Bio-Intensive Agriculture

Kalimo Hai, Dust, and an Escape

We have just returned from 2 weeks back in rural Engaruka Village. Our days were filled with teaching; Adam and I had our first 2 classes and teaching experience to groups of Masai. We are trying to emphasize bio-intensive agriculture, which consists of using and making compost and double digging beds to provide “a living sponge” for the plants to thrive in. Their topsoil is dust, a foot below it is concrete. It is amazing they grow as many things as they do- banana trees, and the ever present mchicha, or greens, that we are lucky enough to eat at every meal. Masai do not farm, nor do they eat veggies, so we were up against many challenges besides the fact that we have not formally taught class before. Working through a translator also has its own set of challenges. Stopping every couple of sentences to have them translated, waiting for the translator to explain what you have just said, adding in cultural and social tidbits and anecdotes in Swahili, it takes a lot of time to get through a simple lesson. Many of the people in Engaruka were not formally educated, nor have sat through many classes, so we tried to be as engaging and enthusiastic as we could to capture every last shred of their attention to a subject that seems highly unlikely. As the weeks went on, our classes became a little more interested in growing veggies. Most would like to grow produce to sell for extra income, as there is growing demand elsewhere for organic veg. We build huge compost piles, dug beds, build a nursery, dug a water catchment system called a hafir.

One of the most profound experiences of the two weeks was halfway through our last week. We were building yet another compost pile with a group that was absolutely excited about our methods. We were gathering bucket after bucket of manure for the compost, and one mama insisted I follow her to her boma to help her with carrying buckets. We set off on the dusty road, suddenly wondering how long it would take to find me if I disappeared into the Masai Savannah with mama…Luckily I will never have to find that out. We walked and walked, through dust and thorn bushes, along well worn trails under the blazing equatorial sun. I couldnt see any huts in the distance, but mama continued in front of me, her kanga swaying in the breeze. Finally we approached her home, a rectangular, two roomed stick and mud structure. She swept me inside, to the kitchen/dining room/living room and asked me to sit. “Karibu Sana.” She was very proud to have a guest inside the house, it is seen as a blessing to have guests in Tanzanian culture, and handed me a tin mug which she filled with steaming chai and goats milk. Beaming, she left me to my treat and went outside to fill buckets. I wondered what sort of strange bugs I would pick up from this cup of tea, scanned the room for a place to pour it out: 4 plastic buckets, a big bowl with tin mugs and plates, one wooden stool. No windows, no chance to throw it out the small tin front door. I had no choice but to start sipping. It was the fresh milk that freaked me out the most, but like most things in life, everything worked out just fine.

-Anna F. & Adam M., Tanzania


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