Friday, August 8, 2008

I've seen ten thousand smiles on the faces of children

I've listened to stories and I've kept them inside me

I shook hands with the chief and I smiled at his daughter

I've seen ladies carry buckets that are heavy with water

I've seen glowing green crops in the middle of winter

I've seen a sad mountain, no trees standing on it

And its a hard
and its hard rain that might fall. Then again it might not. Or it'll come early, but it'll stop before its meant to. Long before.

I'm not Bob Dylan, and they're not Al Gore, but farmers in Malawi know about climate change. They know better than most of us. What must it mean to watch your crop shrivel in the sun, to lose two solid months of rainfall just at that critical time when its supposed to be turning into food. Food for the whole year. All that hard work, hoeing, planting, weeding, turning into husk in the sun.

So there are small scale irrigation projects, where stream water is diverted to a big piece of land that belongs to one lot of people in the usual planting season and another lot of people in the winter, who will get two crops out of it before the rains come. Hardworking women with arm muscles I will never have. And fishfarms and goat breeding swaps and poultry. All designed to tighten food security coz on top of Malawi's most famous poverty is the added thing of the climates she's a changing.

"Yes, we have noticed this. Last year, heavy rain. Early rain. Then it stops."
In Neno, the last rainday was 28 january. Its supposed to end at least end of march. "Yes, we have noticed. The lake used to be here, now its gone back to here."
Do they know why this is happening?
They stare at me. What kind of a dumb weirdass question is that? Only God knows that.

So there's something called conservation agriculture. Sorry, that should be Conservation Agriculture. An energetic government extension worker explains it with great splashings of enthusiasm, while a group of women work on a demonstration field. You make contour ridges on last years field and instead of burning the old residue you work it into the soil, and then make little 'box ridges' the other way so that water stays in small pockets and sinks deep in. You don't weed, but put down some kind of herbicide which kills the weeds and you just dig them in. You plant. You don't weed. Next season you won't till at all but plant on the ridges just as they are. Its low on labour and people have been getting very good yields from this. The women who have tried it are very happy, and say they have much more spare time now so they can work on winter crops elsewhere instead of doing all that weeding and tilling. And the herbicide? Its fine, says the FAO extension worker. Its made by Monsanto, and they do lot of research. They say its harmless. Okaaaaaayy.

I learned a cunning new compost trick tho - a clay sealed mound. This one I will definitely try at home. Well, ze light wasn't so great that day either, but the songs were good, and F got great shots of women digging out a fishpond, showing off big time for the camera. I am getting a great collection of pictures of the photographer taking pictures of, well, everything. I'm really not one. A photographer, that is. And uploading them on the phone connection chews "maunits" as talk time is called here. So they'll come later.

And yes, we did also see beautiful glowing winter crops of maize, cabbage, beans...
Cunning irrigation plans of various kinds. A clever system for a sack garden - multi veg patch in a mielie meal sack.

And everywhere, bricks being burnt. The length and breadth of the country. All these projects have some kind of aspect where The Community must do part of it, usually - burn the bricks. With wood from where? From the hills around. But no alternative fuel sources being figured. Something is wrong with this picture.

My head is full of stories. I am a pot, brimful, anxious lest I spill some before getting it all down. I am a sponge, heavy and dripping. I need to exhale but haven't yet found the right container to squeeze it all into. Some drops here, at least, for now.

By the way, postscript - are you familiar with the real hard rain project? The guy who collected an image for every line of the song? Quite hardcore to absorb but (I think) a beautiful project. Someone who refuses to look away.

So tired, and another 7 days to go.
Ndifuna kugona manje.


Miranda said...

Gonani bwino sistah. great posts(s)

tam said...

oh phew, a comment at last. Was starting to think I'd alienated every one (hello!! Its not all about YOU!! people have lives too you know.) Thanks my dear. Hope you had a fab time in Znz. Trying to be big about it. Hey, I LOVE the look of yr bike. Trying to be big about that too...

Chimera said...

hey there tired girl,
excellent posts and interesting indeed about the various projects, radio and sustainable farming. Monsanto tho...I gree with your 'hmmm'.
Keep on and keep on and keep telling of the wonderful and terrible sights all around.
Tanvi x

tam said...

Thanks, T. Yesterday, a truly amazing radio broadcaster who, though blind from birth, figured out how to make his own radio station from scrap metal, bamboo aerial, wires joining from radio to radio to broken telephone... Will post it but only when i can show the pics too. AMAZING!
Lots of love, lots...