Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dipula di a tla, the garden, and more moving in

When I first arrived at my permanent site, I was told that "In December, it rains every day."

Well, although it threatened to rain a lot in December, with huge, black clouds every night with thunder and lightening, it did everything but rain. In fact, I was coming to believe that Mother Africa was just a tease, with all of her dramatic threats of rain, but then actually producing no rain. I was coming to call her a “blow hard.”

This year, at least, the rains have waited until January. And I am here to see them. (I was reluctant to take a Christmas holiday trip--I didn't want to miss the start of the rains!)

In Tswana, you say the rains are coming with: Dipula di a tla (di POOL uh di a claw).

Well, I thought they had started. In fact, we had three good days of steady, consistent rain, and now we're back to sunny, hot, and dry. I'm glad for the rain, because I had set seeds and transplants out on New Year's Eve. The newly-transplanted plants and seedlings have benefited greatly from the rain, and now have sunshine.

This is a photo of my best "shopping trip" to the Farmer's Market to date. (Actually, it is from a trip to the community garden where a farmer likes to sell me his produce.) I brought home fresh cabbage, fresh Swiss chard (called "African spinach" here), peppers, tomatoes, onions, and eggplant. Yum! I'm a lucky girl!

Having started a compost pile and having "taken over" one village woman's tomato patch (she has graciously allowed my practicing "green" farming methods in her tomatoes), I'm in the garden everyday, usually twice a day. (That's why I've been quiet for a few days: I have been "piddling in the yard.")

Since I'm around a lot, and farmers are watching, they are now requesting my help and suggestions. Yesterday, after my bountiful purchase, the farmer pointed out a huge hoard of bugs infesting his eggplants and asked if I knew what to do.

Well, I immediately thought, "Neem oil." However, in my suggestions to the village farmers here, I need to remember cost (needs to be very little) and availability (while I might take a trip to Vryburg to buy a special product, most farmer's in my village, and especially the women, will be unable to afford a trip to town), it will be most helpful if I can suggest easily-accessible means of improving methods. Neem oil, at least in the States, is expensive. Neem trees grow in Africa, but I need to research a bit on how to obtain it, or even if there are Neem trees in the area where the oil might be harvested. (Wouldn't THAT be exciting?)

In the meantime, I handpicked the hoard of the wicked bugs and dunked them in soapy water to kill them. They look like our cucumber beetle back home; I need to find out exactly what they are. (While I'm reluctant to kill most insects and spiders, including bees and wasps, I'm a zealous murderer when it comes to insects attacking a crop, and also with loathsome roaches invading the house.) After spending an hour or so handpicking, I applied a homemade insect repellent to one plant. After checking one of my South African farming books, I boiled a whole onion that I had chopped coarsely, added some crushed hot chilli pepper, and then a bit of oil--to help the solution stick to the plant. I carried this solution out to the garden and allowed it to cool while I committed my murderous, soapy dunking.

I explained to the farmer what I was doing and that, if the home-made repellent worked, we could use it on all of his eggplants. He seemed curious but doubtful, and I understood his doubt: the odds are against us as the tomato patch adjacent to his eggplants is infested with the loathsome creatures as well. (And then, when I was leaving, another woman farmer asked if I could help her with the bugs in her tomatoes.)

I checked the plants this morning. Most of the plants were free from the beetles and the one I treated had none. We'll see.

I had mentioned to a couple of you that I had found something very disturbing in the garden: hundreds of small, dead birds. I was originally thinking that they had died from ingesting bugs that had been poisoned with insecticide, but was told yesterday, by the "man in charge" of the garden, that a disgruntled gardener had intentionally poisoned THE BIRDS. He was angry and accused the birds of eating his tomatoes.(This farmer has since been reprimanded, by the guy in charge.)

While I was dealing with the hoards of beetles, I was regrettfully thinking that those hundreds of dead birds would have happily fed on the abundant beetles. In fact, the beetle infestation was a likely result of the poisoned birds. (While birds can be very damaging to crops, they are very helpful with eating undesirable bugs.)

I thought you might get a kick out of seeing my gardening tools. The white bucket is a large plastic container halved that serves as my "wheelbarrow." I use this for collecting and hauling yard debris from the college campus to the community garden.

One of the reasons too, that I've been quiet for a couple of days, is that the yardmen have returned and are "cleaning up" the campus as classes are soon to begin. The way the "clean up" the campus is to sweep all of the lovely pine needles, and other tree debris and BURN IT. This is yard debris is incredibly useful material in a garden and I am desperately trying to salvage all of it before they begin burning it. I've nicknamed them, "the burning boys." At some point, I will plead my case for them to save the precious material. I'll have to make sure I find a way for them to save it that won't make their jobs harder...

The little rusty bowl is my "shovel." And the little hand tool is actually a broken latch from a window that I use as a weeding tool.

The wonderfully stuffed pillowcases below are my "lawn bags." I use these too, to haul collected yard debris to the garden. (One of the gifts bestowed to the PC volunteers was a set of bedding: pillowcases, sheets, a comforter, and a warm, fleecy blanket. While the visual appeal of the bedding is less than desirable,  I greatly appreciate the gift, especially since we arrived in the very cold winter of Africa. I ended up with four pillowcases: two regular sized, and two extra-large sized. I'm using the extra-large ones for lawn bags. I like this arrangement because the bags won't rip or tear and can they be washed and reused rather than being thrown away.)

Now some of you may feel sorry for my "hardship." Please don't. I'm making due, just as the village farmers are. And I'm quite proud of myself for thinking of creative solutions and for doing quite a lot with very little. (In other words, please don't ship me gardening tools!) :-)

As New Year's Day served as another milestone for my time in Africa, (the New Year, 2010, is the only New Year holiday marking my one FULL year in Africa), I decided to "move in" a bit more. The one chore I had neglected was cleaning my floor.

My room has a tiled floor that the students and hostel mothers mop and then polish with paste wax. I have never used paste wax on a floor and wasn't terribly excited about a new cleaning adventure. Also, I have yet to buy a mop.

So, determined to get my floor clean, I swept it really well and "mopped it" by scrubbing it on my hands and knees. The chore, on the whole, wasn't bad, and I finished in a little more than an hour. I've decided that it is a chore I can handle on the occasional basis.

Very proud of my newly cleaned floor, I was horrified at the hoards of insects that have visited my room in the evenings since. Apparently, three days of rain have made more than the plants happy. On the first evening, I had a swarm of termites. (All evening bugs are drawn to my room by my lights and I have no screens. )Their delicate little wings pasted themselves smartly to my newly-cleaned floor and were difficult to sweep up. (Actually, I had to scrape them first, then sweep--YUCK!) The next night I was visited with a lovely swarm of some horrible beetle, which is about an inch long with two yellow dots on his back. He makes a nice crunching sound when you step on him, but is easier to sweep up.

And last night, the repairmen came to fix my broken window. MY BROKEN WINDOW IS FIXED! HOORAY! And it didn't cost me a thing. Apparently, fixing broken windows in all of the dormitories is a yearly chore undertaken by the campus staff. I am quite relieved, as I was worried about the expense of the repair.

So, I had to sweep up broken glass shards from my window repair.

In the end, guess I can say, that my floor is REALLY CLEAN now.

(Many of you are probably wondering about screens on my windows: I have none and they are not a common feature on homes in South Africa. I'm seriously considering paying for this luxury; having them would go a long way with keeping me comfortable: no bugs and less African dust in my room!)

And lastly, although I'm doing terrible at keeping my posts short, I had a neat visitor to my room night before last. He was a tiny, tiny lizard, about an inch and a half long, with spongy, "tree frog" like toes. He came inside and cocked his head at me (in the same way that Sparky or Emma will do, when you're talking to them) and I fussed at him and tried to shoo him out. I didn't want him inside to eat the poisoned insects that were swarming the room (my mosquito net is drenched in DEET) and I didn't want him starving to death or dying of thirst.

He ignored my pleas and stayed the night and most of the next day. As I was relaxing on my couch yesterday, his movement on my ceiling caught my eye. He had made a tour of the whole room and had circumnavigated all of it. I watched him for quite awhile and he inched his way towards an open window. I fussed at him, "You'd better go outside!" and he playfully ignored me and ran up and down the height of the open window.

Finally, he cocked his head at me, swished his tail smartly from right to left (he had not made such a gesture before), and out the window he went. I feel certain that his tail-swishing was his way of saying, "good bye!" His visit cheered me greatly, and I was glad to see him go unharmed.

Soon, Karen


  1. There is no need to try to keep your posts short! Where did you get that idea? Please write your heart out and keep them coming. I love your tools but I do wish you would put some tape on the end of that window latch where you hold it. Or maybe you use both ends...? You are quite inventive and imagainative and you are giving the thing you do best to your families there; a garden! Can't wait to hear how you get the guys to haul the compost to the garden!

  2. YOU, and perhaps mom and Aunt Bea, and maybe dad, are the only ones willing to slog through all of my ridiculous amount of writing... If grad school taught me nothing else, it taught me how to write in great quantities... It gets on MY nerves, if not yours! ;-)

    I use gloves with the tool, so no worries. My hands are doing great, and no injuries! :-)

  3. Are you kidding? Everyone I know absorbes every word you write. Mom has saved every copy, and almost has a book (Dad kept all your posts from Alaska). She reads and rereads them all the time. I have friends who ask about you if it has been several days since you have posted. I always read them several times, and Joe loves to have me read them to him. I am proud to pass your blogs to many friends who have never met you, and love you and what you are doing. Keep posting.

  4. Ok, ok, didn't mean to rattle my fan-base's cage! Thanks you guys! You're very sweet!