18 December 2015

I’ve been very busy lately! Or maybe it just feels like I’ve been busy because time has been flying. It does not feel like the holidays. I hear Jingle Bells played on the radio – in Swahili of course – which is kind-of just annoying, if I’m going to be honest. In addition to Christmas classics, Bieber has also broken into the village, which is impressive in my opinion. Maybe I’ll feel some holiday spirit by the time January rolls around, but it’s just not the same without any cold weather/snow or Christmas decorations around. I have some great holiday vacation plans with some other PCV friends, though, so it will be a good Christmas and New Year. I’ll be sure to write about my two-week adventure post-trip, but it involves heading south through Zambia to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders: Victoria Falls.

Time for some updates! The new water committee in my village is still working on its constitution and then will submit an application to the district to register as an official water committee. That’ll take a long, long time. My estimate is at least half a year if we jump through all the hoops. Once they are registered, then we can think about water projects in the village. It’s difficult to wait so long to start on what will probably be the main project of my Peace Corps service, but it’s great that the villagers wants to be official and commit to becoming an actual registered committee.

I have been doing a lot of planning lately for various programs/clubs/groups that I hope to start up in the next three or four months. This Sunday will be the start of the first. It’s just a Mama’s group. A lot of the women want to learn about the food that Americans cook and eat, so that’s the main purpose of the group, but I also plan to teach about home gardens and health topics, especially AIDS. They are super excited to learn more about American culture, cook food, listen to music, see some of my pictures, and learn anything else I have to share with them. I love their enthusiasm.

I have also planned out a series of four half-day seminars about project design and management. I will start translating my lesson plans with my counterpart once I return in January, and then will work with the mwenyekiti (village chairperson) to organize a group of 15-20 village and community leaders to participate in the seminars. My counterpart should be able to lead most of the sessions, and I’ll certainly encourage him to do so, but I’ll also be there to make sure things go smoothly and to help facilitate everything. We hope to be able to start those in February.

Also in the works is an environment, conservation, agriculture club (I call it the ECA Club), which I hope to bring to both the primary school in my village and the secondary school in the neighboring village. Also at the primary school, I plan to do weekly or bi-weekly life skills lessons. They focus on decision making, communication skills, topics like drugs and alcohol use or waiting for sex, and HIV/AIDS, among other things. Starting perhaps in April, I also plan to do the Maua Mazuri program (that roughly translates to beautiful flowers), which is a twelve lesson program for girls, teaching life skills through the arts. And then at the secondary school, I hope to teach a series of gender equality lessons. These will also focus on life skills, related to gender, combined with a TZ television series called The Team, which focuses on gender equality. Hopefully it will encourage some good discussion. I’ll be working with a secondary school teacher when I return in January to start planning.

I have also been asked, again and again, to start teaching English for adults. So I am planning an American Language and Culture group (I call it the ALC group). I’ll create workbooks, and will print them in town, to be purchased by my students (it’s weird saying that when they’re all older than me). My goal is to just make it fun – to cover the basics and review what they’ve already learned years ago in school, and then to also delve into whatever other things they’re interested in. I’ll also incorporate a lot of fun things about American culture and will tie that into the language lessons. I hope to start that in February, but we’ll see if I can finish the workbooks by then.

Yeah, that’s that! I’m dreamin’ big, but it’s fun to dream and plan, and maybe I’ll actually be able to get everything off the ground and running.

What have I been up to recently…? Besides the dreaming. Well, it is planting season and everyone is farming. So, naturally, I’ve been making various home gardens, and have been preparing the area around my house for a shamba darasa – farm classroom. I plan to do some experiments with intercropping. One section I’ll plant just corn, another just beans, another beans and corn, and the last beans, corn, and squash. Then I’ll split each of these sections in two, adding fertilizer to half, and leaving the other half without fertilizer. Unfortunately, for this year I am just using the chemical fertilizer that all the villagers use (DAP). I didn’t get my act together in time to plan for enough compost and manure for all my fields, BUT that’s what I hope to experiment with next year: comparing no additives versus chemical fertilizer versus organic fertilizer. I will be planting Monday and Tuesday this coming week with my counterpart, and we’ll label all the different sections to get the experiment started, and hopefully to encourage questions from community members.

I thought I would have to ask the driver of the village tractor to come and help me finish off turning my soil, but luckily I had some help. At first, just some of the neighbor kids were helping me, though they spent more time playing than working – of course, they’re young. Then I mentioned to one of the teachers at the primary school that I’d love more assistance to finish in a timely manner. One morning, I heard a stampede. It kept getting closer and closer… Then maybe 100 kids ran up and dispersed in the fields around my house, hoeing away. It was terrifying at first, then just awesome. They weeded my courtyard and the pathways around my house too, and then piled up all the old weeds and corn stalks to burn later on – that’s what they do here. Anyway, the fields are now clear and ready to be planted!

Here are a bunch of pictures of the neighbor kids helping me, and those ~100 kids who showed up:

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Here are some before and after pictures of my yard. There is a larger area behind my house too, but you’ll get the idea.

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Now on to the home gardens I’ve been making. I made a bag garden, which is a burlap sack (but synthetic) that you fill with a mix of soil and well-composted manure, creating a column of small rocks down the center to assist with water distribution. You can plant leafy greens at the top in the opening of the bag, then make two or three rows of holes along the outside of the bag, depending on the size, to plant seeds. For the middle rows it’s best to plant things like green peppers or tomatoes, plants with smaller fruits. Then for the bottom row you can plant things like watermelon or pumpkins, plants with heavy fruits. Here’s a picture of my bag garden. The mchicha (spinach) that I planted up top has now started growing.

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And I thought I had a green pepper plant going too, but later realized it was just grass… Here’s my proud picture of that:

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I also made a vertical garden out of plastic bottles. These are super easy to make and will be a great activity for my ECA club (I’ll also teach the bag gardens). You just cut the side out of some bottles, make some holes to string rope/twine through, and then hang it up! I planted green beans in the bottom two bottles, and lettuce in the top two. They have yet to sprout.

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I also planted some broccoli, green peppers, and herbs in some peanut butter and dry milk containers I had sitting around. Can’t wait for those herbs especially. And broccoli, I miss broccoli – they don’t really grow that here, though I’ve seen cauliflower.

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And lastly, I spent a looong day making a permagarden in my courtyard. The idea of a permagarden (kind-of based on the goals of permaculture) is to incorporate water-saving methods, companion planting, utilizing space efficiently, and organic methods to preserve soil fertility. It also is designed specifically for the home – smaller scale, easy to manage. There are generally beds in the middle with about 1ft deep trenches surrounding those, and then a berm around those. Theoretically, the beds and berm drain easily, allowing the water to collect in the ditches within the garden. That keeps the water there, but doesn’t allow it to flood the beds.

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(Working the composted manure into the soil…)

I planted green beans and corn in one bed (intercropped), lettuce, squash, and broccoli in another, and lettuce, squash, green beans, pumpkins, and watermelons in the other. Then I planted cucumbers around the small stakes/trellises in the berm (see pic below), lettuce on the side of the berm along my house (under the roof line), and I plan to plant sweat potato vines (matembele, really healthy), along with some mchicha (spinach) in the other three sections of the berm, between the cucumbers. I covered the beds with some dry leaves collected by the neighbor kids around my house as a thin layer of mulch, and that will hopefully prevent the soil from being pelted by the rain. When it rains here during the rainy season, it really rains.

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It was a lot of work, but I think my permagarden is lookin’ pretty good. I just hope things grow, you know? I’m nervous leaving it for two weeks for my travels, but… that’s just the way things go. When I get back, I’ll have some weeding and thinning to do, but hopefully it won’t get out of control or anything. And I’ve doctored up my fence so that the kuku (chickens) will really be put to the test if they want to get in. They love to kick up freshly turned soil… And to eat seedlings. If my permagarden is a success, I plan to do a workshop/training to teach how to make one and why.

Before and after shots of my courtyard to get a good idea of the permagarden size:

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Well that’s all for now! Here’s an adorable picture of a kitten that likes to hang out at my house, especially when it rains.

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One thought on “18 December 2015

  1. Hi Christine,
    I have been following your blog since the beginning and enjoy reading about all your activities and experiences. Just reading about all your projects with the physical work of gardening makes me tired-don’t know how you do it! The final photo of the little black kitten really got to me as I have 2 cats-one all black. That little guy looks like he gets enough to eat but probably no vet care and a short life span. But I’ll bet he’s good company when he’s around! Hope you have a blessed Christmas and that you are successful with all your planned activities for 2016. Enjoy your 2 weeks vacation and stay healthy! Jane Cole

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