The bad, the good, and the beautiful

The Bad
After a couple weeks of trainings, I got back to the village eager to see how my tree nursery must have spurted. I’m focusing on species that are good as live fencing in order to create a solid space where future tree nurseries are well protected. There are, after all, certain vulnerabilities in creating fences that are basically piles of hay when there are hungry cows around. It had been off to a solid start before I left. In fact, I was just starting to get a little proud of it. My family told me they’d been watering it faithfully.
I arrived home to collapse. Fence door: busted. I’ve spent weeks in the village literally not leaving the house without a poster listing three basic conditions needed for a tree nursery location. Number one: you need a spot kukwabilidwe banyama. Protected from animals. My tree nursery had been modest, but now it’s not much of anything.
Trees are like children. It takes kind of a while before they can actually take care of themselves and you can relax a little. Before that you’ve got to keep an eye on them constantly. Make sure they have enough water, not too much sun, are protected just so, or — well, they could get eaten by chickens any minute.
The chickens weren’t the only ones breaking boundaries while I was out of town. I entered my house to find piles of mouse turds of various sizes greeting me in every corner. As though they’d been voting on which corner was the most poopable.
Welcome home: chickens ate your ego; mice defecated on your personal bubble.
The Good
Doors can be rebuilt. Seeds can be replanted. Both of those things happened this week. Better later than never. Better sooner than later, but still.
Poop can be swept away, and for that matter houses can be cleaned out, painted, revamped.
Six-year- olds can join you in the game of everything-around-us-is-music. Bikes, by the way, make amazing drum sets.
But today, kitchen edition: all the experimental variations on shiny-sounding pot-o-pans, clackety spoon pairs, unsteady salt shakers. Their rhythms itching to be released.
This symphony the soundtrack for the crescendo of a heated debate. I say magwi is my favorite, better than masuku. *Ah-*ah. Then you haven’t tasted masuku properly, the whole world insists. Oh well, I shrug, loudly slurping sour-sticky magwi juice off my fingers. I scoop out the last of the flesh from the hard speckled yellow dome shell. The two halves make a nice hollow sound when clopped together.


Magwi shell later made into a whistle, with a ring of stars carved into it
The Beautiful: 
Remember that poster I mentioned? Apparently some people have taken it to heart. I left it, the tree seeds, and a few hundred polypots in the care of baTaata while I was gone. At least somebody’s gonna be planting trees around here some time soon. And, while I’ve been away they’ve been organizing community meetings to start the process of writing a grant I told them about to be able to build a dairy collection center. I’ve told them even if they don’t get the grant, I truly believe the efforts will not all be wasted, because the organizing and social-community development stuff they are doing is an incredibly valuable process that will be key to making things happen in the future.
Meanwhile, baEsitely is looking pretty fine with the high-growing red sunn hemp that her women’s group planted a few months back to harvest seed to plant green manure/cover crop between maize plantings.
Then, I checked in with my counterpart that I took to the beekeeping workshop.
Backstory: My bataata got really behind the idea that I should take a female counterpart to the beekeeping workshop I went to in September. It seemed like a wild goose chase to find a woman who spoke a language other than Tonga (as in English, Nyanja, or Bemba) to be able to understand the workshop content. It was a sad illustration of a lack of privileges reinforcing itself throughout a lifetime. So, I picked a male counterpart who seemed solid. Then, at the last minute, while I was already on the way to the workshop, baTaata texted me with the name and phone number for a lady I’d never met who was now my beekeeping counterpart.
Ok so back to the present. BaMuchimba has gotten together a group of about 10 people in her village who mostly have some beekeeping experience to organize their production and try to sell together. Currently they don’t have the resources to produce enough “improved” beehives for everyone, wooden “Kenyan Top Bar” style– maximizing production. So, She breaks down the scheme for me: we are testing out a few designs of woven grass cylindrical bee hives. Then we’re building some brick ones, and then some KTBs. Then we distribute them so each person gets 2 grass, 2 brick, 2 KTBs. We put beeswax before swarming time. The bees come, they make honey. We harvest, we sell. The children go to school [financed by honey money]. We don’t suffer/worry.
Brilliant. Basically at this point, they all rock and I’m just trying not to get in their way. Honestly, sometimes it’s a little frustrating reflecting on the fact that it feels like the main things I can offer are simply based on the fact that I have access to the Internet and can travel outside the village frequently. Here we are.

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