Mali’s Desert Pirates Show No Mercy: The Sahara Hears No Excuses.

Mali experiences extreme growing conditions, so the margin for error is very small. The Sahara heat and dryness this time of year has no mercy;  it  listens to none of your excuses, offers no growing grace.

“Heroes may die but they doesn’t get tired.”  (Amit Kalantri)

This is either a bunch of hero worship crap…. or I’m simply no hero, surprise surprise to me 😉

Really, heroes never get tired? I think the reality is more likely the following:

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

We all have only so much to give, and then an odd person can stretch it out a little further. Last week I honestly don’t know if I didn’t stretch far enough, or was stretched too far…. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

My usual village routine saw me once again undertaking  dozens and dozens of site inspections this week. Most families were doing great, so do not read into this any epic failure, there is only epic success with most of the work. But you always have a few, don’t you?

There were a few among the 30 sites I visited who needed a wakeup call. Monday included me threatening a half dozen ladies in the program. I warned them that they will be out of the program if I do not see some significant changes by Friday.  

However, I looked over this site, with fifteen irrigation kits on it, and the plants are somehow doing remarkably well, despite the severe negligence in the middle of Mali’s drought season. I commented to my friend that it is nothing less than a miracle that some of these gardens are doing as well as they are. I informed six out of fifteen ladies that I will be back Friday to check again, and if it’s not improved, I am going to give the systems to someone else who will use them.

Speeding ahead over to Friday:  Friday’s inspection clearly showed that there was little more effort put in to the drought season gardening process.  Sometimes when the ladies know I am coming,  they try to compensate for the week’s neglect by watering a lot the morning of my arrival.

“Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy – the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”
― Eric Hoffer

However, gardening in drought conditions does not work like that. Within ten seconds looking and prodding the soil, I can easily determine what was done, or not done each day,  over the last four or five days. I tell them that they can’t fool me or hide the truth… Oh darn it!

Mali experiences extreme growing conditions, so the margin for error is very small. The Sahara heat and dryness this time of year has no mercy….. listens to none of your excuses, offers no growing grace.  Kind of like a very pissed off Canadian Humanitarian… Fishing Captain….. He’s like a pirate who takes no prisoners…

A garden is like a women for “The Invisible Humanitarian; I can read both like a book. 😉  The plants and soil speak volumes to me, but falls on deaf ears for some people.

 “Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned)

I arrived Friday and gave the ultimatum. I told them I was going to the next  bush camp, 7 km away. The round trip and work would take me at least three hours or more. I told them I was coming back then, and if the drip systems were not watered and the lines properly dripping (10 minutes work per family) the irrigation kits were coming up and going back to Sikasso with me.

“If I am to meet with a disappointment, the sooner I know it, the more of life I shall have to wear it off.”
― Thomas Jefferson

I returned and again little was done. A lot of women were around, but doing nothing but gabbing and talking the issue over. Some were still putting water in the drip system, and as per their negligence, did not bother to walk the lines to check the drips. Like they had neglected to do for over four weeks now. So the bad habit was so fully rooted in them, that they honestly thought I would be happy.

I was happy… happy to get to work. I took out one system. Unhooked the lines and walked them out of the garden. People started to gather and watch. I walked over the gardens and found the next worse, and did the same. Again and again I did this, and as my friend began to roll up the lines, I kept inspecting and taking the equipment out of the worst offenders.

I was going to stop after four kits, but there were two more marginal gardens I was going to extend more grace to. But I was having so much fun being the bad guy… I love that mean and nasty feeling you get in your heart, the comfort in your soul you sense when you are sticking it to people. It had to be done, should have probably acted a few weeks ago, but it still is not enjoyable. At four weeks, neglecting  what should have been a daily routine from day one…. how much longer should I wait? So I took up two more kits…..

That meant six of the fifteen irrigation kits were packed up. I then helped my friend Emmanual, who was with me, finish rolling them up. The women were already gathered around him and were asking  him to leave the kits, they understand their poor work now, and they will get it right. I’ve heard that before.

I told them on Friday,

“Water by hand; you will enjoy it more. These drip lines are just annoying you, you must find working with drip irrigation too tedious and annoying, so you should water by hand like you have always done, you know how to do that, and must really enjoy it. You can haul 80-90% more water to the garden and try that for a while- might be easier than this drip stuff.”

I told them I will be back in five days, on the following Wednesday, and if I don’t see more improvement on the remaining nine irrigation kits, I might take them too. Show me you will put out the effort on those remaining kits, and if it is going well, we will put the other six drip kits back in place. If not, I’ll take the other nine, too. I have a village begging for them, and they can be set up the very next day with new hungry people.

Will they water the six gardens by hand to keep them alive until Wednesday? I don’t know, and I can’t care.

“You can’t work hard enough to compensate for their lack if interest or inertia.” (Laura Hickox Weatherbie)

But if they try to keep them alive until Wednesday (which I hope they do) they will be reminded of how much less, time, work, and water, a drip garden is when compared to hand watering. So they might just smarten up.

I asked my friend Emmanuel if he would go back out Wednesday…. I said, “You don’t have to go deal with my issues. I will do it. However, right now I am tired, and if I go and see more shoddy work, I will just be upset, and that would not be good. I might say things I should not, and I don’t want to go home feeling like crap over 6 kits out of 85 great families.”

So I gave him money for his time and travel expenses with the power to decide what to do for me. He can choose to set the six kits back up if he sees improvement or not, or he can take out the other nine kits if he wishes, and bring all fifteen to Sikasso.

Either way, I’m done with that group this term.  It’s kind of sad how one little setback blinds us to the amazing successes. Why are we surprised that not everyone wishes to walk with us in something?

I wonder what it is like to go to bed at night, and to get up the next day with only one place in this world on your mind? I don’t remember….

I wonder what it is like to live a full day without thinking of  what is happening in another place, and what I might do about it?  I don’t remember….

I wonder what it is like to live on one place all your life, and to be happily and fully immersed in that life, content with little news of the outside world coming in? I don’t remember….

I don’t remember, because it has been almost twenty years since it happened. Doing what I do is a blessing, and a curse at the same time. Some days it’s hard to tell the difference. 🙂

I think being human has got to involve some sense of our common global humanity; if not, our soul is pirated, something killed it with no mercy, hearing no excuses.  But life would be easier if I woke up invested in one place, and just did not care about the world.

“I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)

I’m tired…. I’m tired of a lot of things…. So, the invisible Humanitarian is taking his “Cape Imparting Magic Powers” off, for the day, and is going to bed with a book…. and I will pick up the magic cape again on Monday.

“I’m tired of carrying around the weight of the world. I’m just going to lay it down now. It’s my time to die, and it’s your time to live. Don’t mess it up.” (Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees)

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