My friend told me a proverb the other day…
“Africans cannot create, but they can modify.”
I’m not so sure the first half of the statement is very positive, or even accurate. However, I know the second half is very true. They can rebuild anything and keep it running for decades. What is considered the usable life for some mechanical thing in Europe, or the west, is doubled, if not tripled and quadrupled, here in Mali. A motor that is not designed to fit another car can be made to fit. A part that will not fit another machine can be modified to work on a different machine. I have seen the ingenuity a thousand times. My truck mechanic, when I lived in Ivory Coast, would land carrying a small rice sack with maybe 10 wrenches in it, and he could strip off a transmission, drive shaft, take out a clutch plate, fix a main seal and put it all back together. Although when they used a ballpeen hammer at times, it did make me cringe. But they can make things work.
The creativity of Malians is amazing as well. Some of you have heard of treadle pumps. Simple economical foot pumps used to water gardens- works like a stair master. We could market a poverty-curbing development project out of this. Seriously, market a short- term overseas work-a poverty-reducing weight loss program for us in the west as we help the poor triple their income. We can bring our big fat asses to Mali, and then help subsistence farmers rise out of poverty by watering their 1 hectare gardens for them as we pedal their “stair-master” treadle pumps each day, in 30-40 degree heat. That should drop about 50 lbs a month. I know, I should be pumping one myself. But as much as this is a joke, here is the serious side: buying a treadle pump and pumping it for them for a month as a short term-mission would be more practical and helpful than some NGO and short projects, and would help them do what they already know, better – avoiding dependency.
They are cheap to buy, and unlike gas motors they do not require gas every day, and the parts to fix a treadle pump might cost $3 at most, where a gas pump is just not doable for many. The treadle pump has brought millions of subsistence farmers out of poverty worldwide.
The only issue is that it takes two people to water a garden with a foot pump, one to pump while the other waters with the hose. Well, what if you are alone? I saw a creative guy over in the dry riverbed here in Sikasso. The river bed is full in rainy season, but dry now, and people dig shallow wells in the river bottom and water gardens. The water is only 1 meter down there.
I saw a guy who made a small tower. On it he has a treadle pump and he uses it to fill a barrel on the platform. Then he gets down and uses the gravity feed pressure coming from the barrel to water the garden himself. How ingenious is that?
I love how Malians are able to modify things. In this gardener’s case, he actually invented, or created something, too. He created (invented) a gravity feed barrel platform to water with, by modifying the normal use of the Nafasoro treadle pump to fill the barrel up.