Monday, July 13, 2009

Only a drop to drink...

Christine in her "toubab" bath

Annie cocks her head to the side and frowns.
“Is today Friday?” she asks.
“No, Thursday,” I say, looking up from my slowly growing pile of shelled peanuts.
“Then why are the Muslims at the mosque?” she muses aloud, more to herself than to me.

Annie reflects on her question as her knitting needles click, click, click in the mid-day heat. Christine is splashing away in a green, plastic bucket; Annie calls it her “toubab bath.” I am sprawled out on a mat dividing peanuts into “good” and “bad” piles for planting Annie listens to the Imam a moment more, his gravelly voice broadcasted to our entire village over the loudspeaker, and nods.
“They’re praying for rain,” she explains. “Everyone is praying for rain now. The Muslims. The Protestants (Annie and her family), the Catholics, even the Animists,” she adds.

Rain has not come in almost a week. Over 80% of Malians are subsistence farmers and if one thing matters to their livelihood, it is rain. Crops are planted when the rains start (usually in early to mid June in the San region) and the fields are tilled until harvest time rolls around in late September through early December. Annie asks me if droughts happen in America. I immediately respond “yes.” Annie nods and keeps knitting. I continue to crack the dried peanut shells and think what a drought means to me in Virginia Beach. Does the faucet or well for drinking water every dry up? No, I’m never wanting for potable water. A drought means no car washing. It means we can’t water the lawn. It means don’t refill the pool. Annie points out that even if I don’t farm in America, surely others do. I agree but remind her we have machines to water plants when there is no rain. And while my family in America is not a farming one (though they produce a mean tomato plant!) when rains do not come it’s never a question of if we’ll be able to produce enough food to sustain ourselves for the upcoming year.

Christine helping me shell peanuts...or just moving around my piles :)

I have stopped dividing peanuts and feel a little panic rise into my chest. Annie and Esayi say I think too much, “Djelika, I be miiri ka ca!” they say to me. While I am usually thinking about cheese pizza, this time I’m running over a list of solutions to drought, surely I’ve learned something about this somewhere…. Hand watering? Too much acreage and too far from the wells. Drip irrigation? Too costly. Sprinkler systems? Not even close.

Reading development-themed books like The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs or The White Man’s Burden by Willaim Easterly break everything down into numbers, statistics and heart wrenching anecdotes meant to stir the humanitarian spirit within us all. I wondered if living in a village where the $1 a day mantra is a reality would desensitize me to the effects of poverty – a year in and it is just the opposite. I cannot shake the feeling of concern and sometimes, like sitting with Annie talking about drought, the worry comes over me in waves and I have to steady my thoughts to keep from choking up. I am worrying about things over which I have no control. Rain, unemployment, health care, quality of teachers and schools. But how do you care about something without caring about it all?

Annie notices my frown and asks me if I think that by worrying I will add one hour to my life, referring to last week’s sermon. I smile weakly and let my furrowed brow relax as I agree that no, I will not be able to add one hour to my life. A smile breaks on Annie’s face revealing rows of white teeth with generous gaps. She shrugs her shoulders that swim under her oversize blue t-shirt and says there’s nothing we can do; the rains will come when they come. I think about all the things we can do something about – soak pits behind the latrines, moringa tree formations to improve nutrition, shea butter work, and ameliorated seed trials—as I listen to the closing remarks of the Imam at the mosque just across village.

That night, as though the gods of all the religions that co-exist in Zana put their heads together, I wake to the sound of wind rushing through my windows and the glorious sound of rain falling outside (and inside…) my mud hut. One night of rain does not mean the end of a drought, I remind myself, but it is better than no rain at all. I crawl out of my bed and take all my buckets outside to catch the rain falling from my roof. There’s nothing I can do to make the rains come but when they do, I’ll be ready.

1 comment:

Monica Garcia PCV said...

Hi Jen! Wonderfully written entry! We're praying for rain in my village too. It's so necessary here, Segou got just a few sprinkles last night. Hope to see you at site visits in August!

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