“He had worked for an entire year to make a dream come true, and that dream, minute by minute, was becoming less important. Maybe cause that wasn’t really his dream.” (The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo)
I want to write a book on community development called, “The Farting Sows of Sanabougou Sikasso: Real stories of Sustainable and Not-So-Sustainable Community Development”.
In this masterpiece I would describe the good, bad and ugly realities of this job of mine in Mali, West Africa. Stories no agencies public site would ever tell you. I assure you, these representative stories would not be unique to me, but a shared understanding among us all.
I realized something about my fellow Malians a while back. The poor are tired all the time, because they are hungry. I am truly amazed at how much work is accomplished by the little energy gained from so few daily calories. The poor are tired, and worn out, simply because of their meager diet. I often forget that.
However, other peoples output is influenced by more than a poor diet. Some people can’t see a future outside of their normal routines, so motivation is lacking.
Let me tell you the story of what happened one day.
We moved to our new place in the heart of the Sikasso’s main market. Our things were stored at our old home, and my wife and I were in the process of slowly transferring things to the new location. Our former courtyard also housed our Drip Irrigation demonstration site for Man Of Peace Development. We had two luxurious vegetable gardens satiated by drip irrigation, and various fruit and nut tree sporting simple indigenous ways to naturally irrigate these trees.
This demonstration site drew over 1200 visitors in eight months. Every day people came to look, chat and ask questions. Our site was a forest of green nutrition, in drought conditions. It took little effort on our part to maintain the site too. This is part of the lesson, simple irrigation concepts drastically cut down on the required water and work.
Anyway, we arrived back to Mali for our new term and from time to time we made trips to move more things to our new house. I had the key for the rooms where our stuff was stored, but no longer had a key for the gate, and it was locked when we arrived.
I tried calling Abou several times, and we eventually opted to sit on the bench hoping he or a family member would return soon.
As we sat there I looked around at our former garden oasis, and it now looked like a barren moonscape.
Before returning to Canada, Abou asked me if I would consider giving him the vegetable garden drip irrigation kits, and the wire fence I set up to protect the garden from his animals. I said I would give it all to him, if he assured me it would be used. You see, the year before I had already given Abou a garden kit. I would be out filling my buckets at noon, while he slept under the mango tree as his vegetable plants wilted. I would walk over and fill the bucket on his garden for him, as he slept.. My gardens were a glorious green oasis, his was a disaster.
Abou assured me he would keep the garden going. So I left the full growing crop in the garden to him and said, “You see it through to the harvest, enjoy the fruit, and then reseed it ok?” He agreed.
I returned to Mali six months later to find the garden site was a disaster. Abou even had a section of the protective wire fence pulled back because of some construction he was doing. Abou told me he would soon be seeding. He never did.
All the canneries (Terracotta pots) I had implanted in the ground to naturally irrigate the orange, cashew and moringa trees, were dug out and tossed in piles, many of them broken. Except for the two on the orange trees, but they were dry, full of debris, never filled with water. The trees were still doing fine because our simple irrigation method promotes deeper root growth early on, so the trees are now naturally drought resistant for life. However, all the trees really, should have been double the size they were, if they had simply filled the clay jars once a week. Also, Abou did not listen to my speech about cutting the Moringa trees off at five feet high for harvesting purposes. They are suppose to look more like a bush, not a tree with branches so high you can’t harvest the leaves.
Lynn and I sat watching dozens of chickens as they scratched all over the garden site. Plastic and garbage covered the ground. A huge sow was rooting under the irrigation lines in the garden. They had already made an interesting moonscape of holes, and effectively trampled all the irrigation lines in the process. The water supply buckets for the irrigation were covered with dust and dirt from no use.
Beside our bench, another big sow hog was wallowing in the mud puddle made under the now constantly dripping water tap I had installed specifically for the gardens and trees. Both sows were grunting, burping and farting incessantly. Just great, considering we live in a predominantly Muslim community.
Eventually I got sick of listening to the burping and farting sows and left. But not before taking a picture of the court, as a before and after photo.
Why should I post it you ask? The truth is that working here is not all rosy, nor easy.
Abou is an example of how little desire some people have for change.
It worked for us every time….. But not for Abou. The whole luscious green fruitful court full of vital nutrition, grown easily in drought conditions, that provided us both with food, is now a dead, dusty, burping, farting pig moonscape. After two years of living it out, modeling it in our own lives, under Abou’s nose and before his eyes, it became clear……….
It was not his dream.
At one time I might have been discouraged about it, but I wasn’t, and I don’t know why.
As we walked off I waved my arm in a sweeping motion across the scene and said to Lynn,
“This is an example of how you can’t work with some people, no matter how hard you try.”
As my Sister-in-law once wisely said,
“Andy, you can not work hard enough to compensate for someone elses lack of interest or inertia”
No matter how extreme his poverty, it simply was not Abou’s dream, now was it?
We are not here for the Abous.. We are here for the families wishing to join the green revolution that is advancing food security in the face of the Sahara Desert, one family, and one garden at a time.
“Success is not final…Failure is not fatal…It’s the courage to continue that counts” (Winston Churchill)