Farm Day


MAY 27: Today is Farm Day at the Manda Wilderness Agricultural Project (MWAP), also known simply at Nkwichi as “The Farm.”  I have been invited to attend part of the day because song and dance are involved.  As a gardener at home, I am also interested in seeing the farm itself, and I know I will get a tour.

Although it is still all a little difficult for me to tease out, it is clear to me that there are many strands to what is going on here in the Manda Wilderness.  Nkwichi Lodge is the resort side of things.  It is a business and employs around one hundred people, making it the largest single private-sector employer in the entire province.  Working in the same office as the Lodge staff are Lily and Joe, who are full-time employees of the Manda Wilderness Community Trust.  This is a separate non-profit organization, a charity whose economic base is in Great Britain.  This is the service arm of what is happening, and it assists the villages with technical expertise and sometimes supplies for building schools, clinics, mills for grinding corn flour, digging wells and generally improving infrastructure.  The villages themselves have a sort of congress, which has four representatives from each village, both mfumu and elected.  This congress, called Umoji (Unity, or “As One”), determines which projects are priorities and how they might be funded.  The villages, lodge and trust all are intertwined in many ways, perceptible and imperceptible.

In addition to all this work, the Manda Wilderness Community Trust provides social opportunities for the villages to get together and engage in community-building time.  The choral festival I am participating in is one such project.  Others are athletic, such as canoe races, soccer tournaments, and netball for women. A villager who trained in Malawi and brought her knowledge back with her to Mozambique began the latter project.

Finally, the Trust provides education.  This can be training on specific skills, such as carpentry or nutrition, or it can be demonstration.  This is where the Agricultural Project comes in.  MWAP is a demonstration farm that is working towards sustainability.  Local residents with certificates in sustainable agriculture live and work at the farm, and volunteers come to assist with new techniques and with getting more funding.  All together, it is amazing what is being accomplished with a budget that could be described as shoestring – if one were inclined to be generous!

From time to time, farm staff invite schoolchildren from one village to come and see the farm and learn about sustainable agriculture and crafts such as papermaking that recycle materials commonly found on farms and in villages.  Today it is Cobué’s Primary School that is coming for the first time.

Please understand that this is not the typical “field trip” of a North American school.  There are no roads, no school buses to take these children to their appointed destination.  These students will be leaving from the school at five in the morning, then walking for four hours over very rocky terrain for six miles to come to the farm.  They must carry their lunch and an empty cup, as well as any writing utensils and paper they might have to take notes.  At the end of the day, they will reverse this process, arriving back at the school after dark (probably between seven and eight).  Of course none of this takes into account their walk to get to and from the school from their homes.  Next day is another school day. Despite a general lack of adequate nutritional resources, the physical strength and athletic endurance of people here are truly astounding.

I arrived at the farm just a little before the children, whom I take to be middle-school age – between twelve and fourteen – tending toward the older side.  When the children come up the path after their walk, they stop single file before entering the open-air classroom / papermaking station / office.  From the path, they sing a sort of “we are here and glad to be here” song.  Then they are invited to come up and begin the day in the classroom.  Their official day then begins with them singing and dancing two more highly energetic songs as the sun begins to warm the farm.

At this point they are allowed to sit, and formal introductions begin.  As a guest of the farm, I must once again make a short speech.  I choose to do it in ChiNyanja, which as usual elicits a surprised reaction.  From then on John, one of the resident staff at the farm, appears to assume I am semi-fluent.  That’s okay; I need to push myself a little. All staff, volunteers, teachers, headmaster and students then go around and make introductions and say names.  One’s name is extremely important in this culture.  The sharing of names is one of the first things that happens in a more extended conversation.

After these introductions, the students are made to sing and dance two or three more songs.  June 1 will be “Dia da Crianças” – Children’s Day, so they show us their songs for this upcoming special day.  After the songs, we are divided into two groups.  The students who are further along in their studies will take the tour in Portuguese, as all advanced instruction in the country is done in this language.  The others will get the tour in ChiNyanja.  I am put with this group.  I work very hard at concentrating to learn as much as possible about the project.  I am surprised at how much I get, probably bolstered by my gardening experience at home and how many of the vegetables I recognize.  The students are working hard to learn the names of many herbs, vegetables and fruits that are foreign to them: lettuce, arugula, peppers, even passion fruit.  All the students and I are fascinated by the papermaking process, and they crowd around and watch with rapt attention as they are shown how an envelope is fashioned from a sheet of paper and a wooden form.  One older boy in particular is interested in everything on the farm.  He has no paper of his own and is writing everything down with a broken ballpoint pen on his left arm.

After the tour, we return to the classroom.  The staff brings out big buckets of very hot and very sweet tea.  Two of the older girls from the school are chosen to serve tea and rolls to everyone else for teatime.  They dip the students’ cups that they brought with them into the bucket of tea.  They also serve all the staff and guests.

After forty-five minutes or so, it is time for two more songs.  By this point it is almost noon, and I need to make my way back to the lodge to prepare some more material for my next journey.  I take my leave and head back from a most interesting morning.

Three hours later at Nkwichi, we hear the shouts and laughs of the students as they make their way back home.  A few of them, tired of the unaccustomed restriction, have removed their shoes.  This means they may be making most of the six-mile rocky hike barefoot.  One girl appears to have twisted her ankle.  She is quite a bit behind the rest of the group, hobbling on her own as best she can.  She waves to us as she makes her way up the path, singing to herself.  Her friends come back a bit to see how she is doing and tell her to hurry up.  They all laugh at the impossibility of this, then her friends run back up to join the rest of the group.  She just keeps going.

Everyone just keeps going.    

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