I hope you are all doing well and had an enjoyable summer! It is getting near spring here, evident by the pink flowers of the blooming peach trees. Yet the weather in the Highlands is still very cold! Some days, when it is cloudy or windy the temperature doesn't get much above 65, and when the sun is out it will get maybe up in the 70s. The crops and grasses are brown and have died down, but the pine, eucalyptus and other evergreen shrubs remain as a presence of green.
Time is beginning to slow down a bit here, probably because the excitement has worn off, although new things are happening every day. As many of you know, I went to South Africa last month to have dental work done, and since returning I have been tremendously busy with projects. I was very happy to see that the school carried on well with classroom renovation and constructing the fences and raised beds for the garden and tree nursery. One day about 600 of the 690 students helped to haul rich soil up from the valley (about 1/2 mile from the school) in bags that they carried on their heads! They looked like a line of worker ants. For several days they also brought bags of composted manure from home. We now have literally thousands of seedlings of 8 different types of trees (mostly for lumber and soil improvement; soon we will obtain fruit tree seedlings), and 38 varieties of 14 types of vegetables, including: tomatoes, onions, collards, kale, several types of beans, amaranth, eggplant, carrots, peas, watermelon, pumpkins, sweet corn, and cucumbers. We have 10 varieties each of tomatoes and onions, and several varieties of other vegetables, and therefore are conducting a mini variety trial research project! (Like I didn't get enough of that in grad school!) The seeds were obtained from local markets and two NGOs, ECHO, a Christian hunger relief organization based in Florida, and the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center based in Taiwan and has an African Division office in Arusha. Both of these organizations are interested in obtaining feed back the plants' performance, so I plan to make evaluation sheets that the students to help them analyze plant growth, then we will write reports. In addition to developing critical thinking skills, hopefully the students are also learning the basics of vegetable gardening and tree care, so that the health and income of their families will be improved. I am happy to see that the students are very excited about this project, as are other teachers. I have no doubt that this project will carry on well without me!
Another project to help achieve the goal of improving the health and income of families began last week with a "travel study", when 4 women and I went to observe the farm belonging to the mother of one of our district officials, who has artistically integrated the components of a large vegetable garden, numerous fruit trees, and various types of livestock. The farm is near the village of Ludewa, which is 35 km from Lake Nyasa, and within the Livingstone Mountains. We were not able to see the lake because of mountains, but it was still very beautiful! Hopefully the women came home with new ideas, but I'm sure just seeing some place new changed their lives in some way. I am now meeting with them to plan seminars that they will give in each sub village about what they learned and observed, and this will hopefully get people talking about ways they can diversify their farms. The beekeeping and chicken projects are both in progress; 2 village craftsmen are currently making beehives and soon we will have 85 to sell to villagers at a reduced cost, with the help of PC grant money. The District Beekeeping Extension Officer came to the village to give a seminar, after which the villagers formed a bee group. If they keep in touch with the Extension Officer, he will be able to help them find markets for their honey and wax. People are also really enthusiastic about the chicken project, and this coming week we will be organizing a chicken group who will decide and coordinate the method of distributing vaccinations. I will then give a series of seminars on the needs of modern breed chickens, after which 20 roosters (Rhode Island Reds) will be brought to the village and distributed to people who have built bandas. In the following months, more vaccinations and more roosters will be brought.
On a personal level, I have been struggling somewhat with homesickness and what PC terms "cultural fatigue". But I am not going through this alone; all of the volunteers in my training group seem to be experiencing the same feelings right now. At least we have each other and plans of many adventures for next year..