Solomon Peter Gbanie is PhD candidate at the UNSW Canberra. Originally from Sierra Leone, Solomon’s PhD project is examining land use and land cover change in a post conflict situation. Not all research can be done from the comfort of the office chair, so, Solomon recently travelled to his home country to do some fieldwork.
My discipline concerns human-environment relationships and by its nature, I don’t need the type of laboratory a Chemist or a Physicist may require. The natural and social world is my laboratory.
|Lungi International Airport 2009|
October 17th 2012, I left Sydney (Australia) for my home country, Sierra Leone, to investigate the extent of human impact on the Western Area environment. At about 3:30pm on October 18th, I arrived at the Lungi International Airport, the only functioning airport in my country. I must say, I was impressed with the look of the airport. It was the first time my country’s airport had the “international standard” look. Before then, in 2009, it was a caricature of an airport.
|Now, the new airport 2013|
I had not been back to Sierra Leone for at least three years because of studies in China and now Australia. So, as you can imagine, every family member was happy to see me, and especially my daughter and wife.
When I arrived at the airport the ‘porter boys’ at the airport came and wanted to help me with my luggage, as usual for a fee. From living in Australia I have learned that you should do things yourself (in Africa our siblings and children clean the dishes after a meal), so I asked the porters to leave my luggage as I was capable enough to push the trolley. They were not happy at all since my action has denied them some Australian dollars they thought I would give them
On arrival in Freetown, I did not go straight to my residence. I stayed the night with my elder brother, Michael, in his residence in the far east of Freetown. I feared that thieves might break into my home at night because I have been away for some years and all of a sudden, I go with suitcases.
Please remember, people from oversees are always at risk of night attack by thieves, and especially in Freetown. They are always referred to as ‘JC’s’ meaning, just coming from abroad, and by extension thieves assume have some money in your possession.
The next morning I set out to Wellington, a suburb in the East of Freetown to try and settle down and get to business. Before my arrival, my family had already arranged for a 3 bedroom apartment where we could stay for a rental fee of 1,000 Australian dollars a year. It took us two weeks to do the cleaning and moved in. I must say, I got assistants from the ‘area boys’ as they know me to be their man.
In early November, I was ready to go and reconnaissance some of my study sites. I met with many people, but what was on everybody’s lips was the election (that took place on the 17th of that month). I met needed to meet with government officials to brief them about my visit, but they were not willing to give me an appointment. Everybody was busy with either debate of who is going to win the election, or thinking of what will become of him or her if the party they support does not win. All they were saying to me was “wait till after the election”.
|Land degradation in Sierra Leone|
Whilst waiting for the election to come and go, I was busy doing my image classification and going around the Western Area to get acquainted with urban farmers and community people, the people in my study group. They were all happy to receive me and we got on well.
Once the election was finished I started administering the questionnaires. I started with Ogoo Farm, one of the communities in the rural suburbs, then disaster. 10 days into the fieldwork, my Samsung Galaxy S3 with 16GB memory, became “lost” at a farm. The mystery behind the disappearance of my phone is for another piece. That did not stop me; I bought another phone and continued my work. This time, not the Galaxy S3 I bought in Sydney, but a Nokia that cost $25. Reason, if anybody takes it, as the son of my interviewee did with my Galaxy S3, it will not break my heart, or my wallet.
|Participatory Rural Appraisal... or we were having a chat.|
My means of transport throughout the seven months of fieldwork was ‘Okada’ - motorcycle. This is the fastest means of transport because of the horrible traffic situation in the city. Since I was there for a reason, and I have a very limited time, I made arrangements with one of the boys; ‘Leo Boy’ was his name. Every morning, he gets to my house and rides me either directly to field or Fourah bay College campus, where I had an office. I must say the ‘Okada Boys’ are ruthless but Leo Boy was an exception. He was very polite and responsible in his riding.
One Sunday morning, I decided to check on one of my respondents whom I had missed an appointment with. Unfortunately, Leo Boy was not at his usual place and I needed to see my respondent. Also, my wife wanted me to go to Church that Sunday morning but I insisted that I should see my respondent.
So, I went to the parking place of the ‘Okada Boys’ and one volunteered to take me to where I wanted to go. We set off and got on to the high way. He was in his 20s and as usual I was cautioning him not to speed to a level that he cannot control the motorcycle. With all the cautions, about 2 km to my destination, he hit a female who was about to cross the street. Lucky I was wearing a helmet; still, my sunglasses gave me a cut on my nose. I lost some blood and got three stitches for that at my own cost. No insurance mind you!
|Should have waited for Leo Boy!|
As a research student, electricity is something I always want. I need to power computers and recorders and charge my phone. Doing research in developing country, electricity is always a drama. During the day and whilst on Fourah Bay College Campus, having light was not my problem. Although light was erratic, even on campus, the GIS lab I was using as my office had dry cell battery with an inverter connection. In the absence of the regular light, I switched on the inverter to do my work.
The drama comes when I am ready to go home. Getting home, after the usual curtsies, my next question to my wife will be, “did you get light today?” Reason being, if my family get light during the day while I am away, my hope of getting light late in the night would have been dashed. I sometimes stayed until 10pm on campus, when the electricity supply became more erratic. Of course my wife was sometimes suspicious.
Like any other investigation, I sometimes make appointments with my respondents only to be cancelled at the 11th hour. That did not dispirit me in any way. The seven months of research generated a lot of data and I made a lot of acquaintances. The drama came when I was ready to say good bye to my wife and daughter.
|Urban acgriculture in Western Area, Sierra Leone.|