Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mandie Agriculture as of now - June 2008

We visited Mandie this last week to see how the Agriculture (Food Security Project) project is going. Before I left, a number of people asked me “What is food security?” Maybe to start we should look at the opposite of “Food Security” which is “Food Insecurity”. Any given population of people or areas which are labeled as food insecure usually are ones that for any given reason are vulnerable because of the situations they find themselves and can not produce or buy enough food for themselves and their families. If a major change such as a drought, a flood, pests, diseases, price fluctuations, lack of access to markets to sell crops or any other natural or manmade changes occur, it can render them at risk for hunger or starvation. Thus normally these communities are okay. For example, the populations in Mandie are usually alright. They do usually have enough food for ¾ths of the year and then for several months they might only eat two meals a day. They are hungry but not dying. However, throw into the mix a drought or huge pest infestation and all of a sudden you have a crisis. That said, a “Food Security” project is one that tries to find ways of building the capacity of a community so that when one of these things occurs the community can survive, people will not starve. Carpenters out there may understand this one. You may have two houses. One is structurally sound and the other has some structural issues. They work fine, but when a hurricane comes along, the one that is structurally unsound breaks. Thus a carpenter will have to figure out how to make this house structurally sound so that it does not break. It is the same with human populations. A food security project looks at what is weak in the community and tries to build a stronger community with the capacity to survive difficult times.

Wow, so that was Development 101. Here is Development 201. I would like to say that the project in Mandie is an Agriculture project but I can’t. We call it Food Security because it does not just encompass agriculture. For example CCM’s extension workers are working with farmers to learn to grow vegetables; they are bringing in improved and drought resistant seeds and crops; they work with irrigation; they work with HIV/AIDS because of it’s effects on household available labor; they look at hygiene and diseases because they keep people from working in their fields and train people how to avoid these things; they look at creating water sources such as dams; teach about and bring trees for fruit and wood; they talk about conservation measures to be taken in people’s fields; they train people how to market there foods and hook them up to Government Services such as veterinarians and the Ministry of Agriculture so they can get help easier in the future; they do adult literacy campaigns and much more. So it is not just agriculture but all the activities help people to be able to increase production. For example, HIV and other diseases prevent people from working, which means that they then produce less and have less time to do other income generating activities. Educating populations about these diseases helps to decrease the prevalence of disease in the family. When people can’t read they cannot access means to help improve their agriculture activities which we take for granted (cannot read pesticide labels or books on improved techniques). Adult literacy attacks this problem. Lack of access to markets means people can not sell their agriculture produce to buy food when they run out. Connecting farmers to the markets and companies that buy produce helps this problem (often people do not know what is out there). Lack of water and space limits the amount of production in the community. Sand dams help relieve this. So you see it is not just agriculture so we call it “Food Security”.
I attached the photo to show just how desperate people are for space to grow vegetables. There just is not space in Mandie. The only water is in the river because away from it is the dry season and there is no rain. Cold season vegetables such as kale, cabbage, onions and garlic only grow in the colder part of the year during the dry season. The middle of the river would work except that every year it fills with a layer of sand. The woman in the picture has a bag in which she is carrying dirt and manure from one side of the river to the middle of the sand bar. She then digs down in the sand with her hoe until she gets to the humidity, puts a sack of dirt there and plants maybe 2 cabbages, several onions or she can grow about 5 corn plants. Incredibly labor intensive but the only thing she can do. The project is teaching people how to terrace the banks and use irrigation methods so they no longer have to carry dirt across the river and they can

Mambue Dam Finished -June 2008

This week we were very pleased to be able to arrive in Mambue just as the dam was being finished. We were there to take workers and tools to a new community but did not know we were going to have to do this until we arrived and received the information. We were able to participate a little in building the last part of the dam as you can see in the above picture. It was an interesting experience. The whole community showed up to watch the end of the work. They brought their drums and the women danced to celebrate. They danced around the dam and sprinkled corn flour on the dam. I suppose it was sort of a blessing. They then proceeded to dance around the extension workers, the community chief and Jenny and dropped flour at their feet. I suppose this was a way to say thanks and give honor. I guess they must have forgotten me because I was off to the side. We are very proud of the work they did and as a representative at MCC I was asked to give a speech. I am starting to get good at these “on the spot” speeches. We are happy for the community and hope and pray that come the rainy season this dam will hold water.

We received information that two of our other dams are continuing to have water behind them at this point. That is cause for celebration. At this time last year the water would have been gone. It gives us a lot of hope since this first year the dams have leaked a little. We hope with some experience our dams will get better and better. The technology is spreading, however, and that was our goal. We traveled to Tete Province to visit several new communities where CCM is going to start a new agriculture project which includes sand dams. We also are getting requests from other parts of the country. We hope that in 10 years, Mozambique will be building lots of these dams and making a difference in people’s lives.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It never hurts to ask

If Mozambican culture had a motto, based on my limited experience here, it’d be “It never hurts to ask”. It seems that no matter where we go, what we are doing, someone will invariably ask us for something. Children on the street ask for “milis” (1 meticais); old people suddenly stop, stoop over, put out their hands and say “Ajuda” (help); when we arrive in a community after not being there for a while, someone asks, “What’d you bring me?” No request however small or large is too much to ask of someone of a higher socio-economic status. The extension workers in Mandie experience it in the communities, so it’s not limited to just asking foreigners, though I suspect we get targeted more quickly because we stand out more. Joél commented once that growing up Mennonite in North America, we are taught to give, give, give; so when we enter MCC and come to a culture that says “Gimme, gimme, gimme” it creates numerous quandaries as to how to give generously and in ways that alleviate oppression.

Two weeks ago, I was talking with my neighbor about commissioning a clay vase. She has a regular business of making clay pots for cooking and planters. We have bought a number of planters from her for our veranda. We finished our negotiations and decided to walk together, she to the market and me to my house. As we left her yard and climbed the steps of hardened dirt to the road, she complemented my earrings and then asked if I had any others at home (for her). She then noticed my sandals and proceeded to tell me that she did not have enough money to buy flip flops. I just listened.

Two days later, I returned to her house to check on the progress of our vase. Once again, she bemoaned that she did not have enough money, this time for renting a truck to get clay for her business. At times like these I think of the children’s Sunday School song about Peter and James going to the temple to pray and encountering a beggar. The longer I live here in Mozambique, the more I realize that sometimes giving immediately does not alleviate the poverty or even help fix anything temporarily. And that certainly is the case with Dona Cecilia.

So, I in my own way of saying, “silver and gold have I none, but such do I have give I thee”, I told her about savings groups. She would be an excellent candidate for being a part of a savings group. She regularly has to rent a truck to carry clay from wherever she’s dug. She regularly sets out fired pots and planters beside the road and within a few days they are gone. She has a business going. With a savings group, she could borrow money to rent the truck and pay it back after she’s sold her pots. It would be a way that she could access money to help her business grow. As I told her about savings groups, her husband and neighbor were listening and I could see them thinking that it would be a good idea. At the end of my explanation, she told me that she couldn’t do that because she’s not going to teach anyone else how to make things out of clay. I responded that not everyone in the group would have the same business, but all would have access to loans for their individual businesses. Her next defense was that she doesn’t trust anyone. I told her that she would form the group with people she trusts—sisters, cousins (usually people trust their own relatives, but not others). She still was determined that me giving her money for renting a truck would be better than joining a group. Her husband then started to explain the concept to her, seeing that it would be beneficial for her, but she didn’t listen.

At times like this, I wonder if it is just our human nature to want something without working for it. One of the sand dam communities started out strong. Before we returned to talk with them about being approved as a site, they had collected two huge piles of rocks. When we returned this week to visit them, the extension workers told us that unless they, the extension workers, told community members to come, no one came to work on the dam. They wanted the water immediately instead of working to build a dam that over time could give them enough water for domestic use and crops and animals.

I do not always know how to respond when people demand that I give them something. In their eyes, I as a foreigner have more money than I need and so should give it to them for whatever they want to do with it. One day, two guys about 20 years old asked me for a mili. I agreed to it, provided that they give me two 50 centavos. They didn’t like that idea because we’d break even and just be exchanging 1 meticais. They then asked me for a cigarette, to which I replied that it was bad for their health and continued walking wherever I was going. They seemed satisfied by my conversation.

I think about Dona Cecilia. She does not trust her fellow Mozambicans enough to think about forming a savings group that will benefit her for years. Yet she expects me to trust her to either give her a grant or a loan to rent a car to pick up clay. How do we navigate these waters of such different cultural expectations and maintain a sense of dignity for all involved? How do I keep talking with people without succumbing to their guilt trips and how do I know when I really should give something because it will truly help someone?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The missing restroom

Last Friday, we visited several communities where CCM Tete wants to begin a food security pilot project with sand dams. Prior to visiting the communities, we stopped at the local administrative post to talk with the Permanent Secretary about the project. After our meeting was over, I asked one of the office staff if they had a restroom that I could use. She replied that it was locked and the person who had the key wasn’t there. So, our gracious hosts of CCM volunteered to stop at a local bar so I could use the restroom.

We drove a bit, parked our cars in front of the bar and they went in to ask about the facilities. The patron of the bar showed them the restroom but when they asked for the women’s restroom, he replied the restroom wasn’t appropriate for “senhoras”.

In the same breath, he told them that he had crocodiles out back and would they like to see them. So we all trailed behind him to see these crocodiles. Sure enough, there in a pen, the size of my parent’s living room, were three crocodiles. Not only did we see them, the man, then jumped over wall and started slapping the one crocodile to make it wake up and move. It didn’t move and we all marveled that the crocodiles were happy in this pen filled with dust without any water. The man said that crocodiles are amphibians and so they can just as easily live without water as in water. That’s one way to look at it.

He then told us that he had a snake and took us to see it. Up the steps, across the balcony, we followed him to see this snake. He opened the door to the room and there sitting, curled up on the window sill in the sun was a big, fat, yellow snake. I guess the man wanted us to see it’s head, because again, he hit it to wake it up. This time instead of not reacting like the crocodile did, the snake hissed. We all looked at the snake, looked at each other and walked back across the balcony, down the steps and into the bar, where there was not a bathroom appropriate for senhoras. We got in our cars to drive away and just as we were about to leave, the man ran out and handed Joél a photograph of him (the man) and the crocodiles.

I never did find a bathroom, until I used a latrine in the first community. And thankfully there weren’t any snakes or crocodiles waiting for me in it.
May 18, 2008

Noah and the Large Canoe

Every day here is an experience in itself and I am reminded again and again that we that live in the world do not all think alike or have the same experience and those of us that live on the other side of the globe think even differently and have even different experiences. Generally speaking, we in the United States think relatively the same and have generally similar experiences but in my experience even that varies between, regions, towns, city and country, families and ethnicities. If that is so, how much more between the U.S. and Mozambique.
This experience was brought back home to me this morning as I was teaching Sunday School class. I was again reminded of the reality of the Mozambican experience, the expectations of people and how things are seen so differently. I was teaching on Noah’s ark and how Noah had to build this huge ark in expectation of a flood. I often think about how difficult that must have been for Noah and how crazy his neighbors and friends must have thought him to be. I was hoping to teach the class how sometimes God calls us to do things that look crazy to others. I asked the class to imagine what if God told someone from our church to build this boat as large as the town’s soccer field in the middle of town (Gondola is on a plateau with hills so there is no way it will flood) and is telling people that it will flood. What would people think? The response I got was: People will start talking amongst themselves and think, “Maybe he can build me one too.” Great, how do I reconcile that one? My point was lost. I will have to think a week to get my head around that one. Where I see a crazy guy and a flood, this person sees a yacht and he wants one. I should have started thinking more about it when I first heard someone say the story was about Noah and the “Canoa Grande” (large canoe). I suppose it is the same with many other things. Where I see an empty water bottle, someone else sees a container for selling oil, holding beans for storage or for water or a play toy. Where I see broken glass, someone sees a mirror or shards to put on the wall to keep thieves out. Where I see a corn stalk, someone sees a wall for a latrine or a fence to keep the chickens out of the garden. Where I see a car someone sees a moving target to hit with their tangerine. We all see things differently. It is no wonder we did not get along after Babel.