Thursday, May 26, 2011

Alphabet, Gardens, and Kids

The women’s literacy group is up to H/h and I/i, and our carrots are several inches tall. They haven’t wanted to thin the carrots because they are so sad to kill all the little plants that are too crowded. So we did an experiment. We thinned one row and left the other row crowded. The following week we could already see that the thinned row of carrots had grown taller than the non-thinned row, so they dutifully thinned the rest of the rows, still looking dejected about the lost carrots. When I demonstrated that you could eat the nice green carrot tops, they just looked at me like I was crazy as I chewed. So the next batch of seeds they planted, they carefully spaced them far apart! We’ll see how the germination is…the carrot seeds here have had a terrible germination rate for me in my garden, which is currently looking pretty neglected.

I am in the capital picking up health posters and expired condoms for the week of health sensibilisations coming up soon. I have a health volunteer friend who is coming out to teach about everything from malaria to family planning, and the communities seem to be getting excited. Antanifotsy might even finish building their first latrine before she comes—a stipulation that I put on her visit, but with rice harvest coming in, they hadn’t started when I was there a few days ago. But they are talking about it! So there’s hope.

My weekly kids club continues. Their enthusiasm doesn’t seem to wane for counting sprouted radishes and carrots and watering our small experiment plot. We have 100 seeds of radish and of carrot planted on a dug garden bed and 100 seeds of each planted on an undug garden bed. I showed them how to make a graph to track the germination and growth, and—how cool—the results actually confirm that digging the garden bed is better! Now we’re trying to build a compost pile, but WOW it takes a lot of dry and green materials to build a meter pile, and for small kids to gather all those materials takes time, so it’s been a several-week process.

The best moment was when 11 year old Noely (one of my favorites—he’s going to be a heartbreaker when he gets older) was fording the river carrying a heavy sac of rice straw on his back and I just couldn’t stop wondering at his diligence and strength and laughing at the awkward balance of the sac and his pants rolled up high and his concentrated frown as he refused help! He wants to do everything—carry the manure bag, water the garden—I have to lecture him about letting other kids try too. He is on a constant show to prove his strength!

So I’m staying busy and feeling that although my “projects” are small and humble, the women and kids I am working with are worth it. I’m not changing slash-and-burn agriculture, not doing some great agroforestry project, no farmers flocking to me for my wisdom (ha!), but all these small things are feeling more real than anything I was imagining doing back a year ago.

I am learning more about teaching to, and more about motivation, and more about patience. Tuesday at the women’s literacy group I lectured a woman about not being ashamed to answer simple questions that I know she knows. Afterwards I kept thinking of how I could have approached that situation better, how I could have worked around and with their reticence. How I have to remind myself where they are coming from, and the culture that keeps women much more silent than men. There are better ways to get them to participate than by scolding them. I’m learning. I have to use my power as a teacher and as an American who can acceptably break some of these cultural norms carefully. Patience. Kindness. Creativity. It all goes together to make some change happen, I hope. Oh, yes, and hope. That too.