Water is the key to all self-sufficiency projects. How much water do we have? Where can we get more? What do we do with it? Do we have enough water in the dry season? For the next 3 weeks I’m dealing with “Where can we get more?”
The thousands of village bore pumps in Northern Uganda are installed under a government contract system. Some villages have many and some villages have only one that they share with several other villages. It’s not always a fair share system. It takes a lot of pumping to fill a watering can. To generate continuous food crops we need other sources. You can’t interfere with the village bore pump if it is overcrowded already.
We are tearing through the scrub at 110 kph in the Nissan Patrol. The crew are thirsty and they never carry water with them ( I’ve told em!). We pull up at a rural bore pump so they can get a drink. The usual suspects are at the pump, a bunch of children and a few thirsty cows and goats. Lucky it’s the wet season and there is much less demand from the animals on the only village hand pump for miles.
A young girl is crying loudly. The other young women in the line yell abuse at her. She cries even louder. Finally one of the larger girls grabs her and drags her away from the pump. Whack! She slaps the crying girl in the side of the head with an open palm. The girl begins to wail and the larger girl pushes her violently so she falls to the ground. She lies there in the dust crying like a sick cow. The driver explains it’s a common dispute at the line up to get water. The girl has been waiting hours and she’s been bullied out of her place in that line. Nobody pays attention to the wailing girl; they don’t want to lose their place.
About 15 kms from base we are looking for a certain project village. There it is, hidden in the long grass on the side of the road. What a mess. These guys must be the poorest of the poor. We exit the main road and drive inbetween the huts. I see a tumble down building with rock walls. The rocks have been glued together with mud but half the walls have caved in and the rocks have rolled out onto the track. Inside the ramshackle building are rows of log seats sticking out of the dirt floor. This is the school ,and on Sundays a church. I wouldn’t tie my goat up in there let alone educate my child!
We pass through the hovels and into the scrubby valley behind. We are off to the swamp…
The chief is young, only about 20 years old. He brings his work party down to the swamp. The engineer and I have wrestled 2 Honda pumps down to a black hole full of water at the bogs edge. I strip off and climb into the bog hole and position the suction hoses. As the village work party arrive, they chatter nosily and seem excited. The engineer explains the guys have never seen a white man covered in mud. I laugh and reply that soon I’ll no longer be white.
The pumps empty the bog hole enough so we can begin digging out the heavy mud. It’s tough work but I make sure I keep pace with the locals. Soon the mud we have shovelled out must be raked back because it’s starting to slide back in to the well we are digging. The deeper we go, the harder it is to throw the mud over the spoil. I call these water systems “swamp sump wells”. We will line the walls with stacked stone brought down by the villagers next week. They claim there is water here all year round, even in the dry season so it’s a good source for a community garden. They are building the garden near the well.
The young chief has a good following in this village. For some unexplained reason this village has been marginalized politically. The people are tough and hungry. They work well together. The chief and I plan out some more work together. I tell him “If your people are here working, I’ll help you. If they are slack, I’m working in another village”. We understand each other. In a land that has been over-aided, finding workers for the grunt work is rare. Food-aid makes them apathetic and lazy. I cringe when I’m called an aid worker.
It eventually gets too hot for all of us to work so we pack up and hump the equipment back to the vehicle. In the long grass I see the remnants of huts. The chief explains the people fled this place seven years ago because of the raiding and the LRA conflict. They now live on the road where there is electricity and security. It’s a shame, I think, this is a good spot. The chief reads my mind and assures me that one-day soon they will return. First the water…
It’s a few days later. I’m travelling to project garden number 24. This village garden had a problem a few weeks ago because tomato blight killed off their tomato crop. I came not long after with some Green Warriors and helped them pull up and burn the remains of the plants.
The old Mama is watching me as I enter the fenced 1-acre plot. She has a bucket of large eggplants on her head. Actually they are very large healthy organic eggplants! I imagine them cooked on my dinner plate so I offer to buy 20 of them at 15 cents each. Deal done. I got ripped off by local standards, but imagine what I’d pay for them in Australia!
I have some replacement seeds for the dead tomatoes. Out of my satchel, which contains a bottle of water, a can of emergency sardines, a paperback novel, a knife, a camera and some secateurs, I pull out some non-hybrid seeds. I have watermelon, green amaranth, Italian parsley and silver beet.
These are mainly new varieties of vegetables for these people. They usually only grow corn, sunflowers, and sesame seed. Little by little I am helping change their diet and their money situation. I get a bucket of sand and make a mix up of all the seeds. I get the women to sow the sandy mix and we all cut some long grass and mulch the curved raised beds.
There are 5 women from the village working plus a 10-year-old boy who works like a trooper. His mum is sick so he’s taking her place in the work party. I ask him to tell me 4 ways the mulch helps the plants. He gets them all right and smiles. Great! The knowledge is penetrating the kids as well.
The vehicle to pick us up is late so we trudge into town under the weight of our extra tools and a bucket of large eggplant. We find a shady tree and we wait. The emergency paperback comes in handy at times like these. After 2 hours the vehicle shows up and it’s already full. We must wait until it returns, if it returns! Bugger that, I think, lets see how many people fit into a Nissan Patrol.
With 2 people and Honda water pump on the roof rack and 12 people squashed into the patrol we proceed home. Nobody bats an eye as we pass people on the road. This is Uganda and if you can fit then it’s all go! Lucky for us most of the Green Warriors are skinny so it isn’t too painful.
It’s another community garden. The chief has ambushed me several times until I see his mob are dead serious. He leads me down a newly cut track into a 3 acre, freshly cleared farm plot. Wow, there are about 80 people already working tilling the land and removing the grass tufts.
He wants me to train his workers in the basics. The soil is a rich beautiful black colour. Some of the best I’ve ever laid eyes on. I line them up and tell them if they are organized with this many people they can work faster than a tractor. I give the “go” command and the line of villagers dig like crazy. They want to keep up with the Muzungu. We dig 4 raised garden beds in 15 minutes. I show them how to seed and mulch each bed.
An old woman grabs my arm trying to get my attention. She points to her foot. Somebody has slammed a hoe into the side of her foot cutting it open to the bone. Shit! The blood is pouring from the wound. That’s gotta hurt! Quickly, I tell the chief to get 2 blokes to help her to our vehicle. They don’t carry her and she leaves bloody footprints in the mud as she hobbles to the road. I try with the translator to get these guys to help her but she recons she can walk. I make arrangements to take her to local clinic. I have to pay but I cant bring myself to send her to the local hospital. I picture the filthy grey 2 story building…that place gives me the creeps.
I always hear kids screaming in terror when I pass by the hospital. The driver takes her away and I find out the clinic stitched her up then tried to stitch me up. They wanted her to have 4 types of antibiotics. The Muzungu is paying. That many different drugs could kill an old woman especially as she already has malnutrition. I sort her out with another clinic eventually.
There’s only 3 weeks of funding left for this project. My concerns now are to finish the projects we have started. The gardens we leave behind will be the trainers for the future. It’s a balance now between getting them finished and keeping up the quality. Somehow the Green Warriors are unconcerned about the project finishing. They tell me they have prayed to God and he will hear them.
I watch the squalid villages through the windows as we pass through the Abim valley and hope God has pulled out his earplugs…