Guest Blogger Pam....Day 3

Planting the Seeds… (Day 3)

(Just some random thoughts and our visit to two new farmers)

We woke up to another beautiful sunny day. The temperatures have been cool in the morning and evening, but the intensity of the sun warms things up in the middle of the day. The proximity to the sun does make a difference. The humidity is fairly low so I have to remember to drink fluids. The challenge with that is that once we leave the house we are spending hours either in the SUV driving somewhere or we are walking through the countryside. So it is important to balance intake vs. output!

Plus we have the added challenge or the unreliable water supply at the house. So far we have had some water in the morning, but we have 6 adults and 4 children (one who is almost 2 months old and one who is 15 months old) so we must conserve water. This morning I used some of the water that had been warmed up and stored in a bucket to do a quick wash up. I then used the remaining water to wash some of my clothes that I will need in the coming days. I now have them drying in my room on a cord that is stretched across the room. It is too dusty outside to hang them up there to dry. So far we have had the electricity go out for a little bit the first night, but that was more because of some wiring issues in the house. As you can tell though I do have access to the internet – albeit slow, but it does work!

My sketchers (slip on shoes) are holding up fairly well – they have a nice accumulation of dust, brambles and water stains on them now. I probably would have been better off with boots just because the fields can be overgrown and I’ve learned that “country miles” are an international method of judging distance. Many fields that we were told were “just over there” meant a rambling walk along barely discernible pathways, balancing walks along plowed fields and an occasional walk down something resembling a road. We met other people along the way carrying a variety of bundles – anywhere from sugar canes, charcoal, babies and any number of items that must get from one place to another. Everyone is very friendly and wants to shake your hand and say hello – they ask you how you are doing and you ask them how they are doing. The people are dressed in a variety of old cast – off American t – shirts, dresses with a length of traditional cloth wrapped over the skirt (Kimberly and I have been wearing ours and it has served the dual purpose of being both colorful and protective of our own skirts underneath), shoes and no shoes.

There are children everywhere and they accompany us on our way, so we make quite the parade as we move from one garden to the next. Sometimes when we first arrive we smile and shake hands and then we spend time awkwardly looking at each other. Introductions are made and explanations are made – all will be translated from English to Chichewa and back again. The discussions range from how well the crops are doing, to what improvements can be made to the hand pumps, to how best to irrigate the fields, to why this farmer or that has not done something that had been agreed upon. At one village we were met by a group of women singing and dancing – what a wonderful way to start your day! The Drake boys have been a great ice -breaker and have encouraged many smiles and giggles. Imagine the stories they will all have to tell their friends when they get home – American and Malawian both.

The roads today were in worse shape than yesterday – great ruts and narrow pathways. That makes for slow going and a very bouncy ride! The first village (Chitedze) we visited was in an area near a river. The soil is very moist this time of the year and the fields don’t require as much irrigation, but that is not true all year round and of course that is very time consuming. We met our first female chief today. She had gathered a group of about 15 people who had expressed interest in Africa Windmill Project coming to help them. We saw one garden that had been cleared and had some crops growing already. There was a well within the area, so it would be easy to place a hand pump there. We then walked to see another garden that is cultivated by an organic farmer and his family. The crops looked very promising and his water level was so high that at this time of the year he only has to water 3 times a week. But, by October the water well will have started to dry up and the crops will need to be watered more frequently and it will be more difficult to keep up with the demand. The result will be that the crops will not get the level of water that they need and the yield will not be as good as it could have been. What will happen next is that the group will meet together to select 2 lead farmers to be trained by Africa Windmill Project over the next year. If they are successful then another 4 or 5 farmers will be invited to join in the training. The first two farmers will conduct the training. The third year will be when the agricultural club will come into existence. This is all with the goal in mind that the farmers will be able to feed themselves, have a surplus, learn crop management, send their children to school and reach the level of sustainability that they will continue the upward trajectory even after Africa Windmill Project has moved onto other communities.

The second village has a garden that they had already started under the direction of Africa Windmill Project. The onions that had been planted were considerably bigger than the ones that they had planted on their own. This area is also located near the river. In addition they have a hand pump that had been left there with a hose from a treadle pump. The hose looked very similar to the fire hose pumps you see in buildings – but not as heavy and made out of plastic. The hand pump was brought out to the well and after a bit of consultation among themselves as to how to put it together they attached the hose and began to turn the wheel to pump out the water.

Johannie (one of the local Malawian employees) began to instruct them on how to create channels for the water for the far end of the garden that was beyond the reach of the hose. He demonstrated to them how to build the channels to funnel the water down the slope and showed how easy it was to divert the water left or right to cover the crops on either side of the channel. The ease with which the hose could be moved and the simplicity of the channel concept was seen on their faces as they reacted to what Johannie was doing. It was agreed to check back with this group and see if they could identify two leaders to start the process with Africa Windmill Project.

Later in the day we went out to eat at the Pensacola Spur Steak Ranches at the City Mall in Lilongwe. It is located in a strip shopping center along with a movie theater, supermarket, pizza parlor, and various other stores. The décor is very kitschy Western cowboy and Indians style. A South African company owns it. I had a hamburger with french fries and a coca cola. It was very tasty – I just made sure I didn’t eat the lettuce and tomatoes that came with it! We stopped in the grocery store to look around – it was a perfect example of how much globalization has taken hold. There were familiar brand names, or food items that looked familiar, but had a different brand name. What I really liked though is the milk in a bag! I thought the milk in a box that could be stored on a shelf in the pantry was pretty cool, but you have to admit that milk in a bag has it beat. The store was large, brightly lit and had a wide variety of things to buy.

A fitting end to the day – from the fields to the grocery store!