Thursday, April 14, 2011

Worth their salt

About two weeks ago I heard that a group of ladies were digging in a neighbor's garden. I walked down to visit them and see what was going on. I've mentioned before how important agriculture is to the Ik society. Everyone has a garden and everyone has to dig in it, plant in it, weed it & then harvest it throughout the year. The Iks' agricultural year opened at the end of January and people have started to dig in their gardens ever since, preparing for the rains when they can plant. During dry season, grasses and weeds sprout up. The ground is hard and not so much fun to dig in. But these ladies have the right idea. As long as they have to do the mundane task of digging in undesirable conditions, they might as well do it together. Instead of one person only digging in their garden every day, they form groups to dig in different people's gardens every day. This way, one can gossip with their friends while battling weeds and a painful lower back. In exchange for the work, the lady whose garden is being dug will prepare the local brew (a fermented maize drink) for everyone. A few ladies will start digging at 8am and others will join the group as they are able. They dig until midday when they stop and relax under a shade tree while partaking of mes (the drink mentioned above). By the afternoon it's too hot to dig and everyone goes home to do chores.

I was too late the day I went to group work with my hoe. Everyone was already sitting, drinking mes & chatting. But I threw the hoe a few strokes anyway and listened to them laugh at me. [Side note: it's indispensable to be able to laugh at yourself with others when living in another culture...inevitably....they will laugh at you.] A few of the group kindly got up and showed me the 'proper' way to hoe the ground. And each of them had a different 'proper' way to do it. Eventually the hoe was taken away from me and was in use by someone else. For some reason, they don't like to see me doing manual labor. They want me to sit in the shade and let others do the work. I appreciate that kindness, although it probably comes from their view of my weakness. I have it in my mind to prove them wrong on this point.

Anyway, I did sit and chat with them. They asked when I wanted them to come and dig in my garden. Now, the small kitchen garden in our compound doesn't need a group of 25 ladies working in it but a neighbor had just offered to let us use some of his land to plant a wider variety of grains & veg this year. Thinking of this, I agreed that they should come the following Friday. But I didn't know how to make mes and I wanted to pay them in a different way. They came up with the payment immediately, which told me that they had put some thought into this whole issue before I even showed up at the garden. The Ik aren't stupid....they know how to formulate plans. They wanted salt and lots of it. I agreed.

Friday arrived and I was ready at 8am but no one else was there. I was told that they were still preparing breakfast for the children and doing morning chores. By 9am, two women had showed up and we walked down to my 'rented' garden plot. I say 'rented' because the neighbor who owns the garden is going to get to split everything that grows there with us. The neighbor pointed out the plot to us and then left, but sent his wife to join our group. And we started digging. Every 15 minutes it seemed, a few more women would find their way to us. By 11am, we had 24 women digging side by side. Sleeping babies were laid in the dirt and covered with blankets while mothers dug near-by. When one awoke, she/he would get fed and strapped to the back. They begged me to sit in the shade and supervise but I was stubbornly trying to show them that I could dig for hours just like them. My back and arms complained to me for two days after that.We dug for four hours and then called it quits. And yes, we did take frequent breaks between the swing of hoes. I tiredly trudged up the hill to our house with two hoes on my shoulder and a backpack strapped on. The first order of business was a bath as I was covered in dirt & ash. They burn the grasses in their gardens before digging and the ash sticks to everything. While I headed to the privacy of our bathroom, the other ladies headed to the borehole (public well) to bathe. Then they followed me up to our compound, all requesting some pain medicine for their aching bodies. And as I passed them Ibuprofen and cups of water, I knew that every one of them was worth their salt.

6 comments:

The Reeds said...

What a cool experience! I can only imagine you were sunburnt too? Or did you outsmart the sun?

Grace H. said...

Next time you must bathe at the bore hole too. And Terrill can then get pictures for your newsletter! Hopefully you'd get a more "liberal" newsletter approver ;)

rln said...

I like Grace H.'s comment:-) pictures great and interesting blog. Amber, you are one determined woman!

rln said...

(Former comment by Velma). A delightful read! One question: Where in the photo is the mzungu swinging her hoe? Then we could have enjoyed both salt and pepper!

Notinthewild said...

You're worth your weight in salt!

Larry said...

Amber, way to go girl! I concur with rin's comment, "Where's the photo of our fav mzungu swinging da hoe?"