work.  When I have a fixer or a local who introduces us to those communities, I am so much more relieved and confident we shall get cooperation.


Handing the chief a copy of our satellite map

I was a little overoptimistic here, but for reasons that did not reveal themselves for several days.  We commenced our training with the three guys straight after the meeting with the chief.  We started by heading back to our own guest house and spreading the materials over the table on the veranda.  I explained to them the basic theory of what we were doing and got them to orientate themselves from the printed out satellite image.  Then Kofi took over and gave them a detailed lesson in how to use a GPS.  He had quite a sophisticated GPS, which used a pen and a touch screen and for people who rarely used a small mobile phone, let alone any other digital device, it took a bit of getting used to.  We wandered across the road in front of our house to an area of cleared land right on the edge of the village.  Kofi walked around the edge of the plot with the GPS and came back, saved the result with his magic pen and showed the trainees the results on the little grey screen on the unit.  The GPS had recorded his movements every few seconds and he had created a neat little square on the screen.  He handed the unit to Demba who eagerly took it in his hands.  Kofi was a good trainer – very serious and strict but incredibly patient.   With this GPS there were several things to do to set up the unit ready for walking the boundaries.  Then you let it go and it made beeping noises when it was recording data.   We stood next to the road as we watched Demba walk half way round the field.  Then he said “It has stopped beeping”.  Kofi walked over to fix it.  He completed the walk.  Kofi helped him press all the right buttons to ensure that he saved the track in the unit and we took a look at the results on the screen.  There were one or two short lines in different places in the screen and that was all.  Kofi reset it and off he went again.  This time he was more successful at having a track that went all the way round the plot but it was a very peculiar shape.  I’d spotted what was going wrong.  With a GPS you have to have the unit exactly where you want it to record – there is no point in walking a boundary if you wiggle around any obstacle, or hold the machine away from where the actual boundary was.  And some of the lines went haywire, points all over the place.  The problem stemmed from Demba being in too much of a hurry to get round.  GPS is like a Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail.  It does not record every step you take, but records a point every few seconds.  If you walk too fast you end up with very few points and in some places, where there is tree cover, for example, the precision of the location accuracy can drop.  With this unit, it can average out and help make a smoother picture of the route you took, but only if you walk slowly.  This guy kept on cutting corners which made the shape of the plot very dubious.  If he had stood in each corner he would have got a much cleaner shape on the GPS.

Living in the Community – Mobilising the work

The previous evening, one of our wider team of workers, Momoh, had popped up on our veranda to greet us.  Momoh was the primary field coordinator on the Sierra Leone side of the boundary and spent much of his time living in the village.  He had already briefed the chief on our intentions and that we had arrived in Fintonia, and had set up a formal meeting for first thing in the morning.

Momoh turned up at the house just as Gray was leaving for the park.  He also introduced us to three people who we were going to train.  One, Demba,  was tall and lanky and very outgoing.  The second Alusine, was not quite as tall and relatively relaxed, the third, Karim,  was slightly older and much more serious.  We shook hands and we exchanged talk of how excited we were to be here, how grateful we were for their time, and they said how much they wanted to learn.  The usual pleasantries at the beginning of one of these exercises.  Kofi and I collected the maps we wanted to use and our equipment and followed Momoh and the three guys to the other side of the  village.  We did not take the road; there was no need and since it zigzags through the village, it was much easier to head through the back of our plot, past a large store house and down through the backs of some more houses to where the paramount chief’s house was on a main street corner.


Meeting our crew

At first sight the house looked little different from many of the others in the village; it was relatively large, but was most noted for having a long open room, less a veranda, where the chief held his most important meetings.  There was only room here under the shade for about twenty people, and if more attended they peered in from all the open spaces or listened from the shade of a tree nearby.  I knew this from past experience.  When we had travelled here the previous July with the whole team, we had a big meeting here and it had been a village wide event.

A Tale of Two Swamps – On Cairo Road

Through a consulting firm in the UK, I was teamed with a Zambian Socio Economist, Alphart Lungu, and a fisheries expert in the shape of Professor Ian Cowx of Hull University in the UK.

Like many jobs, my main role was to assimilate the existing geographical data and maps of the area, and provide a bunch of options on where the boundary of the fisheries management area or FMA was to be, and then help map the various jurisdictions (districts, chiefdoms, reserved lands) and any other potentially important factors such as industrial sites, commercial farming and the like to assist the fisheries management plan.

My first week was spent in central Lusaka. We stayed at the Protea Hotel on Cairo Road, the main strip of the city centre on a road optimistically named to be a British highway from Cape Town to Cairo…. but in reality ended up just being a mile or two long before heading off on rather ropy roads.  We spent that first week visiting a bunch of government departments to obtain the data, and heading down to the leafy village of Chilanga about 20km south of the city where the Department of Fisheries had its headquarters.  I had some frustrating meetings and some good ones there; for a price I got topographical maps from the Lands and Surveys Department, but it took a lot of bureaucracy to obtain the good data from the Zambian Wildlife Authority or ZAWA who look after the reserved land, despite them being neighbours of the Fisheries Department in Chilanga and were once part of the same unit!

I had most of my data at the end of the first week, and Ian and Alphart were planning to head off into the field to talk to communities and fishing associations.  I could have stayed in Lusaka and made my maps, but I was missing some important information about where fish nurseries existed and Ian wanted me along to show suggestions of where the FMA should exist to communities and see what they thought.  On the Saturday morning we were supposed to leave, Alphart and I were down at a local printers getting copies of my draft maps printed out; with a junior printer who had great difficulty using the equipment in her shop.  We eventually got a reasonable number printed off – not all the ones I had wanted but we had run out of time; and we picked Ian up from the hotel and headed south out of Lusaka.

The Adopted Dog – Eduardo settles in

Eduardo settled in to his long term visits in the islands and got established in the house.  I next visited him for a set of general training sessions that we had organised.  By this time he was well into the routine and we had been keeping in touch regularly by Skype or email.  We had long conversations where I had to try and keep his morale up.  As with many of these projects you are often forging ahead alone and trying to persuade your clients to come along with you for the ride.  Staff changes, off island conferences, multi tasking all did not help to get them to focus on what you were trying to achieve.   And when you are out on a job alone it can often make your energy sap, especially in the early stages of a project when the finishing line seems so, so far away.  But when I reached the island for the second visit, he was fairly cheerful and the clients were all appreciative of the progress that had been made.

He had settled in to his apartment too. It was small with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small galley kitchen and a central lounge.  Most of the rooms were along one long strip of building, as the back was against the hillside.  The windows were all out front and opened out on to a long veranda.  Eduardo had set up a couple of chairs on one side and this was where he spent most of his time in the evenings, working, skyping his girlfriend or listening to music.  From the veranda a few steps went down on to a sloping concrete surface that would normally have been the parking lot, but since Eduardo did not have a vehicle on island, this was an open space, and meant that from the veranda we had a clear view out over Kingstown city centre, the bay beyond and in the distance, the northern most Grenadine Islands.  Although many houses had a view over this bay – the theatre style of the valley sides within which Kingstown sat dictated that many got a full view of the stage – I felt especially privileged.  I do like views which are dynamic. It is all very well to have a sea view but if it only changes every day, I need only glance at it once to see what is going on.  When a view is in a city you have all the motions of the thousands of people to observe.  From this spot you could see several of the schools dotted around the city, and sports grounds where cricketers, baseball players, basketball players, footballers at one time or another would play.  Many of the houses below us were nestled in amongst their own small holdings so were hidden away behind palm trees, bananas, or fruit trees of various types; mangoes, breadfruit, sugar apples or plums.

And further down the hill we had a could see the roofs of the city centre.  The detail was lost on us – only the spires of the Catholic Cathedral and the plain white tower of the Anglican Cathedral dominated the back of the town, and through the jumble of roofs and television aerials I could just make out the tall pink government building where we were working.  But a small ridge with houses on it obscured most of that view.  We got a much clearer view off to the south east.  We could not see the quayside itself, but the headland that protected it from the swells of Bequia Channel was a prominent part of our vista.  And we could see beyond and watch the parade of small ferries that came from Bequia itself, or less frequently from the other islands further south.  And on a number of occasions cruise ships of various shapes and sizes would glide into view in the morning and later drift off into the night.

If you went out in the garden you could see up the hill too and realise despite our apparently lofty position there were row upon row of house plots going right up the mountain behind us.  I walked up those roads a couple of times.  Again the expanding housing stock a visible sign of the stress on land this small country.


Nice spot to call home

Eduardo and I spent several evenings…. and breakfasts and weekends, out on the porch working away or chatting.  Eduardo was keen to cook for me and we hardly ate out that second trip.  He was still settling into the apartment and it was Spartan in its furnishings – a couple of chairs, small table and sideboard.  By the time I returned for the third and final trip about eight months later, he was treating it like a second home and the furniture was much more extensive.  In the interim he had spent three to four times there of about six weeks each helping out with various phases of the project, including the time consuming case studies we had specked out.  He knew which minibuses to use; had a driver that could take him further afield.  He knew which supermarkets to get all the best bargains, and where to find a nice bottle of wine (normally he would try and bring it in as the selection was not great in Kingstown).

As far as you can go – Living and Working in Jamestown

On my first trip I was in splendid isolation up in my house in the woods, for the other two trips, Edsel and I were given a house at the back of Jamestown.  When we arrived without luggage we were able to  simply walk up the main street, behind the tourist office, drop down into a small courtyard and enter our abode ten minutes after leaving the port.  After a 6 day trip it was the simplest of endings.

The house was large enough for our needs, downstairs was a lounge decorated in a way which would have looked outdated in the 1970s in the UK.  A small kitchen at the back and upstairs a couple of bedrooms and bathroom set on the creakiest wooden floor.  The back of the house was dark as a steep hill and other buildings crowded in.  The front was not much better as it was in a courtyard of several other houses and next to a car mechanics.  But we did not need much and since we were mainly based out of either the National Trust or the Legal and Lands Department, both just a short walk away.

My first visit had identified that there was a need to build an inclusive GIS of all the environmental agencies and also look at it as a prototype for a island wide GIS.  The Legal and Lands Department had a GIS already, and some capacity in the shape of a fabulous young man called Len Coleman.  I’d not met him the first time I had visited; I think he had been away on a training course in China.  When Edsel and I walked into the office for the first time he was so happy to see us – he had been asking for ages to get some more GIS experience and organise the data properly and from what he had read of our work in Anguilla and Ascension, he was excited by our visit.

Aside from the Castle, Legal and Lands had one of the most prestigious government buildings in Jamestown, Essex House.  It was a grand four storey building, although two of the storeys were below the main street level.  Going up an elegant staircase you entered a large wooden panelled entrance hall with a glass panelled reception area.  If you went upstairs you met the surveyors , including the chief man at the time, Gavin.  Len had a large room at the back of the house overlooking a small courtyard garden.  At the far end was another substantial building housing the Legal Section.  People visiting there could gain access through a small subway from the street under the main building.

Like many buildings in Jamestown, Essex House was indeed built with some grandeur, but lack of money and maintenance had let it fade considerably.  Despite this Edsel and I were very happy working here.  GIS was at the heart of the room; there were maps up on all the walls; Len and his colleague Gina were working hard on a project to scan all the property titles for the country and add them to a massive database, massive by small island scales anyway.  The contrast with the other two main offices in which we had worked were strong.  I loved Scotland with its outward bound style offices, but it was often shrouded in a dank cloud and cold.  I loved working  in the National Trust Office in Jamestown; the different ladies who ran the show there each had their own characters and  I always felt looked after by them, in particular the indomitable and always bubbly administrator, Phyllis.  But here with Len we had found the beating core of what we had to do and someone who knew what GIS was about.