Time – Malian Women Have Little Time To Spare

Time… Women have so little free time in a Malian village. Village women work hard from before sunrise late into the evening, every day. Meals take hours to cook, over fires made of wood they chopped in the bush and hauled home on their heads. The water to wash the dishes, clothes, and kids is hauled to their home in buckets or bowls on their head from a pump, open well or stream.
“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” (Abraham Lincoln)
Making Shea Butter. I taught this lady how to drip irrigate a vegetable garden in desert conditions, with little water.

In February 2013, I promised fifteen women that I would teach them how to drip irrigate vegetables easily, using little water and requiring little of their time. It’s exactly what the women need; something that requires little time for maximum benefit to the family. Drought season drip irrigation is perfect for them. Most women can’t afford the time to grow a garden, because of the hours of hard work hauling water to hand water it. Drip irrigation sends women on their way after only ten minutes in the morning, and again in the afternoon.However,  to enter the program, our rule is that women need to first protect a garden space from animals who will trample and eat everything, including the drip irrigation lines. Foraging goats will taste anything new, even plastic hoses, just to see if it might go down.In February 2013, these women began to construct a mud brick fence to develop a huge community garden space. They wanted a longer term solution than a grass or stick wall, which could be easily damaged in the winds and rain of the sort rainy season. Unfortunately, the work was not completed before the end of my project term with Man of Peace Development last March.

One of the not-so-glorious realities in the life of a humanitarian is how much time we spend waiting for local people to get their part of a task completed. Which is why I keep dozens of new families entering the program all the time- at least someone, in some village, will be ready for me on a given week.  If I systematically worked with a few families at a time from start to finish, before moving on,  I’d be doing a lot of waiting, and help few families. What I can do in a day may take them a month to accomplish, because drip irrigation is a “Gamble” for them, is not a high priority at first. How do they know if the time invested is going to be pay off?

“The time I kill is killing me.” (Mason Cooley)

When I returned to Mali in November 2013, the ladies had nearly completed construction of their brick wall around the community garden.   I encouraged them to complete the work quickly, and they finally did at Christmas time. Almost a year, and how many thousands of mud bricks did they make and then place?

I keep reminding our project families that they can have three drought season vegetable harvests if they would only plant after the rainy season crops are harvested in October. However, I cannot seem to get them past more than two drought season harvests . To date, I have not seen a garden set up  in October or November. I really have no explanation, and I simply do not get it; it only means one lost vegetable harvest for a poor family. Obviously they need more money, more food, and more healthy vegetables in their diet.  But I think it is simply that they are coming off the busy rainy cropping season and are tired, and need a break from farming.  We are dealing with centuries-old habits, thinking, and rhythms of life. The delay costs them something.

“Lost time is never found again.” (Benjamin Franklin)

We now have fifteen gravity feed drip irrigation kits watering the whole bricked-in space. It is amazing how little water we use, considering it has not rained for over three months, and the soil will not see a drop for another four if not five months.

However, what is awesomely exciting is that this new group of fifteen women were trained in drip irrigation gardening WITHOUT me being present. I had to fight the urge to be there, and let these women take their place with no interference from me.  The village ladies I trained last year did all the training  by themselves, walking the new ladies through the setup process. I arrived the following morning for a site inspection and they were still placing the last of the irrigation lines. They did a superb job. I reported to my agency:

“Today’s field inspections demonstrate to me that the women we trained for MOPD last term thoroughly understand the drip irrigation process, and are now very adept at transferring this knowledge and practice to others in the village. We are in a position to start taking a back seat.”

On Friday we were also scheduled to setup irrigation for another dozen families in a new project village. I dropped off all the supplies in the village the day before, on Thursday, only to discover  that there had been a death in the village that morning. As a result, the village women would all be very busy cooking for several days, for the masses of people certain to arrive for a funeral. I extended my condolences to the whole village and left them to get to the funeral work. Death here deeply involves the whole community, like it once did back home. We rescheduled for the following week.

A funeral is understandable, but there are always a host of little things that delay things. In my job, FLEXIBILITY is how we have to roll, or we would pull all our hair out. If we can’t flex enough, we stress out and go home. Even the most patient and flexible are tremendously stretched to their extreme upper limits at times.

“Time is a dressmaker specializing in Alterations” (Faith Baldwin)

This quote seems so true of West Africa.

“Patience and time do more than strength and passion.” (Jean de la Fountaine)

Time trumps intensity here, because the intensity of my work does little to speed up the intensity of theirs.

“Waste your money and you’re only out of money., but waste your time and you’ve lost a part of life.” (Michael LeBoeuf)

However, the first signs of vegetable life are emerging from the gardens. This is always the exciting time; seeing what was a patch of barren dust producing healthy food, green indicators of life. If they had gotten started in November as I planned, the village people would almost be ready to harvest now. However, with the usual small Africa delays, a planting with bad  leftover seed that did not germinate, set our first group back two week. I hope the Russian Proverb is true.

“Every seed knows its time- all in good time.” Russian Proverb 

I will continue encouraging them to step up to three gardens a year. It will really help their family health, and income as well. However, you can only suggest and encourage.

“There’s time enough, but none to spare.” (Charles W, Chesnutt)

It has been very exciting to see how the new ground cover concept is working this year.  We laid six irrigation kits with ground cover and six without. I wanted them to see the difference for themselves. When I returned for a site follow-up about ten days after planting seed, I asked the women to tell me their observations about the garden. The first thing the women noted was what the ground cover was doing. After only ten days, the plants on the ground covered side of the garden were 30% larger than the side without ground cover.  The growth rate was considerably higher. So I asked them what they were going to do, based on this observation? They said they are going to use ground cover on the other half of the garden too. They saw the truth for themselves and are adopting the method. Tremendously uncomplicated, yet powerfully effective.

On days like this, I love my job. My goal in life is to bring simple, economical, easily repeated solutions to everything in life. I am on a mission to take the “rocket science” out of food security and food production among the poor. We can extend the growing season into the nine months of drought easily, with simple economical ideas that even the poor can buy into.  Malian families do not need to be hungry, nor have vitamin-deficient and malnourished children. No rain is no problem, even south of the Sahara Desert.

  “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is ripe to do right.” Nelson Mandela

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