The contents of this blog are completely mine and do not reflect any position of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mid-Service Update: Adventures in Gardening, Product Development, Community Nurseries and Soap Making

In reality I am well beyond mid-service. I return in July or August of 2013 so have 8 months remaining here. 2/3 of my service down. However, I wanted to share an update because I haven’t been blogging at all for a long time. In my defense, I have been writing - just not in the blogging format. I especially wanted to send an update out to those folks that helped me to get here and continue to support me. Namely, my Mom and Kesh, my grandparents Wally and Ilene and all of those people that contributed through Sisters With Wings to support my service, my lovely email, phone and facebook friends that have been keeping in touch and keeping me up to date on happenings in America and those who sent care packages. You know who you are and I am still thanking you!

It is days like today when I begin to feel like I may have integrated without actually realizing it. I often think of myself in the “posh corps” because that is how my colleagues view my situation (and while I sit in my expensive city and eat rice and beans, they use their saved up cash from their rural sites to take posh vacations). But I see some adaptations. First, I put on my fancy flip flops to go into town, fixed my messy hair and tried to look presentable….sheeky  is everything here. Second, I was trying to find something to scrub the grime off of a bent up old metal concrete mixing bucket that I found in the garbage pile (exhibit A) and want to use for a flower pot. I immediately looked to the fruit basket and was ecstatic to see a coconut. I peeled off the fibers and scrubbed away like a true native (exhibit B). Third, I got home to find that the water tap was behaving sporadically and so I immediately filled up every container in the house and did a double run on the filter. There has been no water in the taps now for hours but I practically have a swimming pool’s worth in my house. Fourth, my make-shift cupboards were empty because I’ve been away for 6 weeks and so I went to the market. The only things that I bought were papaya, banana, coconut, bulk rice, onions, garlic, candles and matches. I already had four different kinds of beans soaked and cooked at home. Fifth and finally, while fetching said water I carried the containers on my head, because it is in fact easier. I assume this all speaks for itself. Say what?!

Oh but so lovely to be home again. My space is small, but I love what I’ve created here. What? You don’t have $1,400 for a plane ticket to come see? Would you like a tour? Well ok, come along then!
My home is a little concrete house with a small, shaded porch located in a bustling local market area called Mercado Gilo (mer-cah-doo jee-low) on the edge of the city. I’ve got the corner of my complex of houses surrounded on two sides by a high concrete wall with glass shards in the tops, so while I have some neighbors with no divisions of the space I also have a bit of my own space as well. It is a duplex, with matching houses back-to-back, and my neighbor is my site mate, Adela, who has been here for 3 months. Before that it was my site mate Autumn, who just returned to the States. There are about 12 houses total in the complex, and while some stand empty, the rest are filled with a mix of Mozambican and Indian families and one South African ex-pat. In front of my house sits a rusting swing set with the swings wrapped around the top and padlocked (or else my yard would be the community playground… which sounds sweet until you actually imagine 30 screaming children in your yard at all hours). On that note, the children recently found a used tire in the garbage pile and tied it to a tree with my laundry line. Presto! A tire swing. The juxtaposition of the two swings is a great metaphor for the persistence, creativity and un-quash-able spirit of the people here.

My house has a dirt yard and is semi-shaded by two large trees. One of them is a marula tree, which produces these little tiny orange and black fruits. The fruit tastes to me like really hummus-y soil, but Mozambicans mash it up and add sugar and are crazy for it. When the season is on, which is in a couple of months, all the kids hang out in my yard and climb the tree and bash the tree with sticks and hang out in the shade to eat the fruits. I’ve put in a small garden along a sunny wall, it has raised beds lined in recycled bottles and right now is full of cherry tomatoes, arugula and swiss chard. I have a large lemongrass plant, which I use for cooking and tea as well as a small mango tree and a lime/lemon tree (they are different here, kind of a cross). I have a half barrel in the center of my yard for bonfires, barbequing and burning trash (yes, I know. It kills me every time I have to burn my trash, but there is nothing else to do with it). I have a flower and shrub garden on my front wall, shading the porch and making it more private. I face the rear entrance of a large concrete house that is home to an Indian-Mozambican family with very entertaining children. There is almost always something going on with the women washing clothes and cooking and running after misbehaving kids while snapping towels at their behinds.  

When you walk into my house you are first in one large room, probably about 20’ X 10’. This is the kitchen, office and living room. My kitchen is a little gas camping stove sitting on top of three wooden crates that store my pots and pans. I have a counter and indoor sink which is a blessing and I had running water in the kitchen until it stopped working. My office is a wooden table up against the front window where I do my writing and work from home in the mornings and watch the birds and kids and action of the compound. The second half of the main house is my living room which is full of books and art supplies and my guitar and a big comfy chair where I hang out and read (and my site mate occasionally sleeps sitting up in). The whole space is full of colors. I’ve used capulanas (batik-style fabric pieces) to cover the furniture and make curtains and pillow covers and art on the wall and they are all wonderful bright and competing patterns. I have two bedrooms and an indoor bathroom. In the spare room, which is referred to Princess Absynnia’s room (my unplanned kitten who has a whole room for herself at night) the walls are filled with the painted pictures and sayings of almost every volunteer and couch surfer that has stayed with me (I’m a tourist hub because I’m a volunteer with a house only 25 minutes from one of Mozambique’s hottest vacation beach spots). My other walls are filled with memories and inspirations. Posters and fliers for shows and parties and film festivals and music festivals that I repaint/reimagine, drawings of friends, pictures of my family and my large (and growing) collection of favorite quotes.  

This weekend I am settling back in from 6 weeks of house sitting in a big fancy house and I feel a little A.D.D. I can’t pick a project and I wish I had three of me right now. I have four documents open on my computer, two emails that I am composing to friends to send when I get to internet, this blog, and my book. I have a half-finished song and my guitar next to me, laundry soaking in a bucket, a coconut to grate, electricity to buy, a visit to the central market to make for cashews, a cache of gifted music to listen to (from a visitor), a kitty to make up lost time with, rice and lentils to cook, a half-finished painting, crazy ants and ant piles to sweep out and like three gardening projects. My arugula is overgrown like crazy, my basil is droopy and sad, I need to transplant some lemongrass and my cherry tomatoes are about to turn to mush. Whew. I’m trying out a new writing strategy, which involves leaving all the documents open and going about my day and then sitting down to write the moment I think of something. It seems to work but it leaves me feeling a bit fragmented and bouncy. 

Oh but so lovely to be home again. My space is small, but I love what I’ve created here. For the first time in my life I am living alone and can do whatever I want. Before Peace Corps, I always had family, a partner, boyfriend or roommate(s) living with me.  It took me about 6 months to get used to it, but now I’ve settled into my routine and have done loads of work on making my garden and my living space just how I want them. My house is my cozy, colorful creative space and when I walk into my front room I always take a deep breath. I’ve got loads to play with for me and for visitors. Being on my own has been a great right-of-passage and I believe that it should be a requirement for growing up. Think it could potentially be dangerous to live too alone for too long though - we are a communal species after all and we need to bounce ourselves off of people to stay grounded. But I’m lucky in that I spend half my day at home with my site mate right next door and then half my day at the Pepto Bismol Palace hanging with the inspiring creative energy that is Bio Oleos de Maxixe. Then, my solitude is regularly broken by random people needing to crash or weekends in Tofo or live music or visiting volunteers (I helped to host 30 people two weeks ago!). As much as I long for the familiarity, family and comfort of the States, it’s a good life for now. It really is.

Mid-service is an interesting time. My group of volunteers will be the next group to COS (Close-Of-Service) which means we are the longest standing group here. Hitting the middle-point of my service was a bit of a shock. I had thought that I would have everything figured out by the time I was a year in. It is notoriously a time when volunteers start to look back at how far they’ve come and then look forward and have to make some decisions on how to finish strong and about what will come next. That said, I’ve only recently decided that I am going to return to Boise and give it a go. I’m super excited to be close to my family and already have some close friends there. I’m going to work on getting my credentials in order for consulting and see what kind of good work I can get involved in. (If you know of anything coming up, let me know!)

Did I mention that it is BOILING hot?!? Last night I slept sprawled out on my covers, sweating despite the fan on full force blowing on me. This morning when I faced my options for clothing, the only thing I could bear to put on was a swimsuit and some shorts. This way I can just hop in the shower (when the water finally comes back on) and then walk around in wet clothes.  I’m not kidding. Everyone has a special set of clothes/rags that they carry around to wipe the pouring sweat. I don’t think my hair has been dry in two days because of the insane sweating. This afternoon I came to consciousness and found myself standing directly underneath my living room fan just staring off into space and enjoying the breeze on my skin. 

I’m in the beginning of a transition with my work here. Up until recently, the majority of my time and focus was going to product development with a couple of other projects on the side. But I’m moving from that to focusing on finishing my other community projects and getting more involved with a great organization here, Positivo, that uses music to educate youth about HIV/AIDS. I feel good about what I’ve contributed to BOM in terms of products and ideas. Look for my BOM bath salts, body butter bars, soaps and intensive tea tree hair treatments on the shelves in the future! But alas, my role as a PCV is definitely not to do something that creates an un-fillable gap when they leave (which is what I’ve accidentally done).

My main project is getting a moderate amount of attention recently, which makes me feel good - like I am accomplishing something tangible here. The project is to build 4 nurseries in communities around Inhambane Province before I leave. We are working with local associations that serve people living with HIV/AIDS. We pay for and help them build the nursery, and provide the seeds and training on nursery management and ongoing technical support. They grow Moringa and other plants and distribute and sell them in the community as an income-generation project. We then train the tree recipients on the nutritional benefits of Moringa (which is a miracle plant!) as well as proper collection and preparation of the seed. When the trees mature, we buy the seeds from them to press for oil for our body products. This provides income to the families that steward the trees. In the meantime, they enjoy the amazing nutritional benefits of Moringa and are participating in reforestation and sustainable resource management. We are on construction of our second nursery now and the first is ready for planting. Sometimes I look around at all the people involved and just think “We did this?” The Embassy came out a few weeks ago to visit the project and take pictures to be featured in the PEPFAR 2013 calendar, which has gotten me and the people in the associations really excited! They will be famous in Africa and the staff offices of PEPFAR in Washington D.C.!

My other project is a group of community women that we have trained to make soap and manage a small business. They received business and marketing training, soap-making training and continue to receive a weekly support seminar. They were given micro-loans for equipment and ongoing supplies at cost. They are about 6 weeks into production and are doing great. For most of them their businesses are starting to take off and they are already paying back their loans. It is so exciting to watch them grow and succeed and get excited for themselves. It has been an eye-opening, thought-provoking and challenging experience and so many peoples’ energy went into making this happen for these women. I will get to be here advising, helping and enjoying the company of these women until I leave and I can’t wait to see where they go.

Before I leave, I also want to install and do community trainings on a composting toilet at our permanent production site in Machevenga along with a hand-washing station made from local materials. The property sits right on the bay so we want to teach sustainable, healthy ways to take care of the local water system (people currently use the beach as a bathroom) and improve community health practices. The major upshot and other reason for the project is that composting of human waste is one of the best ways to improve the local soil, which is 100% sand with zero nutrients. So the type of toilet I’m planning is called a Fossa Alterna and (look away now if you have a sensitive stomach…) has separate feces and urine collection. The resulting compost will be used in the demonstration garden (which is a WHOLE ‘nother story) and the coconut and moringa nurseries. The urine will be diluted with water and used as fertilizer, which has been shown to work wonders for certain plants, like corn.

Ah, the demonstration garden. So some of you know this was my first project in Mozambique and it has been a labor of love and a source of much frustration and mirth. It took months for Joao, Meghan and I to dig, prepare and plant the permanent berm around the garden and all ten of the beds. It is a HUGE space. But the goal was to use only local, freely available materials to improve the soil (which again, is 100% sand) and test different techniques in the different beds to see what worked best. We used cow manure, compost, grass, charcoal powder and ash, but the star player was coconut fiber and husks. 

It has been a trial of errors to say the least. Every time I introduced a new method, someone would correct it or offer a different method or say that it was downright wrong. I would give instructions to my colleague for a new bed or planting concept and return the next day to find something completely different and inappropriate. The seed bed concept failed completely because at night, the little land crabs come and ate all the tiny little plants (to their credit, they waited until the plants were large enough that they would be REALLY tasty!). Then, a neighbor’s cow got loose and wrecked the beds. When we finally got it repaired, and planted in beans to fix the nitrogen in the soil I was so relieved to see that they grew really well and all the beds were lush and green. But then, just as we planted the first real crop, meant to successfully demonstrate that natural soil improvement, companion planting and bio-intensive agriculture work, the local water table dropped and the water in our water holes became full of salt because of the proximity to the bay. Needless to say, the plants suffered quite a bit and most of them died before we got the water tested and identified the problem. Finally, in an effort to turn the garden over to local management, we used a friend in the community who proceeded to ignore all instruction and completely undo all of our work. Taking out all of the improved soil and coconut fiber and throwing it into the bay and then doing the whole garden his way. Well, except for the permanent berm which is growing loads of aloe vera and lemongrass. I almost cried. However, I did manage to do a demonstration using the same concepts in my yard and it is growing beautifully and is often raided by the neighbors. Can I call that a success and move on?

So that’s the update. The short version would be that I’m healthy, happy, safe, inspired, well-fed, in good company, in good spirits and getting the opportunity to do some really interesting work. I miss all of your faces and while I’m happy here, I’m very much looking forward to coming home, seeing everyone, meeting my new niece and enjoying lots of big, much anticipated hugs!

No comments:

Post a Comment