The environmental impact group, came up from Freetown on Wednesday and are settled into the camp. They are in the midst of collecting information for their report. The process is expected to take at least another 5-6 days. It has been chaotic with 20 extra people in camp, and they are fairly unorganized which makes it more difficult but we’re coping.
The group called a meeting with all of the local chiefs, representatives and speakers to address some questions they had for the communities. As a representative from his company and project manager, Alastair was also asked to attend. I went along out of curiosity but also as a presence in front of the people. The meeting was held in an open hall at the end of the road in the village of Jgabwema. The Paramount Chief is away but the Section Speaker was there to preside over the meeting.
It was a packed house.
The meeting began with the Muslim prayer, Al-Fatiha, followed by a Christian response, The Lord’s Prayer. After everyone was formally announced, which took about half an hour, Alastair made a short statement and introduced me. I even got a round of applause :)
Then the group’s reps began with their agenda, which included asking the community members a number of questions.
The culture is so deeply rooted in tradition but it became clear that the majority of the community members in attendance did not possess the knowledge to thoughtfully answer many of the questions being asked. It was also difficult to keep order when, more often than not, people began speaking over one another.
My favorite part was when one of the women’s chiefs stood to make a statement, and instead of clapping, the other women would hum in approval. It felt enigmatic.
Many questions were eventually directed towards Alastair and he did an excellent job answering them honestly, but with a distinct regard for the communities and their concerns. Alastair has worked hard at building rapport with the local people and there was a pleasantly positive and gracious attitude towards him and the company.
It had been approximately four hours when Alastair and I asked for permission to retreat. The environmental impact assessment group reps had to continue their questions for the communities but we were no longer necessary so we were dismissed.
We had a little farewell party waiting for us by the vehicle.
I hear that there’s another planned meeting for Monday.