Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Here comes the Chief

In the middle of our Sorghum festival, Chief Sikute interupted for about 15 minutes as he slowly made a traditional Lozi entrance. First you could hear his troop in the distance singing and drumming, then we sat and waited as he made his way to the stage. As he stepped up, all 400 spectators kneeled and clapped. Quite the sight to see!!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I've been asked a few questions from the McMaster ewb chapter, so I'll try to address them all here. If you're busy, don't bother reading as it might be pretty boring but it should give more detail about what life here is like. You can also e-mail me anytime if you have any other questions.

*Quick update-> SorghumFEST *was a great success, we had about 300 farmers and 150 from various Zambian NGO's and GO's, some great dancing, bird scaring, and speeches. the next 3 weeks I'll be spending interviewing 30 farmers for my research, then I'm moving to Lusaka to work in the CARE Country office to write up a report and work on some recommendations and presentations. There is also some exciting fun stuff coming up as well this weekend I'll be going to Botswana for a few days, and I'm really looking forward to a rafting trip in the Zambezi towards the end of August, then I'll be on my way home August 26th.

*Q. What is a typical day from waking to sleeping?*
A. Dear concerned fan I generally wake up from my super comfortable bed that was provided by CARE around 07hrs, I always manage to wake without an alarm as there are always people up and about from very early hours (sweeping, bathing and preparing food). The first stage to waking up is removing the mosquito net, then depending if I have any food (biscuits and peanut butter) I might eat some breakfast, otherwise I pack my stuff and begin the stroll to work. I have a 30 min walk, Dambwa North is like a beach without the water, there is some seriously deep sand that makes walking difficult and biking impossible. Depending how hungry I am I might pick up a bun or two and maybe a juice from one of the small shops on the way. There are a few people selling gas and food who I usually spot to have a quick chat with. When I arrive at the office I spend about a bit of time on the internet checking e-mails etc. and greeting everyone who comes into the office. In Zambia you say hello and shake hands with everyone you know when you first see them in the morning, there are about 70 people in the office, so this can sometimes be a bit distracting. Depending on the day I'll either go to the field, or spend the day in the office working on the tools we're using to collect data from the farmers, or on analyzing the data. If I stay in the office I might go into town for nshima for lunch, then if I'm not too busy, we knock off from work at 17:15. When I get home I'll usually chill with the family, maybe read some books, or watch t.v. Dinner or Nshima and rape with some periodic meat is served at 20 hrs and most of the family spends the 2 hours before and after dinner watching t.v.. Generally chilling with the family means watching t.v. with them which consists of really bad south african soaps, with really loud and repetitive commercials (usually for washing soap or cell phones) that everyone sings along with. Generally the family goes to sleep around 21 or 22 hrs, and I enjoy some of the quite sometimes with a glass of tea. If I'm feeling up to it, or really stinking I'll take a bath. This happens usually every two or three days, I think most people here bath much more often, but I'm pretty lazy... Bathing means heating a big pot of water on the stove, then pouring it in a bucket, adding some cold and splashing it on yourself. If I'm going to the field I will spend from 9-10 trying to find transport, CARE has lots of vehicles, but the vehicle+driver+fuel combination can be difficult to achieve to a newby like me. Once we get a vehicle we'll head into town to grab a bit of food for lunch, then drive for 1-2 hours to get to our destination in the field. We generally stop at one of the co-operatives and pick up the sorghum supervisor who directs us to the farmer, and can also act as a translator. We generally finish up around 17hrs, and either head home, or find a farmer to spend the night with in the field. If we decide to sleep in the field, as a guest my role usually consists of sitting in a plastic lawn chair watching the wife prepare the meal. We'll usually go for a stroll to see some neighbors and their fields and animals. Dinner is similar to what we eat in the city, usually better since my family in Livingstone is quite poor and the farmers that they put me with are usually the better off farmers. I usually get a private or semi-private hut to sleep in. The huts usually have a well made and warm bed with blankets, and a small table and candle. I wake up to the sound of roosters, I can join in milking the cows if I want, then I'll have breakfast of bulgar wheat or pumpkin before heading off, back to the co-operative.

*Q. What does your [Zambian] family do.*
A. The quick answer is not a whole lot, but they're always busy. Mommy works in the market selling rape, tomatoes, onions and ground peanuts, she buys the produce from the biggest compound on the other side of town which she walks for two hours to get to. I don't think she makes much money there, she keeps complaining that people are selling vegetables door to door now, so no one comes to the market. Yohani [Zambian brother, 25] he drives a taxi from 23hrs, to 03hrs. He picks up some people when they knock off from work, it's all prearranged, I'm not sure if he also picks up people on the fly, he makes about $100 per month. He doesn't have a full license for driving a taxi yet, so this is done illegally, he also does not own the vehicle, he drives it for someone else who probably drives it all day. He is working towards getting a full license and aspires to go to school to be an auto mechanic, but can't afford tuition, which would be about $900 for the two year course. I don't think he does much during the day, but whenever I ask he answers that he's done plenty. He usually walks to town and maybe meets a few friends. He's quite involved with his church. Yohani live is a small dark brick building behind the house, apparently is used to be a chicken house, but I think they cleaned it well before he moved in. Yohani is really awesome, right now he's reading the no-nonsense guide to world poverty, its pretty cool hearing some of his analysis. Linda [Zambian sister, 20] just have a beautiful baby girl, so she spends her time at home. Her and her boyfriend share the room next to me. She does pretty much nothing, mostly telling the younger girls what to do as far as cooking and cleaning. Ndaka, Tesila, Diana, Queeny [Zambian Niece's, 15, 16, 13, 12] Sometimes the girls go to school, sometimes they dont. They do all the chores around the house, cooking, washing, sweeping etc. usually in rotation. They are all really cool, good dancers as well. Tesila really enjoys singing and does a great job in her church choir, she also spends a lot of time on her homework. Ndaka just left to live with her uncle, and now here mom is livig here, not too sure how this switch came about but whatever. Diana is really shy, but super smiley and fun, she spent a long time preparing a letter for the penpal that I found her in Canada. Queeny doesn't speak english to well, but always acts like she understands me, she freaks me out a bit with how she dresses, often pretty revealing. Willy, Warren [Zambian nephew's, 12, 3] Willy usually goes to school, and I've seen him working a few times collecting sand for blocks. He also dug a hole beside the house for tossing garbage in, the hole is really impressive, its about 12 feet deep, I have no idea how he did it. Warren spends his time at home playing on the street with the neighbourhood kids, or sneaking into my room and breaking stuff. Generally whenever I come home he comes to me and starts counting, since this is what I've been trying to teach him. But he always starts at 2 and skips 7...

*Q. What is the situation with water waste and electricity.*
A. Livingstone is a decently big city so it has a good water and electricity system. The water we get is all treated and chlorinated, but I usually drink water from the office which is boiled, or add extra chlorine. The Zambezi river is close, so all the water comes from there. Same deal with the electricity, they have a generating station at the falls. My family really sucks at conserving water and power, the tap is always left trickling, and the lights are left on all night. I suppose it balances out though since we only have one sink, and 6 lights. The power is fairly reliable, there have been about 6 power outages which usually only last a few hours. The water is a little less reliable, maybe 70%, not sure why, I think they get a lot of leaks and shut it down for repairs. The waste collection system does not exist. All garbage is just burnt in people's yards. Most glass or plastic bottles are reused, people don't really create a lot of garbage, a bit of plastic and some food waste.

*Q. What is Zambian culture like.*
A. There is not much Zambian culture left, if I had to name it something I would say chill culture. People have been Britishized and South Afrcanized. But there are still some cool things. I love going to the united church here it is really energetic; the services lasts 3 hours and 2.25 hours are awesome super loud singing, with some dancing and spinning in circles mixed in. Most women where chitenge's which are skirt wraps, and men just weat slack and shirts (all our old cloths) 50 cent, Brazil, and bob marley are the most popular shirts. Almost everyone wears black dress shoes. In the villages there is still some culture left; the dancing usually consists of 3 drummers, they a bunch of people stepping, leg kicking out thing, then a few people really working their hips and behinds.

*Q. What are some of the difficulties your facing.*
A. One of the big ones is being seen as a hug money source by the family I'm staying with. I'm paying about 3x market rate for my room, and I think the rent I'm paying is about equivalent to the total combined family income. So naturally I'm greatly appreciated as a source of income. The day after I paid rent the first time we had a nice electric 2 burner stove the next day. After I paid my second installment we got a colour t.v. And the day after we got the colour t.v. mommy was telling me how much she wants a satellite dish, and a cell phone, and how it would be great if I could just buy her those things. There have also been other little things like taking my light bulbs and finishing my peanut butter etc. In the grand scheme its really not a big deal, I don't mind helping out the family, but it would be cool if some cash were spent on increasing the quality of our food, instead of t.v's. Stuff at work is mostly good, sometimes it's really frusterating when you say something and the other person says yes even though they don't understand what you said. Today a car was leaving into town and I asked if Jo (new long term ewb) and I could grab a ride, they said yes, then the car left ten seconds later without us :^( Also sometimes things are way too chill, and people don't take initiative or responsibility, when problems arise, things just stop and noone tells you or tries to solve them. As an example, we tried to order some sorghum processing equipment from Botswana and when the order made to to purchasing at CARE, the supplier told purchasing that they need the cash in advance, but purchasing doesn't pay until they recieve the product, so after purchasing heard this news from the supplier things just stopped and they didn't bother letting anyone know or trying to find a solution. I have about ten other examples of exactly the same thing, you really need to follow up vigilantly to ensure things happen here. And there are always plenty of excuses for any delays, the most common is funerals, most people attend at least one per month. *Q. Why do you take your own room while 5 sleep in the other, and 2 sleep in the shed in the back?* A. Generally rent for a room in Dambwa North should cost 80,000-200,000, I'm paying 500,000 I don't think they could ask for nearly as much if I didn't have my own room. I offered to share but they weren't into it. I'm sure for what I'm paying I could probably demand the whole house. Either way people here don't have the same needs of privacy as people in the west, I really don't think they mind sleeping 5 in a room, or 2 in a shed.

Making a brick using the compressed brick making machine from the university of Zambia.

Mr. Lemba's Family

Me and Mr. Lemba posing in front of his Maize.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The big challenges of Small Scale farming.

For the last month I’ve been working in Southern Zambia with Engineers Without Borders on a project to promote Sorghum growing. The concept of the project in incredibly simple; Sorghum is more drought resistant than corn, but not commonly grown due to government legislation that attempted to attain food security by consolidating crop production. Through my last month here I’ve realized the potential of this project to improve the livelihoods of small scale farmers, as well as the many barriers preventing this.

As part of the project we have introduced a Sorghum growing competition in efforts to encourage good farming practices and knowledge sharing among participants. I recently spent a day helping to judge some of the fields and I was struck by the number of challenges these farmers face, and the stark contrasts with those faced in Canada.
As we started judging it was great to see the farmers enthusiasm, their only complaint was that it took us too long to get to their fields. We are generally late arriving to the fields due to various unpredictable delays such as fuel shortages, police checkpoints, or like today waiting for elephants to cross the highway.

The main criterion for the competition is to judge the farmers expected yield. Our first field of the day belonged to Mr. Godfrey Malilu, we were surprised to see how tall his plants were. When we asked why he informed us, “we were not given the right seeds, they produced the wrong variety plant.” Unfortunately Godfrey was supplied seeds that although certified in Zambia, contained a mixture of varieties, none of which are desirable in Southern Zambia. While other farmers were harvesting, Godfrey’s plants just kept getting taller and taller without producing grains. Unfortunately for a small scale farmer the options for recourse are limited and he will just have to try again next year.

As we moved on to the next field belonging to Mr. Max Lubinda we noticed an elaborate contraption of sticks holding pop-cans on strings. As we asked for a demonstration one of the children ran onto a nearby platform and began vigorously pulling on the string. All through the field we could hear the clanging of pop cans intricately connected to the string the child was pulling. In the distance we could see a flock of small birds heading into the bush. One of the main differences in cultivating Corn and Sorghum is that the Sorghum grains are exposed and vulnerable to birds. During this display I was reminded of the countless mornings in Niagara where I had awoken early to the sound of electronic hooting, or bird bangers. The low-tech Zambian equivalent is entertaining to watch, but requires people to spend their entire day in the field.

Our next contestant was Miss Gertrude Mwinga. This turned out to be a quick visit as most of Gertrude’s crop had been eaten by bollworms, leaving us with nothing to judge. Gertrude informed us “I planted too late, and couldn’t stop the bugs”. In the course of one year, the Sikaunzwe area has lost 80% of its cattle to an airborne illness. This has left many without animals to pull their plows. As a result many people planted late making them more susceptible to insects and birds. In Canada this would not have been a problem, a small application of pesticide would save the harvest. Gertrude could not afford the pesticide and since there is nowhere she can turn for a loan, she can only watch as the bollworms eat her Sorghum.

The least expected challenge we noticed during our day of judging was the damage caused by a frost which settled about a week earlier. This was another reminder of the vulnerability of these farmers and of my failure to pack warm enough clothes for the Zambian winter.

During the judging we also came to realize that none of these farmers use irrigation. Most of them were within only a few kilometers from one of Africa’s largest rivers; the Zambezi, but none could afford to irrigate. In Zambia that privilege is reserved only for the white commercial farmers who have enough money for the initial investment.

Through my month here I have been shocked and impressed by Zambians on many occasions. The people here can endure through what seem to be impossible circumstances. I’ll never forget seeing a woman breast feed and load rocks onto a truck at the same time. Or attending numerous church services where the people would worship with more joy and enthusiasm than I’ve ever experienced, regardless of the walls being broken by the rains, or the building not yet existing.

Despite the numerous complications many farmers have managed to produce great Sorghum crops, bringing them closer to food security and increasing their income by supplying the grains to be used in one of Zambia’s most popular beers. So far our project is being called a success, which is very rare in development work. Part of the success is based on the poor yield of corn this year which was flooded from the heavy rains. Fortunately, to our surprise Sorghum is good in flooding as well as drought.

On July 14th we will get to celebrate at the first ever Sorghum festival, where the Zambian minister of Agriculture will announce the winners of the growing contest. We’ll also get to enjoy watching the 10 most innovative bird scaring techniques. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that all 700 participants can show up, and that the minister is not slowed down by any fuel shortages or elephant crossings.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Photos of Village life

This is the village church before it filled up. The sunroof in not intentional.

Mr & Mrs. Simbotchwe standing proudly infront of their home.

The hut where I stayed, before we took the antenna to the neighbors. (sorry I don't know how to rotate it)

The village watering hole, and fishing pond.

This was the scenery that greeted us every morning!

Perceptions of Poverty

I recently spent a weekend living with a family in rural southern Zambia, getting to experience real village life. From one angle their lifestyle was beautiful and should be sustained at any cost. From another angle I saw poverty, dependency and vulnerability, and a lifestyle that can’t last with economic development. So I decided to write two accounts of the same weekend from slightly different perspectives. Enjoy..

Poverty is Vulnerability
As I went to the village for my first weekend stay, I felt the awe of people being able to live off the land and fend for themselves. There is a certain romantic fantasy about being completely independent, simply relying on your own hard work, year after year for your own wealth.

However after spending some more time in the village I came to realize how vulnerable people living in the village really are. They are no longer distant from the problems of the cites. Hunger, disease, and abject poverty are rampant.

I spent my time staying with Mr. Simbotchwe and his family. He was the headman of his village and the father of one of the better off families. Mr. Simbotchwe spent a number of years working with Zambian Railways in the cities, and has decided to retire in the village where his grandfather lived.

When asked how his farm is doing he replied “I’m struggling to find help”. Mr.Simbotchwe employed one man to help herding the cattle. “My children have all left to the cities to look for jobs and gain an education”. Of their 12 children, they were left with only the youngest boy, Willy is 3 years old and certainly not fit to help. There are also a number of their grandchildren living with them, all too young to make a serious contribution on the farm. Since Mr. Simbotchwe himself was educated, he sees the value in allowing his children to seek an education, but the direct result is that Mr. and Mrs. Simbotchwe along with one hired help have to manage the entire farm.

As we grabbed our rods and headed to the local fishing hole, I came to realize that we weren’t there just to fish. We brought along 6, 40L jugs that we would fill with the stagnant pond water. We used this pond water for everything, drinking, cooking, bathing etc. I was fortunate enough as a foreigner that I could add my clorine mixture to the water before I drank it. But when I asked Mr.Simbotchwe “We have run out of clorine and I have not been able to get more”, after taking a sip of the water he added “It is just a risk we have to take everytime we drink this water”. Diarrhea is one of the biggest killers in Zambia, and drinking water from an open stagnant source like this pond, is one of the biggest causes. This is something that is totally preventable, but its not happening.

This year Mr. Simbotchwe will not harvest any sorghum. His plants were decimated by bollworms and birds. Since he has a limited amount of labor on the farm he was forced to hold off on planting his Sorghum until he was done planting his maize. As a result of this late planting Mr. Simbotchwe’s Sorghum field has gone to waste, he can’t even use it for cattle fodder since the ruined sorghum would be poisonous to the cattle. If Mr. Simbotchwe would be a farmer in the west he could have used a tractor to cultivate his field at the proper time. He could have used pesticides to kill the bollworm before they destroyed his crop, and he could have used bird bangers to keep the birds off his Sorghum. But the reality now is that Mr. Simbotchwe will have no income this year, and he will be eating only Maize for the next 11 months, with the hope that next years harvest will be better.

One very positive thing on Mr. Simbotchwe’s farm is that he was recently blessed with four new cattle. For most farmers this would be a typical yearly event, but a cattle disease has recently struck Sikaunzwe and they’ve lost 95% of their cattle. Where there was once over 1000 cattle, there are now just a few. The impact of this will really be felt next December when people want to plow their fields and have nothing to pull their plows.

The project that I’m here working with is trying to introduce a grain which grows much easier in the high drought prone climates of Southern Zambia. We’re giving them seeds, and teaching them how to grow these improved varieties, then providing them with a market if they choose to sell it back to us. In theory it is a simple project that should have been done years ago, but even now there are huge barriers that are preventing this project from being an immediate success.

Many of the certified seeds that were purchased for the farmers turned out to be bad seeds that produced a mixed variety of plants with very little yield. Unfortunately these farmers have gotten nothing to make up for their losses. There is no insurance company for farmers like there is in Canada that will pay them to ensure that they don’t starve this year.

There is no doubt that these villagers have a tough life and that they deserve better. It is hard to believe that in a world so wealthy that some can be so poor. The solutions are know, but implementing them appears to be the problem. Sometimes it is challenging to be here and wonder how this can exist. But I just think for a minute how challenging it was back in Canada to try to talk about these issues at a public outreach event, and no one cares to listen to you, and I realize why this poverty still exists.

Development is killing traditional lifestyles
I had been in Zambia for three weeks before I finally made it out for my first village stay. Various things came up that continually got in the way and delayed my trip, but somehow I had a feeling of relief after every delay. I was really nervous about staying in the village, I was worried about all the things that I was going to have to give up during my time there. Where would I get my water, what would I have to eat, where will I sleep, what about wild animals and insects, and how will I make conversation with someone who has experienced such a vastly different life than I have. But I knew that I should stay there, I’m working with and for these farmers, and I need to better understand their lifestyles and values, so I finally made it to the village for a two night weekend stay.

During the hour long drive from Livingstone out to Sikaunzwe, I was informed that I did not yet have a place to stay, there was no one expecting me. We arrived to the milk co-op and we met Mr. Simbotchwe there, when we asked if I could stay for the weekend, he just said yes. He didn’t seemed too concerned about thinking about whether of not his place was clean enough, or if the t.v. was working, or if he or his wife had to work over the weekend, he just said yes without thinking about it. I’m not sure what his plans for the weekend were, but he definitely shifted them to accommodate me. Still being completely unaware of what happens during a village weekend I decided to just ask outright. Mr. Simbotchwe responded with “Well we can go for a stroll around the farm to find the dairy cow, once we get some worms we can go fishing at the dam, then we can have some chicken for dinner.” I quickly realized that this was going to be a pretty fun weekend.

It turned out that the dam was actually just a big pond which was dug when they built the road. This by-product of the road construction now provides water for all the nearby villages, fish for their dinners and beautiful scenery for their enjoyment. A local man actually approached me as I was fishing and inquired if I could “ask my people to dig the dam deeper” I had to explain to him that I didn’t have any connections with any digging companies, and he seemed satisfied with my answer.

As we sat down to dinner I enjoyed the best and freshest meal in Zambia. We had Sorghum Nshima made from the recent harvest, with one of their many chickens and some fresh vegetables on the side, along with some of the fish we caught, I caught a couple one inchers and they tasted great. To follow it up we had some tea with milk fresh from that morning and enjoyed it under the brilliant moonlight.

Just before going for the village stay I was having a big debate with myself about commercial farming being the solution to many of Zambia’s problems, so many of my questions for Mr. Simbotchwe were along the lines of following my hypothesis. I can’t say that I was surprised by his answers, I think most people share the same dreams. “I like being in charge of my fate” he would tell me. Everything that he ate was a direct result of what he’d planted a few months earlier. Mr. Simbotchwe was the epitomy of sustainable living, and he was loving it.

Shortly after dinner I went into my hut and under candlelight tucked into what would be one of the greatest sleeps I’d yet had in Zambia my bed was really comfortable and warm.

The next day we went to church, or at least what was left of the church after the long rainy season had done some damage to the building. It turned out that Mr.Simbotchwe was also a minister and the lack of a complete building did not slow him or anyone else down. Like most Zambian churches this one was full of people singing and enjoying the gospels.

The collection this week was about 7000, which they were really happy about. They have started a collection fund to build a cement block building and eliminate the need of rebuilding the mud and thatch church every year. After about 2 years the fund has collected enough for them to build 400 blocks, and they just purchased 8 more bags of cement. Personally, I am somewhat skeptical that the church will ever be built, the 7000 kwacha collected that week is worth about $2 Canadian but never the less they were quite positive. I kind of hope that they don’t collect enough for the building, just imagine what a great community building exercise if would be when they all come together for a week and re-build their church with nothing but mud, stick, thatching and their bare hands.

While at church I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Simbotchwe’s mother and grandmother, and since we were living with some of her grand daughters, this meant that I got to meet 5 generations of Simbotchwe’s! Not something you’ll see too often in developed countries, but pretty beautiful to see so many generations all living within a short walk of each other.

Mr. Simbotchwe and his family (wife, son and a few grand children) really displayed to me how brilliant life can be, even when you have so little. He seemed to feel bad that his battery was dead and we had to take his ariel to his neighbors hut to watch the world cup game. But his dead battery allowed me experience of watching a match with 20 other vilagers on a 13” fuzzy black and white screen where you really couldn’t see a thing. I don’t think many people actually knew who was playing, as I was one of the few who could understand the English commentary but everyone enjoyed it none the less. As the commercials came on and advertised fridges and home theatres, I was reminded of some of the contrasts with Canada. Even though we have a fridge and a home theatre, among other gadgets when was the last time I could gather 20 people to enjoy using those gadgets with me?

I left the village thinking about all of the things that I was going to have to give up as I went back to town. The Simbotchwe’s really showed me an amazing side of life, living off the land and being completely one with nature. I left wondering what I was doing in Zambia, did I really want rural villages in Zambia to become more like Livingstone or Lusaka or Canada. There are so many people who give up the village lifestyle to head for the cities, and most end up selling vegetables or cellphone airtime on the streets just struggling to get food on the table.